… especially when this means creating a different pattern – challenging the status quo, or changing expectations.

Have you seen the Nike ad released during the Olympics of 86 year old Sister Madonna Buder? It’s really quite wonderful – clever, and inspiring!

It starts with a shot of the Sister in a location, and acting in a way that seems entirely normal. She quickly goes on to totally shatter any expectations that most of us might have of the way a Sister would act. She cares for and expresses herself in ways we wouldn’t expect of someone in her role, or of her age.

86 year old Sister Madonna Buder inspires us all ...
The wonderful Nike ad starring 86 year old
Sister Madonna Buder – she’s an inspiration!

In a lovely follow up piece – a local news report from Spokane where the Sister is well known – we see her surprise at the reaction of so many of us to what is normal for her.

Taking all the hype in her stride, the inimitable Sister doesn’t buy the idea that she’s doing anything special, and she’s certainly not perturbed by the idea of aging. In fact in saying “The only thing I succeed at is getting older, but anybody can do that, so I don’t see what the big deal is” she embraces aging as simply a matter of fact; something that happens. It’s not something that defines who she is. She gets to discern what’s true for her.

It’s also clear in this piece that she’s not stuck in a certain way of being. This Iron Nun, as she’s affectionately known, is paying attention to her body. She knows where her edges are, and when to say “no”. While at 86 she’s still participating in triathalons, she thinks she’s done with the Ironman competition! She continues to do what she clearly loves, while knowing where and when to say “no”.

Saying “no” to expectations and challenging the status quo in order to be ourselves, or do what feels true to us, is often not easy. I don’t know the Sister, but I imagine her choice to become a nun in the first place, as well as her many years of practice as a nun within her community both contribute to her being so strongly self-referenced. She has a lifetime of practice in discerning what’s true for her, and many years of practice in prayer and meditation, listening to that quiet voice inside her.

We may not be called to be Sisters, but there are many of us who know in our bones there’s some idea or way of being we’ve come here to stand for. Often when we’ve spoken out or ‘coloured outside the lines’, others have reacted with surprise and shock, especially when what we were saying or doing ran counter to the way most of the world seemed to see things, or was different from the way it’s ‘always been done’. In this experience we’re not so different from Sister Madonna Buder. No wonder she inspires us!

Growing up in a society where fitting in is valued, we’ve often been censured for being ourselves.

So how do we develop the courage it takes to be more self-referenced –
to stand and speak or act in ways that are different from what others expect?

How do we learn to stand for what’s true for us, and say “no” to things that are not?

I’m reminded of William Ury’s book The Power of a Positive No. In the book, Ury clearly names three ways we commonly respond to situations that call for this kind of standing. He calls them the three As – avoid, accommodate, and attack. Despite our best intentions, I imagine they’re as uncomfortably familiar to you as they are to me.

We know that in avoiding facing them, we feel out of integrity with ourselves. In continuing to accomodate in situations when doing so isn’t appropriate, we exhaust ourselves and become resentful. And when this has gone on for a while unchecked, our understandable human response is to lash out in attack. Of course when that happens others are even less likely to be drawn to what we’re standing for!

So what’s the alternative that Ury proposes? He suggests the first step is to find our internal “yes”. Here we’re inwardly directed, checking in with ourselves and getting clear about all the nuances of what we deeply feel and what we’re really after. This helps us get in touch with the power of our life. It helps us find our voice, and supports us in getting clear on the distinction between what’s most true for us, and the ways we’ve been conditioned.

Having accessed our big “yes”, the second step is to get clear about our “no.” What are we actually saying “no” to, and are there are conditions to our position here? Is this a “no” for now, or a “no” forever? Are there situations where our “no” might change to “yes” (or a “yes” to “no”)? Again this part is internal. But there are external conditions to consider too. How will we deliver our “no”? Is this a situation where we simply and clearly speak our “no” and move on, or is this a relationship where we want to build a bridge that will support the deepening the relationship? Either way, when we speak our “no” in a way that’s both clear and respectful we’ll find our sense of being powerfully grounded in ourselves strengthened.

The final step is another “yes”, and this one is externally directed. It’s about the other person, but it’s about them in a way that helps them know we’re on their side without leaving our own. How will we let them know we have their interest at heart, and want to be an ally, but do this without abandoning ourselves? Whatever their reaction to our “no”, our first commitment is to being in integrity with what is true for us, and our stand is for the creation of healthy relationships.

Though Ury’s three steps may look simple, enacting them isn’t easy! And for many of us, trying to engage these practices on our own increases the challenges. There are many reasons Sisters live in community, and having the support of others committed to similar practices and ways of being is surely one of them. Access to this kind of support is one of the advantages of being part of the Realizing RICH Relationships community. So if you’re feeling a sense of resonance with any of this, have questions, or want to explore these ideas and practices more deeply, please be in touch. What you bring to our world is important, and I’d love to support you in being and living you even more fully!

Nurturing juicy co-creative partnerships
…with ourselves, others & life!