Just Say No

Today, I gave a talk at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Jamestown.  I’ll include the reading and hymn numbers here, just in case you are UU and might like to know.

Just Say No
Jennifer Schlick

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Opening Hymn #360 – Here We Have Gathered

Welcome and Announcements


Chalice Lighting – Reading #448

Hymn #90:  From all the Fret and Fever of the Day

Children’s Story

A Cup of Tea

Adapted from a traditional Zen Koan

Once upon a time, there was a professor who had been teaching at the University for a long time.  He knew many things and was highly regarded by everyone.

One day, he learned that there was a very wise Zen master who lived high in the mountains above the town.  This Zen master was also highly regarded by everyone.

The professor decided he should meet the Zen master, to see if there was anything he could learn from such a wise man.  He climbed the mountain path for a long time, and eventually found the shelter in the mountains where the Zen master lived.

“Oh great master,” said the professor, “I understand that you are a wise man.  I wish to learn everything you know.”

The Zen master said, “Let’s have tea,” and he began the meticulous preparations.  Once the tea was ready, he placed a cup on a rock and filled it, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself.  “It is overfull!  No more will go in!” he exclaimed.

The master stopped pouring and said, “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations.  How can I teach you anything unless you first empty your cup?”

Children dismissed (Go Now in Peace)

Joys & Concerns


ReflectionJust Say No

I love that story about the Zen master and the professor.  It resonates with me right now.  Not because I want to learn about Zen.  It’s because of the way my life looked this past year:

  1. My mom had some health issues and needed my help more than normal. In fact, I moved in with her for six months.
  2. Andy Goodell invited the artists who participated in Women Create 2012 to display their work this year at the State Capitol. It fell to me to communicate with the artists, arrange for the photo opp, and so on.  For those of you who don’t know, Women Create 2012 was a juried exhibit of women’s art which my friend Deb Eck and I coordinated.  The month long exhibit included an opening reception, weekly salons to meet the artists, and a closing night reception at which a new work of art was unveiled.  People loved it and wanted us to do it again. And we loved doing it.  It was, however, exhausting, so Deb and I decided it could be a biennial.  Which brings me to number 3.
  3. Women Create 2014 had me busy from August 2013 through the end of March 2014 with everything from managing the artists’ submissions, getting the photographs to the juror, then communicating with the artists about who was selected, when they needed to deliver their work and so on. I also created and updated the website, worked with Pat Brininger for publicity, attended all the activities, and so on.
  4. In April, I mounted a solo exhibit of my photography at the Lakewood Library.
  5. The Allegany Nature Pilgrimage is an annual gathering of nature enthusiasts that is organized and executed by volunteers from 4 different nature organizations: Jamestown, Buffalo, and Presque Isle Audubon and a nature club from Rochester.  I served on the planning committee and managed the website and Paypal account.
  6. A bunch of SW graduates thought it would be fun to hold a 70s-80s Reunion inviting all graduation classes from those two decades to gather. I said yes to getting word out to my class, attending a planning meeting or two and going to the event over 4th of July weekend.
  7. 2014 also happened to mark the 40th anniversary of my high school graduation. In the past, I’ve handled the lion’s share of the preparations myself.  But because of everything else I had going on, including caring for mom, I made a couple of phone calls.  Thank goodness I had folks step up and take over so that all I had to do was show up – late by the way – because my daughter’s best friend got married that day and we went to the wedding first.  Leading up to the reunion though, I was in charge of the website and paypal account, communications, bill paying, etc.
  8. In August, I helped both my girls pack up their belongings so they could head out to start the next chapter in their lives – masters degrees – Emily to Rochester NY and Maddie to Boulder CO.
  9. Also in August, I led a short photography workshop at Chautauqua Institution for the Bird Tree and Garden Club.
  10. In September and October I headed up a group photography exhibit at the Prendergast Library with four other photographers.
  11. In September, I was scheduled to lead a hike at Fredonia College Lodge for the Finger Lakes Trail Conference Fall Camp-out. I scouted the trail several times in the months leading up to the event, since I don’t normally hike that trail.
  12. In October, I was invited to offer photography workshops at the Wild Women Unite retreat weekend in Buffalo, NY.

Are you tired yet?  Because while doing all this I was still holding down my 40-hour-per-week job at Audubon and trying to be a wife, mother, daughter, and friend, not to mention trying to keep up with Facebook!

I’m not complaining.  I feel blessed to have the skills to be able to help in all these endeavors.  But as my boss once said to me, “Too much of a good thing is still too much.”

Have you ever seen Peter Pan or read the book?  Do you remember the part where Wendy asks Peter to describe Neverland?

He says, “Well, it’s an island.”

“A large one?”  she asks.

“No, no.  Quite small.  But it’s nicely crammed with hardly any space between one adventure and another.”

That’s my life – hardly any space between one adventure and another.  In fact, I usually have more than one adventure happening all at the same time. And the adventures overlap with a new one starting before the last one is finished.

And you know what?  It isn’t healthy.  I was tired.  My digestive tract wasn’t behaving.  I didn’t feel sick-sick, but I never felt truly well, either.  Stress was taking its toll.

At some point in early- to mid-August, a classmate and I found ourselves on Facebook doing the typing-chat thing.  He asked me what I thought of the reunion.  I took a few deep breaths as I remembered the activities of just a few weeks prior.  My exhausted mind tried to find opinions or emotions tied to the events.  Finally, though, I had to say, “Honestly.  The reunion was just another check mark on a long list of things I had to do.”

And I thought, how sad.

And in that moment something snapped.  I decided I was done.  No more packing my life so dang full of projects.  I would finish the projects I had already committed to, but I would say NO to anything new.  For one whole year.

I would empty my cup.  I would put some space between my adventures.  I would free up some time for reflection, yes, but also for spontaneity and surprises.

Not long after making this decision I had lunch with a friend of mine who studied gestalt once upon a time.  Conversations with her are always very interesting.  She asks hard questions.  She probes deep.  We chatted about why I say yes to so many things and what I hoped to gain by pulling back.

Sometimes I said yes because I was truly interested in a project.  But sometimes, I said yes because it felt good to be appreciated for the skills I could bring to bear, even if the project itself didn’t truly interest me.

What do I hope to gain by saying no?  I hope to gain a more powerful yes.  I hope that when I finally go back to saying yes, it will be to projects that are a true reflection of the mark I want to make in the world.

The last few months have been interesting.  I’ve tied up many loose ends and quit many projects.  I’ve said no to more than one request to get involved in something new.

Some endings have been easy, others have been bittersweet.  Some NOs have been easy and others have been difficult.  There have been some mis-steps and some mistakes.  For example, I said YES to a friend who asked me to speak at her church…  And I find myself daydreaming about projects I COULD start…

But I’m not going to.  Not for at least a year.  I will give myself time to reflect.  I will pay attention to which things I truly miss.  And after the year is up, I hope I will choose my projects and activities more mindfully. I hope I will have more clarity about what I want to say YES to.

I’m going to follow this advice:

When you feel stuck or lost or overwhelmed, stop everything.
Empty your cup.  Create a void.
Do not refill the void too quickly or without reflection.
Fill it mindfully – and not too full like Peter Pan’s Neverland.
Leave space between adventures for reflection.

And spontaneity.  And surprises.

Hymn #83:  Winds Be Still

Extinguish the Chalice (Reading from Richard Gilbert)

The Shirk Ethic
by Richard Gilbert

O God of Work and Leisure
Teach me to shirk on occasion,
Not only that I may work more effectively
But also that I may enjoy life more abundantly.
Enable me to understand that the earth
Magically continues spinning on its axis
Even when I am not tending thy vineyards.
Permit me to breathe more easily
Knowing the destiny of the race
Rests not on my shoulders alone.
Deliver me from false prophets who urge me
To “repent and shirk no more.”
I pray for thy grace on me,
Thy faithful shirker.


2 thoughts on “Just Say No

  1. I enjoyed your message. It reminded me of my wife’s lifelong philosophy of “Say no to the good things, and yes to the best”. I think it has always helped her manage her busy life adventures.

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