I recently encountered a social media post from a yogi to his partner that said, “Thank you for saying yes to this life…” I knew this beautiful sentiment was coming from his spiritual tradition, but it really got me thinking deeply – beyond any kind of faith or belief system. I thought, “What a powerful statement – the idea that we can say yes to this life.”
Nobody I’ve met remembers being asked if they’d like to be here, in this time and place, in this body, with this mind, in this context – yet, here we all are. We are indeed faced with a choice – will we quietly or angrily decline? Will we remain ambivalent and undecided? Or will we wholeheartedly say yes to this life that we find ourselves living?
How does it look when we say no to life? Are we oriented to life in a way that is mostly closed to experience, rejecting what is already here? If so, this can cause us to spend much time and energy avoiding or fighting against what we perceive as unwanted. We miss the hidden pleasures and joys that come our way, because the lens of our senses is skewed toward pain and danger. Living feels like a struggle and we are resistant to or unavailable for deep connections with others. We may become depressed, anxious or angry, and feel besieged, exhausted, lonely, hopeless, or bitter. We may develop a sense of apathy, believing that nothing really matters. We may become numb or detached, finding little joy in our experiences.
What about when we are ambivalent? We may appear inconsistent to our approach to living, sometimes engaging fully and other times withdrawing or struggling. We may fully embrace what is wanted, but ignore what seems valueless, and strongly reject or avoid what is unwanted. We may confuse the people we are in relationship with, who learn they can’t really count on us because we are unreliable. We may get half way to yes and then turn back in fear and uncertainty. Our experience of life may feel like a rollercoaster ride, with lots of ups and downs, at times approaching happiness, but never really reaching it. We may start to feel helpless, bewildered, or erratic and out of control.
Saying yes to this life means asking ourselves, “What will I do with this one precious opportunity?” We are open to experience, being willing to investigate the wanted, unwanted and neutral. We are saying yes to taking it all in – to engaging. We have the wisdom to accept what is unchangeable and can embrace both our limitations and our strengths. We can be authentic, which allows us to connect in our relationships. We realize the joys, the mundanities, and the difficulties of life are part of a universal human experience and we are not alone.
The practice of mindfulness can help us say yes to this life. Since we are already here, we can decide to be open to the experience with a sense of compassion and curiosity. We see that most things are workable if we are willing to see them clearly. We learn to navigate life in a way that is more skillful, which develops courage. We may experience greater ease and connection in our relationships and take vicarious pleasure in the happiness of others. Over time we are motivated by the benefits of the practice and the hidden opportunities for joy available to us each day. This creates a beneficial cycle that is reinforcing and sustainable.
Let us, when swimming with the stream,
become the stream.
Let us, when moving with the music,
become the music.
Let us, when rocking the wounded,
become the suffering.
Let us live deep enough
till there is only one direction,
and slow enough till there is only
the beginning of time,
and loud enough in our hearts
till there is no need to speak.
– Mark Nepo, excerpt from Earth Prayer