Burning Man is often described as a place of Yes. Just Say Yes is a motto for many Burners, and this approach can lead to all sorts of amazing and unexpected adventures.
However, my big practice for the week in 2016 was to say No.
When I first did the ManKind Project training in June of 2010, I was introduced to the masculine archetypes of The King, the Lover, the Warrior, and the Magician.
At the time, I was already a second degree black belt in Jujutsu, and I had worked as Public Defender trial lawyer for more than 15 years. I considered myself to be tough, a fighter and soldier for justice, a man who was not afraid of a fight.
I could clearly see how much work I had to do on my lover and king energy, even as magician energy baffled me, but I thought I had the warrior thing Down.
How wrong I was!
Warrior energy is getting shit done, setting boundaries and asking for help, fighting for principles and values, and engaging in conflict with courage and resolve.
Perhaps above all, warrior energy is about saying No.
Yet I was terrible at saying no.
In my heart, I was insecure and afraid that others would see me as weak. I desperately wanted to be liked, and as I have often written, my core wound is the belief that I am fundamentally unworthy.
To compensate, I strained to please others, and while this had benefits, including my overachieving tendency to get good grades, be the one who volunteered for everything, and do a million activities and projects all the time to be helpful to others, it also had a huge cost.
The impact of all this Yes was that I often felt overcommitted and overwhelmed.
My To Do lists were massive, and I often felt severe anxiety. I didn’t ever sleep enough, and my body would go through regular cycles of collapse and recovery. I used intoxicants to take the edge off, which only further depleted me.
I was a Yes Man, and would do anything to avoid saying No to someone.
That summer, I did a lot of work at my Igroup around cultivating my warrior energy, and something clicked for me. I began to see how all my of Yes-ing was actually bringing suffering to the world: to others AND to me.
For example, to be an Enabler is to say Yes.
When someone comes to me and asks for help, I must have the wisdom to see what is truly needed. Is this person asking me for money because of a momentary unforeseen need, or is the request a product of irresponsibility or addiction? If it is the former, my Yes may be a perfect healing action, but if it is the latter my Yes will be a wound.
When I say Yes to someone with addiction, or rather, refuse to say No, I am sending them a message: you are not enough. You need my help. You can’t do this on your own.
By refusing to say no in this instance, I serve to further entrench their suffering.
By contrast, when I say No to the addiction, I say: “You can do this yourself, you have it within you, I see it, and I won’t pretend otherwise.” My no thus becomes a Yes.
Of course, this applies to me too.
I have the heart of an addict. I am a binger and a glutton. If one cookie is good, then a dozen are better. If one coffee jacks me up, I’ll have two. When I say no to my cravings, I say Yes to myself.
That year was my eighteenth at Burning Man, and I had learned early on that trying to recreate previous years is a big mistake. There’s no going back, especially out there, so every year I try to find something new, whether it’s some new activity, some new angle, or some new outfit.
In 2016 I decided to try out NO.
In my leadership of the camp, I determined to be clear and firm and to set careful boundaries around what I was willing to do, thus protecting myself from overwork and the resentment and fatigue that often result.
I allowed myself to call personal time-outs, heading to bed when I got tired, rather than pushing through into late nights.
I ducked out of work events, allowing myself to go for a walk to find a margarita in the middle of building one of the shade structures.
When someone asked me if I could help them find a bike pump, I said no. When someone asked me to help turn on the generator, I directed them to someone else. I learned that delegation is a way of saying No.
To be sure, this was not easy for me. With every question or request, I fell my ego puff up: I am needed. I am important. I am useful! This is my chance to shine, to be the hero, to be Helpful.
My ego loves that shit. More than anything really.
But I said No. And I kept saying it. And even though every time I said it there was a twinge of sadness and fear (because after all, my ego said, if I don’t perform for people, they won’t love me), with each No there also arose a feeling of strength and well-being.
It was both terrifying and thrilling, yet the more I said no, the more I exercised that muscle, the better I felt!
I also noticed some fascinating things happen around me.
New leaders started to emerge in our camp. Folks who had been around for a few years suddenly stepped up to take charge of projects, even though they didn’t exactly know what they were doing. When I saw this, I jumped to support them and encourage them.
How interesting! Here was a way that I could still be useful and helpful, yet without doing the actual work myself. My role shifted from Yes Man and Doer of All Things, to supporter and advisor and mentor.
It was delicious, and I began to experience a stable sense of relaxation and ease that was truly new to me out there.
By getting out of the way, I made space for others to shine! By saying No, I said Yes to the growth of our team! By setting clear boundaries, I opened up new areas of exploration for others!
Now of course, I don’t mean to claim all the credit for the development of all these new leaders, it wasn’t me that did it, it was them.
But I did help the process by checking my ego, stepping into my own discomfort, and pushing myself to try something new.
The result was my favorite Burn ever (well until this last one in 2018!)
I felt more relaxed, more present, more joyful, more at ease, more rested, more delighted, more loved and appreciated, just more ME than I ever have before.
I am so grateful for this gift. In all those years of being afraid to say no, I see now that I was serving as an enabler to my own shadow belief that I am not worthy and that I must perform to be loved.
By learning to say No to other people, I reassured and comforted my shadow, rather than exacerbating his wound. By saying No to my ego, to my shadow, and to my need to please everyone, I found a way to say Yes to myself, my true self, dAVE.
And in doing so I found my way back to the beginning of the story.
Burning Man is a place of Yes, and by learning to say No, I said Yes to ME!!!!
I am curious, how do you say Yes to You?
Please write me and let me know!
King Bee, Fire-Tender (and Whip Cracker)