In Greek "ne" means "yes." You'd think it would mean "no" because it sounds so close to the English word. But "no" in Greece is "ochi." Which, considering it's pronounced like a guttural "okay," you'd think would mean "yes."
I remember at age 19, swooning in the arms of a svelte Greek captain in his private cruise ship quarters, door closed after a fine dinner discretely served from the ship's kitchens by his valet, how this awkwardness between languages worked against me. Pushing hard against his chest, vehemently insisting "ne, ne, ne" trying to break an embrace that was going further than I wanted must have been as confusing to him as his refusal to back off was to me.
Eventually my panicked protests convinced him that "ne" meant the opposite of what it meant and my erstwhile lover, disgusted he'd wasted a week's worth of shipboard romancing, turned suddenly cold, peremptorily ushering me to the door.
Feeling very young and unsophisticated, I slunk back to my cabin (where my mother was waiting no less ) to spend the remainder of the last night of our Greek island cruise-up until that point the romantic highpoint of my life -- a wreck of tears and humiliation.
Now, 44 years later, I've returned to Greece and can't help but remember that night of angst with fond amusement. (Oh, how the years make a difference!) But in the few days I've been back in the country, I've also noticed just how frequently the "ne" (yes) word is used here.
Young women sashay down the streets, squealing "ne ne ne!" into their cellphones. Attendants at the Vodaphone kiosk bob their heads "ne ne ne" at their impatient customers. My Airbnb host in Athens peppers our stilted conversations with the "n" word.
Everything here, it seems, is "yes."
Yes, we serve the best Moussaka. Yes, this is the finest Hellenic cotton. Yes, you can use my phone to call your friend (my SIM card failed as I stood lost, at dusk, outside a metro station and I borrowed a stranger's phone).
Without my "ne" history, it's possible I could have missed this lovely national habit. But, then, I recently turned a corner in my life, consciously deciding to embrace the "yes" word no matter how it's spelled -- so it's not surprising I've clued-in to the overall positive Greek attitude.
Thrusting aside 50+ years of doubt about whether life can be trusted to deliver all the things --goods, services, money, people, opportunities -- necessary to make my way happily and smoothly through life; letting go programming for struggle and maximum stress; turning my back on the Puritan Work Ethic sternly demanding allegiance to doing everything the hard way so I can feel good about my personal worth, I finally said "screw it" about 16 months ago and decided to go with the flow.
You know the flow.
It's that great thing everyone agrees is a great thing but few actually embrace because going with the flow means releasing control and actually trusting that life has our best interests at heart...that whatever shows up next is the path of least resistance taking us to our dreams instead of over a cliff like most of us have been trained to fear.
I wonder now, thoroughly into my "yes" experiment, why the hell I waited so long to take the plunge? After all, I'm a little piece of life, aren't I? Part of the multiverse that scientists keep saying is boundlessly, immaterially energetic, infinite in potential and holigraphically one with all the other pieces of life in existence?
That's a pretty impressive support system at my beck and call. Why did I ever flinch?
Where in the world did I get the idea that life would deliver me a bucket of switches and ashes instead of good things? How did I pick up the fear of punishment? Where did I develop the unconscious certitude of not being deserving of good things? Ease? Grace? Beneficence?
Oh. Well. Yes. We all know where we got that load.
And it is a load.
But I can't know it's a crock until I let go the chokehold and give life -- which is one giant freaking across-the-board YES for everything alive except most human beings -- free rein. And, of course, therein lies the rub: How to let go when I'm afraid to let go and trust what I've been trained to fear?
I used to read postcards from the edge like this one, eagerly sucking every word for encouragement and hope. But even the words "from the edge" sound dangerous. Like there's some terrible cliff I need to hurl myself from -- some tightrope I need to walk to be free. But truth is, there is no edge. There is no tightrope. Those images are just part of the mind's fear-making.
Trusting life is more like lying back against the biggest softest most supportive pillows ever made with a deep sigh of relief that relaxes every cell and sinew and nerve and bone, saying "yeeeesssss" on a long exhale, fingers curling with enticement, eyes sparking with anticipation as if calling the wildest, most impossibly tender lover to you for a passionate embrace.
Going with the flow is not a flaccid state. It isn't some limp, airy-fairy "Whatever the Universe supplies" thing. That is not how one engages a lover.
And the Greeks know this.
Given my new and fearless intoxication with the "y" word I guess it's not surprising that life has brought me to this place, sitting on a balcony at a little hotel in the village of Delphi -- a site so sacred it was once considered the navel of the world--sipping Retsina, writing, watching swallows dart and swoop across the valley running down to the sea of Corinth, catching insects to feed their babies in the nest not 12 feet away...a turn of events I couldn't have predicted or even imagined just three months ago.
And yet this is where "yes" has brought me.
Yes, there are decisive circumstances where yes means yes and no means no, such as my experience with the amorous sea captain. Embracing "yes" doesn't mean becoming a doormat. What I'm talking about is an attitude--a sense of willingness ... an open-armed, head-flung-back, chest-expanded exultant YES! to life that not just opens doors but smashes them apart, letting in all sorts of wild and wonderful opportunities ... an inner YES! that works like seeming magic.
A state of mind just waiting to be courted and surrendered to.
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