5 Things Learned From Not Going to Carnival: Needs, Sobriety, & SAYING NO

Several weeks ago, fortune found us hours away from Carnival in Barranquilla – site of the second largest Carnival in the world. Only Rio tops it.

The anticipation of Carnival was alive in everything: Everyone’s words. The decorations of houses. The on-demand concert tickets. This intoxicating excitement combined with a four-day promise of elaborate costumes, street food, and samba lines was more than we needed to decide to join.

And then, just a few hours before our bus to Barranquilla, concert tickets in-hand to see Shaggy & Bomba Estereo I became overwhelmingly anxious and doubtful.

Where would we stay? How bad was traffic going to be? What would we wear? Was it worth it?

While this cornucopia of logistical queries was valid, it masked what my heart was trying to communicate: I did not want to go to Carnival. I did not want to be surrounded by alcohol.

Blinded by a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” I was unable to see how compromising the situation had already become for me.

Mentally, I was preparing for the impending debauchery, justifying it as a unique cultural observance. Strategically, I was planning how to have fun, politely decline drinks, and sneak-away at a reasonable hour to maintain my morning practices.

I was exhausted. I was crippled by anxiety. And we hadn’t even left yet.

After a meditation and an honest conversation with my all-too-understanding travel companion, it was decided: Carnival would stay an unrealized force of fantasy.

Although I’m sure Carnival was a hell of a good time, I’m grateful for what I walked away with:

  1. Root Down, Don’t Be Blown About By Every Wind

The prospect of Carnival spun me into a frenzy of familiar, vicious cycles of compulsive and obsessive thinking. I was uprooted by a habit to over-commit and a tendency of indecision. Furthermore, I let external voices speak to me louder than my heart and intuition.

While Carnival was a unique opportunity, it was just another decision to be made. And life is a composite of opportunities and decisions, some tempting, others easily declined.

Carnival showed me how easily decisions can be made by external variables, rather than from internal inquisition in a grounded self.

Loyalty to our self, our values, and our needs will keep us from being blown about by every wind. And that wind will certainly continue to blow.

With this allegiance, decision-making becomes empowering and fun, rather than intimidating and unpleasant.

  1. Ask Yourself What You Need – Today, and Every Day

What do you need today? How can your needs be met?

These questions are powerful and undervalued; rarely do we indulge the time to ask and the space to come to an answer.

We’re told that having and identifying needs is selfish. And furthermore, most us think we’re in some way unworthy of having our needs met.

Asking what you need, every day, is a courageous, necessary, and formative first step in the process of honest investigation. Honest investigation deepens the understanding of who we are and builds the trust in ourselves to advocate for our needs and affirm our boundaries.

Once we identify our needs, we can actualize a path towards fulfillment. And once we begin paving our path, we can communicate our needs and intention to the people in our lives, trusting them to provide the support we need.

Had I slowed down and honestly investigated, I could have identified and communicated what I truly needed, rather than what I wanted to need.

  1. Have Compassion When Your Needs Change – They Will

We are human. We are dynamic. We are encouraged to change.

What we need today is different from what we needed yesterday and what we’ll need tomorrow. Expending energy hypothesizing what we’ll need in the future, takes away opportunity to genuinely provide for ourselves in the present.

When faced with familiar situations, take a moment to realize how much time has passed in-between, and how much you have changed in that time. It’s amazing how dynamic we are, and as we grow, our needs evolve to support that growth. Rather than being surprised or disappointed when actual needs vary from anticipated needs, we can celebrate dynamism and trust the integrity of what we need today.

Carnival in Barranquilla is a perfect, personal example. There are few things I love more than national celebrations and opportunities to dive deep into foreign cultures. But after a week on the coast, surrounded by partying and the prevalence of alcohol, the last thing I needed was to be in a situation that would have felt exponentially more compromising.

My heart told me what I needed: to slow-down, respect my sobriety, and say no.

I’m human. I’m dynamic. It’s beautiful to change.

  1. Learn To Say No

In a world abundant with infinite options and limitless possibilities, there is overwhelming pressure to say yes. Yes can be direct – accepting a dinner invite or a new work assignment. Or yes can be indirect – not affirming no.

Why is saying no so hard? Why does it feel so out of character?

We’re taught that saying yes is polite and right and saying no is rude and wrong: our default is yes. While yes is powerful when intentioned, yes without honest investigation can neglect the needs of situations and our selves. Often we’re so concerned with making other people happy, that we quickly abandon our needs and jump to yes without even realizing what we’ve sacrificed.

Yes does not best equip us to show-up. No will not always let someone else down.

Saying no is of the strongest tools we have for respecting our needs, affirming our personal boundaries, and building the trust to show-up for ourselves.

Saying no is empowering. Saying no is honest. Saying no is awesome.

  1. Forgive Yourself When You Don’t Know What You Need

It is impossible to predict our needs perfectly. Even if we go through a process of mindful investigation, chances are that we won’t get it right, or that we won’t have any idea what we actually need.

That’s ok.

Not knowing what we need doesn’t imply that we don’t know ourselves. It implies that we’re developing a practice of honest investigation. It demonstrates that we’re building a relationship of trust with our selves. It affirms that we’re one step closer toward becoming our own advocate.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect is a myth. Myths are fun.

Forgive yourself.

And keep on practicing.


So, what did we do instead of Carnival?

Well, it was a sunny, albeit challenging ten days of white sand, sand flies, riverbeds, horrible hostel kitchens, hammocks, and plates full of rice and beans. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Rio Buritaca & Playa Costeno


Santa Marta

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