Recently, I moved homes, and throughout the move, I kept seeing turtles.
Turtles walking across trails, peeking out of shells, and sunbathing on logs.
Turtles in real life and on divination cards and in photographs.
Turtles of different sizes and species: box turtles and snapping turtles.
At first, I thought these turtles were symbolizing that home is with me wherever I am. To go home, go within. This message continues to be comforting as I create a new home-space.
Then, I thought these turtles were reminding me to slow down. I need this reminder because I keep running into walls, and the bruises keep accumulating. Slowing down allows enough time to listen for my “strong yes,” and the more I listen, the more aligned I am with commitments. This message remains needed as an everyday anchor.
Now, having completed the move and still seeing turtles, I think turtles are teaching me a deeper lesson about boundaries and knowing myself well enough to know the sort of protective shell I need.
I’m asking questions like: When do I need to feel protected? When do I need to retreat within? When do need to come out of my shell? When do I need to give a warning snap? How can I better honor the energy within myself, knowing what’s mine and not mine?
Struggling with Giving and Receiving “No”
Though I know the importance of saying “no” in order to say “yes,” I still really, REALLY struggle with the many “no” responses I need to give on a daily basis. Sometimes I need to say “no” to other people, but more often, I need to self-parent and say “no” to myself.
There are many templates and scripts for saying no, but these rarely work for me. Instead, I’ve been tracking how I actually say no, noticing how each instance feels in my body.
What typically doesn’t feel good is saying a flat “no.” And I can think of multiple reasons for this, including that I’m still breaking people-pleasing gendered and white supremacist socialization. It’s also so rare to give or receive a direct “no” that it’s interactionally treated as a problem—a conflict or disruption. And, truly, “no” can signal a rupture or a need for rupture to happen.
I’ve also had life lessons about how brutal it feels when a “no” isn’t received. I imagine that many of us are carrying histories of boundary-crossing and trust-breaking that make new encounters with “no” charged with the many moments that have come before. I know that past experiences lead me to hesitancy and tightrope-walking at times. I also know that not being true—that is, not honoring my “no”—does far more harm, eroding trust with myself and with others.
Practicing “No” for Affirming “Yes”
Knowing that communicating “no” is an essential truth-telling practice, I am practicing. And with each practice, I’m imagining myself as the turtle: safe within myself and courageously sticking out my neck.
Here are some ways I’ve found myself saying no this summer:
- “I’m not sure. Let me think about that.”
- “I need some time before I can make a decision.”
- “Thanks, but this isn’t my cup of tea.”
- “I’d like to stay in touch, but I’m maxed out on social media.”
- “I can’t make it, but I’ll be thinking of you and hoping it’s a wonderful time.”
- “Let me circle back in a few months.”
- “It’s ok to email, but I won’t respond in the future.”
- “Not now, Beth. What’s really in your heart?”
- “Go slow. No, s-l-o-w-e-r. See what remains and fill in around the slow.”
- “I need more time for rest these days, so I have to say no.”
- “I can’t do it. I just can’t.”
- “Maybe in the future, but not now.”
I’ve also found myself taking actions that enact a “no”— attempting to observe my true capacity each day:
- Limiting when and how I open apps (media and news apps especially).
- Unsubscribing from newsletters and notifications.
- Updating a daily wellness plan, including lists of food triggers to limit.
- Spending hours preparing food and allowing myself long rest/nap times, even when there are other “to do” tasks for the day (and those keep getting bounced back).
- Noticing which work drains versus fuels me and which is being mirrored back to me as not needed versus most essential.
- Allowing this blog post to develop over several weeks, trusting that blogging will come with the pace that’s possible now.
Still, I imagine that turtles are likely to keep showing up, as I have a far way to go toward cultivating my inner home, slowing down, and really knowing and following my “yes” and “no.” There are so many external conditions that pull against this knowing, so it’s a practice—a many-times-every-day practice—to go within.
As I practice, I feel especially connected to the turtle as a symbol of deep, inner knowing with a protective outer shell. I’m resolving to stay with lessons about boundaries, appreciative for the work of Prentis Hemphill and adrienne maree brown for teaching about boundaries and love—again and again and again.
Going forward, I am repeating these turtle-inspired mantras and offer them with hope that they support you, too:
- I trust my body, listen to its signals, and honor what it needs.
- I slow down to notice before responding “yes” or “no.”
- I find and feel courage from within.
- I have options: to observe, to interact, to snap, to retract.
- I respect myself today and, from there, allow respect to flow outward.
- I show up, knowing I am protected by many tools for blocking harm.
- I show up, knowing I am committed and resilient for building toward justice.
This post is written by Beth Godbee, Ph.D. for Heart-Head-Hands.com. If you’d like to connect around reflection and writing, check out upcoming writing retreat days, one-with-one coaching, and subscription options. For regular updates, sign up for the email newsletter. Thanks!