Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Strolling the Via Negativa

This morning when I sat to drink my coffee I saw from my dining room window that this heron had elected to perch on the downed tree that lives on our beach. So of course I grabbed my camera and stepped outside -- though we see herons every day, they're not always this close, and the light isn't always that good.

Photography is always about choices and conscious decisions -- will I take the camera on this ferry trip?  Dare I interrupt this conversation -- or this bridge game -- to run out with my camera?  Do I shoot now, or wait till he goes for the fish?

And choices, in turn, are often about saying no to one thing in order to say yes to something else.  David Whyte, in  The Heart Aroused , calls that The Via Negativa.

"The Via Negativa is the discipline of saying no when we have as yet no clarity about those things to which we can say yes.  We take the via negativa when there is not yet any sign of the via positiva.  But in the continuous utterance of the no is a profound faith that the yes will appear -- not just because of the law of averages, but because we have said no to so much.  In a way, if we treat our destiny as a potential marriage, it chooses us as much as we choose it, and like a seeker for our hand, deems us to be seriou about it through our continued refusal of the wrong suitors.  We create in effect a kind of energetic vacuum into which something we recognize can appear."

For some reason that really struck me this morning.  Perhaps because I watched an old episode of Friends yesterday, the one in which Joey, having lost his role as Dr. Drake Ramoray in Days of Our Lives, refuses to try out for a role as a cab driver in Another World, believing "Something better will come along."  His friends point out that his reckless spending necessitates some financial compromises, so he eventually goes to the audition anyway, and blows it -- almost as if, even though some part of him has accepted the necessity for compromise, some other part of him is convinced the part is beneath him.

The via negativa seems to me to be challenging on a number of levels.  In an economy like this, can a man justify turning down a job he deems beneath him when he has a family to feed?  Or should he hold out for an opportunity worthy of his skills and experience?  That can be a difficult question to answer.  What about the woman who refuses a perfectly worthy suitor because she's waiting for Prince Charming to appear?  Do we really approve -- especially if her standards are so high no-one less than Prince William or Prince Harry could possibly meet them?

On a smaller scale these choices can become more clear but no less troublesome: if I want to say yes to a thinner, svelter me, I should say no to these chips.  But sometimes my mouth craves chips, and my weight's not THAT bad, so I say yes. If my boss asks my approval for something I think is foolish, I should say no, but I'm afraid of losing my job, so I say yes.  I'm in the checkout line and in a hurry, and my child grabs a candy bar, demanding that I buy it for her.  I should say no, but I don't want her to make a scene and I don't really have time to argue, so I say yes.  My church asks me to volunteer for a committee.  If I add another weekly meeting to my schedule I won't have enough time for my art or perhaps my children, but they are persistent, and they need me, so I say yes.

Saying no is just hard.  And sometimes it means defying a whole host of voices that are demanding a yes.    Saying no, says Whyte, is really an act of faith.  "As T.S. Eliot wrote ...

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope,
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing:
wait without love,
for love would be love of the wrong thing;
there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

One way to come to yes is to say no to everything that does not nourish and entice our secret inner life out into the world...We say no in order to bud and blossom in our own time, when saying yes might force us like a hothouse flower into a premature and evanescent bloom.  We guard the richness of our interior hopes and imaginings even when there as yet seems to be nothing in the outer world that confirms them.  When finally we do blossom, we may bear fruit in the most surprising and astonishing way."

In the end, saying no can necessitate a great deal of patience, courage, and faith.  But perhaps we can learn to say no to the big stuff if we start with the small stuff.

So what will you say no to today?


Journey Girl Talking said...

This post is something I have learned a lot about in the past few years, saying No so I can say Yes to something that feeds my soul!

I have spent hour apon hour making photos of Blue Herons and that feeds my need for creativity and making beauty.

I am reading "When the Body says No" by Gabor Mate, all about the inability of so many to say no, for a variety of reasons as you pointed out, so the body says no via disease and stress, some stressed since childhood and unable to break the 'habit'. A very interesting read.

As I get older, like many others, the demands of others and this world are losing their grip and I am making choices "to thine own self be true" and it's becoming easier to say NO without guilt, with joy in anticipation of what I will say yes to! It is getting easier to make life work for me, not everyone else BUT me.

Thank you for sharing,

Louise Gallagher said...

In the Passion Test, the edict is, "when faced with a choice, decision or opportunity, always choose in favour of your passion."

Saying no to anything that does not align with your passion is like saying yes to not living the life of your dreams.

Great post Diane -- and some of those questions are really hard to answer.

Joyce Wycoff said...

I love this post and believe it contains great wisdom. But, part of me wants to support the "via positiva" of saying yes to everything that life offers us. I know that's probably not possible and could lead us into saying yes to things that don't feed us ... just as saying "no" too often can make us miss the new thing that might stretch us into new territory.

Again we come back to that balance thing! I am so enjoying your journey ... which, of course, is our journey for all of us who are tagging along.