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
How do you have compassion for people who seem incapable of having any for you? How do you practice patience with people who are full of venom and rage? First of all, you have to make yourself safe. If this is a person who has to be in your life, like a family member you’re unwilling or unable to cut off, then boundaries are your priority. Once you’ve made yourself safe, then it’s a matter of figuring out how to communicate in a way that feels okay to you. That might mean email only, or it might mean that you never leave yourself vulnerable. For example, if you grew up with an abusive parent, maybe it means you stay at a hotel when you go home to visit (assuming you want to visit at all). You don’t put yourself in a vulnerable and powerless position. You protect your tender heart, and you put a high value on your own well-being, physically, mentally and emotionally.
I get a lot of emails from people who’ve been through an acrimonious divorce, and are unable to communicate with their exes in a healthy way. If you have children with someone, that’s such a heartbreak for everyone involved, but sometimes there’s no way around it. There are personality disorders that render people incapable of understanding how things are for anyone but themselves. There are people who cling to their rage because it’s the only shield they’ve got. There are people who truly revise history so it resembles something they can live with, where they get to be this wonderful person, and you get to be the villain. Again and again I’ll remind you, you cannot save anyone. You’re not going to “show someone the light” with your logic or your pleading or your version of history. Sometimes you’re dealing with narcissism or borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder or depression, sometimes you’re dealing with addiction. In any of those cases, trying to reason isn’t going to get you far.
The way to find compassion if you’re dealing with someone like this, is to understand they are in pain. Underneath all that rage and venom and instability, is a giant well of pain and anguish. And a lot of the time, people who are suffering this way truly believe their version of reality. There’s nothing you can do except hope they’re going to find relief at some point, and keep yourself at a safe distance in the meantime. Obviously you try to find help and support for people, but a person has to be ready to accept it, and then they have to be willing to work. That isn’t always the case. And let me just say that having compassion for someone does not mean you allow them to harm you, or you excuse their cruel or abusive behavior. It means you recognize the pain, you understand you cannot fix it for them, and you find a way to deal with them while you also honor your own tender heart.
A lot of the time, we try to make things black and white, but they rarely are. So much of life and human behavior exists in the grey area. We like to make people “good” or “bad”, but very few people are all one or the other. And sometimes we take things personally that have nothing to do with us. Sometimes you just represent something to someone. You’re a convenient target because you seem happy or together or responsible or inspiring, and this other person feels none of those things. There’s no need to engage or defend yourself when a person creates a fictional character and says that’s who you are. If you know who you are, and you feel comfortable with the way you’ve handled yourself, or maybe you’ve apologized for your end, there’s nothing more you need to do, except release yourself from the drama. Life is really too short for that. You can feel badly that someone is so stuck they have no recourse but to lash out, but you really don’t have the time to participate in unraveling the fiction. It’ll burn out eventually, anyway. There will be a new target, a new injustice.
As for strangers who do or say things you find totally incomprehensible, I’d say the same holds true. When people do things that are cruel or inhumane, you can bet they’re coming out of a very unhappy environment. Maybe they were abused, neglected, abandoned. There are so many stories out there that just break your heart. When I see someone doing something or saying something I find repugnant, I also remind myself that that cannot be a happy way to move through life, filled with rage. And I wonder what happened to that person as a child, what went wrong along the way. I wonder how he or she learned to hate, or learned to close down or lash out. And on my good days, I try to send some love. That’s all we can do, really. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton
When I was in college, I used to babysit for this family. They had the most adorable little girl, and I loved her. Over the summer, I was with her every day. During the school year, I’d babysit some nights and weekends. She was a little sweetheart, but the mom and dad were not so wonderful. First of all, they didn’t pay me a competitive hourly rate. And then they’d always “round down”, so if they were fifteen minutes past the hour, they just wouldn’t count that. To be fair, I wasn’t assertive at that time in my life. I wasn’t used to standing up for myself. So I’d rev myself up to talk to them once in awhile about a higher rate, but they’d always say they couldn’t afford it. And I was attached to their daughter, and she was attached to me, too. So I’d stay. Often, they’d also come home a lot later than we’d agreed they would. Basically, it was an opportunity for me to practice self-respect and to set boundaries, but I just wasn’t there yet.
And that wasn’t the only time I experienced this kind of thing. I worked for a woman who made jewelry, and helped her at trade shows. Sometimes she’d be really nice, and other times she’d be awful. Not surprisingly, I met her through the family I just mentioned. I only worked for this woman for a few months, but that was enough. I never knew what to expect. Some days I’d go in and she’d be lovely, and full of compliments, and some days I’d go in and she would be rude and nasty. I think I was about seventeen at the time, and I just didn’t know how to handle it. “I quit” was a tough one for me then. Eventually, I did quit because it was just such a miserable scene.
I’ve had lots of experiences with people over the years when I didn’t stand up for myself and should have. There was another woman with a baby I worked with over one summer. She was a new mom, and a nervous one. She’d asked me to stay with her son while she went back to work part-time, but that never happened. Instead, I’d go over and she would stay, too, and I’d end up changing diapers and making bottles and playing with the baby, getting lunch for the mom, or throwing in a load of laundry. Sometimes I’d prep dinner. I didn’t mind, because most of the time she was fun to hang out with, but when her girlfriends came over she treated me like crap. She’d be rude and bossy and disrespectful, like a mean girl in high school. Once, she made fun of me while I was getting drinks for her and her friends. Something about my needing a haircut or something, and all these women laughed in the other room, and I blinked back tears in the kitchen.
Years later, I taught at a yoga studio owned by a guy who was also unpredictable. Sometimes awesome, sometimes mean. I quit after a few months because by then, I had the tools to get myself out of situations that were insulting and painful to my heart. The only reason we allow other people to devalue us or treat us poorly is if some part of us believes we aren’t worthy of more. Low self-esteem is not only painful, it’s dangerous. And it often goes hand-in-hand with people-pleasing tendencies. If we doubt our worth, we look outward for reassurance and approval. And at that point, it’s a crap shoot. Maybe you’ll get lucky, and only encounter kind, stable, ethical people, but I highly doubt it. It’s a mixed bag out there, and chances are you’ll run into a few challenging people along the way. You might deal with people who have personality disorders that render them incapable of empathy or consistency. You might run into people who are controlling or manipulative because they’ve hardened themselves. There are all kinds of ways you can get yourself into trouble when you don’t recognize what a miracle you are. And I mean that sincerely. I don’t say it to make you blush, I say it to give you a prod in the ass if you need one. Because it’s my opinion that we’re all here to shine, to uncover whatever gifts we’ve been given, and to share them freely. You can’t do that, and doubt your worth, simultaneously.
How is it possible we have seven billion people on the planet, but only one of you? Those are pretty amazing odds, and the only safe bet is that you have something to give that only you can. If you’re bogged down in rage or shame or blame, if you’re numbing yourself out or running or denying your pain, it’s really time to stop doing that.
Life is short. The time is always now. If you’re allowing yourself to be mistreated, get help today. Find a great therapist. Ask for support. You can’t allow yourself to be bruised and battered for too long, and expect life to feel good. If you doubt your worth, figure out why that is, and when that started. Because nothing else is going to fall into place until you do. The relationship you’re having with yourself is the foundation of all the relationships in your life. You are not here to let other people walk on you, or treat you like crap. You are not here to teach people the right and kind way to behave, unless you have children. It is not your job to wait for someone to see the light, nor can you show it to another person. You can love people who don’t know how to love, but it hurts like hell. You can recognize that someone may be treating you poorly because they don’t know how to do anything else. You can feel empathy for someone’s painful or abusive history, or for their struggle with mental illness or depression. but you cannot allow yourself to be treated badly. You are as worthy of love as anyone else walking the planet. My personal belief is that we’re made of energy, and that energy is love. I think we come into this world and sometimes we forget who we are. Sometimes we’re hurt or disappointed and we harden ourselves to get by. You might have to do your childhood that way depending on the circumstances, but you don’t have to do your whole life like that. That would be such a waste, and such a tragedy. Tools exist. Shifts are possible. You can feel good about yourself, you can learn to stand up for yourself the way you would for anyone else you love. But you might have some serious healing to do before you get there, and I’d really suggest you get on that. Healing takes work, but it’s doable. You just have to start. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
I’m not an “everything happens for a reason” yogi. I believe we can grow and open from each experience, I’m just not one to say that there’s a divine plan, and every challenge in front of you is there for the evolution of your soul. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it isn’t. Of course it’s a nice idea. It’s comforting to think we get more than one ticket to this carnival, more than one chance to get things right. More than one lifetime to love the people we love. I hope that’s the case. But no one knows for sure how this works. We have our ideas, we figure out what makes sense to us, individually. We’re all in this mystery together. We’ll find out for sure when we exhale for the final time. And because we cannot know, I don’t feel it’s comforting to tell anyone who’s going through pain, grief, or serious life stress, that it’s all happening for a reason that will make sense someday. Like the single mom of two who was just fired from her job, and receives no support from her ex. That would lack compassion, and compound her frustration.
I can look back on my life and say that everything I’ve been through has led me to this moment, and that I’m very grateful to be here. There are a few lessons I would happily give back, a couple of things I’d really rather not know. But we don’t get to choose. I’m thankful for almost everything that’s happened, because those experiences, even the more devastating ones, taught me so much.
I think when we go through life feeling like everything is happening for a reason, we start to feel victimized when we’re faced with obstacles. If this is happening according to some plan, then there’s intent behind it, right? So the thought process becomes something like, “I’m getting fired and having to figure out how to feed my children with no support for some unknown but important reason, and I must deserve this or need it.” That outlook intensifies the pain. It feels like this personal assault where you’ve now become the beleaguered victim, and the truth is, I don’t think that stance is going to help you. “Why me?” is not a useful question. Nor would it be useful to tell a grieving mother or father that their child has died for a reason that will make sense someday. F&ck that. Seriously. Some things will never, ever, ever make sense. Some things will never be okay. Some things you will just carry with you. Yes, there’s beauty in having loved so deeply. Some people never love like that. But you don’t have to put everything in the “thank you” column.
So, I’d really try to take that idea out of the equation when you’re faced with pain. Instead, I would just focus on what you can learn and how you can grow. Maybe you’re going to discover reserves of strength and resourcefulness you didn’t know you had. Maybe you’re going to realize there are people in your life who are going to show up for you, and make sure you don’t end up on the street. One way or another, you’re going to rise to the occasion because you have to, and you’ll have that much more confidence and less fear moving forward. That’s “reason” enough to face our path head on. We don’t get to choose what’s put in front of us, but we get to decide how we’re going to respond.
Awful things happen to beautiful people all the time. If there’s a pattern in your life, definitely look at it. For example, if you keep choosing partners who can’t commit, or end up breaking your heart in other ways, it’s time to ask yourself what that pattern is trying to show you or teach you about yourself. That’s different than feeling like these things are happening to you. That gives you some power, right? Why am I drawn to situations that crush my soul? How can I re-frame things for myself so I’m no longer attracted to people who require the dimming of my light?
Is everything happening for a reason? I don’t know. I look around at certain things and just can’t imagine why, what the reason could be. It doesn’t really matter. They’re happening, right? The question is, what we’re going to do about them. One thing I can say with certainty is that the human heart is resilient. It wants to heal and open. We are all a lot stronger than we realize. And most of us, given the choice, are going to choose to live, even when it’s hard. To rise up, to push through, to dig down, to figure it out. If you’re going through pain, hang in there. Ask for help. Trust yourself. And know that whether it’s happening according to some big plan, or it isn’t, you’re going to strengthen and open either way. Sending you love and a huge hug, Ally Hamilton