Don’t Tell Me What to Do!

One of the most basic inhibitors in a love relationship is the resistance to being told what to do. People are afraid they may be dominated by their partner’s desires and somehow forced to go along with or do things that are not what they really want. On the surface, this is a reasonable concern. No one wants to be a “doormat” or lose his or her independence. However, it never occurs to most people that even resisting
simple requests is a basic behavior pattern that started at an early age. Have you ever watched a very young child throw a spoon or something off his or her highchair, over and over? Even if the parent says “don’t,” this action is like a very fun game to the child. When the child becomes mobile, he or she continues the game by running in the opposite direction from the parent. Saying “come here” is tantamount to a command to run somewhere, anywhere else.

Avoiding being told what to do is so normal that it has followed most of us through the many stages of our lives largely unnoticed. In the next section, Ariel relates her experience of first noticing Shya and how his way of being was so different that it set him apart. In this story, you can see how mental processes follow us from an early age and how they become so normal that they are transparent. Perhaps it will take you back to times when you constructed the groundwork for your relationships as you know them today.

In 1980, I took my first personal growth course. Taking this workshop was really exciting for me. It helped me look at how I related to my parents, my sisters, and my life. I looked at my fears and aspirations, my career and appearance. I really went for it with everything I could muster. I remember we had to fi ll
out a form and one of the questions was, “What do you want to get out of this seminar?” I was in heaven. This question was an easy one. I wanted to get work as an actress, lose weight, like myself better, improve my love life, stop being so afraid, fix up my relationship with Mom and Dad, and about one hundred
and ten other things. I even had to attach an extra sheet of paper to handle all of the items that needed work.
As it turned out, something freed up for me in that group. I went to three auditions the week following its completion, and I landed all three parts. I was on a roll. But by the time I went to the evening seminar where Shya walked into my life, the freshness and sense of freedom had already faded, and I was an old pro at this new system that I had just learned. Already my excitement for life had diminished, and I was replacing it with
a reasonable facsimile of true enthusiasm.

“It’s time for announcements,” said Shya, our new seminar leader, from the front of the room. This was the third evening of a ten-session series, and it was the third time we’d had a new facilitator. Unbeknownst to me, these courses rarely had more than one leader, but for some reason we were on our third.

Announcements! We all knew what that meant, and I was ready to show it. I sat up in my chair and, along with the two hundred or so others, I clapped and cheered and stomped my feet. “Announcements” was the part of the seminar that was devoted to offering other courses and projects and tickets to go to big groups with your friends at places like New York’s Beekman Theater. We were all enthused.

“Oh, be quiet. I know all about you guys,” Shya calmly said as he settled into the chair in the front of the room. “You all clap and carry on, but you don’t buy tickets or do anything. It’s just for show.”
Glancing down, I noticed my hands were suspended in mid-clap. Quickly I lowered them into my lap and looked back up at Shya. He was sitting quietly, just waiting. He is the most arrogant person I have ever seen, I thought. Who does he think he is? “Listen, if you want to buy tickets, then buy tickets. If you don’t, then don’t. But making all that noise is just insulting if you don’t really mean it. If you want to buy tickets, then do it for you, not for my approval—or anyone else’s, for that matter. It’s time to get honest about what you want.”

The truth reverberated through the room. It was quiet. It wasn’t forceful. Shaken from a mechanical complacency, suddenly I started to come alive again. The next thing I knew, my legs were taking me to the ticket table, where I bought five. I didn’t know to whom I would give them, but I wanted to buy them because I wanted to, not because it was the right or expected thing to do. Who does he think he is? was replaced with Who is this guy?

A year or so later, as I sat behind my receptionist’s desk at the chiropractic office where I worked, I looked up to see Shya filling out a form of his own. It was the new patient questionnaire.
This gave me time to examine him up close. This guy is quite handsome, I thought, as I inspected his short brownish hair and his lean physique, and I must admit the rolled-up sleeves of his dress shirt revealed a nice pair of forearms. And then, there was the motorcycle. Shya had arrived wearing a brown herringbone-patterned sports jacket, shirt, tie, and helmet. The biker look mixed with the corporate image I definitely found enticing.

When Shya left after that initial appointment, my real detective work began. As the door closed behind him, I took my cup of coffee and his chart and did a little research. In Shya’s particular case, the new patient information form provided both the doctor and me with pertinent facts. I fully planned on reading the questionnaire with entirely different motives than Dr. Don had intended. I wanted to see if Shya
was a good candidate for dating, and so I scanned the form.

Hmm . . . forty-one years old. Okay, I can live with that, but what about . . . Great! He’s single . . . no communicable diseases, heart problems, etc., etc. Excellent!

When it came to the part on the back of the form where it said “Reason for Visit,” I was pleased to note that Shya had filled in, in a strong distinctive handwriting, “For tight muscles and to relieve stress.” Oh good, he’s not sick; he’s just looking to take care of himself.

I was happy that Shya’s diagnosis called for him to come to the office three times a week for a series of weeks, then twice a week, and so on. He soon became one of the first patients on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and eventually he came early enough to chat, share coffee, and sometimes muffins.

One particular Friday morning started out normally enough, but something happened that has highlighted that day in my memory and kept it from fading into the shadowy indistinctness of past day-to-day events. The outer door opened on a very gray day, the rain falling in sheets. As I buzzed Shya into the office, I watched as the heavy drops rolled off his face and down the khaki-colored rain slicker. This day was defi nitely not
the best for motorcycles or their riders. Shedding his wet outer layer, Shya held up the soggy paper bag that held our coffees. This had become a morning ritual. By the time he arrived, I was ready for a second cup and a break. I had begun looking forward to his visits.

That morning Shya’s face and hands were particularly rosy from the cold, and he held the steaming container of coffee in his cupped hands to soak up some of the warmth. This did nothing to heat his nose or the backs of his hands, and so he teasingly touched his chilly fingers to my face. Squealing, I jumped back, a few drops from my cup sloshing over the side and onto my desk. Pulling a tissue to wipe up the spill, I said lightly, “Oh, go away, you. Just be quiet, put your coffee down, take your chart, and go into Room 3. Lie down and wait for the doctor.”

An amazing thing happened. Shya set his cup on the counter, and without saying another word, he picked up his chart, turned, and went down the hall, turning the corner and moving out of my line of sight as he made his way to Room 3. He had done exactly as I had asked. The reception area became very still. The coffee steamed on the counter. I could hear the rain pelting down against the window, and the goose bumps on my
arms had nothing to do with the storm raging outside or the remembrance of chilly fingers on my face.
After a few moments, tossing the tissue in the wicker garbage basket, I quietly followed Shya down the hall and turned the corner so I could look into Room 3. There his chart was, nestled in the Plexiglas door pocket, waiting for the doctor so he could know at a glance whom he was seeing and review the course of treatment. It had surprised me how often I had to chase after patients with their chart and slip it into the door pocket for them, even though it should have become routine for them to take it after the first couple of visits or so. And there was Shya, lying facedown on the chiropractic table, relaxing and waiting for his turn with Dr. Don.
What a curious feeling. I hadn’t realized, before that moment, how much people embellished upon or resisted even simple instructions. I couldn’t remember people ever simply doing what they were told. I rarely did what I was told, at least not exactly.

For example, in fifth grade, I came in from recess one bright and sunny spring day, only to be greeted by a lengthy test, which my teacher, Miss Tyler, had devised. “Okay, class,” she said. “This is a math test. It is mainlystory problems . . .”I hated her. It was unfair. Life was unfair.
“You will have sixty minutes to finish the test, and it will count very heavily toward your overall grade. There will be absolutely no talking. Anyone who talks or is found cheating will get an automatic F. Those of you who finish early may go outside.”

Fat chance, I thought. It was cruel of her, in my opinion, to entice us with the great outdoors, because everyone knew that story problems were the bane of all math tests, and now we had several pages to wade through in only one hour. Miss Tyler faced the blackboard, picked up the chalk, and in her best cursive script wrote, “Be sure to read all of the instructions thoroughly before beginning. You will have sixty minutes.” Then, chalk in hand, she pointed to each word, and as if we were morons, she also read them out loud, underlining the word all. Then she looked at the class and smiled. She actually smiled as she said, “Any questions?”

“Okay, children,” she announced, glancing at the clock, “Pick up your pencils, turn over your papers, read the instructions, and begin.”
Quickly I flipped the test over and began.

First the instructions:
“Be sure to write clearly and legibly” . . . blah, blah, blah. I quickly scanned the pages to see if I could find a strategy that would let me finish the whole thing with a minimum of mistakes and still have a few minutes outside. As if to tease me, the  breeze gusted and brought with it all of the fragrant promises of spring. Tightening my resolve, I sat up straight and dove into the pile of questions starting with number one.
I was diligently working through the fifth problem when Anita, the class smarty, put down her pencil, gathered up her test, handed it to Miss Tyler, and went outside. I couldn’t believe it. Next John got up, and looking a bit smug, he handed the test in and went to play. One by one, students began finishing their tests. My friend, Jan, looked at me with a slightly sheepish grin as she headed out to the playground. I tried not
to let it distract me. I was determined to get outside. About this time, Miss Tyler started chuckling, and she was joined by the chuckles of Mr. Miller, the other fifth-grade teacher, who for some reason had appeared in the front of our room. I found the combined laughter of the two teachers downright disturbing.
“Sshhh!” I found myself saying. I didn’t think I would be risking an F for reminding my teachers that we were working here, and besides, “Sshhh!” wasn’t exactly talking.

My testy shush and glowering look didn’t quite get the response I had expected. Miss Tyler and Mr. Miller suddenly broke into a fit. They laughed so hard that Miss Tyler began to hold her sides and exclaim, “Oh, Oh, Oh!” We all stopped to stare as they snorted and wiped tears from their eyes.
“Ariel, did you read the instructions?” Mr. Miller asked, while attempting to keep a straight face. Glancing around at the third of the class still seated, I protested as only a guilty child can, “Of course I did!”
Actually I hadn’t really read the whole paragraph of instructions. I had wanted to get it over with. My noisy, indignant protestations brought on a whole new wave of laughing and snorts and “Oh!” and other odd exclamations from Miss Tyler and Mr. Miller.

“Class, please put down your pencils,” Miss Tyler commanded, and I was about to protest because we still had half an hour left and I wanted to pass the test, but something in her eye stopped me.
“Ariel, will you please read the instructions to the class.” In my best voice, trying to sound as if I actually had read them all, I began, “Be sure to write legibly and clearly. In the margins be sure to show your work. If you get the answer wrong, you will be awarded partial credit for work you did correctly. If you do not show how you arrived at your answers, you will not be credited, even if you get the right answer. Be sure to read all of the questions before you begin. Answer only questions four, thirteen, and thirty. Hand in your paper without
talking and then go outside.”
“I can’t see the rest of you wasting this beautiful day simply because you didn’t follow my instructions,” Miss Tyler said, with a smile that seemed quite kindly now. “Go ahead and go outside with your friends,” she continued as she dropped the tests she had collected into the wastepaper basket, “and be sure to throw your tests into the trash before you go.” This was one set of instructions I wasn’t going to resist.
As I quietly returned to the reception desk of the chiropractic offi ce that day, I was as stunned as I had been that time in fifth grade when I found out that I hadn’t followed the instructions. Shya had simply done as he was requested. Why did I find this so remarkable? I replayed my instructions in my mind: Oh, go away, you. Just be quiet, put your coffee down, take your chart, and go into Room 3. Lie down and wait for the doctor.
Shya hadn’t taken that extra sip of coffee, nor had he said, “Okay,” or added any other filler. He had simply followed my instructions and completely fulfilled my request. I am not sure why this affected me so deeply, but it did. I was inspired by the economy of his movements and touched that his actions seemed to be without reservation. And I didn’t feel like I had been bossing him around either. He simply was responsive
to my request, and I felt powerful, listened to, and somehow special.
Once, Shya and I were walking down a street in New York City when he suddenly stopped and whirled around, staring intently at the retreating backs of a couple who had just passed us. “Rick, is that you?”
The couple turned around. Rick was a fellow Shya had known while living in Maine, someone he had neither seen nor spoken with in almost fourteen years. Rick, it turns out, was visiting Manhattan from his current home in Washington, D.C., with his girlfriend, Lisa.
Shaking Shya’s hand, Lisa said, “I’m glad to finally meet you. Rick has told me so much about you.”
“In fact, I was just talking about you the other day to one of the CEOs I act as a consultant for,” Rick noted. “I was telling him about the time you came to my house for a barbecue. Do you remember it?”

When Shya shook his head, Rick continued, “It was the most amazing thing. I guess it happened about eighteen or twenty years ago. You came to my house early one night when I was preparing dinner for our families and friends, and you asked if there was anything you could help with. I told you that it would be helpful if you could clean the grill, chop a little firewood for later, and bring the dishes out to the table. And you know what? You cleaned the grill, chopped a little firewood, and brought the dishes out to the table. You didn’t change the order in which you did these chores. You didn’t add anything. You just did as I asked. It was almost as if there was a second ‘me’ out there doing those tasks, and it was an amazing experience I have never forgotten.”
Shya’s ability to be present made it possible for him to listen to what was being asked of him and then do it. However, the ability to simply follow instructions or fulfill a request can be difficult for many people for several reasons. Oftentimes people are so busy in their thoughts that they are not really listening, and so it is then virtually impossible to be fully responsive. When you are doing something else, requests are often
held as an intrusion or an inconvenient interruption to your plans. When this happens you may do what is asked of you, but your actions are likely to be less than wholehearted. And again, as we discussed in the chapter about hidden agendas, many people have never looked at their childhood decision to be “independent.” When this is the case, even simple requests are automatically resisted or embellished upon.
The ability to say “yes” to the requests life makes upon you has far-reaching and profound ramifications. When you bring awareness to your automatic “no” without judging yourself for having it, then it loses its power to dominate your life, your life choices, and your relationship (Third Principle). Rather than being taken advantage of, people who learn how to be a “yes” to life’s requests become more direct in their actions and in their ability to communicate. They are subsequently more
productive, effective, and satisfied. On an intimate level, one who discovers how to listen to his or her partner and fulfill requests will find physical intimacy becomes far easier, more pleasurable, and more fulfilling.

When discussing being a “yes” to your life, it is important to establish what is meant when we use the terms surrender and succumb and to distinguish between the two. There is a vast difference between surrendering and succumbing to the requests made upon you by your life and your partner. Surrender is when you take on another’s request of you as though it were your own. Succumb is when you do what is requested of you and victimize yourself for having to do it.
How many times have you said, “Yes, I will,” to what is requested of you and then resented that you had to? This is succumbing. Succumb is when you complain in your thoughts about the injustice of the request and how you are doing it only because they asked it of you, not because you want to.
We define surrender as allowing yourself to do what your life requests of you, and sometimes, your life shows up as requests made by your partner. Surrender is when you fulfill a request as if it were your own idea in the first place, with the intention of having it be a really great idea. This is distinctly different
from fulfilling the request with the intention to prove to your partner that he or she was mistaken or misguided to have asked in the first place. In other words, if you succumb to a request, you will not have fun and you will be proving him or her wrong. When you succumb, frequently you will hurt yourself somehow to show your partner just how wrong he or she is. When you surrender to a request, however, you both win and
experience satisfaction as a result.
Many people find surrendering very challenging, because once they are in a relationship, they start competing with their partner. This dynamic can be especially strong for women who compare themselves and their achievements to those of their mate and want to prove that they are equal to, as good as, or, in fact, better than a man. It is also strong for men who have been programmed not to let “girls” get ahead of them.
Many women have not discovered that they can just be themselves and still include their femininity. They haven’t seen that they don’t have to be manly in a man’s world. They haven’t recognized that they can be very potent and powerful as human beings without force, because force looks really bad on a woman. Of course, it doesn’t work so well for men either. If you have the choice, the ability, the willingness to surrender,
then you are truly independent. It takes a very strong person to say, “Yes . . . yes . . . okay, yes . . . yes . . . sure . . . alright . . . yes.”
If you have the ability to sidestep the early programming of not wanting to be told what to do by another, then you actually have the ability to honestly say, “No, I don’t want to do that,” when “no” is your truth. When you have the ability to surrender, you become powerful in yourself, and your union with a partner becomes a powerful one. Whether your relationship is new or well seasoned, there is the possibility of surrendering to your life and your partner and having your relationship enter the realm of the miraculous.
Sometimes when approaching the idea of surrendering to one’s partner, people get worried they will lose themselves, get taken advantage of, or become a “doormat.” If you find yourself with one of these concerns, then take a step back and realize that dissolving your automatic “no” truly has nothing to do with your partner and everything to do with how you approach your life. Start with noticing your thoughts and attitudes about
normal day-to-day activities. For instance, when you brush your teeth, do you still resist “having to”? Or have you ever noticed that you will leave unwashed dishes in the sink and then pass by them throughout the day, even though their mere presence is a request to wash them and put them away? Or how about making your bed, paying that bill, balancing your checkbook, returning that phone call, or replacing that burned-out
light bulb? When we are talking about surrender, we are talking about developing the ability to be a “yes” to the “requests” life makes upon you. When you become practiced at being responsive to your environment, saying “yes” to your partner becomes a wonderful dance of taking care of each other rather than a begrudging, list-keeping tit for tat.

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