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
If you’ve ever tried to save another person from his or her pain, then you already know it can’t be done. You cannot divorce a person from his past; whatever we’ve been through is going to shape us, and have an effect on the way we look at, and move through the world. If we come from a stable and loving background where we felt secure and celebrated, we’re probably going to have an easier time dealing with life’s difficult surprises, rejections and losses. But there are some things that are so knifing, it really doesn’t matter what your background was. You’re going to have to walk through the fire.
I think the large majority of people are going to struggle, and I say this because it’s rare for two healthy, happy people to come together out of love, and to remember to appreciate the gifts as they roll in every day. I’m not saying this doesn’t exist, I’m just saying I don’t believe it’s very common. They teach us about fractions in school, we spend time figuring out what happens if a train leaves Baltimore at 7:50am, traveling 40mph, and another leaves New York City at 8:20pm going 30mph, but we don’t learn about the human heart. We don’t have classes that teach us about healthy relationships, and how to be a good partner. Most people develop their skill set with on-the-job training, and that doesn’t always work out so well. If you didn’t have exposure to healthy, happy relationships growing up, if you don’t have a model for that, then you’re flying by the seat of your pants, and it’s likely you’ll have a bumpy ride.
The point is, if we come out of pain, dysfunction, confusion and instability, it’s probably going to take some time for us to find our center. And if we start having intimate relationships while we’re still totally in the dark about who we are, they aren’t likely to go well. If you were born into a situation with two people who didn’t know how to love each other well, and also didn’t do a bang-up job loving you well…welcome to the human race. I believe you’re in the majority.
On top of your own personal history, there’s the vulnerability inherent in this gig called being human. And not everyone deals with the uncertainty of this thing very well. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes explosions go off in the middle of our lives because we set them off, and other times, this happens because we lose someone unexpectedly, or we lose a job, or some other totally unforeseen thing happens. What defines us is how we deal with what we’re given. Sometimes people flail about or point fingers or develop constructs that support the idea that it isn’t their fault, whatever “it” may be. Sometimes people numb out, deny reality, or run like hell. Sometimes people are so self-destructive, you just can’t watch anymore.
The thing is, you can’t do the journey for anyone else. You can’t do it for your children or your parents or your siblings or your best friend. We all have to man up and woman up and and get serious about healing. You can’t be of any real good to anyone else if you’re miserable. You can’t blame your parents if you’re 40 and unhappy. I mean, you can, but it won’t get you anywhere you want to be.
What can you do if someone you love is hurting? You can offer your support and encouragement of course. You can learn to say less and listen more, and just be there with your love. You can reflect back to them the incredible beauty you see. You can try to find them resources so they can start to take ownership of their pain and their happiness. But you can’t fix it for them. It’s torturous to watch someone we love as they flail or doubt or fear or cling. When people have a hole they’re trying to fill, whether they try to fill it with fame or adoration or things or food or sex or they try to numb it out so the ache is less intense, there’s nothing much you can do except to tell them again and again, the only thing that fills that hole is love. And it isn’t love from other people, although that’s wonderful, it’s love from within. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton