From graduation speeches to self-help articles to general words of wisdom from relatives, celebrities and historical figures, there seems to be a prevailing sentiment that you should grab life my the horns and dive into it, to mix metaphors terribly. In the words of Mark Twain, which I’ve heard reiterated in numerous different manners over the years, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
This is advice that I typically follow. As much as possible, I try to say yes to experiences and events that I know will expand my world view, provide fun in the moment and memories to look back upon, and enrich my life at large. A friend in Divinity school referred to this way of being as a “Yes Philosophy.” I really do believe that it’s through getting out of my comfort zone and saying yes to opportunities that I develop, grow, find joy and live life fully.
And yet, my two favorite days of the year are Christmas and my birthday, in part because there are great celebrations attached to each (festive meals and time with friends and family and gifts and sweets galore), but also in part because they are the two days of the year that I have no expectations of myself. I refuse to make a to-list — even a “for fun” to-do list — on either day, and in fact, it would seem sacrilege to assign tasks to either day.
Basking in the openness, the relaxation, and the coziness of the present moment never fails to be both enjoyable and restorative. I end the days feeling refreshed and with a greater sense of clarity about who I am and what I am doing with my life. And I am able to have these gloriously spacious Christmases and Birthdays precisely because I don’t say yes to doing things on those days.
In a similar vein, I’ve said yes to a few travel opportunities recently: Caleb and I have a trip to Costa Rica planned for his spring break, and we’re spending the month of June in Europe. These will be action packed weeks and I am thrilled that we have the chance to embark on adventure together. I’ve also scheduled a retreat for myself, in the beginning of May, during which I’ll spend four days in silence (with the exception of a morning, afternoon and evening chapel services) at the country home of a monastic order. Excited as I am about Caleb’s and my planned trips, I am noticing that I feel most eager for four days of silence, reflection and solitude.
I think it’s worth paying attention to these feelings and worth considering what they are telling me about what I desire and need to live the life I want to live. I’m going to keep saying a hearty yes to experiences and opportunities and to doing things, but I’m also going to make time for not doing things.