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
Sometimes it’s so hard to know when to hold on, and when to let go. This comes up in all kinds of relationships. Often, we’re dealing with people who simply do not know how to love. Maybe there’s a history of abuse, and they’re passing on what was done to them. Maybe there are personality disorders, and we’re dealing with people who don’t feel empathy, and are incapable of communicating in a compassionate way. There are people who go up and down…sometimes they’re rational, and other times there’s no logic at all, no possibility for understanding. Those are often the most challenging cases, because we get lulled when things are good, and blindsided when the tides turn. The thing is, after you’ve been through a few cycles with someone, you have to stop allowing yourself to think things are going to be okay every time they have a good week. Your heart is tender, and it can only take so much battering. Also, you are the steward of your own ship, and if you keep sailing into tsunamis, you can’t expect things to go well. There are also cases when we’re dealing with betrayal, and it’s hard to know if we should try to open again, or cut our losses and move on. Sometimes we’ve just grown in different directions and need something else, maybe something we’ve never known before. Like belief in ourselves.
Here’s the thing. If someone has a history of treating you badly, you have to distance yourself. I mean, if it’s not a relationship you want to end completely, then boundaries are your only option. I’m talking about familial relationships here. Most people do not want to cut ties with their parents, siblings, or exes when there are children involved. I really consider that a last resort. There’s a deep pain when we have to walk away from people who were meant to love us, and didn’t or couldn’t. There are cases when ending the relationship and cutting off ties is the only option, so I want to acknowledge that. But short of instances of abuse, boundaries will usually get the job done. We can love people who have a hard time being consistent, while still loving ourselves.
If your parent or parents have never been there for you, if you’ve had a fear-based relationship and doubted your value to them, I do think you need to step away. Sometimes that’s incredibly difficult. If you rely on your parents financially, or you come from a culture where you don’t leave home until you get married, it’s not as easy as just moving out and starting your own life. Obviously, it’s very hard to heal and to create boundaries when you’re living under the same roof with people who’ve let you down in all the important ways. And you can recognize that perhaps your parents are repeating what was done to them, but that does not lessen the impact on your own gorgeous heart. It’s beautiful if you can see that it isn’t about you, or anything lacking within you. It takes strength and insight to understand that some people, even your parents, might not have the tools to love you well, and that it isn’t a reflection on you. You’re lovable. You’re made of love and you’re full of love, and if your own parents can’t see that and receive that and embrace that and nurture that, that is very sad for them, and a heartbreak for you all. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t have love in your own life. I would say removing yourself from the situation is ideal, but if you aren’t in a place where you can do that yet, protect your heart in all the ways you can. Nurture yourself, be kind to yourself. Mother yourself.
If we’re talking about romantic relationships, betrayal is a tough one, and I also think it’s a case-by-case situation. Let me say that if you are unhappy in the context of your committed relationship, bringing another party into the mix is a very bad idea. If there are children in the picture, you’re putting your whole family on the line. You’re also making troubled waters murkier. If you’re at the point where you’d even consider going outside your relationship, it’s time to grab your partner and head to therapy. Because the answers to the problems do not reside in a third party. That isn’t going to fix things, it’s going to confuse them further. Maybe you and your partner have gotten off track. Maybe you’ve dropped the thread. Maybe you’re so convinced you know everything there is to know about one another, you don’t even pay attention anymore. Perhaps you’re out of balance. Maybe there are little ones in the picture, and you haven’t figured out how to nurture them, keep a roof over your heads, and still find time for romance. Maybe you’re full of rage or resentment, or a list of ways your partner isn’t showing up for you. Maybe you’ve shut down. The things is, relationships need our time and attention. Human beings thrive on love and connection and communication.
But sometimes people blow it. They get desperate. They feel lonely or unseen or unheard, or they feel unwanted in every way, and they act. Maybe they’ve felt rejected or disrespected, and someone at work is making them feel amazing. Like everything they say and do is brilliant. Like they’re hot and desirable and hilarious. You know how it goes. A flirtation starts to build and then there’s emailing or texting and the next thing you know, something has happened. I mean, you can’t play with fire like that and expect to walk away unharmed. But when there are other people in the mix, like your family, that hurt has deep and far-reaching consequences. And now, instead of focusing on the problems that existed between you and your partner, the number one priority will be fixing what you’ve done, if your partner is even open to allowing you to try. You’re going to have to be patient, and understand you broke their trust. They might want to see your emails and texts for a good long while. You’re going to have to be transparent, and also compassionate. Basically, you’ve just created a bigger mess for yourself, and you’re likely to feel resentful, because all the other issues are going to take a backseat to your making things right, which might not be possible. Having said that, people can recover from betrayal. It takes two people who are willing to fight for the relationship. If there are kids in the mix, I hope you try. If it’s a pattern, and there’s a history of cheating, you’re probably not in a good situation. But if it’s a one-time thing, and you can recognize that both parties contributed to the deterioration of the relationship prior to the betrayal, you can come out stronger on the other side.
Sometimes there are no kids in the picture, but there’s a long partnership. People sometimes write in and ask if it’s okay to leave someone just because they feel pulled to do so. Usually, these are people who are very used to putting other people’s feelings, needs and wants ahead of their own. I don’t believe anyone would thank you for staying in a situation out of pity or guilt. We all deserve more than that, don’t you think? It’s never easy knowing what to do when our heart is in the mix, and other people are involved. I do think people tend to walk away from their families too easily these days. I think it’s heartbreaking when parents and children don’t speak, when brothers and sisters aren’t in contact, when people walk away from the families they’ve started without giving it everything they’ve got, first. But I also think life is short and precious, and that we don’t have time to waste. If you know a thing is dead, release yourself, and the other party. If you’re holding on to something toxic, by all means let go, or get yourself help doing that if you need it. Love is worth fighting for, and sometimes that means we hold on, and sometimes it means we let go. Trust your instincts. Sending you love, and wishing you peace, Ally Hamilton
Sensation is the language of the body, but we tend to be such talking heads, we’re often overlooking the most important conversation we could be having. The mind is full of “shoulds”, and it’s obsessive and redundant. It’s really hard to hear the quiet voice of your intuition with all that racket going on. This is one of the reasons it’s essential to find something you enjoy doing so much, you lose yourself in the flow. You quiet the storm that rages in the mind and become present and immersed and open. You lose yourself to find yourself.
Years ago, I dated a guy when I was coming off of a relationship that had been dark and draining, and had ended badly. The proverbial rebound. It was fun, at first, as those things tend to be, but pretty quickly, there were red flags. I’m sure if I’d allowed myself to tune in and receive those messages, I’d have realized it was a non-starter. I remember talking myself out of those gut feelings. I didn’t want to accept what I knew on a deep level. I wanted to have fun and just go with it. That’s how you find yourself in an aisle of Whole Foods, six months into your relationship, watching your boyfriend slip a piece of cheese into the pocket of his cargo pants. Game over, time for another breakup.
When we cut off communication with our intuition, when we refuse to pick up that call, it’s a matter of time before we crash into a brick wall. You don’t always know when you’re in danger, there are times you can be caught completely off guard. Betrayal falls under that heading. I mean, sometimes we have a feeling something is going on, but other times we’re totally blindsided. For the most part, though, if you’re having an ongoing conversation with your body, you’ll find it’s full of wisdom about what’s happening around you, how you are and what you need. It makes life a lot easier.
When I was thirteen, I headed into my ballet class one afternoon, entering after a man who’d walked in just ahead of me. I remember having a bad feeling. In fact, I sped up to pass him on the steep staircase, longing for the safety of the ballet studio. But as soon as I passed him, he grabbed me from behind, one hand over my mouth, the other between my legs. I knew before I knew. I just didn’t have the frame of reference for something like that. I didn’t trust myself. I doubted my sixth sense.
We don’t really think about emotion as sensation, but that’s what it is. When we say we’re sad, that isn’t an idea or a label, we’re talking about the way we feel in our bodies. We’re hurting. Maybe there’s an ache around the heart, or the chest feels tight, or we feel that lump in the throat. Maybe there’s a heaviness to everything. When we say we’re enraged, we’re talking about the feelings of our hearts racing, our jaws clenching, our fingers curling into fists, our blood pressure going up, our shoulders tightening. Next time you say you’re sad or angry or tired or cold or hungry or depressed, notice what’s happening in your body. Make sure what you’re saying is in sync with what you’re feeling. Because if you aren’t used to tuning in to what it is your body is telling you, there might be a huge disconnect between what you think, and how you feel. Are you hungry, or are you bored?
A lot of the time we agonize over what we want or don’t want. Sometimes we come to a crossroads and we struggle with which way to go. Maybe we find ourselves asking family and friends to tell us what to do. But I really think most of the time, we already have the answers, it’s just that sometimes we don’t like the answers we’re getting. We don’t always feel ready to accept what we know, because usually that means change is coming, and many people resist change, even though it’s futile.
If you’re talking to someone and you realize your shoulders are up around your ears and your arms and legs are crossed, you are not having an easy time communicating. Maybe you feel threatened or guilty or resentful or exposed or vulnerable or scared. Observing sensation gives you lots of clues about how you’re feeling, and while you might wonder why you’d need clues, I can tell you there are a lot of people who walk around having no idea what they want or need.
Sometimes this happens because we live in a culture where certain emotions make people uncomfortable. As a society, we don’t leave a lot of room for men to be scared or vulnerable, nor do we leave much space for women to be angry or assertive. We have names for men who express fear, and women who allow themselves to be angry, and those names are not nice. So a lot of people learn to edit themselves, and push down the feelings that seem to make other people uneasy. It happens in families, too. Maybe you were encouraged to express yourself, Maybe you were taught that your feelings mattered and had an impact on the world around you, and maybe not. Perhaps the adults around you felt inadequate or guilty or put-upon if you expressed sadness, so you stopped doing that. It’s very possible to reach adulthood without having a clue about what you want or need, and without knowing how you feel.
The answers are always inside. Find a way to tune into your body. Yoga is the best thing I know (you can try some with me right now, here), but maybe for you it’s something else. Whatever gets you out of your head. Start to listen to those messages. Value them, they’re meaningful. And do your best to respond with compassion and awareness. The relationship you’re having with yourself is the foundation for all the other relationships in your life. Feed it well. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
I get a lot of emails from people struggling with a relationship or a job that just doesn’t feel right anymore. And it seems the people who have the hardest time are the ones who feel like nothing is really “wrong”. When we’re being mistreated, it’s pretty clear; we know we’re going to have to make a move, and probably sooner than later. But when there isn’t a definable problem, and it’s just a feeling of restlessness or uncertainty, it can be hard to know what to do.
Here’s the thing. No one else can figure that out for you. We all have that inner voice, that inner knowing, our intuition. Sometimes it gets drowned out with all the relentless thoughts. The mind is obsessive and redundant, and it will play over the same stuff endlessly, a spinning hamster-wheel of thoughts. They say we have 50,000 thoughts a day, but I really wonder how many of them are the same thoughts. Probably a lot. And all that white noise can make it very hard to hear the quiet voice that knows what you need. Because I really think most of the time we do know. We might not be ready to face or accept what we know, because if we do, it means change is coming, and sometimes we aren’t ready to wrap our heads around that just yet. But I think we know.
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between intuition, and our attachment to a particular outcome. Do we really feel this is the right move “in our gut”, or are we blinded by our need for things to go a certain way? The easiest way to tell which you’re dealing with is to identify the quality of the feelings that come up. If it’s your intuition, you might feel scared, or you might feel dread about what you have to do, but underneath that there will also be relief. Agonizing over decisions and choices can be brutal. Finally accepting what you need, even if you’re scared, ought to be comforting underneath it all. There’s a “rightness” about it. When it’s attachment to a particular outcome, the feeling underneath is more likely to be desperation or anxiety..
Sometimes we look for signs to tell us what to do. Allow me to say that looking for a sign IS a sign. If you’re so sad or scared or desperate that you’re asking for signs, it’s probably time to make some kind of change. Even if it’s just with the way you’re communicating.
The thing is, listening to your intuition simplifies everything. When we’re going against what we know in our hearts to be true for us, we’re also betraying ourselves. Of course you want to think about the way your actions will impact the people you hold dearest. But you can’t live your life in guilt, or feel pity for your partner, or try to nurture people when yore totally depleted, and expect life to feel good. A relationship doesn’t thrive on martyrdom. Any healthy relationship is built on communication, trust, vulnerability and openness.
Sometimes it’s really hard to make a shift. A young man sent an email last year, and he was in a state of total desperation and confusion. His parents had put him through medical school. His dad had worked two jobs, and taken out a second mortgage to make it possible for him. He was in his last year, and he realized he didn’t want to be a doctor. It had never been his dream. It was something his parents had wanted for him, with the best of intentions and a ton of love, but it was not what he wanted for himself. And the guilt he felt was crushing. But you can’t live your life to satisfy other people, you really need to move in the direction that feeds your soul. And sometimes your course of action won’t make sense to anyone. People in your life might call you nuts or any number of things, but your job is to be at peace, and to offer up your particular gifts. And to follow the pull of your heart. And believe me, I don’t say that without compassion for his parents. They thought he wanted what they wanted him to want. They didn’t realize the pressure he felt, or that it was their dream and not his.
Almost every time I’ve really made a mess of things, it was because I didn’t follow my intuition. I think there are always “red flags”, or that “sixth sense”, and sometimes we ignore those feelings because we’re so attached to another person, or an idea we have about how things should or could go, and so we move forward, anyway, even though we feel a little sick or unsettled inside. There’s no rug big enough to cover over your despair or heartbreak. You don’t want to sweep that stuff under anything, anyway. Life is too short for that. Find a way to get quiet, so there’s some space between the thoughts. Yoga and seated meditation are brilliant for that. You can practice with me right now, here: Then the feelings can arise between those thoughts and “shoulds” and, “can’ts”. And you can figure out which way to go. Wishing that for you, and sending love, Ally Hamilton
Yoga is a process of coming home to yourself. It’s a science, an art, a philosophy of stripping away anything that isn’t part of your authentic self. So much of the time, we’ve gotten confused along the way. We’ve taken on other people’s beliefs or ideas or philosophies and accepted them as our own, without question. Hatred can be taught this way, so can compassion. If you were lucky, your first influences taught you that you were of value. That you had an impact on the world around you. That it mattered how you felt. If you were fortunate, you were also taught that being kind and thinking about how your actions affect other people and the world around you would help you to connect and thrive.
Sometimes we have a lot of unlearning to do, though. Maybe we were not so lucky, and we learned that only certain feelings were okay, and that we had to repress anything that made the people around us feel uncomfortable or inadequate, like our sadness or our anger or our loneliness. There are so many people who reach adulthood and have no clue how they really feel, because they cut themselves off from their own intuition years ago.
If you come out of an abusive background you can count on having to unlearn quite a lot. Growing up in an environment where you make yourself invisible or invaluable depending on the moment requires a total suppression of anything that has to do with what you really need or want in your heart.
So many people are on the run, owned by their painful feelings. Repressed rage turns into depression. It takes a Herculean effort to push down an active volcano. So much energy, in fact, there isn’t much left to do anything else. Thus the lethargy and hopelessness.
For some people, it’s easy to say yes when yes is in their hearts, and it’s not difficult to say no when the situation warrants. But other people have to work to figure out what a yes feels like. And those same people might have to learn to give themselves permission to say no. Feeling that your worth is determined by other people’s perceptions of you sets you up for a lifetime of powerlessness.
Anyway, my point is, there are so many differing ways people might need to come home to themselves. And all of the ways that work, in my experience, anyway, require determination and dedication. You have to find the discipline to show up for yourself, and to lean in when you’d rather take off. If you find that what you’ve been doing isn’t working, and by that I mean, if life is not feeling good to you, it’s time to try something new, because time waits for none of us.
There are eight “limbs” in yoga practice. The physical part, the “asana” is just one limb. It’s a very useful entry point for many of us in the west, because we value doing over being, and it takes time to undo that programming. When you connect to your breath (pranayama), you also connect to something that is happening right now, in this moment. You are present and aware. When you start to organize your body into a pose, when you focus on lengthening your spine, or relaxing your shoulders, you’re also giving the mind a focal point that’s happening in the now. So you use your body to quiet your mind. If you’re paying attention to your breath, or you feel your feet on the floor, you aren’t spinning anymore. You aren’t fretting over your past or freaking out about your future, you are present, and that’s beautiful because life isn’t happening in your past or future. When you create space between your thoughts, you also create space to connect to that most authentic part of yourself. You get to breathe in that space. Your body is full of wisdom about who you are and what you need to be at peace. It knows where you’re holding on, resisting, or contracting from your experience. if you give it the chance and you set up a compassionate and kind inner environment, your body will give these things over, it will help you to let go of those ideas or beliefs that are weighing you down. And then you can fly. Wishing that for you, and sending you love. You can practice with me right now, here. Ally Hamilton