Sometimes what we think we know prevents us from seeing clearly. In, “Making a Friend of the Unknown”, a talk by one of my favorite poets, David Whyte, he shares about how he studied zoology and marine biology before he dedicated himself to writing full-time. And he went to the Galapagos Islands, and got in the water with the fish, and he said he was very disappointed to discover the animals had not read the same books he had. And that they had “lives of their own”. Awesome, right?
Our ideas and opinions and frame of reference color all of our experiences. We like to think we have things figured out, we have certain people “pegged”. Did it ever occur to you that your mother has a libido, and this is one of the reasons you exist? I’m not suggesting you have to dwell on your mother’s sexual drive, I’m just saying, do you think of your mother as a complete woman, with a life and feelings and mysteries all her own, heartbreaks you may know nothing about, secret hopes, dreams, longings, or do you have her in this box labeled “mom”?
We make snap judgments all the time. And let’s get clear on this–judgements are not bad, the mind is a tool of judgement. You pull up to a red light and make a judgement to stop your car. It’s pre-judging that gets us into trouble, and yet we’re so used to categorizing everything. We’re taking in so much information all the time, but we’re also missing so much. Maybe we see someone with a yoga mat slung over her shoulder and we think, “She’s like me”, or we notice someone’s cool tattoo, or their smile, or the way they’re carrying themselves and we think, “confident”, “charismatic”. Do you know a lot of sociopaths have those characteristics? I’m just saying.
I’ve been teaching so long at this point, mostly the room is full of people I know, with new faces showing up all the time, and I love that. It’s rare for me to deal with a room full of people I don’t know, who don’t know me, unless I’m traveling to teach a workshop somewhere. But sometimes in those instances, I can feel the energy in the room. The withholding, the resistance, the pause before the judgement. “Am I going to like this? Am I going to be happy I chose to spend my afternoon this way? Am I going to sweat? Is it only going to be about whether I sweat?” The mind is constantly pulling us out of our experience so we can make decisions about the experience we’re having. But the minute you label how you’re feeling, you aren’t feeling it anymore, you’re thinking.
My mother today is not the mother of my childhood, and my father today is not the same father I grew up with. People change and things change but sometimes our ideas do not change along with them. I’m not the same teacher I was ten years ago. Nor do I want to be. We’re always learning and growing, and hopefully we’re allowing life to open us and strengthen us so we have more to give. But we stunt that process when we place our ideas and opinions all over everything. It’s like a grid or a screen we can’t see through. We’ve decided things have to be one way, and we reject anything that doesn’t match our vision.
There was a time, years ago when I’d first moved to L.A., when I took over the classes of a very popular teacher at a very popular gym. And for a few weeks, I had to deal with that resistant and withholding energy in the room, until everybody decided it was going to be okay, and I had made the grade, so to speak. Except for this one guy who always stood at the front of the room, rolling his eyes at me throughout class. Or shaking his head, or sighing loudly. It was clear to me that he couldn’t stand me, but that he was there because the time slot worked for him, and he liked the workout. This went on for months, and though I wanted to speak with him about it, he always came right on time, and left right after.
One day I ran into him on the way to class, and I said hi. We spoke for a few minutes. He seemed shy, maybe a little aloof, but not like a person who despised me. Nonetheless, the eye-rolling and huffy breaths continued, as did the head shaking. Then, one day he asked if we could go for a hike. And it turned out he’d been shaking his head at himself. That the things I was saying were hitting a nerve, and resonating with him, and he had been rolling his eyes because he couldn’t believe he hadn’t been dealing with his deep need to heal. So this whole time, I’d thought he couldn’t stand me, and it turned out he followed me all over L.A. to take class, even after I left the gym and moved to a studio in Santa Monica. He’s since moved away, but once in awhile he’ll surprise me and show up in class. He’s my oldest regular, this guy who couldn’t stand my guts.
The more you can drop what you think you know, and just open to things as they are, the less you’ll struggle. Moving through life and interacting with people with curiosity is such a great way to go. We aren’t here to peg people, or to compete with them. We’re here to see, to share, to learn, to understand, to grow, to celebrate, to cherish. Life isn’t about surviving, it’s about thriving. And a lot of the time, we get in our own way and become our own obstacles. Drop the stance, remove the blinders, try not to cling to a picture in your head of how things should be or how people should be. Don’t be so sure that you already know what someone will say. Do not assume you’ve gathered all there is to know about your partner, even if, and especially if, you’ve bent together for years. Try not to make snap judgements about people based on one conversation, one interaction, no matter how wonderful or miserable. Get in the water and swim and observe all the animals having lives of their own. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
Few things feel worse than being used or duped, especially at the hands of someone we believed was a friend. But these things happen in life. Betrayal stings because we trusted, and we were wrong. Not only are we disappointed and sometimes disgusted with the other party, we’re also angry with ourselves for not having seen more clearly. Also, when we feel disgusted, it’s usually because we are really, really hurt.
The trap in these situations is to ask ourselves, “How can this person have done this to me?”, and begin to make our list of all the ways we’ve shown up and been a great and loyal friend, partner, or colleague. The reality is, it’s not about you. This person would do this to anyone in similar circumstances. This is where this person happens to be on his or her path at the present moment. You just crossed paths at the wrong time.
Now, how do you wrap your head around that if it’s your partner? How not to take it to heart in that scenario? It always takes two. In any relationship, the dynamic exists between the two parties. There’s you, your partner, and the space between you, and the relationship lives in that space. You are each responsible for what you contribute, whether it’s your care, your attention, your energy, your time, your love, your presence, your patience, compassion and forgiveness, your sense of fun, your willingness to keep learning about the other person, or not so much. You are responsible if you neglected that space, if you stopped looking or caring or listening, if you filled that space with your rage, resentment, boredom, fear, frustration, or if you didn’t fill the space at all. That’s the part to examine.
A lot of the time, we’re taking things personally that have nothing to do with us. If someone behaves in a way that lacks integrity, that’s their issue. The part that’s personal is the healing you’ll have to do if you got stung. Also, it’s helpful to remember those times when we did not show up the way we wish we had. No one operates from his or her highest self in every moment. We all make mistakes, we all blow it sometimes. Learning from our mistakes so we can make better ones moving forward is the thing. Practicing forgiveness for ourselves and others creates the environment for change and growth. Don’t get me wrong, there are some things that are just over the line. You can forgive people for your own well-being, and still choose not to have them in your life.
And the thing is, life is short and precious. You can get really caught up feeling injured, wronged, victimized, but that’s time you’ll never have back, and that isn’t a stance that’s going to serve you. Most people are just doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Sometimes people are really young, selfish, confused, immature. We’ve all been those things at some point. No need to take it personally, because it’s not a reflection of anything lacking within you. As soon as you can, pick yourself up. Because there’s a lot of beauty in this world, and there are a lot of wonderful human beings. As far as the people who’d walk through fire for you, don’t expect a roomful. Maybe a handful. For sure, one. You can always walk through the fire on your own behalf, and sometimes life asks that of us. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
Sometimes things happen that turn everything we thought we knew upside down and inside out. Recently, a woman wrote to me because she found out her husband had another family “on the side”. She and her husband have a son who’s five. She believed their son was her husband’s first child, but it turns out he has a daughter a year older. She told me she’d been impressed with her husband’s ability to change diapers and his ideas about breastfeeding, and just generally how comfortable he’d been when their son was an infant. She didn’t realize he’d been through it before. And when she approached him about wanting a second baby, he told her he really felt he was a “one-and-done” kind of guy, but it turns out he has another son, too. He had a second baby with the other woman.
You might wonder how he was able to pull this off for so many years, but he travels on business all the time, and she never thought to worry. She said she believed they were happy. That in their social circle, they were the couple everyone envied because they were still so romantic and seemingly in love with each other. College sweethearts, the whole nine. She found out because the other woman called her. She didn’t want to live in hiding anymore. She wanted to be able to have a normal life. She wanted to post pictures of her kids on Facebook, and go to school gatherings with the father of her children. I mean, it was only a matter of time before this whole thing exploded. The kids are getting older. He has three children calling him Daddy, in two different states.
Anyway, it’s a total mess. And clearly, this man needs some serious help. I don’t know enough about him, his background, his pain, his mental condition, and nine hundred other factors to even begin to comment on what could drive a person to wreak havoc on so many lives, including his own.
The wife is reeling. She’s trying to keep it together for the sake of her son. She told her husband to get out, and she called a lawyer. But it’s the emotional part that’s brutal. A lawyer can’t help you negotiate an earthquake that shakes the foundation of your life. That makes you search back and relive every moment that didn’t quite add up, to replay every conversation, to find the thread that began to unravel when you didn’t notice. In addition to a lawyer, she also called a therapist, her entire family, and her closest friends. She asked me to write about it. She needs support, and she’s reaching out, which is good.
Obviously, this is an extreme example, but most of us have experienced betrayal of some kind. Or we’ve been blindsided when something ended and we just did not see it coming. Or we thought we knew someone and it turns out we didn’t, not really. The hardest part in all of that is feeling like you cannot trust your own judgement. Do you remember that inane conversation about the color of that dress a few weeks ago? Was it black and blue or white and gold? What an extraordinary amount of time we wasted on that. But that’s what it’s like when something rocks the foundation of everything you believed you could count on. Was my marriage real? Was anything he said real? Was the love real? Was the family real? I’m looking at this and it looks purple, but is it? I mean, you just can’t trust anything anymore.
The key toward putting your world back together in times like those is just to take it one breath at a time, and to allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. Heartbroken. Enraged, Astounded. Depressed, scared. She told me she feels ashamed and humiliated, amongst many other emotions. We talked about the shame part. I told her there’s never any shame in loving all the way, and trusting and giving. There is a clear lack of self-respect when someone lies and betrays and sneaks around, and I told her those are things her soon-to-be ex-husband will have to grapple with, but she has nothing to feel ashamed about.
Humiliation is another thing, though. That word comes from the Latin “humus”, which means ground, soil, or earth. As if we’re being returned to the ground, to the dirt. And I’ve felt that way before myself. As much as we wouldn’t wish it on ourselves or anyone else, there’s something freeing about being returned to the earth. And about questioning everything. I’m definitely not suggesting this is some blessing in disguise, although clearly she’s been building her life with a person who has deep-rooted problems, I’m just saying once she allows herself the time and space to grieve and heal, she can start to build something new. She can begin again, from the ground up. And there’s no doubt this experience is going to make her grow and open and strengthen in ways she wouldn’t have without out. It always comes down to what we do with what we’re given.
Life is full of curve-balls, and many people are in unfathomable pain. There are also beautiful people in this world who would never, ever betray you, and there are experiences that take your breath away with the sheer force of their awesomeness. We never know what life has in store for us. It is humbling, but it’s also interesting and amazing. Whatever’s happening in your world, remember there’s only one you in the known universe. Only one. Feed your spark, and try to trust in your process. Leave room for life to show up with the joy, too. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
The other night I was watching “Cosmos” on Netflix with my kids. In this particular episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson was explaining how it takes eight minutes for the light of the sun to reach the earth. So when we look at the sun, we’re really looking at the way the sun looked eight minutes ago. We never see it in real time. By the same token, when we look at a sunset, we’re seeing the image of the way the sun set eight minutes ago; what we’re watching has already happened.
The episode also covered astronomer William Herschel, and his son John, who amongst many other contributions, advanced the science of photography as we know it today. He grew up hearing about the stars from his father, who also explained to young John that many of the stars in the sky were not really there any longer. If the sun we see is really the sun from eight minutes ago, and many of the stars we see are no longer there, it’s all too understandable that we’d want to uncover what is real. And that the son of a man who spoke of such things would want to learn how to capture a moment in time.
Anyway, I’m sure I learned about the eight-minute time lapse at some point, but I guess it didn’t stick in my mind the way it did this time. I looked at the sun a lot today, and kept thinking, “I’m looking at the past.” I mean, if we look up and the sun we’re seeing is the sun of eight minutes ago, how can any of us think we have a second to waste? Everything in the universe is in a constant state of motion. The earth, the sun, the stars the galaxies, our feelings, relationships, and us, ourselves—we come and we go.
And it made me think about Instagram and our obsession with documenting everything. Some people are a little more obsessed than others, but it seems we’re all trying to say, “Look! I’m here, right?” And, “Here I am!” You go to watch your kid playing soccer or baseball, or you go to the Glee Club concert, and you wonder, “What must the kids think?” They look in the stands, or out into the audience, and they can’t make eye contact with their parents. They can’t even see mom’s or dad’s faces, all they can see are phones.
Of course it’s fine to document things from time to time. Most people enjoy looking at pictures from their childhood, or the meaningful moments in their lives as they grew into adults. But now, it’s like we’re documenting everything, all the time. “Look at this juice I just drank! I’m here! I exist!” And the thing is, the second you’re talking about what you’re doing, the second you’re thinking about it, you aren’t in it anymore. You’ve taken yourself outside the experience.
I chose the quote on the poster because it made me laugh, but also because there’s a reason people (not all people, but let’s say a decent majority), love sex. You lose yourself. At least, you do if the sex is great and there’s a lot of feeling between you and your partner. You aren’t taking yourself out of the experience to document how you feel about it. “Hmmm, I’m enjoying this. This is great. Let me try to catch it from this angle so I can tweet about it.” Well, maybe some people are, but if we’re talking about truly great sex we are completely in and of the moment. Sex is not the only place we can experience this, obviously. You can get lost in nature on an incredible hike. You can unroll your yoga mat and get lost in the breath and other sensations in the body. You can get lost in a great book, you can become immersed in creating a delicious meal, you can salsa dance your way into losing yourself.
The thing is, it’s vital that you find a way to do just that, and frequently. Because when you lose that small self, that self full of ideas about who you are and who other people are and what you need and what you should have and how life should look and what that other person said or did and why that movie actually really sucked even though it won an Oscar and everyone else seems to be seeing something you aren’t, and also he looks like he gained weight since last season, and don’t you really deserve that raise, and Oh.My.God. When you can actually shut all that down and just join the flow and be present, you can also experience your true self. Your open curious engaged immersed self. Your should-less self. And that is so important to do, because when you do that you. YOU. You are present. You are present enough to recognize that the earth is spinning and some of the stars are already gone, already gone and the sun is shining the way it did eight minutes ago and you. You are part of all of that. You’re made of the same stuff as that sun and those stars and you are also spinning and moving and changing, and one day there will be a glimmer of you, a spark of you, a mark left by you, because you are here and you do matter, even if every moment of your life is not documented you are here. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
Not all friendships or romantic relationships will stand the test of time, and that is okay. Of course it hurts, but it’s just the way of things. People change, circumstances change, everything in the known universe is in constant motion. Sometimes we think something is “for life”, but it turns out not to be. Certain people are going to turn out to be “somebody that you used to know.” Yes, you can thank me for having that song stuck in your head for the next little while. But it’s really the truth.
Of course it doesn’t feel good when someone rejects us or ditches us or treats us with very little respect or concern. Especially if there’s a history of kindness and shared memories, of times when you really went out of your way to show up or to help. But if you are suddenly discarded, you’ll probably look back and realize you were dealing with a mostly one-way street. Someone who genuinely cares about you will not treat you carelessly, no matter how caught up he or she might be with other interests.
And if someone is behaving in a disappointing way, that’s no reflection on you, it’s a reflection of where that person happens to be on her or his own path. You don’t have to take it to heart. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting or hurt, it just means you don’t have to take it as a sign that you’re easy to discard. There’s another great Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
Generally, you’re dealing with one of two things: either you have some part in the dissolution of what was once a beautiful bond, but the other party is unwilling or unable to communicate in a respectful way so you can understand a differing point of view, and apologize if the situation warrants that, or, you’re dealing with a person who truly doesn’t give a sh%t. And either way, it takes two to make a “thing go right”. There’s another song for you, you’re welcome.
If a person won’t tell you what’s up, don’t lose sleep over it. I mean, in order to own your end of a thing, a person has to be willing to tell you what the thing is, and if they won’t, it really has to go in your, “no time for this” folder. Because that’s okay in high school, but otherwise, not so much. And if a person doesn’t care, why waste your precious time and energy on it?
The thing is, life is so short. All you can do is manage the way you show up, and pay attention to what you do. If you blow it, own it, apologize, and take some time for self-inquiry so you can learn and grow and do it better the next time. Try not to hurt people. If you’re the person doing the leaving, whether we’re talking about the end of a friendship or a romantic relationship, communication is always a good way to go. I mean, if you went on one date with someone and it wasn’t a match, I’m not saying you have to spend an hour talking about why that is. But don’t say you’ll call if you have no intention of calling, because that’s also only okay in high school, and not really even then. And if someone is into you and it isn’t mutual, don’t leave them hanging in the wind. People are precious and the human heart is tender. Take care of your own, and be kind to others. Sending you love, lovers, Ally Hamilton
I remember the morning my mom told me my dad didn’t live with us anymore. I was almost four, and we were sitting at the dining room table at breakfast, and she told me he was going to be living somewhere else, and that eventually I would visit him there. I went into their bedroom, and looked through all his drawers and closets. His denim shirts were gone, his sun lamp was gone, and so were the styrofoam heads that held his different wigs; he was an actor. When I saw he’d left his robe, I thought he’d have to come back, but I was wrong.
It had been a confusing time already. My beloved grandma had died the week before, and I’d been too young to visit in her hospital room that last day. Which was probably good. I remember my grandma laughing, and hugging me, full of life. But suddenly it seemed people were disappearing, and not peripheral players, either. We’d seen my grandma almost every day of my life. She and my mom were really close. She and I were really close. It amazes me to think about the impact she’s had on my life, and to realize I didn’t even get four full years with her. And now my dad had gone to some unknown place, and I had no real sense of time. I don’t know how my mom got through that conversation with me without crying.For years, I lived in fear of being left. I didn’t realize I was doing this, of course, but it’s obvious in the rear-view mirror. I tried to be a good girl. I thought if I got straight-A’s and looked right and behaved well, then maybe I’d be safe. And that followed me into my adulthood. I entered into relationships with people not thinking about what I wanted or needed, or even if I was having fun, but almost solely focused on how I could be perfect for them. How I could make myself indispensable. Un-leave-able.And I’m sharing this with you not because it’s a heartbreaking tale. I hear worse stories every day. Lots of people get divorced (not that it makes it easy on the children involved), lots of people lose their grandparents. The proximity in my case was unfortunate because it was like a bomb went off, or an earthquake shook the foundation of what I’d known, but my parents had been keeping up appearances because my grandma was sick that last year, and they didn’t want her to worry. I know someone who watched his father die at eight years old while they were playing. I know someone who’s dad left when she was seven and never looked back. I can’t even wrap my head around how you could leave your kid and never look back. And then there are stories of abuse and neglect and all kinds of things that would leave you on your knees.
My point in sharing is that our pain does not just magically disappear. If we don’t examine it when we become conscious adults, it swims beneath the surface of everything we do, wreaking havoc on our lives. And life doesn’t have to be that way. We all want to heal. We all want to be happy. We wrote it into our Declaration of Independence, so there’s not much doubt that we value happiness. It’s just that the large majority of us will seek to heal in all the ways that make things worse.
Because we long to heal, we call into our lives those dynamics that reflect our deepest wounds. Mostly, we don’t even know we’re doing that. If you’re afraid of being left, you probably have an excellent and uncanny and perverse knack for picking people who struggle to commit. This is no coincidence. Because, presto! Now you have your chance to heal, right? All you have to do is get your partner to want to be with you, and that will be the balm for your original wound. Except it won’t, because if you pick people who struggle to commit, you set yourself up to be left again, thus confirming your deepest fear that you are the kind of person it’s easy to leave. Or worse, that you just aren’t worthy of love. You’re leave-able, not lovable.
There’s the hard, long road, and there’s the hard, short road. I’m not going to lie about that, those are the choices. I mean, those are the choices unless you happen to be one of the three people in the world who had idyllic childhoods. And even if you are, someone else has probably come along and broken your heart by now. Chances are, you probably have some issues, some stuff to work through like any other human. And it’s not a level playing field as I mentioned above, so what you’ll need to heal, and how long it will take and what tools you’ll use are all personal. But avoiding that work is a surefire way to prolong your pain and allow unconscious drives to rule your life. The longer you wait, the longer you suffer. There’s no reason your past has to screw up your present. You are not stuck in a time-warp.
It took me a long time and a lot of work to get right with myself, and it’s still a daily practice, but at this point, I’m in the maintenance part. Of course things come up that might tap an old wound, but the wounds have scar tissue, they aren’t raw and bleeding, and they aren’t unknown to me. They’re almost like old, familiar friends. Ah, fear of abandonment. I feel you. I see you. I tip my hat to you. But you don’t own me anymore.
If you’re an adult, and you’ve had enough time as an adult to recognize patterns in your life that aren’t serving you, I’d get on that. Tools that have worked for me are a daily yoga practice (and I mean all eight limbs), seated meditation, and therapy. If you want to try some yoga with me right now, you can go here: http://pages.yogisanonymous.com/preview/2387
I’ve also read some tremendously helpful books, and I’ve done quite a lot of journaling. There are so many tools available. It’s my personal belief that it isn’t a luxury to pursue healing modalities until you find a mix that works for you; I believe it’s your responsibility. You have this life. You have a body. You have time and energy. These things are all gifts. Then, there are your own, particular gifts that are born of your own experiences and perspective and ways of looking at the world. There’s only one of you. So if you don’t figure out how to set yourself free, you rob the world of gifts only you can bring to it. And that would be a tremendous shame. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton