Issue #18: What's in a "No"?

It started off with a freewriting prompt, which expanded into an exploration of our relationship with the word, NO. This issue, join us as we traverse the various worlds brought about by this short, simple word, so easy to pronounce, yet at times, also the hardest word to say.

  1. Poetry // NO // by Rosslyn

  2. Essay // NO // by Daryl

  3. Essay // Beginning from Yes // by Rosslyn

  4. Bonus Practice // Journaling Prompts + Pause & Centering Mantra

May you uncover new insights as winter thaws to spring.

Rosslyn & Daryl

POETRY // by Rosslyn


One word, two letters;
the former with sharp edges, the latter,
a smooth, round body.
Paired with different punctuations,
each No its own entire world.

NO! with an exclamation—
outright rejection of what we don’t want,
the emphatic expression of our displeasure.
One of the first words uttered as a child;
short, easy, straight to the point as we push away
that disgusting broccoli or pea or medicine
our parents try to stuff into our mouths.

nowith trailing ellipses,
drags along uncertainty or worry,
a sign of holding…

NO. Period—
stands firm and steady, resting in its own ground,
gently yet powerfully asserting its disagreement
with whatever came.

And of course, there are many more.

Matched with a comma, quickly followed by a But;
a combination often heard. The No in this trio is brief,
almost inaudible, swiftly propelling its energy into the But,
negating everything with the new proposition.

There’s also the semi-colon, a favorite
in academic literature, hinting there’s more
to the argument that's coming, as demonstrated
in the preceding example.

how amazing this one word is.
What worlds might open and close
with this singular utterance?

ESSAY // by Daryl


is an invocation that carves out a sacred space just for us. Through its expression, our boundaries are determined, defined, and, at times, strengthened. No is the quintessential act of establishing our identity in a world where everything is thrown over and against us. In our rejection or denial, we exercise our right to hold fast to the integrity of our being, planting ourselves into the ground—our ground—to face that which solicits our acquiescence against our will.

No, therefore, is the manifestation of our power because it takes courage to stand on our own and even, oftentimes, alone. It is tempting to capitulate in the face of pressure: fear and anxiety, as the progenitors of self-doubt, insidiously weaken the foundations of our identity by working from the inside out, and, given sufficient time and opportunity, eventually rots the foundations of our identity till we collapse on ourselves. Each opportunity to say No, therefore, is a chance for us to reinforce our identity.

But beware. A No that merely negates can very well be a façade for power. Masquerading as a belief or principle, the purely negative No is but an expression of will. In merely exercising our will, we are simply trying to assert ourselves without any regard for what constitutes our identity, our core, in a vain attempt to appear more than we are.

Therefore, the purely negative No remains an empty force without the content of a Yes to infuse our identity with substantiality. And substantiality is attained through self-remembrance. In the pure denial of the Other without self-remembrance, our identity’s sole point of reference is the Other. The substantial No, on the other hand, is expressed for the sake of protecting something we stand for or precious to us; without something to protect, No remains a wandering mercenary content with searching for the next thing to plunder instead of becoming the patriotic soldier who stands firm at his city’s gates. With a Yes, we remember and reinforce what we are instead of what we are not.

My relationship to No, then, is a bid to protect the infinite possibilities I can assent to. In being clear about what is not for me, I preserve the horizon of liberty for me to engage myself in all the possibilities that capture my fancy whenever and wherever. To borrow a quote from Marx, I say No to what doesn’t accord with me so that it:

makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic
(German Ideology)

Till next time, may you enjoy the possibility of hunting in the morning.

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ESSAY // by Rosslyn

Beginning from Yes

I have an active nephew who seemingly enjoys exercising his arms and legs and facial muscles. When he was just a year old, my cousin sent me a video of him making strange facial expressions, sharing her worries about relatives who had reckoned his expression rude, and she had to stop him from acting that way. I thought his expressions hilarious and lively while holding my annoyance with those comments at bay.

A single snapshot of a moment in a baby’s life—that was my glimpse of how the judgments of self-proclaimed adults held potential in shaping a child’s life.

Our Yeses and Noes today are shaped by the Yeses and Noes we received. We learned about what’s allowed or disallowed, rewarded or punished within our family, and later on, the society we live in. Our immediate sense of Yes and No that stems instinctually or intuitively from within is now mediated by the rules we internalized, often resulting in internal conflicts for many.

Most of our Yeses and Noes are expressed reactively and habitually, instead of intentionally. We take on the project that lands on our already full plate; we hold our silence and look away from an unbearable sight; we smile and nod, while internally, we may be shaking, raging, choking. We might think we’ve yet to act or utter a word, but even in inaction or silence, a No and a Yes have both been expressed.

Where am I going with this, I wonder? Is it possible to talk about No without Yes? Between a Yes and a No, is there a Maybe? Is there space for gradation or is it a clear distinct white cutting to black? Where do our Yeses and Noes reside in us? Do we express wholeheartedly or do we experience conflicts internally, and if conflicts arise, do we resolve the voices within before moving forth or do we charge ahead with our dominant voice? Is our dominant voice necessarily speaking our truth?

I find myself, once more, in a place with more questions than answers. I’m puzzled and excited by this rich field I’ve landed in as I sense into my polarity-loving mind and wondrous heart.

Both my 22-months-old niece and nephew are yet able to utter a pronounced No or Yes, yet they express each notion so emphatically with their arms and legs, pushing and pulling, running towards what they desire or away from what they don’t. Deep down, I sense my desire to be free and candid like them.

For the most part of my life, living unconsciously as a people pleaser, I had agreed to many things because I didn’t know how to say No. With each nod and silence, I pulled down a shutter on myself, till one day, I found myself trapped in a narrow column with no way out. There was almost no space for me to move, except for a sliver allowing air for me to breathe, shallowly. I had fallen into my own entrapment.

When we say No to something, we are essentially saying Yes to another, and vice-versa. When choosing what to have for lunch, for example, in saying Yes to a sandwich, I’ve turned down the courtship from rice and noodles. With choices on food or clothes or material things, it is straightforward and easy. No hard feelings—these inanimate objects won’t feel a thing from being rejected. But how will it be when it comes to the living and breathing?

I didn’t know how to say No to others, because I didn’t know to say Yes to myself. My boundaries were unclear to me in my exclusion of myself from the equation of choice.

Ever since, I’ve been learning to listen to my heart’s desires, my true Yeses. I’ve been working on developing a strong core with a soft, permeable boundary. I’ve been practicing saying Yes to myself because when I do that, it becomes clearer what my Noes are, while still leaving room for Maybe.

So, what have I been saying Yes to?

Triple Yeses to writing and nature; Yes to inquiring; Yes to coaching and healing; Yes to supporting the ones who are willing to do the work; Yes to giving my time to people I love; to developing connections mutually nourishing; to finding the soil that best nourishes and supports my growth.

And most crucially, how can I leave this out? Yes to my truth, my true nature, my essence. Yes to honoring myself.



Observe yourself over the next two weeks and consider these questions:

  1. How do you experience yourself saying No? What are the easy Noes, what are the difficult ones?

    • Observe: What happens within your body? What emotions are you feeling? What thoughts are you having?

    • Dig deeper: why and how did they come to be?

    • What are you learning about yourself? What do you intend?

If you would like to explore further, try observing yourself when you are on the receiving end.

  1. How do you experience others saying No to you? (body sensations, emotions, thoughts)

Pause & Centering Mantra

Stand tall, ground.
I am here.
Stretch your arms out.
I take up space.
Sway, feel your space.
I have a place.

Congratulations, you’ve expressed your first Yes.
Move. From here.

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