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A Big Fat 'Yes'

As we strolled through the woods, our conversation took a turn that gave me a jolt. My friend Hannah and I had both been noting a tendency to get more cautious as we get older. To be hesitant about saying 'yes' to invites and opportunities; for the immediate response to be 'no'. ("Might I be too tired?" "Can I be bothered to go out that evening?") In addition, events we wouldn't have thought twice about before the pandemic now seem a bigger deal. And for me, eighteen months of long Covid had forced me to scale back activities. Work and social events I would have taken in my stride before now left me exhausted. Managing fatigue had been essential. Yet it had also created a self-protective attitude that could leave me feeling tight; anxious about making the wrong choice. Although my symptoms were now much improved, something of that attitude had stuck.

Even into middle age, I have not been averse to challenges. Yet I also sense a creeping withdrawal into my comfort zone. If I let that happen.

I found myself remembering the sense of adventure I had as a teenager. At seventeen, going overland to Greece with my boyfriend; sleeping on beaches. (No mobiles or internet!) Heading off to a festival with people I barely knew. No doubt I had yet to understand how bad things could happen. I am not advocating reckless disregard for one's own safety. Yet there was joy in that sense of adventure. The world was something to be explored. Relished! And even when things did not turn out to be joyful, I might learn something about myself and the world. Even into middle age, I have not been averse to challenges. Yet I also sense a creeping withdrawal into my comfort zone. If I let that happen.

It is, of course, essential to draw healthy boundaries. A classic assertiveness mantra encourages the ability to ‘say “no” frequently and graciously’. As a people-pleaser, this advice had been a valuable working ground for me. Participating in activities only because I feel I 'should', or for fear of offending someone, I end up feeling drained. I can no longer blow my energy and bounce back as I did in younger days. And there are things I am no longer interested in doing – I value quiet time. There is a need to be more discerning. But it is also possible to be too constrained. What happens when that 'no' becomes a subtle drift into shutting down on life?

Suppose a friend shows up with tickets to a quality event. Wouldn't it be sad for your first thought to be a worry that you might get to bed too late?

I received a wonderful piece of advice decades ago, at the end of a silent retreat. In the wild hills of North Wales, my senses had opened up. On leaving such retreats, the customary advice was to take things quietly for a while. In the transition to everyday life, we can be overwhelmed. Readjusting to the busier pace and the increased bombardment of our senses could be jarring. People, traffic, media! But on this occasion, there was a different suggestion. To 'say yes to life'. The retreat leader gave an example. Suppose a friend shows up with tickets to a quality event. Wouldn't it be sad if your first thought was worry that you might get to bed too late? Isn't it better to say ‘yes’ to the opportunities that come our way? Life is short and always brings difficulties. But it brings joys too. The phrase 'say yes to life' has stayed with me, resurfacing through my recent reflections. This seems to me an enlivening code to live by.

So, I am exploring the possibility of nudging myself outside my comfort zone, more than I usually do. To approach the frisson of challenge with less wariness and more optimism. Here are a few results of that intention:

· I overcame an initial reservation and volunteered to co-lead a weekend retreat. The theme was Exploring Compassion - a subject close to my heart. Preparing a couple of talks and activities beforehand engaged my interest. The retreat went well. I am reminded that making a contribution that other people value is one of the most nourishing experiences in life. I have benefitted from saying ‘yes’.

· Accepting a generous invitation from relatives, even though my first reaction was hesitant. (“Wouldn't it be easier to stay home?") Yet I know the change of scene will do me good. And family are important to me.

· I have challenged myself physically a little more than I usually do. A fast walk uphill. Puffed out, but satisfied! Attending a 'Beginners’ Weights' fitness class for the first time since a recent Covid reinfection. I am interested to notice that far from being more fatigued, I am energised.

This intention to 'say yes to life' is doing me good. It may prove transformative in the next phase of my life. I am not ready to become a nervous old lady before my time.

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