If it were possible to have irrefutable answers to life’s big questions, I’m pretty sure we’d have them by now. We arrive in this world, and we’re received with love, or we aren’t. We don’t have to worry about a roof over our heads, or we do. We’re afforded an excellent education, or we aren’t. We have a stable home life, or we live in a war zone. We grow up being told what to think, or we’re allowed to make our own way. The possibilities are endless, but we do have some things in common.
We deal with the same parameters, that’s one thing. We’re on this pale blue dot of a planet, and we don’t know how long we get to be here, or how long our loved ones get to be here, either. We don’t know for sure what happens after this. No one tells us the best use of our time and energy, or maybe lots of people do, but we all have to make sense of that on our own. We will all suffer to some degree or another, because this life, even if you have all the advantages in the world, is not an easy gig. It’s wildly interesting, and there’s always the potential for deep love, but along with that comes the potential for knifing loss, and that is not easy to face. We are inherently vulnerable. Some of us will experience the kind of loss that makes us question the point of it all.
But we have this incredible capacity to love, and a great desire to heal our old wounds. We might not have a lot of the answers, but most people who’ve been on the planet for awhile seem to agree that love and connection are the best experiences available to us. I mean, you know you have now. So what are you doing with your now? The greatest shortcut to happiness is to do whatever you can to uplift those around you. Giving feels good. Being seen and understood, cherished and celebrated not in spite of, but because of, all our flaws and all our beauty is a great gift. And it’s beautiful to give that to other people, too. Listening deeply, caring with your whole being, these things feel amazing. And they’re available, every day. You can get caught up in your plans and ideas, you can join in the race, but I really think the better focus is the moments. How can you love with your whole heart, today?
If you’re brave enough to get quiet, to sit up tall for a few minutes, and to feel yourself breathing in and breathing out, you will feel a connection to everyone and everything. That simple act will bring you right into the now, and now is where you need to be if you want to feel love, joy, gratitude and peace. You can’t be in yesterday or tomorrow, you have to be in this moment. Being present feels good. You don’t need to buy anything in order to experience that calm, that steadiness. If you want answers, they don’t reside in a place or in another person. The answers you need are always inside. And those are the only answers you’re going to get. Ultimately, you have to make sense out of this world yourself. If you take the time to create peace within you, you’ll experience it around you, and you’ll be spreading it wherever you go. We have tremendous power to affect the way our lives feel. Of course there are devastating things that can happen to any of us. But it’s how we face what we’re given.
We experience our life as if it has a beginning, middle and end. We treat this like it’s our personal story. But that isn’t it. We’re joining a much larger story. We’re in the flow, and then we’re out of it. The flow goes on without us, although what we contribute while we’re here certainly affects it, and those ripples continue on. But it’s not your story, or mine. There are currently about seven billion of us contributing to this dance. What kind of dance are you doing while you’re here?
Being present means we’re opening to things as they are and trying to come back with love. We can focus on everything we don’t have, or we can direct our attention to those gifts we do have. Part of quieting the storm that rages in the mind involves choosing the thoughts that will strengthen us. Yes, there are things that can make us sick from the outside, but a lot of the time it’s our own thinking that’s causing us to suffer. We can argue about all kinds of things, but it’s pointless. We’re all in this mystery together. We can get caught up in names, borders, colors, religions and opinions. But love is the best answer you’re going to get. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton
Often I get emails from people who tell me their relationships would be wonderful, if only their partner would change. And sometimes they tell me they’ve been to therapy hoping that would help, but there hasn’t been any movement. Here’s the thing. We can never change other people. No one can ever change us, either, unless we want to make a shift. And you can find yourself at a real stalemate, and start to feel hopeless and stuck.
But just as we can never change other people, we are also not set in stone. You can always change what you are doing, and there’s tremendous power in that. When you look at the situations in your life, the story to pay attention to is not the one about what this person did, or how things unfolded in ways you couldn’t have imagined, or how something beautiful turned to something painful. I mean, you can examine all of that, but the thing you really want to dive into, is the story of your own participation.
Sometimes people get very clear on the “not taking things personally” part, and that’s wonderful. If someone is abusive, cruel, unkind, dismissive, thoughtless or disrespectful, that’s a reflection of where they are on their particular journey at this point in time. Is is not a reflection of anything lacking within you. But, and this is an important but, what is about you is your decision to continue to interact with people who don’t know how to do anything but hurt you. That part is the personal part, that’s the part you want to understand.
We’re not always talking about awful, abusive situations. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the spark going out. People take their partners or loved ones for granted all the time. Sometimes we think we have people “pegged”, and we don’t have to pay attention anymore. But everyone and everything is in a constant state of flux. You are not the you of five years ago, and neither is anyone else. You can’t ever peg anyone. But you can stop looking and listening and appreciating and cherishing and celebrating people, and that’s a sad but common occurrence. And if you find you’re in a relationship like that, where you feel unseen and unheard and taken for granted, you’re probably not going to turn that around by pointing fingers, and letting your partner know all the many ways he or she is blowing it. Because it’s never one person. In any relationship, there are two people, and the third thing, the space between them. That is where the relationship exists, in that space. Each person decides what’s going into the space, and this is true whether we’re speaking romantically or otherwise.
It’s easy to lose the thread. But if there was a spark in the beginning, if there was communication and vulnerability and honesty, you can find those things again, by offering them yourself. When you change what you do, things change around you, people respond to you differently. Also, your happiness is your own responsibility. You can’t put that on anyone else, that’s an inside job. If you are not at peace within yourself, if you’re not feeling inspired, if you’re not loving yourself well, no one can solve that but you. The idea in a healthy relationship is that you support your partner, you don’t look to him or her to solve your pain for you.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, and by that I mean verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive, it’s time to do something. Physical abuse demands that you create physical boundaries. In other words, you have to get out, and you’ll probably (definitely) need support in doing that. You cannot stay and expect things to change because they won’t. Or they will, but not in a good way. Your life here is a gift. It isn’t something you want to gamble. And thinking your love or patience or tolerance will finally change things is a dangerous delusion.
If we’re talking about verbal and emotional abuse, boundaries are also in order. If you’re not worried about your physical safety, it’s time to draw the line. If a person cannot treat you with care and consideration, then what is the relationship about? Are you financially dependent? Does the abuse remind you of the way you grew up? Does some part of you believe that you are not good enough to deserve love? If you get a yes to any of those questions, you need help and support. Low self-esteem is dangerous because we betray ourselves when we feel we aren’t worthy of being cherished. We put ourselves in situations that are crushing and heartbreaking, and you can only take that for so long before you become depressed or hardened, or you need to numb the pain. That’s no way to live.
There is no happily ever after without your participation and action. There is no person who’s going to sweep in and save the day and make everything okay, unless you decide to be that person. Be that person, seriously. Life is too short for anything else, and it can be so beautiful. Sending you love and a hug. Reach out if you need help, Ally Hamilton
If you want people to know you, you have to be willing to show yourself. You can’t lie, deflect, manipulate or play games, and also expect to feel close to anyone. But for so many people, fear seems to get in the way. Most of us long for connection, for shared experiences, for genuine intimacy, but then we sabotage any hope for those things by hiding our true selves, our real needs and desires. People do it in relationships all the time. They fall in love with someone, or they get hooked on an unhealthy dynamic and think it’s love. And they accept far less than what they truly want, and pretend to themselves and to their partners that it’s okay. That less is enough. That all is well.
A lot of people struggle with self-doubt. I’d say that’s a normal part of being human, and if you never doubt yourself, you’re probably in some trouble. Uninterrupted confidence that you’ve got everything figured out is not a great sign. But if doubt is an overriding issue, if you aren’t sure you’re lovable, if you fear you might not be worthy of respect or consideration, or you ask yourself questions like, “Who am I to do anything extraordinary?”, then you’re going to have a very hard time being close to people. Because in order to be close, you also have to be brave enough to expose the parts of yourself that aren’t pretty. If you fear you aren’t good enough, that you don’t measure up in some important ways, you’re going to be motivated to hide those deficiencies, not highlight them. Fear doesn’t make you brave. Of course, what you really need to do is puncture a hole in the idea that you’re less than. Because that is not real. Sometimes we learn things because they’re taught to us, and sometimes we learn things because those around us don’t have the tools to love us well. We internalize the lack as our own. Those are all lies you’ll need to unlearn if you want to free yourself from ideas that imprison you. How can anyone get in if you’ve blocked them with walls?
We all have our stuff. Our histories, our pain, our tendencies, and the way that we deal with them. If you’re constantly trying to put up a good front, or be the way you think people want you to be, then you’re going to feel alone, and rightly so. Before you can feel comfortable sharing who you really are, you have to feel comfortable with yourself. People avoid that work for years sometimes, and some people avoid it for their whole lives. You can’t solve it from the outside. No relationship will fix it if you think you might be broken. No job will ease your fears, no amount of money, no house or car or dress size. If your main house is not in order, you will take that mess with you wherever you go.
I know people who spend an inordinate amount of time promoting themselves, but underneath it, right underneath the surface, you can feel the need. “Love me, see me, tell me I’m here and I’m wonderful.” If you need that affirmation every second of every day, you are in pain. And no amount of external reassurance will solve that, because that’s what you call an inside job. No one can crash your internal hard drive but you, and that’s what you’ll need to do if you want to rewire your system. Of course that sounds scary. Most people try to keep the system running, even if they have to shore it up with denial, or numb out or keep themselves so distracted they don’t realize the system is failing. Better off to let it fail, and start doing things a different way. Some of the best stuff in life includes connection. Feeling comfortable in your own skin. Being able to love and live with your heart wide open. There are so many tools available if you need to create a new way of being, and start living your life in a way that feels good. Doing this work won’t kill you, but avoiding it makes you die on the inside, and life is too short for that. Sending you love and a hug, Ally Hamilton
Recently, a close friend of mine was left suddenly and without explanation by her husband of less than a year. They were having the normal struggles of any newly married couple, exacerbated by the fact that neither of them had lived with romantic partners before. Just the normal communication issues, and the push-pull we all go through when we’re shifting our perspective from “I” to “we”. They’d talked about going to counseling, and about making some other changes, too. He’d expressed a desire to move to another part of the country, and she’d been open to that. Throughout the relationship, right up until the day he took off, their text messages were loving, flirtatious and affectionate, their time together was mostly fun, and she had no reason to imagine he’d bail. But one morning he got up, kissed her goodbye as they left the house to go to their respective jobs, and that was the last time she saw him.
When he didn’t show up for dinner, she texted, and he said he was out with friends and that he’d probably crash with one of his buddies. She asked him where he was, but he just said he was out having fun, and he’d see her in the morning. And then he didn’t show up in the morning, and she called and got his voicemail. When she texted, he said he’d be home later in the day, and that he was running errands. But it turned out he’d gotten on a plane and flown across the country. She found out from his friend’s wife, when she called to see if he knew what was going on.
She flew across the country to see him and sit down face-to-face, but he refused, and his family told her to go away. He wouldn’t even respond to her texts, his mother texted to let her know he did not want to see her. She’d spent three years with him, she’d spent plenty of time with his parents and siblings, and not one of them would meet her for a tea, or even get on the phone. Her family and all her close friends, myself included, told her to come home. When there’s no communication, there’s also no hope. And when his family also shunned her, we all understood this was their modus operandi.
Two weeks later, he served her with divorce papers, citing irreconcilable differences. And then he proceeded to make demands about all the wedding gifts and furniture he wanted. She told me when she saw the list he sent with the movers, the nine-page list of things he wanted them to collect, it finally sank in. He cared about kitchen knives, but not her heart. He wanted the garbage can, but he didn’t want to know if she was okay, or how she was coping. He just didn’t care.
And so she was left in the dark, trying to figure out what had happened. Was the whole thing a sham? Had he ever loved her? Was the huge wedding he’d wanted just for show? Had he meant anything he’d said on their wedding day, or any day? She told me she felt like she was in the “Twilight Zone”, and that at any moment, Rod Serling would step out from behind a closet door, or from around a corner, and tell her she’d entered another dimension.
But life is like this sometimes. We’re going along, and BAM! A bomb goes off in the middle of our lives, and everything we thought we knew is just blown to pieces. Sometimes it happens because we’re abandoned, like my friend, and sometimes we lose people because they’re ripped from us too soon. Sometimes circumstances create the boom. Maybe we’re fired, or our house burns down, or we’re facing some other huge turn of events we could never have seen coming.
We’d never wish that on ourselves or anyone else, but it happens. And once you feel all the feelings around the experience—the shock, the grief, the confusion, the rage—you have a chance to begin again. Some things are so brutal, you have to accept you’re never going to be the same. Some things will never make sense, some things will never be explained, some things will rip your heart out of your chest and eat it with a fine chianti. So be it.
The question is, what are you going to grow out of those ashes? People and circumstances can hurt you, but they can’t defeat you unless you let them. You can’t rush through your feelings when you’re in turmoil; in fact, I’d say that’s the moment to use every bit of the support system you have in place, or to get busy creating one. That’s when you figure out who in your life is really going to be there for you. And that’s really good information to have, because then you know where to invest your time and energy, and with whom.
All you can ever do, is start where you are. We learn and grow from every experience, but we have to choose the lesson. My friend doesn’t want anyone to speak badly of her ex, and she isn’t fighting him for stuff or money. As she said to me, “The more he takes, the less he has.” How’s that for choosing the lesson?
There are confounding things that people do to each other sometimes. I get emails from people going through divorce with children, and one partner is using the kids as pawns against the other. Who do you think pays in that scenario? But again, those kids will grow up one day, and they’ll choose the lesson. There’s a lot of power in that, so if you’re in a situation that’s making you feel weak, try looking at it from that perspective. No one can take that away from you. Pick the lessons that strengthen you and open you. We have enough hard, closed people in the world. And when things happen that you don’t understand, do your very best to have compassion and recognize there’s probably more going on than you know. We can only know another person’s interior world to the extent that they allow us access. Many, many people have pain and they don’t know how to work with it so they lash out or they take off. Some people suffer from personality disorders that render them incapable of empathy. Some people have been taught that their feelings are the only ones that matter. Imagine how life must be for them. The more they take, the less they have. Sending you love, and wishing you peace and strength, Ally Hamilton
A big part of being at peace involves our ability to sit with discomfort. Not everything in life feels good, or is easy to deal with or comprehend. Sometimes we are the source of our greatest discomfort, and sometimes other people or the events around us give us an opportunity to lean into our fear, our rage, our guilt, grief or shame. It isn’t easy, but it’s how we learn and grow.
We all have our stuff, and even if you do the work to heal, to become intimately acquainted with the source of your pain, the things that trigger you, or the thoughts and tendencies that weaken you, it’s likely that you’ll have to grapple with them from time to time, because you’re human and this is no easy gig. But a lot of the time, we resist and contract against our own experience, especially if it’s messy, complicated, disappointing or uncomfortable. Maybe we’ve made a mess—said something or done something we wish we hadn’t in a moment of weakness or anger or confusion, or maybe we’ve been on the receiving end of poor treatment. Perhaps it’s circumstances that have us pushed to our edge; mostly, life does not unfold according to the vision we had in our heads of “how things should be”.
The source of addiction is this feeling that we can’t take it. We can’t withstand this temporary feeling, we have to do something, now. The best thing to do is have a seat and breathe. Because if you drink the feeling away, or pop a pill, or go shopping or hop in the sack with someone, that feeling will just arise again in the not too distant future. It won’t go away unless you face it down. Unless you examine the root of your discomfort, it will direct your life. And no feeling is forever. If you practice leaning into your painful feelings, you’ll find they arise, peak and subside like every other living thing.
The very best thing you can do when you feel “pushed up against it” is to breathe. Fighting reality will not change it. You don’t have to put everything in the thank you column, you don’t have to be grateful for every experience in your life. Some things are devastating and will never make sense. But you can always grow from your pain. You can use your suffering to become softer, more open, more empathetic. That’s so much better than resisting, denying, numbing out or running. The longer you do that, the longer your pain owns you. And you know what? I wouldn’t let pain own you, I’d let love do that. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton
In yoga practice, so much of what we’re doing is about stripping away. It’s very possible, and quite common, to reach adulthood and have no clue who we are or what we need to be at peace. Culturally we’re taught to look outward for happiness. If we just meet certain “markers”, if we can look right and have the right job and the right partner and the right house and car, then we’ll be good to go. And a lot of people are so focused on attaining these outer signs of happiness, they pass right by the signs that would actually lead them there.
Also, there’s the way you grew up. Maybe you were taught, in word or through actions, that your worth as a human being was based on your performance. If you did well in school, if you were a good boy or girl, then all would be well. But if you screwed up or failed to reach the bar, love was withdrawn and the disapproval was palpable. Maybe punishment was swift and intense. That’s just one example, of course. There are many. Maybe you grew up in a house where you felt unsafe, and you learned to be indispensable or invisible depending on the moment. Maybe you were spoiled rotten and taught that you were the center of everything, and that other people existed in order to orbit around your needs and wants. And perhaps you were taught that your needs and wants were something you were supposed to swallow, and that your fears and dreams had very little impact on the world around you. Maybe you were parentified and got a huge lesson in care-taking and people-pleasing. It’s a huge spectrum, but the chances for knowing yourself are slim in any of these scenarios.
This is why we have so many people who reach adulthood and have no idea which way to turn. The house doesn’t do it, the diet doesn’t do it, the right partner doesn’t do it. What’s the point? Where have they gone wrong, why isn’t the formula working? The formula doesn’t work because it’s based on the stuff around us, not the stuff within us. I know someone who’s been searching for the “perfect house” for years. Money isn’t an issue. The location could be anywhere. But no matter where he goes or what kind of house he buys, it’s never the right one. It never does the trick. If you want to be at peace, you have to get your true house in order. Your body is your home. If things are not well within you, they won’t be well around you, even if you buy a mansion in Bali and have people on hand to feed you fresh mango at your every whim. There’s no escaping yourself.
So in yoga, we’re looking for “vidya” or “clear-seeing”. Being able to identify what is real from what is unreal, what is permanent from what is impermanent. And you have to question everything you think you know, because you may have accepted things along the way, decades ago, that turn out not to be true for you. And you may have adopted ways of being that don’t serve you, that dis-empower you, or block you from receiving love and joy. You may have a lot of unlearning to do. Maybe you’ve come to believe you aren’t lovable, or that you’re broken in some un-fixable way. Maybe you think you can’t trust anyone, or everyone lies and cheats. There are all kinds of ideas you might have developed that just aren’t true. And so you have to dig. You have to unearth. You have to do the work to heal your deepest wounds so they don’t direct your entire life. The way to peace is inside, not outside. And the sooner you start, the faster you get to a place where life feels good. Avoiding this work is the surest way to suffer. And you aren’t here to suffer, although it’s part of life sometimes. You’re here to shine. I wouldn’t wait. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton