Part of our misery comes from our constant striving to be happy. Culturally, we seem to have this expectation that once we get all the pieces of the puzzle to fit, we’ll solve the happiness equation. Those puzzle pieces might vary from person to person, but they usually include someone to love, something to do that feels meaningful, and something to look forward to (which might include anything from a 2-week vacation to this idea we have of a utopia that will occur “when things calm down” and we can reap the rewards of our efforts).
The thing is, life is full of everything, and we are inherently vulnerable. It might be interesting, exciting, unpredictable, heartbreaking, exhilarating, and often full of joy, but no one would argue that it’s easy to be human. Expecting to reach some mecca where everyone is happy all the time is like following a mirage in the desert. I know I used to buy into this delusion that if only I could “get things right”, I’d be happy. Those things included graduating from a good school, dieting until I was “thin enough”, finding the right person, having children, and finding something to do that was going to bring me joy. In retrospect, I can tell you that three out of five of those pursuits set me down the wrong path. I mean graduating from a good school is wonderful, but it’s not going to miraculously set you on a meaningful path without your own experimentation and soul-searching. And searching for the “right person” is funny, because all you need to do is look in the mirror. Once you get right with yourself, you’ll have a much easier time finding someone you might like to share your canvas with. Dieting and obsessing about the way you look is an utter waste of your time, energy and resources. The way you look is the result of a genetic lottery, and it’s the most fleeting thing about you. If you love yourself, you’ll feed yourself well, and you’ll take your body for a spin on a regular basis because sweating and getting your heart pumping and stretching and embodying your beautiful body will take care of everything. Throw out your scale, and anything in your refrigerator with more that two syllables, anything that contains aspartame and/or high fructose corn syrup, find a way to move your body that feels good to you, and you’ll be off to a good start.
For me, finding something to do that brought me joy turned out to be the essential thing. I’m not saying it’s like that for everyone, because there’s no formula to this, it’s personal. But for me, that created an environment for everything else to fall into place. When you feel like you’re getting up and contributing something that might uplift someone else, you are bound to have a great day. Giving to other people is a shortcut to your own happiness. Also, when you make it your business to try to help other people, you realize you’d better know yourself well, and deeply, so that anything blocking you from giving everything you’ve got is not unknown to you. Basically, the motivation to heal yourself increases greatly when you recognize that you can never nurture other people to the best of your ability until you nurture yourself. If you have tendencies that cause you to doubt your worth, seek approval, or place more importance on other people’s opinions and desires than your own, you start to understand all that mess is going to get in your way and prevent you from offering up what’s in your heart, so you get busy cleaning it up. At a certain point, your history is just that. There’s no need to drag ancient pain into your present possibilities.
Before I realized I wanted to spend my days teaching and writing, I was pretty lost. I was also depressed and anxious a lot of the time, and convinced most of my feelings about myself and life in general had to do with other people. When I had relationships, they became the center of my world, and when you don’t have any other passion in your life, and your sole focus is on what this other person needs, wants, feels, thinks, or doesn’t think, when you have nothing to fill your time except obsession over whether things are heading in the direction you want them to, or not so much, it’s a drain on both parties. And you aren’t showing up as your best, most inspired and fulfilled self.
Lastly, on my list of things I thought would bring me joy, it turns out having children brought and brings me more joy, fulfillment, meaning, purpose, gratitude, excitement and motivation than I ever could have imagined. Again, there’s no formula to this, I’m just sharing my own experience. Loving people is the best stuff in life, whether those people are your best friends, your family, your partner, or a total stranger on the street. Shared connection, the feeling that we are all in this together, all part of this mystery, all experiencing the same sense of wonder, confusion, fear, anxiety, loss, joy, excitement, empathy, laughter and hugs—I just don’t know of anything better.
If I could go back and talk to my twenty year old self, I’d say, “Get off your a$$ and stop blaming other people for your unhappiness. Stop devoting all your time and energy to romantic relationships and people who don’t know how to do anything but hurt you. Figure out why you’re attracted to those people, and heal that. Find something to do where you can give something essential of yourself. Direct your attention to using whatever you’ve got to try to uplift the people around you. Trust that things will happen in their own time, and that trying to force or rush life won’t get you anywhere. If you want to be happy, that’s an inside job, and it’s a feeling that can overtake any day, if you focus on all the abundance instead of all the lack. And don’t date Steve.”
Anyway, maybe some of that will help you. Sending you love, and wishing you peace! Ally Hamilton
Intentionally or not, we give things, people, accusations, or situations validity and power when we give them our attention. People are complex, and it takes a long time to know the interior of another person’s world unless they give you access to it, and even then, you never know if you have the full story.
When you put yourself out there and follow your heart, some people will feel inspired to do the same, and others will feel threatened or envious. Envy is an uncomfortable but human feeling we all experience sometimes, but if it’s ruling your life, that isn’t any fun at all. Sometimes people see someone else thriving, and it’s easier to be enraged and mean-spirited than it is to get off their own a$$es and do something. I’m a big believer that each one of us has something unique and amazing to offer, that only we can. There is not another collection of 37 trillion or so cells that is exactly like the collection that comprises you, there never has been before, nor will there ever be again. If you don’t pull that song out from the center of your being, then you rob the world of beauty only you can offer. So no one can ever steal your spot in the sun.
But some people are attached to their rage and bitterness, to their lists of all the people who’ve wronged them, to their version of reality that paints them as the heroic, kind, and generous victim, and everyone else as the evil villain with no morals. Chronic victims need their oppressors in order to stay secure and comfortable in their victim-hood. If a person wants to create a fiction where you are this terrible person, and they take no responsibility for the deterioration and demise of a familial relationship, friendship, business relationship, or marriage that once was, and potentially could have remained wonderful, there is not a thing in the world you can do about it. In the vernacular of our times, “haters gonna hate,” and all you do is give the hater power when you give her or him your attention and energy.
People are complicated and life is full of challenges and things are not always what they appear to be. Sometimes a person is covering a deep well of pain, anger and instability under a cloak of peace and calm that is carefully constructed, but falls apart behind closed doors. I’ve dealt with so many people over the years who are struggling with personality disorders but refuse to get help, because according to their construct and worldview, they don’t need any. The thing is, any sane and rational person recognizes that we all need help from time to time, and that it takes two, or sometimes three, to tango. A person who refuses to be accountable for their behavior, actions, choices, lies, and abusiveness, but remains committed to pointing fingers and telling tales, is not a person you can deal with in a rational way. Although you can make yourself sick, tired and crazy trying. I know, because I tried myself.
Eventually you realize there’s nothing you can do with certain people except to step away and create boundaries. And that once in awhile that person is going to stand up from behind the fence you built because you decided you didn’t want to be crapped on anymore, or held hostage by someone else’s rage, and yell at you again. So be it. Let them yell, and you stay focused on all the good in your life, and all the good you can do. Maybe you’ll do so much good, eventually it will spill out onto their mountain of vitriol and they’ll realize you aren’t the enemy and never were. And maybe not. That isn’t something you get to control. Sending you love, and wishing you peace, Ally Hamilton
Few things are more difficult than watching someone we love grapple with pain we cannot fix. Of course we want the people we hold dearest to be happy and at peace, just as we want those things for ourselves; that’s natural. But loss, grief and pain are built into the experience of being human. We’re all on loan, here, and we’re always changing. Sometimes we’ll be in the throes of our own confusion and anguish, and sometimes we’ll feel powerless as we watch someone else struggle with the reality of being human.
The most loving, well-intentioned parents will say things like, “Don’t be sad,” or, “Don’t be angry,” but sadness and anger are normal, healthy, human emotions, and they don’t need to be pushed away. In fact, the more we try to deny the challenging feelings, the longer they persist, because we can’t fight a truth that is living inside our own bodies. If your heart is broken, there’s no use pretending otherwise. I know a woman who lost her mother a few years ago, and the pain is still acute, every day. Some of her friends have suggested she should be moving on by now, and many have distanced themselves from her. This is not an uncommon story; often, people feel uncomfortable around another person’s grief because it reminds them of their own mortality, and the fragility of this life.
The more we long to be somewhere other than where we are, the more we strain to feel differently than we do, the more we suffer and create dis-ease for ourselves. You feel how you feel, and it won’t all be pretty. In order to deny your vulnerability, you also have to deny your joy; an armored heart can’t pick and choose. You are not obligated to do things in a neat and orderly way, and you are not on anyone else’s timetable. If someone in your life requires that you show up smiling and happy, then the potential for true intimacy and genuine friendship is not there.
Sometimes, pressure to be “over” something, whether it’s the loss of a person, a relationship, a time in your life, or an event that’s transpired, is not coming from the outside, it’s coming from within us. Happiness is not a spot on a map where you land and plant your flag, it’s a process and it requires patience and a willingness to embrace all of your feelings as they arise. No one is ecstatic all the time. A great day will also include some challenging moments, just as a great life will include painful chapters. We all get frustrated with ourselves from time to time, but an aggressive or unforgiving inner atmosphere will not help your grieving process. Cultivating compassion for yourself and others is essential if you want to walk peacefully through this world. Granting patience to yourself, other people, and the situations in your life creates an expansive environment where healing is likely to occur. No one can heal in a vise grip. None of us relax because someone yells at us to relax, just as none of us heal because we’re pressured to do so. Allow yourself to be where you are, and avail yourself of the tools that exist that make it easier to ride the waves of grief when they arise. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
Sometimes we’re feeling low or vulnerable or insecure or alienated or depressed, and someone we don’t know, or someone we know well, walks right into the heart of that mess we’re in, and says something or does something that sets us off spinning even more.
It’s all well and good to say that people can’t make us feel anything unless we allow them to, and that is the truth. A person can’t drive you crazy or make you happy unless you open yourself to those feelings. Nonetheless, when we’re already feeling tested, fragile, or down, we’re not going to be in a place where it’s easy to direct our energy, or focus our minds on what we know in our hearts to be true. Namely, that another person’s cruelty, indifference, envy, or misplaced rage has nothing to do with us. It’s hard not to take things personally when we’re already walking through the fire.
When you’re spiraling, or feeling confused, scared, ashamed, guilty, or anxious, the best thing you can do is open to it. That isn’t what we’re taught, and it might feel counter-intuitive, but the more you try to run from or deny your feelings, the more you try to make them go away or numb them out, the harder they’ll push to come to the surface. The best way to stop the spinning is to sit down in the eye of the storm, because from that vantage point, you can see that you are not your thoughts. There are a lot of things we think sometimes that are just absolute garbage. Sometimes we’re getting some kind of pay-off, and from the center of the whirlwind, you might find the space to be honest with yourself about that. Is it easier to feed the idea that you’re a victim, or that there’s something broken about you, than it is to pick yourself up and get to work? If you’re doing something that isn’t serving you, there’s some kind of benefit, even if it isn’t immediately obvious. I’m not talking about depression here, so please don’t misunderstand me. Depression is not a choice you make, it’s an affliction that causes suffering, and sometimes people need medication to regulate it. I’m talking about repeating patterns or ways of being or thinking that you already know bring you nothing but pain.
Maybe you’re punishing yourself, maybe you’ve hurt people in your past, and you feel like you deserve to be treated badly. Maybe you’re lying to yourself about what you want. Maybe you’re terrified of screwing up, so you’re paralyzed. It’s all okay, seriously. This business of being human is a messy job for most people, at least at some time or another. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be honest with yourself about where you have work to do, assuming you want to be happy. And that might seem like an obvious thing, right? I mean, who doesn’t want to be happy? But I can look in my rearview mirror and remember times when I wanted to be angry more than I wanted to be happy. Times when I was more invested in my story than I was in changing it.
Shame is debilitating, and it won’t get you far. In fact, it’ll keep you stuck, and deplete you of the energy you need to do things differently. Try to let it go. Be where you are, and have some compassion for yourself. If everything is a mess, believe me, it’s not because you suck at being human, it’s because you probably have some unlearning to do. When we make a mess of things, it’s because we lack the tools to not make a mess of things. And if we lack the tools, it’s because they weren’t taught or modeled. Relationships of any kind require some tools. Communication is a huge one, as is the ability to listen with your heart, and not with the burning desire to be right. Intimacy is terrifying for some people, because maybe their past experience of love involved smothering, or a lack of control. No one likes to feel powerless or imprisoned, but if those are your fears about real relationships, they’re unfounded. Love does not imprison you, it frees you.
You don’t have to keep feeding a story about why you are the way you are, because it doesn’t really matter, and you aren’t set in stone. Is it harder to have to unlearn and relearn something than it is to learn it well the first time? Of course. But is it easier to stay stuck than it is to unstick yourself? I really don’t think so. Figure out the tools you need to dig, because time doesn’t stop and wait for anyone. Choose happiness over anger, choose compassion over shame. There’s no formula for healing, but that’s a solid foundation for anyone. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
Transform your grief process in this yoga workshop led by yoga teacher Ally Hamilton and grief therapist Claire Bidwell Smith. Grief is a time for slowing down and learning to be present to our bodies and our process. Grief also requires great compassion and conscious awareness. Yoga can help us get in touch with those realms. Through various poses, meditations and breath-work we will help you find grounded space in your grief journey and work towards healing. You’ll leave with tools to help you through those times when you feel overwhelmed or alone, so that you can comfort yourself and come back to center. Whether you’re going through a grieving process for a loved one, or you’re moving through the loss of a relationship, a job, a beloved pet, or a way of being that is no longer serving you, we want to offer support.
Claire Bidwell Smith is a therapist specializing in grief and the author of two books of nonfiction: The Rules of Inheritance and After This: When Life is Over Where Do We Go? both published by Penguin. Claire has a bachelor’s degree from The New School University, and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University. She teaches numerous workshops around the country and has written for various publications including The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Slate, Chicago Public Radio, The Guardian and BlackBook Magazine. Claire currently works in private practice in Los Angeles. www.clairebidwellsmith.com
Ally Hamilton is a Santa Monica-based yoga teacher, writer and life coach, who streams online yoga classes all over the world. She’s the co-creator of YogisAnonymous.com, which has been featured in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, Self Magazine, Shape Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She’s a regular contributor for The Huffington Post, a wellness expert at MindBodyGreen, and writes an almost-daily blog at blog.yogisanonymous.com. She’s the mama of two amazing kids and one energetic Labradoodle. She’s very excited about her first book, “Yoga’s Healing Power: Looking Inward for Change, Growth and Peace” due from Llewellyn Worldwide in 2016.
Workshop details: This workshop is open to all. If you’ve never done yoga, or you are an experienced practitioner, this is for you. A very gentle flow followed by lots of restorative hip and heart-openers, breath-work, and meditation.
When: Saturday, September 12th 6-7:30pm
Where: Yogis Anonymous
1221 2nd Street (Suite 150)
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Parking: There is a public parking structure right next door. First 90 minutes free, $1 for the next hour.
Price: $50 per person
Recently, I was at the grocery store with my kids, and my son asked if he could have a green juice he saw on the shelf. It was made by a company with shiny packaging, that purports to be all about good health, and natural ingredients. I pulled it down and looked at the back of the bottle, and my eyes popped out of my head: 53 grams of sugar. Even my son, who’s eight, did not need an explanation about why we weren’t going to buy it. Instead, we talked about critical thinking and not taking things at face value. And then we went home and made our own green juice.
The juice got me to thinking about a friend of mine who’s going through some heartbreak. She was dating a man for the last eight months. Kind of a whirlwind thing, and also a case of good packaging. They moved in together after eight weeks of heated dating, and she was sure he was “the one.” He was charming and kind and attentive and great-looking, and it seemed they had a good thing going. Until one of our mutual friends called to tell her he was active on Tinder, and had tried to make a date with her. So now my friend is crashing at her parents’ house and looking for a place to live, and beating herself up.
The thing is, most of us have done this, romantically or otherwise. We make quick decisions based on how things look or seem, but when it comes to people, or situations, or even juice, you really have to take your time. Not everything is as it appears to be.
Some of the things that cloud our vision the most are our own wants, projections and assumptions. If you’re longing for connection, for example, and you meet someone who’s attractive to you, you may find yourself diving in and projecting all these wonderful traits on a person you really don’t know. You don’t know someone after a week, or two, or even six. If we’re talking about romance, you REALLY don’t know, because nothing blinds us like hormones. You have to wait for the lust/dust to clear a little before you have any sense of who you’re dealing with, and even then, it takes time. Also, most people can do the beginning of relationships well. I mean, it’s not hard, right? Spending time with someone you’re nuts about, getting naked, and having lots of great sex? Not too many people are going to feel burdened or challenged by that! And those long conversations deep into the night, when neither of you cares about having to get up early in the morning. The touch of his hand, the look in her eye, the flirty texts. Even people who have a deep fear of intimacy can usually do the beginning pretty well. You know why, right? It’s not really intimate yet. You can get physically naked with someone and not really know who they are. You can confide your past disappointments, your struggles, your fears, your hopes and your dreams, and still not know someone, not deeply. Most people lead with their best foot. Most people are not going to tell you about their darkest issues in the beginning, because they are digging the high off your adoration, just like you’re digging the high off theirs. No one wants to burst that bubble. We all like to have a clean slate, a chance to begin again, an opportunity to see ourselves the way this new person is seeing us.
You get to know people slowly, whether we’re talking about new friends, or romantic partners. Of course we love to pin things down and make our plans and think about the future, and that’s okay, that’s human. But the truth is, we never know what’s coming next, and the best thing any of us can do is know ourselves, and stay centered. You don’t have to decide how you feel about everything right off the bat. You can give yourself a little breathing room, and allow things, people, and situations to unfold. You don’t have to decide “this is it!”, and you don’t have to decide “this isn’t it.” You can just enjoy and pay attention and see.
“Viveka”, or discernment, is a huge part of the yoga practice. Recognizing what is real from what is not real, what is permanent versus what is impermanent. Solitude is part of being human. You’ll spend more time with your internal dialogue, occupying the vast world of your innermost space, than you will with anyone else. People will only have access to that interior world to the extent that you allow, and the same holds true for others. You will only know anyone to the extent that they give you access. Some people guard the deepest sanctuary of their inner world out of fear. It might be fear of rejection, it might be fear of intimacy, it might be the fear of losing one’s freedom. The point is, people are complicated, therefore situations involving people are doubly complicated. We all bring so much to the mix, and most of it is not on the surface. There are mysteries everywhere. To think you can figure it all out by skimming the top is a sure way to get bitten in the ass, and probably hard. Take your time with people. And take your time with juice, too. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton