Sometimes there’s an intense desire to be anywhere but where we find ourselves, especially if we find ourselves in the middle of a truly challenging situation. Life will offer each of us no shortage of opportunities to practice patience, grace, awareness, strength, compassion and clear-seeing. The question is only what we’ll do with the opportunities. Of course, there are some opportunities we’d rather not have, some lessons we’d rather not learn. But we don’t get to choose. In yogic philosophy, “dvesha” is defined as “aversion”, and it’s one of the “kleshas”, or five poisons that cloud the mind and lead to suffering. When we resist the reality of our current situation, we will surely suffer.
Case in point: recently I was contacted by a young man who’s sister was diagnosed with cancer. He and his mom have been with her every step of the way. It’s just the three of them. There have been ups and downs, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, and all the pain that comes along with the disease, and the battle against it. But he’s been showing up for his sister and his mother as best he can. Now, his mother has been diagnosed with cancer, too. And he wrote to me because he’s terrified of losing the only family he has, and he’s upset with himself for being scared, when he knows he, “needs to be strong for them”. The truth is, it is terrifying to think you could lose the two people you hold dearest, and that it could happen all at once. And to deny that it’s scary and enough to make a person feel completely vulnerable and powerless, is to compound the pain. Because now, not only are you scared and humbled and at a total loss, you’re also disappointed in yourself for feeling those things.
Sometimes we underestimate ourselves. You can be scared and brave at the same time. You can be scared and strong at the same time. You don’t have to reject one thing to be another.
Let’s make it less life-and-death for a moment. You can be in a committed relationship, you can be totally in love, and still feel passing attraction for other people. You can be happy, and still wonder how it would be if you were single and free. It’s what you do with your feelings that defines you. It’s how much energy you feed them, how much time you allow them, how seriously you take them. Human beings are complex, and life is wildly interesting, but it’s not easy. It’s understandable that we want to categorize things, clean them up, put them in neat boxes with clear labels. But so much of what we experience happens in the grey areas.
If you’re scared out of your wits, and the voice inside your head is yelling at you to be strong, that’s brutal. Now, you don’t even have a safe haven within yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. We’d do ourselves and each other an enormous favor if we could hold a space to feel many conflicting things at once, so that we could calmly take a look at what’s real. Facing reality as it is takes bravery, there’s no doubt about that. And sometimes reality is tough to bear. But trying to “buck up” and muscle your way through the parts that break your heart will just make the experience that much harder.
One of the greatest gifts of a regular yoga practice is that you learn to quiet the storm that rages in the mind. Seated meditation offers us a chance to create space between our thoughts, and also to identify with them less strongly. We all have crazy, strange, fleeting thoughts and feelings. Ideally, you get to a place where you choose the thoughts that strengthen you. You decide what to feed. But self-acceptance is key, it’s essential if you want to be at peace. You don’t have to feel shame about your passing feelings. If you notice a pattern, or you observe that you’re always heading in a direction that’s going to bring you down, of course you perk up and pay attention. You examine why you’re heading down a path that will bring you pain, so you can crawl out of that groove and pick a road with potential for healing. But short of habitual thinking that’s weakening you, go easy on yourself. It’s your actions that define you. Sending you love, as always, Ally Hamilton
Here’s the thing. It feels awful when we aren’t treating ourselves well, or we’re allowing ourselves to be treated badly by someone else, and it also feels terrible when we’re treating other people poorly. The number one thing you need in order to be at peace, is the feeling that you’re a good, kind person who’s doing your best. If you know that about yourself, it sets you up to be forgiving when you make mistakes, and it also creates a foundation for you to be forgiving of others. It’s hard for love to exist without the safety of knowing perfection is not expected. It’s not easy to make ourselves vulnerable, or to be completely honest if we fear that the result might be the withdrawal of love.
There are some things that are really not okay, and I’ll spell out a few of them. If you know someone is in love with you, and you don’t feel the same, it’s not okay to accept their gifts. And when I say gifts, I mean literal, physical or material gifts, including jewelry, expensive dinners, new hiking boots you really want, or any number of other goods and services, but I also mean it’s not okay to accept the gifts of their time and energy and tender heart. Not if you don’t feel in your heart that this is the person for you. Sometimes we care about people, we enjoy their company, we have a good time when we hang out, we’re attracted, but there’s just that certain something that is not there. If you allow that to go on for too long, you are literally stealing time away from a person who may not be strong enough to leave you. Time they could be spending getting over you and moving on, and possibly finding someone who could and would love them all the way. Everyone deserves to be loved like that. Everyone deserves to be cherished. It’s so hard to walk away from people when we’re in love, or we’re “hooked in”. If you’re the stronger party, putting an end to it and sticking with that is a gift you can give, even though it won’t be readily or happily accepted. But the other party’s well-being, and your own integrity hang in the balance.
It’s hard to gift someone their freedom when it means you lose your comfort. Because of course it feels great when someone is in love with us. Being adored and cared for and thought of is wonderful. But it kind of stinks if you’re accepting that without feeling it in kind. And if you know that’s what you’re doing, you’re not going to feel good about yourself. If you know that’s what you’re accepting from someone, you’re also not going to feel good about yourself. Shame, self-loathing and regret weigh us down. Most of us have had times when we weren’t feeling good about ourselves, and we let someone treat us poorly because we were desperate for love, or a happy ending. Often, that’s really what we’re doing when we’re stuck in a painful cycle with someone; we’re trying to rewrite ancient history, which cannot be done.
It takes discipline to do the right thing, and to stick with it, for yourself, or someone else. It takes a commitment to feeling good about yourself, whether you’re the person taking advantage of someone’s love, or you’re the person giving when you know in your gut you should be walking out the door. The number one relationship in your life is always the one you’re having with yourself. That’s the foundation for all the other relationships. I would protect that relationship fiercely. Allowing yourself to participate in situations that make you doubt your integrity, your kindness and your compassion is a sure way to damage your ability to feel good when you look in the mirror at the end of the day, or lay your head down to sleep at night. Don’t let too much time go by like that. Sending you love out there, Ally Hamilton
Sometimes you fight and wait for something for so long, that by the time you get it, you don’t really want it anymore. This can happen in relationships, when one person wants more than the other, and it can happen in professional settings, too. There’s only so long we can go, accepting less than we want, or allowing ourselves to be taken for granted, before it wears us down.
Part of the burnout has to do with our disappointment in ourselves. That sort of sick feeling in your gut when you know you haven’t shown up for yourself the way you should. And that’s really the thing to examine. We can get caught up in the details, in the linear story of what happened, and why we did what we did, who said what to whom, where things took a turn for the worse, but really, the details don’t matter that much. What matters is why we participated in the damming of our own light. Maybe you let your boss take advantage of you for years, because at least it was a steady paycheck, and no other plan seemed feasible. Or maybe you stayed in a relationship because you were in love, thinking you could change the other party, but really, in your heart, you knew they didn’t love you all the way. So now maybe you “have them”, but not really. Not in the way that matters. Or maybe your boss senses a shift in you, or picks up on the fact that you’re just going through the motions, maybe she realizes she should have treated you better, but the attempts at recognition fall incredibly short, or seem empty, meaningless.
The bottom line is that there’s a difference between working hard for something you want, and kidding yourself. If the job isn’t right, if it isn’t growing, if there’s no potential for you to learn or open or pursue your passion, it’s never going to feel good letting years go by like that. If the relationship isn’t growing, if you and your partner don’t really want the same things, what’s the point? Sometimes it’s tempting to trade in short-term comfort for long-term pain. Just let me feel okay for now, just let me have one more month where I work this way and deal with this mess, and then I’ll get out. Just let me have one more weekend where I don’t have to face the pain of this reality, just give me a little more time to find the strength to accept what I already know. The thing is, in a mix like that, the longer you stay, the weaker you get.
I think life is pretty short if you’re firing on all cylinders. If you’re following your heart, and allowing yourself to be guided by your intuition, if you’re pursuing those things that light you up, if you’re moving toward people who are also moving toward you, who are excited to be on the journey with you, if you’re loving your heart out, my sense is that life goes by very, very quickly. That there probably won’t be enough time to get all the love out, all the gratitude out, there won’t be enough time to give everything you want to give. On the flip side, if you aren’t allowing yourself to be guided by your gut, if you aren’t letting yourself be pulled by the force of those things that set your soul on fire, if you’re chasing after love, affection, approval or respect, if you’re stuck in rage, blame or shame, if you’re too afraid to say what you want, loudly and without fear, then life is probably going to feel pretty long and painful. I really think those are the options.
We’re given this body, and that’s a gift. We’re given this energy, this time, this particular spark, and those are all gifts, too. You have something to give that only you can, and if you don’t get busy doing it because you’re allowing your spark to become a flicker, you’re also robbing the world of a gift only you can bring, and you’re robbing yourself of the chance to figure out what that gift is. You won’t find it when you’re loathing yourself. I mean, you might be able to identify it, but in order to fly, you cannot be weighing yourself down with guilt or shame or fear about your integrity. You have to be unencumbered in order to fly. And only you can figure out what that means. Only you know the shape of things that will work for you. Don’t waste too much of your time and energy fooling yourself, because you’ll also be squandering your gifts. Time is passing. It doesn’t wait for any of us to get it together. We do, or we don’t, and time still passes. Sending you love, and hoping you’ll fly soon if you aren’t already.
Have you ever had the occasion to look at people’s online dating profiles? Does everyone like long walks on the beach and cozy nights at home? Does everyone enjoy cooking and watching football and traveling and trying new things, like salsa dancing? Is everyone kind and affectionate and romantic and full of fun? Does everyone like to stay up late, lingering over a delicious meal, gazing into the eyes of that special someone, whiling the night away asking those deep, penetrating questions?
Actions always tell the tale, whether we’re talking about the microcosm or the macrocosm. Words are easy. A person can say they’re loving and loyal and caring, but if their deeds don’t back that up, it’s just smoke and mirrors. The same thing holds true for organizations, communities, governments, countries. We can say this is the land of the free, we can pledge justice and liberty for all, but if our actions don’t support that, it’s just words.
If we really want to be at peace, individually, or in the context of a relationship, there cannot be a huge gap between how we’re presenting ourselves, and how we’re actually living. This comes up in all areas of life. When we meet people, we’re often meeting their ambassadors. Ask anyone who’s tried online dating, or any kind of dating. Most people are not going to show up at a first meeting and say, “Here are all my weaknesses. Here’s a list of all the poor choices I’ve made, all my fearful tendencies, all the ways I’ve hurt people in the past.” And I’m not suggesting any of us should do that. But if you sit down with someone and present yourself as a person who’s available for love, when the truth is that you’re available for casual sex, that kind of sucks. It’s misleading. And if we spout lies to get what we want, that’s called manipulation.
The way to bridge the gap, if there is one, is to get honest with ourselves. To ask ourselves what it is we really want, not what we think we should want, not what other people want us to want, but just, at the core, what we actually want. It’s a relief to know that about yourself. And it’s a gift you can give to everyone in your life. Clear communication, the ability to set boundaries when you need to, your willingness to act on your own behalf—all these are essential tools if you want to be happy, and known. Usually we really want that—we want to feel at least someone is seeing us and getting us and cherishing us. It’s natural to want connection and love in your life. There’s no way to get there if you’re hiding parts of yourself you find unacceptable. Because you’ll know they’re there. But sometimes, it’s hard to open, to allow ourselves to be seen, because we aren’t ready to face how we are now. We aren’t ready to take a compassionate but piercing look at those raw places within us that could use some healing. It’s not easy work. Sometimes we’re rejecting something about ourselves that’s painful to face. We’re pushing it down, we’re pretending it doesn’t exist, we’re looking away. Nothing gets better like that. Ignoring our problems, or distracting ourselves, or numbing out, or running away is a road-map to the continuation of the pain. The pain is owning us at that point. We are a slave to our pain when it runs the show.
Really, reaching out is the way to create a path toward healing. If you cannot do it on your own (and most of us can’t), you have to ask for help, support, ideas, a different map. Sometimes we have to get loud, sometimes we need a safe space to cry, to let it out, to be afraid and vulnerable, to lay out those places that aren’t so pretty without fearing that we’ll be shamed or ridiculed, attacked or shunned. When we’re talking about solving our individual problems, therapy is often a great way to go. Yoga can be enormously helpful if you’re longing to come home to yourself. Seated meditation is powerful if you want to recognize that you are not your thoughts. That you do not have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. That feelings are not facts, and they are not forever, either. That perhaps, some of your thoughts do not even belong to you. Some of them were handed down from past generations. Some of the things you’ve learned along the way may be totally untrue.
Here are some lies you may have learned: “you are not lovable, you are not worthy of love, you are broken in some unfixable and essential way, you have no business rocking the boat, you have nothing special to offer, you are better or more important than some people, you cannot trust anyone, everyone leaves, everyone cheats, if people have different beliefs than you, they’re wrong, bad, or to be feared.” Those are just some examples of lies you may have learned that you’ll have to unlearn at some point if you want to be happy. A big part of being at peace in this life is based on how well you’re able to play nicely with others. If you think kindness is not the way, you’re lost. In my mind, the truth is that we are one huge family living on a spinning planet. We may speak different languages, we may look different, we may have different beliefs, but we are all connected. If one of us is suffering, we’’re all suffering. If one of us is being violated, we’re all being violated. If one of us needs help, the rest of us are naturally supposed to help. If we want to be at peace individually, or as a family, as a community, as a country, we need each other. We need to help each other understand. We need to drop our defenses and our opinions and our clutching to our ideas and ideals, and deal with what is.
This week, I was talking to an acquaintance about my feelings around the death of Eric Garner, and the bigger problems underneath his death, and I was feeling pretty down. This person looked at me and said, “You’re a yoga teacher. Where’s the positive energy?” That is not yoga, okay? I just want to be very clear about that. Yoga is a practice that’s based on facing reality as it is, and working with the truth of a thing. We do not turn away from the hard parts, we move into the center of them and we ask how we can shift, how we can move toward love. And we don’t stop asking until we figure it out, and some of that process hurts like hell, but it’s the way toward peace. It’s the same for the whole as it is for the individual. Silence won’t get us there. Fear of getting this wrong is a poor excuse to do and say nothing. We have to get it right together, and for that to happen we cannot look away, we cannot be silent, we cannot leave a huge part of our family to try to fix injustice on their own. That isn’t yoga, folks. I would love to hear from all of you. Sending you love and wishing you a peaceful heart. May we lift each other up, and not tear each other down,
When my son was almost six, he fell off the play structure at school one morning, and broke his elbow. He went to the nurse’s office, bawling, and she made him bend and straighten his arm a few times. She then treated the scrape he’d also gotten, and sent him back to class. At some point during the morning, he told his teacher his arm was really hurting, but since he’d been cleared by the nurse, she told him to do the best he could. Three and a half hours after he’d broken his elbow, he went to gym class, where he was asked to run laps. He made it about halfway through the first lap when he collapsed, and when his coach saw his elbow, he told him it was definitely broken, and sent him back to the nurse.
It was at this point that I got a phone call. I was at the school in under five minutes, my daughter, a toddler at the time, hanging from my hip as I raced across the school grounds to get to the office. Once inside, I saw my son, laid out in the nurse’s office, the principal brightly chatting next to him. He was pale, his pupils were dilated, and when he saw me, fat tears moved down his face with no sound. I took one look at his elbow, which was four times bigger than it should have been, and knew it was broken. I put my daughter down and picked my son up, the principal still chatting away, phrases like, “sometimes these things don’t present as that bad at first”, and “he seemed fine”, as my mind raced about where to head. The pediatrician? The ER? Did I need to call my health insurance provider? All these thoughts were flooding through my brain as I carried him to my car, his knapsack over one shoulder, my daughter toddling along to keep up, the principal continuing with her very unhelpful sing-song chatter. I finally turned to her and said, “Listen, I’m not going to sue the school. If you want to help me, grab his knapsack, or carry my daughter, but please stop talking so I can think.”
It turned out that the right order was the pediatrician, and then the hospital for X-rays and a cast. It so happened that it was Halloween, but we didn’t do any trick-or-treating that year. At no time that evening or the following day, did anyone from the school call to check on my son. Not the nurse, not the principal. I knew at that point we were switching schools. Accidents happen. Mistakes are made. But when there’s no acknowledgement, no apology, and no understanding, there’s also no future.
I’m sure there was a concern about litigation. This happens with corporations and politicians a lot, and it can also happen at the scene of a car accident. “I’m sorry” can be construed as admission of guilt, wrong-doing and culpability, so people often turn to the “non-apology apology”, which is an actual thing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-apology_apology
“I’m sorry you feel that way” is not the same as, “I’m sorry I blew it.” Mostly, that’s all people want when they’re feeling hurt, confused, or angry; they want to feel understood, seen, cared for and heard. They want to know that the other party realizes the legitimacy of their feelings, and wants to take responsibility for their part. That’s all most people need to forgive, to move closer, to move on. There was no part of me that wanted to sue anyone. Not for a millisecond. But without a heartfelt apology, or even a call, there was also no part of me that could stay. And that holds true for any relationship, whether we’re talking about the one you’re having with your children’s school, or the one you’re having with your partner, your mother, your child, or your best friend.
Fear is what stops us from saying we’re sorry. Maybe it’s fear of being sued in some cases, but when we’re talking about personal relationships, we’re talking about fear of being shunned or rejected or punished in some way. The fear that love will be withdrawn. The fear that we will no longer be seen as trustworthy or lovable. There are all kinds of reasons a person might be afraid to own his or her mistakes. If you grew up in a house where you were punished excessively, that would do it, for example. I don’t know when we became so afraid of each other. So afraid of being honest, of being real, of being vulnerable. Maybe it’s because we’re sold this false bill of goods that we’re all competing against one another, and only the strongest survive and thrive. Perhaps we see admission of culpability as a weakness, but really, it takes strength to own it when we screw up, which we will. No one is perfect. No one operates from her highest self in every moment. Forgiving ourselves and forgiving one another are necessary gifts we have to grant if we want to get along with each other in this world. And we could really use that right now. We need more connection, more caring, more love, and less fear. We need to be able to reach across the divide and say, “If you’re suffering, I’m suffering, too, and I’m sorry. Let’s try to make it right together.”
We get so caught up in being right, sometimes we lose sight of what it means to be human, which is so much more gratifying. Sending you love, as always, Ally Hamilton
Patience and tolerance are two qualities well worth working on if we want to move through life in a peaceful way. Sometimes things unfold the way we want them to, and at other times, we may find ourselves at a complete loss to make sense of what’s happening, what we’re doing, or which way to head. So many of the things we’ll move through are not comfortable or desirable, but it’s how we face what we’re given that most determines how life will feel.
There are certain things you can control. You can do the work to heal, and that in itself is a personal project that might take years, and a willingness to explore the tools that will be the most useful to you. Maybe it’s yoga and seated meditation, maybe it’s therapy, journaling, reading, salsa dancing, hiking, the possibilities are endless. But generally, those pursuits that put you in a state of “flow” are going to help you loosen your grip on any stance or story about your life, or why you are the way you are, that might not be serving you. That might, in fact, be blocking you from opening to joy. Sometimes people bristle, and say, “Wow, there’s so much emphasis placed on people turning inward, like it’s all about them.” The thing is, if you want to give everything you’ve got, your first order of business is to strip away anything that’s blocking you. Like self-doubt, low self-esteem, feelings that you might not be worthy of love, or have anything special to offer. Also, you might need to lean into your rage, or stop blaming other people for your unhappiness. You might need to reclaim your power, or discover it for the first time. You might need to unlearn things like, “Everybody leaves”, or “Everybody cheats”, or “You can’t trust anyone”. You might need to mourn, to grieve. It’s also possible that you’ll find yourself way off course, and totally out of touch with your intuition. It’s more common than you might think, because so many people learn to push things down, to repress their feelings, needs, wants, ideas. To take care of other people at their own expense. The healing process is personal, but the one commonality amongst us all is that it isn’t easy. I’d argue that it’s a responsibility to undertake that journey, though. Because once you’re at peace with yourself, you can move through the world in a peaceful and loving way. So it might be an inward journey at the start, but it leads toward connection and the ability to live and love with your heart wide open, and those are gifts you can then bring to the world around you.
Being patient and tolerant with yourself is huge. So many people are living with a loud, relentless, shaming inner critic. It’s like living with a roommate who loathes you, who’s full of contempt and disgust, who never misses an opportunity to let you know all the ways you aren’t measuring up. Who would ever want to live like that? But you can’t evict your inner voice. You might have to starve it, and learn how to feed a loving voice. That way, the inner roommate is rooting you on, not tearing you down. That’s life-changing. Being at war with yourself is heartbreaking. When you feel like crap about yourself, you aren’t going to make loving choices. You’ll find yourself in relationships where you have to shrink, or accept so much less than what you really want. You may be inclined to drown out that inner tyrant with drugs or alcohol or shopping or food or sex. But none of that works. You really have to get in there and have a face-off. A voice-off. Eventually, you’re going to have to grab that nasty voice by the throat, push it up against the wall, and say, “Enough! Enough with your crappy attitude, you don’t get to pollute my house and kick me in the head anymore.” Believe me, that feels good. caring about yourself, your well-being, your tender heart, those things feel good, and you deserve to care about yourself. It’s a gift that you’re here. Your body is a gift. Your energy is a gift. Your time here is a gift. These are not gifts you want to squander.
Life is amazing and incredible and really, really interesting, but no one would argue that it’s easy. People will do things and say things and want things that break your heart. You will break other people’s hearts, too. Mostly, people don’t do this to each other intentionally. Most people are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. They’re trying to figure it out just like you, like me, like all of us when we’re honest about it. Sometimes you’ll get the breaks, sometimes you won’t. You can’t control that, but you can work on the way you deal with it. I wouldn’t keep score in your head. I wouldn’t try to bargain with life. If you think you’re going to get a free pass from suffering because you’re a good person, it won’t take long for you to realize the error in your thinking.
The absolute best things I know are love and connection and shared experiences and giving everything you’ve got every day. Figuring out what you can do, today, that will uplift the people around you. What you can do, today, to nurture yourself, so you’re coming from a place of abundance, and not lack, or the feeling that you have to cling or grasp.
Opening to reality as it is, is the most powerful and brave way to walk through the world. No one can take that from you. If you’re able to lean into your feelings, to be with your longing, your grief, your shame, your confusion, your loneliness, your fear and anxiety, you’ll find these feelings don’t own you. They don’t overpower you. They don’t move in and plunk themselves down on your couch, or unpack their bags and take over your drawers, closets, shower. They come, you acknowledge them, you allow them, but you also keep the door open. And after you’ve given them a little of your time and kind attention, you walk them to the door, and encourage them to move on. That way you can also be ready to receive joy, love, laughter, gratitude, hope. What you resist, persists, as the saying goes. Try not to resist too much, try not to worry too much. Work on your relationship with yourself, and feed the relationships in your life. Uncover your gifts and share them, freely. Don’t worry so much about your five-year plan or your ten-year plan, or what all your friends seem to be doing. Just follow your heart and do those things that set your soul on fire, and try to trust that the way will become clear. Wishing that for you, and sending you love, Ally Hamilton