…and how to navigate life’s grey areas with more ease through simple embodied practices.
By now, if you haven’t read any of Mark Manson’s stuff, odds are you’ve at least heard his name bandied about in the writer/reader world.
In one of his most well known articles entitled, “Fuck Yes or No”, Manson explains the importance of knowing our “Fuck Yes” and our “Fuck No”. Particularly in dating, he elaborates on questions like, Why would we even consider being with someone who’s lukewarm about us? Or, with whom we are lukewarm about?…
For myself and so many others, this article was the kick in the pants that was needed.
YES! I am done with lukewarm dating. I am done dealing with hot & cold, wish-washy men. I am done being wishy-washy myself!
We needed someone to give us permission to say “Hell YES!” or “Next Please!” according to our own specific needs and wants.
We felt empowered.
…then life crept back in.
But what if I’m a “Yes” about some parts and a “No” about other parts? What if I can’t tell the difference? What if it’s too confusing to discern?
Old patterns reared their ugly heads quicker than a game of whac-a-mole.
This is how life is however, for better or worse… the very nature of our human existence is for our unconscious, inherited patterning to repeatedly take control of our behaviors, actions, thoughts, internal dialogue and emotions. (In the yogic world, this is referred to as our samskāras.)
So then, what shall a poor lowly human trapped in repetitive karmic-cycles do? (Yes, I’m being a bit dramatic here... but when we get stuck in these cycles, this is often how we feel! Sad & sorry for ourselves… or, angry & trapped…)
If this is obvious to you — congratulations! You are one of the fortunate few who have likely been raised in a fairly emotionally functional family! Or, you’ve done the self work to get here.
I am writing this for those of you, like myself, who did not grow up in a way which facilitated an embodied understanding of your own emotions & feelings — and the crucial, discerning wisdom your feelings provide.
I will share a few simple steps (with a guided meditation at the end) to help reinforce your sense of “Fuck Yes!” and “Fuck No!”.
And, when these steps are applied, they will also help you learn to navigate life’s grey areas — which is most of life.
For example — we may feel mixed about dating a person — what are we a “Yes” about with him/her… What are we a “No” about… & What are we “Still deciding” about?
But this article is NOT just about dating. This is about all of life — in all of its beautiful and sometimes murky complexities.
These steps can be applied in any area you’re feeling unsure —a career opportunity, a big move, a business venture, getting a puppy, reaching out to that old friend that ghosted you, what to eat for dinner…
Whichever decision you may find yourself having difficulty with — these practices will help you gain clarity from an empowered and truth-centered place within yourself.
First though, a brief prefatory explanation of why so many otherwise well-adjusted adults, still have difficulty in good decision making…
If you grew up in an environment where your own internal emotional and feeling world was in any way disregarded, overrode or neglected (whether intentional or not), you have likely grown up with some level of dysfunction in navigating this world.
When our internal world and our inherent truth is disregarded by the prime adults in our lives from a very early age, we are then conditioned to disregard it ourselves too.
This could manifest as anything from neglect, emotionally unavailable parents, abuse, and gas-lighting, and be caused by cultural, religious, media, and other established forms of external authority.
The gist is, whomever or however it happened to you as a young child, it became deeply ingrained as a part of your unconscious programming.
Think about this: When you were born, you existed, right? You had a physical body, you were held (hopefully!), you were touched, seen, interacted with… you saw, observed, wondered, watched, put things in your mouth you probably shouldn’t have…
But… you did not have words yet. You were not yet equipped for spoken language.
So then, how does a fresh little babe born into this world first learn?
So then, what do they feel?
Babies learn through resonance of their feeling-world. (We adults do too, but it often takes more for us to override our monkey-minds.)
So if a baby is saturated in an environment of nurturing, feeling seen, being honored in its real-life experience… this baby is much more likely to develop into a pretty well-functioning adult, knowing generally how to navigate healthy relationships and positive opportunities in life.
However, if a baby is more saturated in an environment of emotional distance, negligence, or especially physical abuse, the baby learns on a very core level that it isn’t safe to feel itself, or feel the world around it.
And/or the baby doesn’t learn how to accurately distinguish what it is authentically feeling vs what the environment is imposing.
The resonance of our environment has the ability to influence our development, just as the vibration of music has the ability to move us emotionally.
Think of an experience when someone around you was in a very strong mood — positive or negative — and how easily the mood of that person will eventually affect you or others in the room. Researchers have shown that moods may be as easy to catch as germs.
So now, what are we to do about this? Us sometimes lost, but well-meaning adults — whose habits, beliefs, neurology and unconscious patterns are already quite deeply ingrained?
How do we figure out what our “No” and “Yes” feel like?
First, we get present.
1. Slow Down. Get Present.
Get present? You mean meditate?
This is may be an eye-rollingly obvious first step… meditate. What?? I know I need to meditate… I was looking for some shiny new thing to try!
The reason meditation, contemplation or simply being in undistracted quietude is the first step, is that for people like us who didn’t learn to attune to our own internal sensations, we first must learn to do this. This is a vital first step.
We must learn to sense the boundary of where “I” begin and the external world meets “me”.
You don’t need to do this in any formal manner, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be total stillness… I personally love — and teach — Yin Yoga for this purpose. Perhaps you get in the present zone more easefully when you’re at the park, going for a leisurely walk, in your study, in the early morning or late at night.
One prompt I find extremely helpful is contemplating the simple feeling of being you — the ‘you’ that has been the same your entire life — your essence.
Whenever and however you can give yourself this time & space to simply be present with yourself with no one and nothing else to attend to.
Yes, your untrained monkey-mind will be rattling off all kinds of stories, saying how you have better things to be doing than sitting idly, or going for a slow, unproductive walk. This is totally normal. Just notice it and let it pass.
And as you let these distractions pass, start noticing how your body FEELS.
So we allow…
2. Allow Sensation To Arise.
As we are noticing the thoughts, worries, stories and chatter arise… and pass… we also allow our bodily sensations to arise to our conscious awareness.
Now, this may be easier for some than it is for others.
Two primary obstacles that may arise here are…
Trauma — when the body feels unsafe.
For many people, especially those who have gone through any kind of trauma, physical or sexual abuse, feeling into your own body may not feel safe. This is how dissociation arises as a coping mechanism for traumatized people.
Feeling unsafe can show up in many ways, but often it shows up as going back into the thinking mind (vs feeling body), or as numbness & dissociation.
If feeling into your body feels unsafe and you repeatedly find yourself numb or dissociated from your bodily sensations, a qualified, trauma-informed counselor can really help support you.
They can help you re-discover your personal sense of empowerment, sovereignty and safety within yourself, and in the world.
Negligence — when the body can’t be felt.
It can also be challenging for those who learned from a very young age to override or ignore their sensations and basic needs. This issue is well-illustrated by the cry-it-out method — an outdated parenting method of allowing one’s child to continue crying until it stops…
Some people used to believe that when the child stopped crying on its own, it had successfully soothed itself — it had become more independent. However neuroscience now shows that in fact the very opposite is happening.
The child’s cortisol levels are still elevated even after it has stopped crying — showing that it has merely stopped asking for its needs to be met by the care-taker. And, the child ends up becoming more dependent in the long run (hello co-dependency issues!).
As with trauma, if this appears for you when you attempt to feel into your body, seeking support from a qualified counselor can be a total game-changer.
However, if you are able to feel into your body, and with some level of personal safety… you still may notice other quite uncomfortable sensations… tightness, tension, anxiety, stress, pain, sadness, heartache, despair… this is totally normal — and human!
…or you may only notice that you’re hungry, or that your feet are tired — this is a good start!
And you may absolutely feel a wide range of pleasing and pleasurable sensations too! Calmness, serenity, peace, joy, excitement, anticipation, gratefulness, vitality, aliveness…
Or a variety of mixed sensations!
Anything you feel is totally OK! It is all welcome.
Feel whatever you can. But don’t force it.
An important caveat in this step: Become aware of the internal stories that tend to come along with strong emotions! Just notice them arise, and set them aside, as much as possible. Yoga Nidra can be a great practice for this.
The importance of this step lies in the practice that we must cultivate a greater sense of internal feeling sensitivity of what is actually going on within our own bodies.
Once we start establishing this sensitivity (even if it’s only minimally to start!), we can begin weeding through all the mixed messaging the external world and our own bodies give us.
3. Next: the “Fuck No!”
Here is where we get to start bringing in some clarity!
A very wise woman, psychologist and relationship expert to celebrities, Michaela Boehm said on one of her podcasts that, we cannot authentically say “Yes”, until we first can authentically say “No”.
She was speaking specifically in regards to relationships and dating, but again, this notion can be applied to all of life.
Think about it: If you go around saying… Yes, yes, yes, yes, a maybe here, yes, yes, yes, maybe there, yes, yes, yes, no to a couple things for very obvious reasons, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes… After how long will you become overwhelmed with everything that you’ve said “Yes” to?
How much was it just to read that many yeses?
It’s too much right? Overkill.
How long will you need to take to sort through all of those yeses to whittle away to what you can actually handle or to what you actually desire in your life, considering the very real limitations of our humanity?
Then think about when you can say No. No, nope, next please, no to that, no to this, no, no, no, no to that… and then all of a sudden there is a “Yes!”
That Yes in the sea of Nos becomes so much more clear and distinct that it is something you genuinely desire in your life.
Try this: Recall a moment in time, a memory, in which you had a very obvious “No” reaction to something or someone. Perhaps a laughably low wage offer at a potential job. A friend violated a boundary. Someone stole from you. Or someone took their rage out on you when it had nothing to do with you.
When you have that memory in mind, close your eyes and tune into how your body feels when recalling this memory. Perhaps there is tightness, heaviness, your body temperature rises… or you feel uneasy or restless.
Whatever you’re feeling, just notice this is a big clue as to what your “Fuck No” feels like.
Consider sitting with this sensation for as long as you want — really memorize what this feels like — the textures, temperature, density…
Get to know your “Fuck No”.
To further emphasize the long-term physiological importance of knowing your No, check out this video by Dr. Gabor Maté, author of When the Body Says No.
“If you don’t know how to say no when you need to, your body will say it for you in the form of illness.” — Dr. Gabor Maté
4. And Now: the “Fuck Yes!”
Now try this: Recall a moment in time, a memory, in which you had an absolute “YES!” reaction to something. A marriage proposal. A holiday in Greece. Getting that puppy. Winning a competition or pay raise you worked your ass off for.
When you have this memory in mind, close your eyes again and notice how it feels within your body.
Perhaps excitement, joy, elation, celebration, vitality, aliveness…
Whatever arises, this is a huge clue as to what your “Fuck Yes” feels like.
Take as long as you need here to really get to know this feeling.
5. Discerning Life’s Grey Areas
Here is where most of life happens.
Very little in life is clear-cut and exact. Our logical minds like to believe otherwise but our bodies remind us this is not usually the case.
Life as we know it, with all its beauty, complexity, diversity, confusion, options… this is where we get to play.
Now, try this: Think of something you’re currently trying to sort out for yourself — it can be something basic like, “should I get a new phone or wait until the latest one comes?”. Or you can go deeper.
Dating someone with real potential but you’re unsure? Got an amazing job offer but some details don’t seem right? Had an encounter with someone that was special but something felt a bit off?
Whatever you’ve got in mind… again, close your eyes, and feel all of what’s there within your body. Feel all of the complexity and diversity present.
And start noticing where or what feels more like the “Yes” and what parts feel more like the “No”.
Perhaps in regards to this new person you’re dating you feel pretty “Yes” about his/her sense of ambition, drive and accomplishment… but you feel definitely “No” about how messy s/he is.
Or with the potential job you feel a total “Fuck Yes!” about the pay and travel opportunities, but a “No” about the increased hours or time away from loved ones.
These may be obvious examples — but this is part of the point.
Discerning life’s grey areas is easier when it’s obvious — this is where to start to practice and bring it to the forefront of your awareness — before it becomes overwhelming — so that when the decisions are not so clear, you can tune into your senses on an even deeper, more subtle level.
A Quick Note About Your New-Found Nos & Yeses
When you are going through this process and you arrive at a new understanding about a situation, particularly when it becomes a clearer “No”… it sometimes come as a surprise — especially for those who are used to being people-pleasers.
I won’t go into detail about effective communication & healthy expression — but suffice to say, it’s important to also discern whether or not you need to express a new-found “No”, and if so, how and to whom.
Likewise, conversely, if you find a new “Yes”, often it’s easier to communicate this with others, but not always.
Check out resources on Nonviolent Communication if this feels like a challenge for you — it can be remarkably helpful!
Emphasizing the Importance of Embodied Discernment
So, I still don’t get the emphasis on making decisions based on what I feel? Isn’t this irrational? I already know how to make intelligent, informed decisions.
We cannot separate the mind from the body. Somehow, a large segment of our society has been trained to see these two inextricably intertwined systems as separate. We have psychologists to treat our minds, medical doctors to treat our bodies, and not-oft enough do the two mix.
Yes, we need to consult the quantifiable realities of a situation with our mind; Does the job pay enough to live a comfortable life? Does this potential partner want children like I do? Do I legitimately have time to volunteer at that charity?
These are all questions for the rational, logical mind. These are aspects we are all quite well trained in, in our modern, intellect-oriented world.
I am emphasizing re-orienting ourselves to our bodies because so many of us are incredibly under-practiced.
Our bodies provide us a constant stream of vital information through sensations, emotions, and feelings. This body-based information is important to consult when making decisions because it points to the truth of how we authentically feel about a situation.
How we authentically feel about a situation points to the core of our true essence.
This true essence is the core part of us that is unchanging. The part of us that was birthed into this world and cradles the truth of your passion, drive, expression, and purpose. Anything else you add on top is merely masking this truth of who you are.
All the hiding in the background to fit in... All the facades to look better than you think you should be…. The bullshit stories you tell yourself — these are all fake.
When we can tune into our bodies, we can no longer ignore our heart’s true calling. For it is the most heart-breaking feeling to bare — the untold expression of our precious, fleeting, ethereal life.
Where are you saying ‘yes’, when your body is saying ‘no’?
Where are you saying ‘no’, when your spirit is saying ‘yes’?
It might feel painful — to finally hear what you’ve been ignoring. But it is worth it.
Stop betraying yourself now. And start listening.
I‘ll leave you with a 20 minute guided audio (Yoga Nidra style) you can listen to in order to start now — cultivating a deeper relationship with your body’s internal felt senses & inherent wisdom.