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The Cycle of Abuse

September 13, 2014

Ive-heard-that-peopleIf you’ve never been in an abusive relationship, you’re probably going to have a hard time understanding what would keep a person in a situation that’s so unhealthy and soul-crushing. This applies whether we’re talking about emotional and verbal abuse, or physical abuse. People who find themselves in these kinds of relationships didn’t land there out of the blue. A person who’s allowing herself or himself to be abused is a person in pain. And judging or shaming someone because they aren’t strong enough to get themselves out of harm’s way, is only going to compound their pain. The last thing a person needs in that situation is to feel someone else’s disdain; people allowing themselves to be abused are already swimming in shame and guilt and low self-esteem. What they need is support.

Yesterday I saw the video of football player Ray Rice hitting his fiancee, and knocking her unconscious in an elevator. She married him shortly after this violent event. And I discovered a huge and important conversation about domestic violence and abusive relationships happening on Twitter. If you’re on Twitter, you can check the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft, where countless women are speaking out about their own experiences. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, and 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. It’s not just an issue for women, there are cases where men are being abused by their female partners. But it’s an overwhelmingly larger issue for women.

I have no idea about the background of Janay Rice. But I do know that people who come out of abusive homes tend to seek out those relationships in their adult lives. So, too, do children of alcoholics tend to marry alcoholics. This might seem insane from the outside, but it’s what Freud called the “repetition compulsion”, what Jung referred to when he said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life, and you will call it fate”, and what Einstein defined as insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result”. Yogis call these “samskaras”, or grooves that we play out again and again. We all want to heal and be happy. But a lot of the time, we avoid the very work that would bring us peace. Instead of examining, facing, and working with our pain, we run from it, or deny that it’s there, or numb it out. And then we call into our lives those situations that evoke the same ancient dynamic. We don’t do it on purpose, we’re just driven to heal, to overcome, to master those feelings we couldn’t master as children.

But this isn’t a formula that works. When we call an abuser into our lives so we can overcome our original pain, we simply find ourselves powerless once again. We revert back to that scared kid. We think, it must be us, it must be our fault, because look, it’s happening again. We think we don’t measure up, we must not be lovable. Sometimes people put themselves in a powerless position financially. Maybe there are kids in the mix, and they think they should take it, because at least the family is intact, and the abuse isn’t affecting them (of course it is). There are all kinds of reasons people stay. They might not make any sense from the outside, but if you haven’t lived someone else’s life, don’t expect to understand the way they think about things. And let’s talk about the other side, here, too. Abusers didn’t just become violent out of the blue. Most abusers were abused themselves. That doesn’t make it okay. But condemnation helps no one.

When we doubt that we’re lovable or worthwhile or of value, we’re likely to call people into our lives who reflect those doubts back to us. And if you’re in a situation like that, you might think, “If only I could get this person to love me, then I’d be happy.” Or maybe things are really really good a lot of the time, and just every so often, your partner hauls off and punches you in the face. It’s never okay. Abusers manipulate. They sweet-talk. They’re contrite. Maybe they cry and tell you it will never happen again, but it always does. Maybe you think if you just love your partner enough, he’ll stop. Maybe you think it’s your fault because you provoke him. Whatever the stories, the bottom line is, none of us was put here to be a punching bag. Love does not abuse you, mistreat you, disrespect you, lie to you, or hit you in the face. Not ever. You can’t be in love with someone’s potential, and in the meantime, excuse his or her behavior. Not if that behavior is causing you physical or emotional pain. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. We all have pain, we all suffer, and sometimes we just don’t have the tools or the strength to get ourselves to a safe space. If that’s where you’re at, you have to reach out and get yourself some help. A good therapist is a great place to start. You have to get to the root of the thing. You have to figure out when you started believing you were not worthy of love. You really need to dig that root up, and cut yourself away from it, because that root was planted in the soil of lies. If you need help, or you know someone who needs help, go to http://www.thehotline.org/

And let me just say that most men are as outraged about this as women. It’s really important to me that these conversations don’t alienate anyone. As always, these are problems we need to solve together, and the only way we can do that is by bringing them into the light so we can help each other. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Get Hungry for the Truth

September 12, 2014

The-truth-will-set-youSometimes we know something but we don’t want to accept what we know. Maybe we’re attached to a certain picture in our heads of how things should or could be. Maybe we’re in love with someone’s potential and think if we just hold on and wait, eventually this painful situation will grow into something else, something beautiful. There are all kinds of reasons we might reject the truth of how things are. The thing is, it always leads to suffering.

We are energetic creatures, and we all have instincts. That’s one of our main modes of survival. What you feel in your gut can be trusted. But our hearts and our minds are also in the mix, and this is where things get complicated. When we’re attached to people, or ideas about how things could be, it makes it so hard to walk away. It’s brutal. And when the mind gets involved with all its shoulds and coulds and questions and rationalizations, it gets even harder to act on what we know. We can stay and suffer for days, weeks, months, years, all the while allowing our light to be dimmed. It feels terrible to ignore, repress or deny what you know to be true. It’s like trying to lift the ocean; it’s futile. But sometimes we’re just not strong enough yet. We’re not ready to let go, to accept, to surrender, to swim.

Those are the times when it’s the least comfortable to be human. When we just suffer and feel a little sick and tired all the time. When we spend our energy developing constructs that support the version of reality we pretend to be living in. The truth is a relief. It hurts like hell sometimes, but it’s so much easier. All the white noise drops away. We can breathe again. Maybe we’re heartbroken, but we can breathe. There is no one way. There is no one person, except yourself. There is no one path. Life is not obligated to give you what you want, and neither is anyone else. Sometimes the healthiest and scariest thing you can do is trust that something else is coming. Something that looks totally different than the picture you’re grasping, or the person you’re grasping, or the identity you’re holding onto like a cat sliding off a roof.

Most people will tell you that their lives did not unfold the way they thought they would. We all have our ideas and our longings, but sometimes our attachment to them really blocks our ability to let life flow. If someone doesn’t want to be with you all the way, release them and release yourself. If someone doesn’t know how to love you the way you long to be loved, accept the way they can love you, or don’t, but love yourself in the ways that are missing. Just don’t lie to yourself. Don’t kid yourself. Don’t numb out so your reality feels less harsh. Let the harshness push you up against the wall until you can’t take it anymore and you have to try something else. Because life is short and time is precious, and so are you. You don’t have time to be in denial. I mean, you can do that if you want to, but there are so many better uses of your time and energy. Being with what is, leaning into all the beauty and all the pain, is incredibly liberating.

I understand the desire to be happy. Everyone wants that. But get hungry for the truth, instead. Not everything is happy. It’s not realistic to expect we’re going to be joyful in every moment. Sometimes I see quotes that say things like, “We can choose happiness in every moment.” No, we can’t. Tell that to a grieving mother. Sometimes we compound our pain by feeling guilty about not being happy. I think we set ourselves up to fail and we alienate people who are suffering huge losses when we say things like that. It’s okay to be heartbroken or enraged or in despair. It’s okay to grieve until you think you can’t possibly have any tears left. In fact, I’d recommend that a lot more than trying to force yourself to choose happiness when everything in you is looking for a way to keep breathing. Just be where you are. Lean into it, breathe into it. It will change and it will pass, and it will do those things a lot sooner if you accept where you are rather than deny it.

I know sometimes it’s painful. That’s part of the path. Pain opens us and strengthens us and teaches us about ourselves. It shows us where we still have healing to do. It softens us so we understand empathy and compassion. It gives us a sharp taste of the opposite of joy, so that when joy comes, we get to appreciate and experience that fully, as well. Spirituality is not about being positive and light in every moment, it’s about being your authentic self. It’s about honoring what’s true for you. That’s a gift you give to yourself, and also to everyone you encounter. Don’t deny yourself that gift. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Remembering

September 11, 2014

We-all-know-were-goingFor me, like so many others, this is always going to be a day of remembering. I was born and raised in NYC, and there that morning, thirteen years ago. And I can remember every detail, including every minute of the four and a half hours we didn’t know if my stepdad was okay (he was), because he worked in the World Trade Center, and all the phone lines in the city went dead. But I don’t want to talk about the specifics. I’ve done that before. I want to talk about what it’s like to be shocked by violence, because so many people in the world right now are living that experience every day.

You might not have had an idyllic childhood. Maybe you lost your innocence too soon. Maybe burdens were placed upon you at an early age, or you had to take the role of parenting your parents, or you saw and heard things no child should have to see or hear. That’s one way of being stripped of your innocence. Once you know something, you can’t not know it. And it’s the same when we’re shocked as a people, as a culture. I believe we all thought we were invincible in that way, that we were the super-cop of the world, that we were impervious to violation. But because of the way we’ve set things up, no one is immune. And no one is innocent. When we turn our backs, we aren’t innocent. We have a cultural idea that only the strongest survive, and that we have to compete if we want to succeed. We have lots of ideas that have led us to where we find ourselves today, with too many innocent children dying, too many parents grieving in the streets, too many people suffering.

How it is within us, is how it is around us. If you’re filled with love, you’re going to spread love. If you’re filled with pain or rage, so too, you’re going to spread those things. Anything we see around us is a reflection of something that exists within us, either personally, or culturally. This is why I believe it’s essential that each of us does the healing and the work to make the worlds within us loving and peaceful places to be. Of course that makes each of our individual lives easier and happier and more fulfilling, but it’s also a gift we give to each other. We love to blame “society’ for its ills, but society is made up of human beings.

There are some people who will never do this work. They’re too far gone. Rage has infected their hearts and eaten their brains and made them capable of inhumane thinking and actions. So be it. But that’s a small percentage of the human population. And I have no doubt that if the large majority of us got to work doing a better job of finding peace and steadiness within, we’d begin to do a great job of spreading that around. It’s not the tiny percentage of violent extremists who pose the biggest threat to our well-being. It’s the huge percentage of people who numb out so they don’t have to feel the pain of being human. Because it is painful. It’s also incredibly beautiful. It’s wildly interesting and unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen from day to day, and you can let that reality terrify you or inspire you to live fully. We’re afraid of pain. We’re averse to discomfort, let alone suffering. But we’re all going to suffer to some degree or another, and we’re all vulnerable. It’s not a level playing field as far as what happens. Some people are born with amazing advantages. Some people endure knifing, piercing losses that make you wonder how they’re going to move forward. But as far as vulnerability goes, we all get the same parameters. We’re all going to die at some point. We all have an incredible capacity to love. Everyone we love will die eventually. We don’t know how long we have, we don’t know how long they have, we don’t know what happens after this. Welcome to the human race, these are the rules of this game. How we live up to them is what defines us.

When you numb out, you turn your back on your own precious heart, and the hearts of all the people who hold you near and dear, but you also turn your back on your place in the whole. You turn your back on all your brothers and sisters. Because as far as I’m concerned, we are one huge family living on one planet. We have some members who are bat-sh&t crazy and full of venom, and there’s no denying that. But most of our family members are decent people with beautiful hearts struggling to manage their own vulnerability and fear. And we could help each other so much by simply acknowledging that.

We don’t need more people who feel alienated and alone, we need more connection, empathy, compassion and understanding. We need that individually, and we need that as a people. Everything you do, matters. You’re an energetic being, and you spread and take in energy wherever you go. The more accountable each of us is for the energy we’re spreading, the more we mindfully try to up the happiness quotient of the world around us with our small actions every day, the more we contribute to a better and more loving world. So don’t underestimate your own power. You’re one of seven billion people, and you’re completely unique. You have a spark to offer that only you can. But if enough sparks come together, we have a raging, burning fire of love we can let loose together. And I really believe the time is now. We don’t have time to keep feeding the old story of us versus them. We need to be a we. Sending you love, and sending extra love out there to anyone who’s lost a family member to an act of violence.

You Can’t Negotiate with Crazy

September 10, 2014

People-cant-drive-youPeople can only drive us crazy if we let them. A person can spin his or her web, but we don’t have to fly into the center of it to be stunned, stung, paralyzed and eaten. Remember that your time and your energy are the most precious gifts you have to offer anyone, and that includes those closest to you, and also total strangers. Your energy and your time are also both finite. So it’s really important to be mindful about where you’re placing those gifts.

It’s hard not to get caught up when someone we love is suffering, or thrashing around, or in so much pain they don’t know what else to do but lash out. It’s hard not to take that to heart, or to defend yourself, or to try to make things better for them. But you’re not going to walk into a ring and calm a raging bull with your well-thought out dialogue. You’re just going to get kicked in the face, at best. And I use that analogy intentionally. People in pain–whether we’re talking about people with personality disorders or clinical depression, people suffering with addiction, or people who are going through mind-boggling loss–are dealing with deep and serious wounds. They didn’t wake up this way one morning. Whether it’s a chronic issue, or an acute and immediate situation, when you’re dealing with heightened emotions including rage, jealousy, or debilitating fear, you’re not going to help when a person is in the eye of the storm. If someone is irrational, trying to reason with them makes you as irrational as they are. You can’t negotiate with crazy. And I’m not using the word as a dagger. I’m saying we’re all crazy sometimes. We’re all beyond reason sometimes. We all have days when we feel everyone is against us, whether that’s based in any kind of reality or not.

You can offer your love, your patience, your kindness and your compassion if someone you care for is suffering. You can try to get them the support they need. You can make them a meal, or show up and just be there to hold their hand, or take them to the window to let in a little light. But if someone is attacking you verbally or otherwise, we’re in a different territory. You are not here to be abused, mistreated, or disrespected. You are not here to defend yourself against someone’s need to make you the villain. You don’t have to give that stuff your energy, and I’d suggest that you don’t. It’s better spent in other places.

We can lose hours and days and weeks getting caught up in drama or someone else’s manipulation. That’s time we’ll never have back. Of course things happen in life; people do and say and want things that can be crushing sometimes. But the real story to examine is always the story of our participation. If someone needs you to be the bad guy, why do you keep trying to prove you’re actually wonderful? Are you wonderful? Brilliant, get back to it. If someone has a mental illness and they are incapable of controlling themselves, keeping their word, or treating you with respect, why do you keep accepting their invitation to rumble? You already know what’s going to happen. Don’t you have a better way to spend your afternoon? My point is, life is too short.

When a person is in the kind of pain that causes them to create pain around them, your job is to create boundaries if it’s someone you want to have in your life. You figure out how to live your life and honor your own well-being, and deal with the other party in a way that creates the least disharmony for you. That means you don’t get in the ring when they put their dukes up. You don’t allow yourself to get sucked in. Do you really think this is the time you’ll finally be heard or seen or understood? People who need to be angry cannot hear you. It doesn’t matter what you do or say, they have a construct they’ve built to support a story about their life that they can live with; it doesn’t have to be based in reality. Not everyone is searching for their own truth or their own peace; some people are clinging to their rage, because that feels easier or more comfortable, or because they really, truly aren’t ready to do anything else yet. You’re not going to solve that. But you can squander your time and energy trying. You can make yourself sick that way. I just don’t recommend it.

You really don’t have to allow other people to steal your peace, whether we’re talking about those closest to you, or people you don’t even know, like the guy who cuts you off on the freeway, or the woman talking loudly on her cellphone at the bank. You don’t have to let this stuff get under your skin and agitate you. You don’t have to let someone’s thoughtless comment or action rob you of a beautiful afternoon. Of course we give our time to people who need us. I’m just saying, don’t get caught up in the drama. If you need help, try this. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Aisle 5

September 9, 2014

It-is-easier-to-buildI have an almost-eight year old, and a five year old, and so I spend a lot of time with little kids, and not just my own. And I’ll tell you something about kids, in case you don’t hang around with them very much. Kids know themselves. If they’re angry, they’re fully red-in-the-face angry. If they’re sad, they’re fat-tears-steaming-down-your-face, sad. If they’re scared, or frustrated or confused or cranky, they’re all of these things fully. And because they allow their emotions to arise and peak and subside, they cycle through their feelings quickly. They’re what we call emotionally labile. And one of the great gifts of being this way, is that you don’t push things down, or edit things out. You just feel how you feel, and you let it out. If you love someone, you wrap your arms around them, and kiss their whole face. If you don’t like something, you tell everyone within earshot how you feel about it. If you want something, you aren’t shy about asking for it. It doesn’t occur to you to shrink yourself, or question your right to take up space in this world. It doesn’t occur to you that you aren’t special and important. At least, that’s how it is if you’re loved and nurtured. These feelings are natural to us.

Now, look, I’m not suggesting that we should all behave the way we did when we were three in every area of life. If you go to the store and they’re out of your favorite brand of peanut butter, it’s not going to be appropriate for you to throw yourself on the floor of aisle 5 and wail, and pound your fists on the tiles at the injustice of it. If you do that, you will very likely meet a whole bunch of police officers, paramedics, and firemen. Part of the reason a nurtured child lets things out, is that his or her nervous system isn’t yet developed enough to do anything else. And of course, good parenting requires that you teach your children what is okay, and what is not okay. But as a society, I believe we ask our children to edit out and push down too much, and a s result, we end up with generations of people who are lost to themselves.

Every loving parent wants her or his child to be happy, healthy, safe, joyful, confident, curious, kind, open, loving and trusting. But of course, human beings are complex, and life is full of everything. We don’t just get the light, we get the shadows, too. We are not going to be happy in every moment. Not everything in life goes into the “positive” category. Some things are brutal, some things are devastating, some things will break your heart wide open. And sometimes, loving parents are so invested in the idea that their children are happy, it’s hard for them to hold space for them to be anything less than that. Even for a moment. I hear parents all the time telling their children not to be sad, or scared, or angry. It’s not much different than treating the symptom, instead of the underlying cause. If it were as simple as saying “Don’t be sad”, if that would magically make us all happy, I’d say it myself. But of course that doesn’t work. Is it hard to watch your child struggle or cry or endure disappointment? Absolutely. But teaching your child to push down or edit out her or his emotions because they’re making you feel uncomfortable or inadequate or frustrated or ashamed or confronted, just feeds the cycle of repression. And I don’t say that in any kind of shaming way. Shame is the least productive feeling we can have about places where we might need to shine some light.

But many of us received this kind of parenting, because this is what we’re taught as a culture, right? Happiness lies in external things. Push down your feelings of longing and confusion, and just make things look right on the outside. Then you’ll feel better. But I think we’ve all come to understand that doesn’t work. It’s just going to take time to change the conversation and the story we’re telling as a people. It’s going to take effort and awareness and desire to check ourselves when we’re tempted to smooth things over, or distract or manage how other people are feeling, whether they’re our kids or our partners or our friends. Because people do this with their friends, too. Have you ever reached out to someone when you’re in need, only to be met with advice you didn’t want, that doesn’t help to do anything but make you feel more alienated and alone? When all you wanted was to be heard and understood?

It takes time to shift and breathe when someone we love is struggling. It takes a desire to be able to sit with someone’s despair or loneliness or fear without trying to fix it. And I believe the best way to make that shift, is to start with yourself. When you have moments of discomfort or jealousy, of shame or rage or blame, of despair or longing or fear, of loneliness or guilt, instead of trying to distract yourself or numb yourself, or run anyway, you lean into it. You breathe into it. You acknowledge how things are for you in this particular moment, which is already morphing and shifting and changing into something else. You allow the feelings to arise and peak and subside. You allow the tears to come, or you allow yourself to feel enraged or bitter or insecure. You sit with that stuff without judging it, because they’re just feelings, they’re not you. You aren’t defined by the fleeting emotions and thoughts that cruise through your being from moment-to-moment and day-to-day. You’re defined by what you do with, and about, those feelings. By how willing you are to hold some space for yourself just to be human. And by how much you’re able to do that for other people. Because that’s a LOT more comforting than unwanted advice. And that way, you aren’t lost to yourself. You’re known to yourself. There are many great things we can learn as we grow. We can learn how to listen deeply. We can learn about compassion and empathy. We can learn about showing up for ourselves and for other people. But there are also some things we might have to unlearn. To me, this is a big part of the yoga practice. So much of it is about stripping away anything that isn’t real for you, that isn’t authentic to you. Because I do think we know most of the important stuff when we arrive here. We know we need people. We know we need connection, and warmth, and touch and love. We know that it feels good to give love. We know that it’s okay for us to take our place in this world, and to shine. I don’t wish you a melt-down on aisle 5, but I do wish you the gift of coming home to yourself. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Trust Your Gut

September 8, 2014

I-have-been-and-still-amMany years ago, I met a guy in the practice room of the Ashtanga class I attended. My boyfriend at the time was also in the class, and this guy showed up one morning and joined the crew. After awhile, we all became friendly, and would sometimes have tea after practice. He was new to L.A., and didn’t know many people out here. He was trying to get his massage business off the ground. We would go on hikes, or try new restaurants together, or have him over for dinner. He’d come take my class, or my boyfriend’s, who was also a yoga teacher. Sometimes the two of them would go out for a beer. Anyway, after a few months this way, we considered him a friend.

One day, he asked if he could give us free massages. He was hoping we’d feel comfortable recommending him to students, private clients, and other yoga teachers. So of course we said yes. It’s a win-win, right? So I went over to his place where he had his table set up in his second bedroom. Dim lights, a fountain going, mellow music, everything you’d expect. And I got on the table face-down while he was outside, talking to my then-boyfriend on the phone, giving him the code so he could let himself in when he arrived. He was planning on having his massage after mine. And in came our friend, and started giving me this massage. I went in feeling totally relaxed. But after a few minutes, I started to feel really uncomfortable.

The way he was touching me did not feel professional or friendly. And I began to have this argument in my head. Was he touching me inappropriately? Was I wrong? Misreading? I mean, he wasn’t doing anything blatantly wrong. It’s not like his fingers were traveling to places they shouldn’t be; that would have been a no-brainer. It was the energy and the vibe. So I second-guessed myself. I thought, he can’t be touching me in a sexual way. There’s no way he’d do that. He’s our friend. He knows we’d never recommend him to anyone. I must be misinterpreting. Instead of relaxing, I was tensing up, and he was saying my name, and telling me to breathe, and to let go.

I tried to relax, but after a few more minutes, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Everything in my body was screaming that things were not right. And I grabbed the sheet and sat up abruptly, and he was clearly, visibly aroused. I told him to get out so I could get dressed. I told him the massage was over. And he said he was sorry. That he’d had feelings for me. To say I felt sick to my stomach is an understatement. I felt violated and angry and betrayed by a friend. I told him again to get out, which he did. I got dressed and told him I was leaving. He followed me outside, all the way to my car telling me he was sorry, that he shouldn’t have offered the massages, that then, this never would have happened.

Anyway, that was the end of the friendship. He stopped coming to class, and after awhile we heard he’d moved away. But the thing that stayed with me was the ten minutes I stayed on that table, fighting my intuition with my mind. I knew what I was feeling. I wasn’t wrong about it. But I didn’t want it to be true. And I didn’t trust my gut. It’s not that it was such a horrendous experience; I’ve certainly been through worse. But it was a huge reminder to me that it’s always dangerous to fight what you know to be true. And I really think we do this all over the place.

Maybe it happens in a work situation. We’re unhappy or unfulfilled, or maybe we’re even being mistreated, but we start to talk ourselves out of leaving because we need the money, or we need health insurance, or we have nothing else on the horizon. It can happen in romantic relationships. We know in our heart it isn’t right or it isn’t growing or we aren’t communicating in a healthy way, but we talk ourselves out of rocking the boat, because maybe we’ve invested a lot of time, or we’re thirty and think we should get married, or we want to have a baby, or we have children and can’t even fathom what life would look like if we spoke up. There are a lot of reasons we might try to fight the truth of our experience, and some of them are laudable. When other people are in the mix, like your children, for example, it’s understandable that you might think very carefully about what you’re doing and saying. And I think you should, in that case. But that doesn’t mean you push down what’s true for you. It means you do everything in your power to communicate with clarity and compassion. Maybe you start with, “I’m in pain, and I need to talk to you about this.” You’ll never change anything or save anything by pushing down what you know to be real for you. That isn’t sustainable.

You might be terrified, and there’s no doubt it takes guts. Sometimes it takes planning, too. Maybe you need to embark on a serious job search before you give notice at your current job, because you need to be able to keep a roof over your head. Maybe you’ve let a personal situation erode to a point where you feel hopeless, but nothing is hopeless if two people are willing to work. One person can’t do it, but two have a shot. Honesty is everything. And by that, I don’t mean you have to share every single thing that’s ever crossed your mind, or every poor choice you’ve ever made. Some things are better left unsaid. What I’m talking about is clear communication about where you are and what you want and how you feel. Sometimes we allow fear to stop us from sharing those dark and unchartered places. But if you want to be known and loved for who you are, you cannot expect that to happen if you’re hiding or numbing out or running away. You have to trust your gut. You have to be willing to show yourself, and work with reality as it is. Then you see what you can do from there. Then, at least, you have a foundation to build upon. Without that, you’re lost. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Lean Into It

September 7, 2014

Never-waste-yourSometimes it’s really hard to just “be where we are”, because where we are is deeply uncomfortable. Maybe we’re grappling with envy, despair, rage, grief, heartbreak, rejection or feelings of being powerless. Maybe we’re frustrated because we’re making self-destructive choices, and even though we’re conscious of it, we can’t stop ourselves. Maybe we’ve screwed up and need to apologize, but instead we’re digging our heels in. This business of being human isn’t easy, and it isn’t always pretty. But when we try to skip over where we are and rush to something that feels better by running, denying, numbing, or trying to avoid, we simply prolong our pain, and miss a chance to know ourselves more deeply. We’re also less likely to be accountable for the energy we’re spreading.

Learning to witness your experience without judging it, is one of the huge gifts of a consistent yoga and/or seated meditation practice . Maybe you’re on your mat and you feel tight and tired. Maybe you’re confronted with a pose that’s challenging for you, and you decide to take a water break, instead. Maybe you go to sit, and your mind is racing and spinning, so you make a phone call or get on your computer. What we resist, persists. When we avoid, we also miss not just a chance to know ourselves, but also to know someone else. We all long to be loved for who we are and how we are, with all our beauty and all our flaws. A lot of people struggle to do that for themselves, let alone other people. Learning to lean into those uncomfortable feelings and experiences without grasping or recoiling or contracting, takes the power away from the feeling, and gives it back to us. Feelings arise and they peak and they subside. Feelings are not facts, and no feeling is forever, as the saying goes. How we feel now is not how we will always feel, and that includes the great feelings, too. That euphoria and all-consuming heat of new love would be exhausting if it never leveled out into something sustainable day-to-day. Not that you shouldn’t enjoy every second if that’s where you are, and not that you don’t want to stoke the flame every day to keep the fire burning. But that’s a choice; that’s different than being consumed.

The more we open to reality as it is, the less we suffer, and the less we create suffering. The more we accept other people as they are, and where they are, the less we create suffering for ourselves, and for them. No one wants to be a disappointment to themselves, or anyone else. But when we refuse to embrace a person as they are, we set them up to fail. I’m not saying that we don’t all have work to do, and places where we can heal more or understand more, or open more. I’m just saying when a person makes it clear to us where they are and how they feel, either through communication or through their actions, it’s not loving to try to superimpose what we want on top of that, even if we’re motivated by our feelings of love. Instead, our job in that moment is to lean into the rawness of accepting how we feel is not how they feel. What we want is not what they want. Dancing like a monkey to try to be perfect for someone else, selling yourself, running, chasing, cajoling or manipulating, convincing yourself or them that you can settle for less than what you really want in your heart—all of these are ways we might attempt to deny or avoid the painful reality in front of us.

And you will never find peace when you ignore the truth. That much I can guarantee. Of course we want what we want. Are we going to get everything we want? Is every longing going to be met? No. Is life going to unfold exactly like the picture in our head? Probably not. So how do we maintain our center, our feelings of “okayness” under these conditions? We simply open and breathe into them. We tell ourselves this is how things are right now, for us, or for the people in our lives. We remember that everything is always in a state of flux, including ourselves, those closest to us, and perfect strangers. We remember that we never know what life has in store for us, and that perhaps it will be better than anything we could have imagined. We use our suffering to grow and open more, to become more sensitive, more empathetic, more tolerant, more patient, more forgiving. Because we understand we are not alone in this experience. We all cry ourselves to sleep sometimes, or think we’ve made a total mess of everything, or have to face the fact that we haven’t been treating ourselves or others well. Shame, blame and rage will keep you stuck; they’re not a good foundation for growth. Feel your feelings so you can release the heat of them, and move onto whatever is coming next with an open heart, an open mind, and open hands.

Give yourself the gift of getting quiet, so you can hear the voice of your intuition. If it isn’t yoga or meditation for you, then find something—windsurfing, hiking, salsa dancing, something that gets you out of your head, and into your body, and into the flow and the realm of sensation and intuition. I used to long to be happy, but now I’m hungry for the truth, because somewhere along the way I realized that’s the key to peace. You won’t find it in events, milestones, or other people. You’ll find it within yourself when you get hungry for what’s true. And by that I mean, what’s true for you, and what’s true for other people. It makes life so much simpler. Wishing that for you, and sending you love, Ally Hamilton

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