Zen and the Art of Saying No - Christine Kane

I live on the most beautiful street in the world.

Well, at least I think I do.

I live on a river. There are six other houses along this river. The street feels like Hobbiton.

About a month ago, the owner of one of these houses decided to sell. He has been renting the house and hasn’t lived here for years. The renters come and go, and it can be challenging for us resident Hobbits. (This is a complaint-free way of avoiding the expression “riff-raff.”)

So, I decided to buy that house. After all, it’d be a great investment, and it’s a beautiful property. Plus, I’d get to control the riff-raff!

I began the campaign in my head. I spent lots of time and energy making plans for re-doing the house. I figured out the up-front costs. I wondered if I could create a little writer’s retreat and rent it out to artists. And I thought of all the changes I’d make to it. Pretty soon, Dwell Magazine was coming to photograph my new house. It was fabulous!

In the meantime, I have maybe a few other things on my plate…

I’m writing songs for a new CD, writing blogs (like this one), leading retreats for women, doing keynote presentations and creativity trainings, touring and performing (I have a show tonight!), and facilitating an online e-Seminar. I’ve also been talking with a publisher who wants me to write a book. And we won’t even go into the constant learning curve of on-line marketing information and keeping up with that side of my business.

And yet, I began fantasizing about getting this house and fixing it up and creating a perfect Dwell house to rent out to perfect people…

My brother called me after I left him a message about this house. He owns a rental property and I had called him to ask him his thoughts.

He sighed.

Then he said, “You know what Christine? It’s fine if you want to do this. But it’s not just about ‘having an investment property.’ It’s a business. It’d be a whole different business for you. One more thing to do.”

And I got it. The swirly-twirly Christine that likes to hallucinate about all this extra time she seems to have landed hard on the ground, still dizzy from her fantasy. I took a deep breath and let go of the idea of taking on one more thing. I’ve gone through this process enough now that I didn’t have a huge let down. I just remembered who I am and got back on track.

In fact, when I let go of the idea, a vast expanse of new space was created in my mind because I was no longer thinking about the house all the time.

Does this happen to you?

Do you sometimes get a little dizzy from all the possible paths that are out there for the taking?

Well, then, here are some questions to consider before you add one more thing to your schedule, your life, or your load:

1 – What is my intention right now?

Setting an intention can be as simple as choosing a word for the year, and as complex as healing a long-term illness. What is your direction right now? If you don’t know, then take some time to get clear. You’re more likely to keep adding excess stuff to your life and your schedule because you haven’t established any priorities. If you do know, then ask yourself if this new thing is in alignment with your intention – or if it’s just a distraction. Having a strong intention often means saying no to lots of other options.

2 – What do I value?

This might seem like an easy question, but take a little time with it. Get clear about your true values.

Personally, I value time. Not only do I like having free time, but I need to have free time. Writing a song or a blog (or a keynote speech) takes a lot of moodling time for me. I need to allow for that. An investment property would steal more of my moodle time than I can imagine. (Especially since I don’t have a clue about investment properties!) I’ve been learning about stock market investing for over a year now, and that has already taken lots of study time. (And I love it!) So, I can easily continue on that course – and I’m getting better and better at it.

3 – Why do I want to do/have/add this new thing?

In this situation, I wanted to have this property because I wanted control. I could feel my inner Gollum grasping and clutching to keep control over my precious street. The truth is this: I was reacting to an old limiting thought that says, “The universe is not to be trusted! I have to fix everything!”

I realized that it was not my place to to control the rental situation. I chose to use my creative thinking to know that only wonderful people live on this street. (And to stop using the phrase “riff-raff!”) And if some not-so-wonderful people moved in, then I could learn from that, too. The externals of my world do not dictate my ability to be happy. I know this. Sometimes I forget it, that’s all.

When we’re trying to justify cramming one more thing into our schedules or lives, our motivations are not always about our highest good. Perhaps we want to be liked. Maybe we want to be cool. Maybe we think that this is the only opportunity we’ll ever get. Lots of times (most of the time!) our thinking is limited.

4 – Am I acting out of fear or love?

I’ve always loved this question. It says it so clearly. And deep down, we almost always know the answer. We just don’t always want to admit it. In this case, I was acting out of fear.


So, how about you? What do you need to say no to?

  • Debbie Goodrow

    Great post, Christine.

    At the ripe old age of 55 (today!) I am buying my first home. It has been a 2 year long hunt to find a house that my budget could afford and my need for safety could accommodate, was within my capability to repair, and will give me a sanctuary that I long for.

    It’s becoming clearer that I will need to keep my clarity of what I really need, and what I’d really like, versus things that are constantly bombarded on me as ‘things I should have’. Mostly driven by marketing.

    I found a GREAT book (for a buck at the Salvation Army store) about “How to Make Your House Do The Housework.” While I too have purchase and lovingly perused the glossy magazines like Dwell, Apartment Living, Water Gardens, etc, etc, I realize how much is just stuff that takes up our precious time. Including huge lawns of needs-to-be-constantly-mowed lawn.

    I am learning to live simpler, be more relaxed, without fussy details. The friends that people my house will be my most precious decorations, not any silver that needs regular polishing. There will be no ‘good china’ only to be dragged out once or twice a year, stored carefully the rest of the year, taking up space, and worrying that a piece will be broken. Everything I own will be out and used and enjoyed by anyone who enters my life. Sofas will allow for people curling their feet up under them in cosy fashion, or stretch out and nap.
    Floor will tolerate spills and never make a guest worry about a stain.

    I hope my lengthy diatribe is not amiss. In the last 2 1/2 years there has been several major emotional and physical upheavals in my life. Lots of tears and despair and disbelief, and lots of finding strength in myself. Found the people who believe in me too, and are there for reinforcements when I am flagging. And identified the people who are my energy vampires, and am learning to make them feed elsewhere.

    I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m going to Live Succulently.

    And thank you for letting me spill that out into your space.

  • Christine Kane

    Thanks everyone for such beautiful and thoughtful remarks here. What a pleasure to read! I just returned home from a weekend of writing songs in Nashville — surreal to be locked in a room for three entire days of writing. I would say more, but I’m still bleary-eyed from the 5 hour drive! Thank you!

  • KB

    Thank you for this posting. I just Stumbled upon you, and this is the exact thing I needed to hear. I am a teacher and was a coach this year as well as in grad school, and I had no time for me, no time for my relatively new marriage, and no time for my mom, who is recently widowed. I felt like my life was slipping away from me. Now I have the chance to quit coaching and I have been afraid to say no – because I need the money. But I need time for me first. Heck, the money I spend on take out food and junk food when I’m coaching would be saved if I weren’t because I’d be cooking dinner every night.

    Thank you thank you thank you. This just confirms everything in my head and in my heart.

  • Vicky H

    This post rings so true for me. When your planning to take on just one more thing, we don’t plan the time it will take in our lives.

    Your brother gave you great advice.

    You still have your great little house on the river. I’m feeling zen just thinking about it!

    Great Post.

    Vicky H

  • Lance

    Hope the show went well for you the other night Christine!

  • rebecca bush

    i like the way you wrote your internal process about this – from wanting to own it because it was something you wanted to do and could financially do and could control, but then realizing that your free time was non-negotiable, and then coming to the conclusion of why you REALLY wanted the property in the first place. i think of all of us should follow the same suit before embarking on major decisions — ask ourselves the questions you posed and answer them truthfully….it is only in this way that we could live the lives we really want. i gave up a well paying job over ten years ago because the hours put in and the commute became unbearable. for me, factoring which was more important then, the money or getting back my free time, suddenly became at 40, quite easy to make. i looked for a position near home, for less money, and haven’t regretted it since. the time i gained back with my family was priceless.

  • Peggi Habets

    Hi Christine,
    Great post as usual. This one I printed out so I can ask myself some of these questions the next time I go off on a tangents. My tangents are all art related so they seem relevant as first. Next thing I know I’m scratching my head and thinking, “Now HOW is this workshop in ‘Printmaking with Watercolor’ going to help my portrait career?” Sometimes the tangents are surprising in ways I wouldn’t have imagined and other times I found I just used up precious time.

  • Rebecca

    This post really spoke to me, Christine, because I find myself almost constantly in this same situation (not deciding whether to buy a house, but discerning what I can take on). I have gradually discovered over the years that the one major drawback of being a creative soul is a severe tendency to take on too much. There are always bright, shiny, alluring new projects on the horizon that fan the creative spark and, even better, would often do some good and brighten up life for someone else. But I have also learned, like you, that the full process of following through on these new ideas is the real work of life, even if it’s as simple as seaming up those sweater pieces that you knit together so that they actually form (duh) a sweater or managing your awesome web site or getting a broken window fixed or whatever it may be. The tedious tasks are in important factor in allowing dreams come to fruition, so I’ve tried to become more realistic in evaluating what it will actually take to follow a creative impulse. If I want your sister to have a birthday sweater so much that I don’t mind the un-fun parts of creating it, then it deserves a place in the to-do list. So I completely agree that the way to manage these impulses is to keep a constant priority list that’s based around your intentions. The same qualities that feed creativity – intuition, compassion – can also help manage it.

  • Mindful Mimi

    Hi Christine,
    “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?” asks Bruce Springsteen. I am a big believer in ‘there is a right time for everything’. A right time to meet certain people (you would not have noticed a year ago). A right time to read a book (which was boring when you tried to read it a year ago). And yes, a right time to buy a house. The right time obviously comes down to the questions you ask yourself. I am sure this house, or another comes up at some point and you WILL buy it (for renting or retreating or just to live in yourself).
    So whenever something I wanted doesn’t come true, I don’t worry about it too much. I try to learn the lesson and move on. It (the same or slightly different/better) will eventually come back and present itself to me again. And if not, well then it wasn’t meant to be and that’s fine with me.
    Yes I do sometimes get dizzy from all the possible paths that I seem to have (or even just from all the books on my shelf that I still have to read). I get so dizzy because there is too much that I’d like to do and it clutters up my mind so that I don’t know anymore what I want to do. I loose myself in it. And sometimes it’s not easy to get your mind back on track. Asking these questions will be helpful. I often talk to my husband. He is the clutter clearner of my brain. He knows how to ask the questions I can’t seem to find. And he knows how to tell me how wonderful I am and that I can do this, when I am deep down in self-doubt.
    So if asking yourself these questions doesn’t help, have someone else ask you and add a few questions…
    Great post Christine.
    Enjoy tonight’s show. Oh and write a song about the house – at least something comes out of it that way. There is a reason for everything as Mira Kirshenbaum puts it.

  • Mother Earth

    I have this idea about famous or wealthy people. In my head they manage it all, you know when it gets bigger and more needs to be done and all. They simply just delegate everything. It seems so seamless.

    A friend recently rented out her studio condo – she lives a mile away from said condo with her new husband, but works 60 million hours a week and so because of it’s potential as an investment she just hired someone to manage it all for her. I thought – that’s really cool and good for her. Yet she’s really wealthy.

    I like to pretend that I have delegation ability, and assign litter box duty to my daughter. After all I’m going to be famous someday.

  • Michelle

    My aunt is unexpectedly coming in from out of town this weekend to give me a gift – my grandmother’s (her mother’s) engagement ring. I was the one with her when she passed away and my aunt feel strongly that I should have this ring. I am beyond touched and moved at such a gesture. Even so earlier today I found myself “annoyed” that it had to be this weekend. I have a christening to go to, a birthday party, my golf lesson, a hair appointment and not enough time.

    Whoa! Listen to all I have to DO! I finally decided to do one thing more than say no. I CANCELLED some plans becuase really what was important to me was spending time with my aunt to remember my nana (not getting the gift). Golf lessons can be taken next weekend, the birthday lunch with my friend (which is late anyway) can be postponed – she is a real friend and will totally understand.

    So thank you…for confirming that “The externals of my world do not dictate my ability to be happy” and that sometimes I need to remember that I am a humanBEING and don’t always need to be a humanDOING.

  • Christine Kane

    thanks connie!

    pat k. – yes, this is what i was trying to say at the end of the post about my own desire to control and label the outside world.

    hi nneka – “capacity” that’s a great word!

    leah – well – i’m very honored to help. 🙂

    lance – i am less and less motivated by fear. it used to be the ONLY thing. but “fear” in this post is really about examining the motives of clinging and controlling – more than the feeling of being excitedly nervous. (like i am now before my show tonight!)

    you go jannie!

    colin – for me, it’s people who come into the neighborhood with no real amazement or respect for the profound beauty that is here! thanks for that clarification!

  • Colin

    riff-raff• noun disreputable or undesirable people.

    — ORIGIN from Old French rif et raf ‘one and all, every bit’.

    Don’t beat yourself up about using the term “riff-raff”. Sometimes it’s an observation, not a condemnation

  • Jannie Sue

    I Need to tidy the kitchen and give my dog her bath and hair-trim. I Need to re-upload my songs to i-Tunes. I Need to lose 5 lbs.

    I LOVE doing dishes, I am not afraid of them at all. It is my intention to sing to them as I clean. Here I go…

  • Lance

    Great perspective on this Christine. I really like the thought-provoking question – is this out of fear or out of love. You are right that this does say it so clearly. Answer that question, and you really have your answer. Love is the way, although fear can be a real motivator at times.

  • leah

    again, what great timing for me with your post. i was trying to decide on an opportunity myself and your post helped me get to the truth about it. thank you!

  • Nneka

    I just love visiting your blog. It’s always what I need to hear. Focus on the intention came through loud and clear. This year my word is capacity and I spent the first 3 months whittling it away instead of expanding it. I’m back on track now and it feels great.

    The word for the year really simplifies it for me. Will this help me have more capacity? No, oh well, nice idea 🙂

  • Pat K.

    Love the post and will take all under consideration. Very thought provoking. However, I feel I must speak out on one thing that struck me the wrong with your post. That was the part of your pipe dream about controlling the riff-raff. You would want to be really, really careful with that in real life. Otherwise it is called discrimination. Even riff-raff has the right have shelter, and all the other things that you enjoy in life. They too have their place, and yes, even their own spiritual path.

  • Connie

    This post was very timely for me! I frequently go to fantasy land on projects and have to reign myself back to my reality. If it’s not an absolute yes, it’s a no has been a life saver! As to investment property, when it’s good, it’s great,otherwise…we have two and last year was a doozy in terms of riff raff (who knew) repairs etc.

  • Christine Kane

    hi mark – my husband wasn’t all that into it. but as with everything, his approach is that he always supports me if i’m passionate about it.

    our street was in a major flood several years back – and most of the homeowners had contractors here for weeks afterwards with big fans and generators under the houses to dry up the “black mold.” (a major issue after a flood.) and the owner of this house never did that – and the water was halfway up his house. so my husband’s issues revolved around not knowing about the black mold! (which, at first, i kind of ignored in my Dwell fantasies!)

  • Mark

    Verrry interesting post!

    Good for you for saying no. That’s a hard one, especially if it could provide more financial stability. I was under the impression you were married – what did your husband think? If you feel relief at not doing it, that’s a good sign!

  • Christine Kane

    thanks pamdora – the issue for me is that i travel a lot! my friends who own property love doing it. i just think it’s not mine to do right now.

    hi tammy – thanks! yes, once you get on a roll with all of this stuff (even just hearing one or two talks at sobcon) you can go in so many directions. being self-business-ish requires that you also be your own boss and tell you what you need to focus on right now…

    anna – it’s great that you can do that. and it’s quite a creative venture! (of course, my friend abbie bought a place in costa rica, fixed it all up nicely, and the guy who bought it tore the entire thing down and rebuilt on the property!) And thank goodness for Cheryl Richardson’s Absolute Yes statement. It has helped me so much, too.

  • Anna Garrett

    I just had to laugh while I was reading this! I have a whole Monopoly board in my head of things I have bought, fixed up and rented. I do have 2 rentals and enjoy dealing with them, but probably because I’ve had no “riff-raff”.

    What’s kept me on track lately is what you taught me…”if it’s not an absolute yes, it’s a no”. Otherwise, my 7-wing takes flight a lot!

  • Tammy Lenski

    Christine, I got such a hoot out of this article, because I can so easily go to the Dwell-type place too! And I was just talking to Lisa C yesterday (from SOBCon) about how easy it is to get off track when you’re in business for yourself, because all the creative ideas on which many of us thrive are so damn alluring. We talked about the necessity, as you pointed out, of focus and clarity around our intentions, and using that focus to ground decisions. Your Question #3 is a real bonus in that process and I appreciate that.

  • PaMdora

    Besides being an artist, I manage property. About the time I think I need to get motivated in a new direction to solve a problem or fill a vacanty, it solves itself. So give it time, it may solve itself.