As much as possible, try not to “future-trip”. It’s so easy to get caught up in worries about things that may never come to pass. To start envisioning worst-case scenarios. To formulate conversations in your head, or come up with plans you might not ever need. And the thing is, while you’re busy boiling yourself this way, your nervous system is tensing up and sending cortisol through your system, as if these events are actually occurring. In other words, you can make yourself sick with worry. You can raise your blood pressure with your thoughts.
When are we most likely to do this to ourselves? When we’re feeling vulnerable, tested, or threatened. And maybe it’s part of our inclination toward negativity bias. If we’ve been hurt before, we try to set things up so we won’t be hurt again. You know the saying, right? “Hurt me once, shame on you…hurt me twice, shame on me.” But the thing is, living in fear isn’t really living, it’s gripping. When we start to spin out, and imagine all the things that could go wrong, we’re losing the potential for peace in the current moment. We’re feeding fear instead of love.
And the same is true when we travel back in time, with regret, despair, or longing. Whatever has happened, it’s behind us. Of course we all have treasured memories, and there’s nothing wrong with visiting old friends and cherished loved ones we can’t hug anymore, in our minds and in our hearts. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about traveling backward as if we could redo or undo something. There’s no potential left in the past. We can learn from it, we can be softened by it, but we can’t rewrite it.
For so many people, the mind catapults from one to the other. Longing and sadness over things behind them, fear and anxiety over things out ahead of them. And the poor nervous system goes along for the ride. The most powerful way I know to land yourself fully in the now, is to become aware of your breath. That’s the greatest gift of yoga, and seated meditation—they both center around your breath. Those inhales and exhales are always happening in the present moment. And if you can feel your breath, you know you’re here. Awake, aware, engaged with life, which isn’t happening behind you, or out in front of you. It’s happening right now.
Worry doesn’t change the outcome of a thing. Believe me, if worrying about something could prevent it from happening, we’d know about that by now. And we’ve all had the experience of making ourselves ill over something that never came to pass, right? It’s especially hard when we love people and we’re concerned for their well-being. Maybe someone you love beyond words is putting her/himself in harm’s way. How do you not worry about that? First of all, when we love people, we make ourselves vulnerable, so you may as well accept that. And, you can’t save anyone but yourself, and you may as well accept that, too. There are certain answers we’ll never have until we exhale for the final time, and perhaps, not even then. And that also makes us vulnerable.
Anyway, my point is, we can’t control the outcome of anything except how we face what we’re given, and even that takes tremendous effort. We can love people with everything we’ve got. We can offer an ear, our shoulder, a hand up if we’re in a good position. We can listen, we can grieve with people, or make them a meal, or try to find help for them if we aren’t sure how to help them ourselves. But our worry doesn’t help anyone. If someone is afraid for themselves, you really don’t help by reflecting that fear back to them. If someone is suffering, you don’t serve them by getting down in the mud and wailing with them.
I believe you can help a lot simply by being present with someone. Being able to hold a space for someone’s grief or anger or loneliness or confusion or shame. That’s a huge thing you can do, but you can only do that if you show up with open ears, an open heart and an open mind. You won’t find those things behind you or in front of you. They’re within you. And when you can show up that way for yourself, and for all the people in your life, then I believe you’re really living. Life is short and precious, or it’s a long and painful; I believe those are the options. Try not to miss too many moments. Life brings enough heartbreaks of its own, we don’t have to make this stuff up. But it also offers a million gifts a day if we’re paying attention. It’s easy to take it for granted that we all woke up today, right? But that is a gift. If you have your health, it’s a gift. If you have people in your life whom you love with your whole heart, that’s a gift, even if they’re causing you some pain right now. Loving people so deeply that we hurt when they hurt, is a gift. I guess what I’m saying is, try not to miss too many gifts if you can help it. Sending you love and a hug, Ally Hamilton
Sometimes we spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror. It’s always good to examine our choices and behavior, especially when we’ve landed ourselves in situations we never intended and didn’t want. But once you’ve looked at what happened, once you’ve plunged the depths of what was motivating you and what went wrong, it isn’t productive to swim in those waters. As a matter of fact, it can really start to wear you down.
Most of us can look back on our lives and point to choices or decisions we’ve made, wishing we could go back and do things differently. But screwing things up is how we learn. Maybe you didn’t show up for yourself the way you wanted to; maybe you weren’t able to act on your own behalf in a timely fashion. It’s possible you participated in a situation that was very damaging to your tender and precious heart. If that’s the case, of course you want to get really clear on why you were feeling so badly about yourself that you allowed someone else to mistreat you, or felt unable to remove yourself from a toxic situation. The information you really need, though, has much less to do with the other party or the events around you, than it does with your own emotional and psychological drives.
So many people get caught up in the particulars. Maybe you wish the story went a different way, and you find yourself time traveling, going backward in your mind and rewriting conversations. Maybe you’re stuck on wanting to be right, or wanting someone else to embrace your version of events. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you. It matters what you think about you. And if you blew it, whether that means you let yourself or someone else down, I’d look at that, but I wouldn’t marinate yourself in regret and despair. That isn’t productive, and it keeps you stuck in a cycle of shame and self-loathing. You’re better off swimming with sharks.
The best we can hope for is to learn and grow. We start with the tools we develop as kids. We enter young adulthood armed with information, some of it good, some of it really, really off-base. We do the best we can with what we know, and most of us make plenty of mistakes. We get hurt. We unintentionally hurt other people. We try to figure out how to be happy, and for most people it’s a messy process because we’re sent on so many quests that lead nowhere. Starve yourself and you’ll be happy. Accrue money and buy things and you’ll be happy. Meet the right person and you’ll be happy. But none of that works, and in the meantime we’re walking in circles in the dark, banging into things and stubbing our toes or breaking our hearts.
The main thing is to learn as you grow. To make better mistakes every time until you find your way. To do your very best not to hurt other people. To release the stuff that’s weighing you down so you can fly. We only have so much time. I wouldn’t spend too much of it kicking yourself. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
When we allow outside forces to upset us, we’re giving our power away. Yesterday as I was driving, waiting to take a right on red, the man behind me started laying on his horn. He couldn’t see the oncoming traffic because his view was blocked by a van to my left in the next lane. But I could not have taken that right safely, so I was waiting. My kids were in the car, and as they do, they were asking me for a play-by-play of what was happening. “Why is that man honking at you?” “Because he wants me to drive.” “Why aren’t you driving?” “Because it isn’t safe.” “So why is he honking at you?” “Because he’s full of rage.” “What’s rage?” “Rage is anger.” “Why is he angry?” Anyway, you get the picture.
Not only was this guy honking, he had his other hand up in the air, and I have no doubt he was shouting expletives at me, because his face was red and his lips were moving in my rearview mirror. When I took the turn, he pulled up next to me at the next light. And my kids were looking out the window at him, even though I told them not to worry about it. My son, who’s like an investigative reporter, wanted me to roll down the window so he could ask the guy why he was angry. I did not oblige. But we did talk about anger, and how it’s a natural feeling everyone experiences. And that the important thing is what you do about it. We also talked about frustration, and about inner power.
We’re all going to have our moments. It’s possible that guy was having an exceptionally bad day. Maybe there are really challenging things happening in his life right now. Maybe there was an emergency at home. Or maybe he always drives that way, because he feels deeply dissatisfied with his life, and the way it’s unfolding. The thing is, if something that small gets a person that upset that quickly, that rage or despair was just underneath the surface.
Sometimes my kids get upset about something someone else has said or done (sometimes they get upset with each other, too ;)). And a big phrase at our house is, “Don’t give your power away.” If, for example, my daughter wants to play with her older brother, but she doesn’t want to play the game on his terms, sometimes she’ll come find me with her lip quivering and her voice about 10 decibels higher than usual. Other times she’ll yell. And I’ll tell her to take a couple of deep breaths so she can talk to me in a “regular voice”, and that she doesn’t have to give her power away, just because she’s upset about something her brother is doing or not doing. And sometimes it’s reversed. Sometimes my son will do something he knows he shouldn’t, and when I ask him what’s going on, he’ll try to tell me his sister did something that caused him to do this thing he shouldn’t have done. At which point we have a conversation that goes something like:
Me: “Is your sister in control of you?”
Me: “Who’s in control of what you do and say?”
Me: “Okay, then who’s in trouble right now, you, or your sister?”
Him: “I’ll go apologize.”
Him: “Do I still get dessert?”
Anyway, my point is, we all do this stuff, all the time. Someone we don’t even know flips us off in traffic, and we allow it to affect our blood pressure. Or someone we do know says something thoughtless, and we stew about it for hours, losing a whole afternoon we can never have back. Or someone we’ve just met rejects us, and we feel stung and desperate for days or weeks. Something amazing happens and we’re elated. Something painful happens and we’re depressed. There’s no power in that. If we’re victims of circumstance, we may as well accept that life isn’t going to feel very good a lot of the time.
But of course it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to let the guy behind you at that light get you riled up at all. You could allow that to be his problem to solve. You could even send him some compassion if you have it in you, because maybe it really is unusual behavior for him. And if it isn’t, he probably needs even more compassion, because that can’t be a fun way to live.
A lot of people struggle with anger. Some let it out in unhealthy ways, so it explodes all over them, and everyone in the near vicinity. Other people repress it, and end up depressed, because it takes a lot of energy to sit on an active volcano. Some people numb out, feeling they’d better blur the edges and check out, or their rage will overwhelm them. Not facing this stuff is what does us in. Learning to sit with intense sensation is one of the major ways we retain our power, and our peace. Intense emotion creates intense sensation. So when you feel enraged, you might notice your breath is shallow, or your shoulders are up around your ears, or your face feels hot, or your heart is racing or your fists are clenched. If you can observe sensation, you’ll draw yourself into the present moment. Then you might be able to examine what’s come up for you, and why you’re feeling so triggered. And in so doing, you’ve created space between an event, and the way you choose to respond to it. And that’s power. Don’t give yours away :) Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
You do not have to be grateful for every experience you’ve ever had in your life. I almost feel the need to write that again. I think there’s enormous confusion around this topic, at least in the “spiritual community”, and I think it’s important to shine some light on it. You can, in retrospect, appreciate how certain tragedies may have made you a more compassionate and insightful person. You might acknowledge that you would not be the you that you are, had you not endured certain piercing heartbreaks. Maybe you’ve even taken this knowledge and used it to help people going through the same kind of loss, and perhaps you can feel grateful that something of value has risen out of the ashes of your grief. That’s all beautiful. But you do not have to look back on your life, on everything that may or may not have happened to you, and feel grateful for it all.
You may think I’m splitting hairs, or that this is just semantics, but I assure you that’s not it. I watched a close family member lose his six year old son to brain cancer, and I can tell you, no one in my family is grateful for having gone through that, least of all his parents. Having said that, his mother helps other families facing loss like that. So is that gorgeous of her? Yes. Can she appreciate that she would not be able to comfort people going through something that horrendous in the same way had she not gone through it herself? Of course. But would she gladly give back that experience and be less insightful in that area? Yes. One hundred percent, yes.
I get really fired up when I see these quotes, or hear people spouting platitudes about everything being wonderful and positive. It’s so alienating for people who are in pain, who are grieving or suffering, to also feel they’re supposed to somehow trust that it’s “happening for a reason”. Or to have faith that “someday it will all make sense to them”. Some things will never make sense. Some things fall so far outside of anything we could call sense, it’s asinine to try to put them in the same sentence.
I recognize we all want to make order out of chaos, create stability in a vulnerable world. I know we’d love to feel there’s some quid pro quo, and that it’s all cause and effect. ‘If I’m a good person, then nothing bad will happen to me, or to those I love.” But it doesn’t work that way. Knifing things happen to incredibly kind people sometimes. Perhaps you believe there’s a larger picture, and that it all works out in the end. Maybe you’re right, and maybe you’re wrong. We could shout our opinions from the mountaintops all day long, but ultimately we all have to figure out what makes sense to us. We all have to grapple with these questions and piece together answers we can sleep with at night. My point is simply that when we tell a grieving person their tragedy has befallen them for a reason, even if we believe that and we mean well, we are showing an enormous lack of understanding and compassion. And there’s nothing spiritual about that.
There’s the “normal” amount of suffering, and then there’s the kind that brings you to your knees with your mouth full of why, the pain so great it takes up all the space in your lungs, and your heart literally hurts. And then there’s the way you respond to what you’ve been given. And that’s pretty much all you can control. How do I work with my history, my pain, my fears, my tendencies, my gifts, my strengths, my joy? How do I lean into all of it, and do my life in a way that feels good and right to me? How do I learn and grow and use what I know to have a positive impact on the world around me? What within me still needs my kind attention? Where do I have room to heal more, to open more? If you force yourself to feel grateful for everything, or you feel disappointed in yourself because you can’t, you’re simply getting in your own way.
Examine your “shoulds”, as in, “I should be able to handle this.” Says who? How old is that should? Is it even yours, or is it something that was instilled in you, that you’ve internalized? You feel how you feel. You are who you are. Obviously, we want to focus our minds on all the things we do have, like our health, and the people in our lives who love us, and whom we love beyond measure. We want to feel grateful for the sound of laughter spilling from our children, our partners, our best friends, and total strangers. We want to feel grateful for the sun on our faces, or the breeze across our skin, for kindnesses bestowed upon us by those we know so well, and those we don’t know at all. Gratitude is a beautiful state that makes us feel all the abundance around us and within us. But you can’t force it, and it isn’t even a sane response in many cases. Facing reality as it is, is my religion. Give me the truth, whatever it is. Let me know myself and the people in my life well, and deeply. That way I can love them for real. When I’m angry, let me examine what’s happening within me. When I’m joyful, let me spread that far and wide. Let me start and end and fill my days with all the reasons I have to say yes, and thank you. But when I’m suffering, grant me a spiritual practice that makes space for that, too. That way I can breathe. Wishing that for you, and sending you love, Ally Hamilton
We all have our stuff. Ways we’ve been hurt or disappointed, longing that’s gone unmet, grieving we’ve had to do. We also have our histories, our patterns, those dynamics we grew up with that shape (but needn’t define), who we are. The more work we do to know ourselves, the easier life becomes. Otherwise we’re being pulled by unconscious drives, and are along for a bumpy, painful and confusing ride.
Having said that, consciousness is not the final destination. You might know yourself well. You might recognize your tendencies and know exactly what’s driving you. You might understand and embrace in your heart what’s true for you, what scares you, what excites you and inspires you. And that’s all amazing, and what we work toward, because that way we can be accountable to ourselves and to everyone else. But in large part, happiness is a choice, and it can take enormous willpower to choose it.
Don’t get me wrong, here, because there are heartbreaking, stressful, lonely times in life when it would be unrealistic to think or expect that you could simply choose to be happy. When we lose people we love, for example, it’s appropriate and healthy to grieve. When we’re under enormous pressure to keep a roof over our heads, it lacks compassion for someone to suggest to us that we should just choose to be happy. But I’m not talking about those times.
I’m talking about the day-to-day rhythm when we can easily allow the mind to get snagged on what isn’t going well, on what we don’t have that others seem to, on everything that hasn’t happened yet. You can look up “negative bias” if you like, because we’re naturally inclined to be on the alert for any potential dangers. This is a life skill we don’t need the way we used to, but old habits die hard. Since we don’t have to worry about saber tooth tigers chasing us down for dinner, we might dwell on paying the mortgage, or our inability to feel like life is flowing the way we wish it would. And perhaps lose sight of all we do have, like our health, which is s gift if we have it, the ability to put our hand over our hearts and breathe in deeply and breathe out fully, which feels great (try it if you don’t believe me), on the sun shining in a particular way, or the laugh of someone we love so much, or the way their nose crinkles when they smile.
The other thing is, just knowing we have unhealthy tendencies in some areas is not always enough to stop us from playing them out, even though we know they lead to a head-on collision with a brick wall. This, once again, is where willpower and vigilance come in. If, for example, you have a history of dating people who are unavailable in some way, and you’ve come to understand that pursuing people like that leads to your own heartbreak, you may still feel pulled to head in that direction should the opportunity present itself. Even if you’ve worked on bringing this pattern to the surface, even if you’re extremely self-aware. This little (or big) pull may always be there. It’s what you do, or don’t do about it that matters. Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen, and this goes for your habits, too. So don’t feed your pathology. If you meet someone at work and you start having a coffee here and there, and you find out along the way that they live with someone, but you’ve already developed a little crush, I would say get the f&ck out of Dodge, and do it now, no more coffees, no more flirting, just shut the thing down. If you meet someone and they’re in all kinds of pain, and you can tell they just really need to be loved, and you feel like you’re the one who can love them the way no one else has ever been able to love them before, if you tell yourself you’re the missing link, and your love can heal them and save them, even though you’ve done this in the past and you know it’s futile, I would say, get the f&ck out of Dodge, and do it now.
It’s not okay to be reckless with your heart. If you are, you’ll find your heart will harden eventually, and out of your mouth will come words like, “You can’t trust anyone”, or “People suck”, and neither of those things are true. Also, you’ll prevent yourself from diving in all the way when things are good, because some part of you will still be pulled toward those things that bring you pain. As I’m writing this, it’s 12:45am, and a woman is walking by my house on her cellphone, crying loudly between bursts of words. I don’t know who’s on the other end of the phone, but it’s clear she doesn’t feel heard because she’s raising her voice. And she’s sobbing about why it always has to be this way. Why this person has to keep hurting her. But the real question is why she’s choosing to participate. Because I really think life is too short to spend the wee hours of a Saturday morning that way. People can’t “keep hurting us” unless we give them the power to do that (I’m not talking about things that may have happened when you were a child. Children are powerless in abusive situations, and some adults feel that way, as well. If you fall into that category, you need to reach out for help).
Feeling pulled in an unhealthy direction is fine. Acknowledging that it’s happening is good, especially when we do that with people we can trust. Bringing our darkness into the light takes the power away from it. But feelings aren’t facts, and we don’t have to act on every feeling we have. In fact, there are a lot of feelings we’d do best to observe. Because all feelings have one thing in common: they arise, they peak, and they subside. No feeling lasts forever. Once again, I’ll suggest to you that yoga is an excellent way of training yourself to sit with uncomfortable feelings, calmly. Holding Warrior II when your quad is burring, and sweat is dripping down your face, teaches your mind and your nervous system to breathe through sensation. And that’s all a feeling is—it’s a sensation. If you need help with this, or want to try practicing with me online, feel free to PM me. Sending you love, and reminding you to starve your pathology. Your heart will thank you for it.
Yesterday morning I woke up from a nightmare that I was on a plane with one of my best friends, and the plane suddenly started plummeting toward the ocean. Alarms were going off, things were falling from the overhead compartments, oxygen masks dangled in front of us, and people were screaming. My friend grabbed my arm, and I said, “We’re going to have a water landing.” (Which is hilarious in retrospect, because if that isn’t a euphemism we’ve been taught, what is?) And all I could think of was my children. I woke up as the nose of the plane hit the water. Needless to say, it was not a great way to start the day.
There are all kinds of dream interpretations we could talk about with a scene like that, but honestly, I was just so happy to wake up and realize it wasn’t real, and that my kids were sleeping soundly, and that I wasn’t dead. The thing is, we get reminders all the time that we’re vulnerable. We have the seasons which teach us about birth and blossoming and withering and death, and birth again. Sometimes we’re reminded when we lose someone we don’t know how to live without. And sometimes we get smaller nudges when someone exits our life by choice or through necessity. If we pay attention, we realize the impermanence and ever-changing nature of our feelings. We see that everything is in flux, all the time. Anyway, my point is, we’re vulnerable.
We’re vulnerable because we don’t know day-to-day what will happen, even though we try to pin things down and make our plans. We simply have no idea what’s in store for us, or for our loved ones. Of course I hope we all live to be a sprightly 103 like my Great Aunt Tess. But we just don’t know. And that’s not an easy gig. In fact, it’s so uncomfortable, many people try not to think about it at all. A lot of us seem to accept that death is a reality, but not when it applies to us, or to those we treasure. That’s why there’s always such a shock. Such a stopping of the spinning of the earth when we lose someone, even if we knew it was coming. It seems impossible that a whole life, a whole person, a whole world is just…gone. And I think because of this, because being human is such a vulnerable gig, we ought to have some compassion for ourselves. We’re in huge mystery together, and we won’t really know what’s going on until our final exhale. And maybe that will be that, and maybe not. I believe in the continuation of consciousness myself, but you may believe we become worm food, and we just won’t know until we know. Or we don’t. I could go on like this for hours.
Anyway, here’s the thing, here’s the point. We could be more forgiving with each other. Life is too short for grudges and lists of ways we’ve been wronged. It’s too short for score-keeping. It’s too short to cling to your rage like a shield. It’s too short to blame other people if you’re unhappy. It’s too short to leave important things unsaid or undone. And it’s too short to do anything but follow your intuition and your heart. Since we only have 103 years, let’s blaze through the world and give it everything we’ve got. Let’s sing those songs that are in our hearts. Let’s let people merge on the freeway. Let’s celebrate when something wonderful happens, and let’s be there for each other when we’re in pain.
Let’s not ever “waste” time, or “kill time”, because it’s so precious. Let’s look the vulnerability of this thing in the face and fill our mouths with yes, and throw our arms in the air, and let’s enjoy the ride. Let the not knowing inspire you to live every single day as if it were the last one. And hug your children too hard. If there’s someone in your life whom you love, tell them right now. Text them, call them, post it in your update, or tag them in this thread and tell them why you love them. Let’s make a little magic happen today, shall we? Wishing you all a day filled with love.
Yesterday I wrote about closure, and heard from a number of people who are struggling to forgive themselves. It’s hard enough when someone else does something hurtful or confusing or thoughtless, but I think it’s even worse when we’re the ones who’ve blown it, and forgiveness is withheld. There’s only so much you can do.
I’d say the first thing is to examine what happened. Were you in a bad place, were you feeling triggered or raw, or what, exactly, when you failed to show up the way you wish you had. Did you allow something to fester and boil underneath the surface? Were you feeling threatened or envious or desperate or cornered? Did something in the interaction force you to look at stuff about yourself you weren’t ready to face? Did you do something in anger, without giving yourself time to breathe and reflect? These are the kinds of questions we need to answer in order to know ourselves more deeply, and so we can show up in a different way the next time.
After you’re clear on what happened, communication is your next move. Share, in whatever way you’re able, and preferably in person, what you’ve come to understand about what happened. Tell them your understanding of how they’re feeling, and ask them if you’re getting it right. Ask them what they need from you to move forward feeling good about things. And let them know you’ve really examined yourself, and this won’t happen again in the future.
If you can’t get an audience with someone, then try a voicemail, and make it short but from your heart. If that also fails, you email, but reread your email and save it as a draft, and reread it again before you hit send. Make sure it’s an apology and not a justification. Be clear that it’s your responsibility, and nothing that the other party did or said. And say you’re sorry.
You will, or will not, be forgiven. That’s out of your hands, but what is in your power is the ability to forgive yourself. We are all human and we all make mistakes, that’s just the nature of this gig. No one shows up as their highest self in every moment. Sometimes something old and raw gets tapped and we lash out, or we’re feeling vulnerable already, and we start to feed the green monster of envy. Be as unflinchingly honest as you can when you seek forgiveness. This way the other party knows you really mean it.
If you aren’t granted the chance to communicate, at a certain point you’ll have to forgive yourself. It’s a sad thing when someone with whom we were once close, suddenly pulls away and refuses to remember who we are (assuming who we are is a kind and loving person in this friend’s life), you really have to give them some space and time. There are also times a person is so attached to their anger, there’s nothing you can say or do. Except send them love and compassion. There are certain things that are very difficult to forgive. Betrayal is a big one, and if you’ve betrayed someone, chances are you’re not feeling very good about yourself, and it’s time to look at that. But we don’t do ourselves any good when we marinate in shame and rage. Look at yourself honestly but kindly, pick up the pieces, and move forward with the intention of doing it better the next time.
If you’re in a place where you’re longing for forgiveness but it isn’t forthcoming, and you’ve done all you can to own what happened and say you’re sorry, at a certain point you have to let it go. Maybe time will bring the person back to you, and maybe not. Obsessing won’t affect the outcome. If you’re in a spiral like that, you have to pull yourself out, and the best way is to choose one thought over another. Once you’ve examined a situation from every angle, continuing to turn it around in your head doesn’t serve anyway. Pick the thoughts that strengthen you. If you need help with that, seated meditation is a good place to start. That’s where we learn we are not our thoughts, we don’t have to believe everything we think, and feelings are not facts. If you need help, I have meditation classes online. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton