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Grow from It

September 1, 2014

For-me-I-am-driven-byPain creates empathy. Whether we’re talking about physical pain, or emotional, nothing teaches us more about how things are for other people, than moving through pain ourselves. Of course we wouldn’t invite it. No one wants to break a bone, or blow out a knee or a shoulder, nor does anyone want to have his or her heart broken. We wouldn’t ask to be betrayed, or invite grief into our living rooms to sit down for tea. But when you look back on your life, I’m sure you can recognize how your pain has made it possible for you to understand and empathize with people going through their own.

Years ago, I injured my right (dominant) shoulder. I wasn’t listening to my body, I was listening to my teacher. Intense hands-on adjustments were part of the practice, so I just accepted that how I was feeling was “normal”, even though it was hard to breathe during certain “shoulder openers”. Eventually the discomfort turned to pain, and when I mentioned it, I was told it was, “an opening, not an injury”. It got to the point where I couldn’t lift a glass of water without feeling fire in my shoulder. Like someone was sticking a knife into it. Chaturanga? Impossible. And at that point, I demanded a cessation of anything hands-on. It took months to heal. My whole practice was about listening to, and accommodating my shoulder. I had to modify a LOT. I was scared and humbled and I wondered if it was going to get better.  I was angry at my teacher, but underneath that, I was really angry with myself. What more does your body have to do to grab your attention? Does it need to burst into flames? Eventually, through patience and rehab and compassion for myself, it healed completely. But I refused certain adjustments from then on. Because nobody is a better teacher than your own body. And apparently, that was a lesson I still needed to learn. Beyond that, it opened a whole new way of communicating with students with injuries. Prior to that, I knew what to tell someone anatomically. I knew what poses they should avoid or modify, and how. I knew what to tell them to do in order to strengthen. But I didn’t really understand the fear involved, the confrontation, the grappling with being attached to practicing the way we want to, and are used to practicing. As always, attachment leads to suffering.

I think for most people, fear is the worst part. We start to panic, and think things will always be this way. It’s the same when we’re heartbroken, grieving, depressed, or feeling stuck. Instead of opening to how things are, we contract. We resist. We tense up and try to push the experience away, or tear through it. Either of those responses prolong the suffering. We don’t have to receive everything as a gift. We don’t have to be grateful for every loss or heartache we’re going to endure. That stuff does not have to go into your, “Thank you for this experience” file. But we never want to lose the opportunity to grow and open. To pull some value out of our painful experiences. To allow them to soften us rather than harden us.

And there are some things that happen in life that forever change us, and that’s just the truth. Certain knifing losses can change the shape of our hearts, and the way we’re moving through the world. There are some things we’re simply going to carry within us. But even those can make us softer and braver and kinder. That’s the amazing thing about the human heart. It’s resilient; it wants to heal. The most compassionate, insightful, empathetic people I know are also the ones who’ve suffered the most. And there’s beauty in that. Of course there are certain lessons we’d rather not know. Certain pain we’d prefer to keep in the box of “not me, thanks, I’ll pass on that opportunity to grow more”. But of course we don’t get to choose. Whenever you can, open more, reach out more, and trust that everything is always changing, and how things are now, is not how they will always be. Pull the beauty out of the pain, so you can withstand it and grow from it. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Feed the Love

August 30, 2014

I-dont-want-to-live-inLately, I’ve seen a lot of backlash about the #ALS #icebucketchallenge (http://www.alsa.org/about-us/ice-bucket-challenge-faq.html). If you aren’t familiar with ALS, it’s a progressive neurodegenerative disease that effects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. There are a few instances where ALS “burns out”, or the progression slows, but for most people with this disease, it’s about prolonging survival. At this point, we don’t know the cause of the disease, and are only able to offer one drug to slow its progress, although there are many drugs going through clinical trials. In case you’ve somehow missed it, the ice bucket challenge is a charity endeavor gone viral, wherein people dump a bucket of ice water over their heads, and then donate to ALS, after nominating three other friends to follow suit. If your friends don’t want to douse themselves, they’re invited to donate instead. So far, this effort has raised $94.3 million since July 29, 2014. This challenge was a grass-roots effort that was started by families with members suffering from ALS, and caught on when celebrity athletes and professional sports teams began taking the challenge.

In California, we’re dealing with a record-breaking drought (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/28/californias-drought-what-losing-63-million-gallons-of-water-looks-like/), so it’s totally understandable that people are concerned about a viral challenge involving buckets of water being wasted. And there are people who are in areas of the country where the drought isn’t an issue, but still feel we shouldn’t waste resources. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I gave a TEDx talk about this very thing, not too long ago https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw0EE2poWSA.

I’ve seen people posting a meme of a child who looks utterly dehydrated as a person holds a cup to his lips, clearly meant to depict a third-world country (where many people are suffering due to a lack of clean water), next to pictures of “stupid Americans” dumping water over their heads. And then yesterday, my beloved friend Paige Elenson, who moved to Kenya years ago to teach yoga, and to teach locals to teach yoga with Africa Yoga Project http://www.africayogaproject.org/, posted a video of her birthday celebration at work. Apparently in Kenya, when it’s your birthday, they…dump buckets of water over your head to “wash away the past”! Here’s Paige, in Africa helping. And not just helping, but shining her light all over the place. So let’s talk turkey for a minute.

I’m in California, and I did the #icebucket challenge. As it happens, my mom nominated me, and after I educated myself about ALS, the ALS Asscociation, the challenge itself, and the amount of water we were talking about (a couple gallons), I decided I’d do it over my parched lawn, and take a shorter shower that day. When you run your shower, you’re using 7-10 gallons of water per minute http://www.wsscwater.com/home/jsp/content/water-usagechart.faces. So you can do the math on that. If I had it to do over again, I’d take a bucket and a little ice down to the ocean, use ocean water, and call it a day. If a person wanted to be totally awesome, they could pass on the ice bucket part, make a donation, AND shorten their shower. But you know what doesn’t help anyone at all? Getting self-righteous about this stuff.

There are plenty of things we, as Americans, can improve upon. Like, a lot of things. But one thing we’re pretty good about is caring for each other. I was in New York City on 9/11, and I’ve rarely seen such an outpouring of help, empathy, activism and kindness. We could use more of that, not less. In fact, I’d argue that the more we build upon and feed that natural tendency, to help each other when we need support, the faster the world around us would improve. There are so many things you can do to get involved and make a real impact if you want to. You can support Paige’s efforts in Kenya. You can make a donation to ALS research. You can donate or volunteer for Matt Damon’s Water.org, dedicated to bringing clean water to everyone everywhere (and you can check out his awesome #icebucket challenge here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlGhuud-s4w), but knocking other people down for trying to help out won’t serve anyone. Let’s build on the love. That’s really all we need to do. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

What You Allow

August 29, 2014

You-teach-people-how-toYou can’t control what other people will do or say, but you can choose the way you’ll respond. This comes up in so many areas. Maybe you have a family member who has a history of being verbally and emotionally abusive. And now you’ve gotten to the point where you simply don’t want to subject yourself to that treatment any longer. Lots of things can get us to that place. We’re always evolving. Maybe you’ve reached a point in your healing process where you’re ready to set boundaries. Maybe you have children now, and you’re able to speak up on their behalf, even though you’ve never been able to stand up for yourself. Whatever it is, you won’t change the offending party. But you can definitely change the way you interact with him or her.

Speaking calmly but with confidence about your experience is a gift you give yourself, and everyone in your life. Being able to say, “When you do this, it makes me feel X, and X is not okay for me anymore. So from now on, when I come to town for a visit, I’ll stay at a hotel. We’ll see how things go. If you’re unable to not do or say X, then at least I can remove myself from the situation.” You’re taking responsibility for your feelings. You’re not blaming them or making them wrong, you’re just stating how things are for you, and how you’ll be honoring what’s true for you. If the other party tells you not to come if that’s how it’s going to be, so be it. You aren’t here to be a punching bag for anyone. If the requirement is for you to subject yourself to behavior or comments that are hurtful, that’s too great a cost. If a person can’t be kind and loving, if that’s too much to ask, they don’t belong in your life. If you want them in your life anyway, then you have to set boundaries that work for you. And if even those can’t be respected, then you’re left with no choice but to walk away.

When we start to make changes in the way we relate to the people around us, you can bet there’s going to be push-back. This is especially true if we’re shifting a role we’ve always played. I used to be a lot less assertive. Sometimes people would say hurtful or inappropriate things to me, and I’d collapse in on myself and internalize the experience. I’d have the feeling of being punched in the stomach, way down where it really hurts. But no words would come out of my mouth. When that started shifting for me, I was met with resistance and threats and rage. How dare I stand up for myself? But that’s your job, that’s your work. You carve out a place for yourself and a way of being that brings you peace and joy. And you don’t sacrifice that for anyone. Most people come around. They might scream and yell and wave their arms, but eventually, most people will quiet down and shift the way they deal with you. So you’re not changing them or teaching them or making them wrong, you’re just requiring a certain level of respect and consideration. You’re changing the rules of engagement.

This is an essential component of healing. You have to be able to act on your own behalf. You have to value your own tender heart, and your peace of mind, and your ability to look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day when you’re brushing your teeth. When we allow ourselves to be mistreated, we also betray ourselves. And it’s hard to face that.If you grew up feeling powerless, it’s likely that you regress to that stance when you feel confronted. And when you start trying to assert yourself, it will probably come out with more force than you intend. And that’s okay. You can tell the people in your life that you’re trying to change some profound things about the way you’re moving through the world, because the way you’ve been doing it so far is not working for you. You can explain that you’re working on standing up for yourself, and speaking up when things don’t feel good or right, but that this is a new experience, and you’re still birthing into this new way of being, and it isn’t all going to be pretty. Maybe they’ll take that in, and maybe they won’t. You’re not responsible for managing anyone else’s reactions or path, you’re just responsible for your own clear communication. Practice with people you trust. Like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

But moving through life allowing yourself to be disrespected is not going to work. It’s too much to bear. If you need support with this, reach out. I do coaching sessions, but I can also recommend wonderful therapists. Hitting a bag or taking a kick-boxing class might not be a bad idea, either. Sending you love and wishing you strength and peace, Ally Hamilton

The Voice Inside Your Head

August 28, 2014

Tell-the-negativeYesterday afternoon my son, who’s seven, was practicing the guitar. He’s been taking lessons for less than a year, but he’s doing really well. I love to listen to him play, it brings tears to my eyes. This week, his teacher told him to stop whenever he makes a mistake, and “loop back”. This is a new way of working; in the past, if he made a mistake he’d keep going. Anyway, he was having an “off day”. He couldn’t make his fingers move as quickly as he wanted to, and he couldn’t make the notes sound the way he wanted them to sound. After about twenty minutes, he came out of his room frustrated and in tears, and told me he was “never going to get it”.

So I went in and sat down with him, and asked him to breathe a little before he started again. I also talked to him about the voice inside his head. I asked him if he was aware of that voice, and he looked at me like I’d discovered some huge secret of his. He asked how I knew he had a voice inside his head, and I told him we all do. I told him about a ballet teacher I had when I was thirteen. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. He’d berate me in front of the whole room of dancers with scathing remarks. I felt the burn of shame so many times as I spun and spun on my toes in that room with him. In the years I studied with him, he only “broke” me once. There was an afternoon when a tear slid down my cheek, and even though I wiped it as I danced, he saw. It was the only time he asked me if I was okay. Years later, after I’d quit, I ran into him on Broadway. He asked me where I was dancing, and I told him I wasn’t. He was shocked. He said he’d always been especially hard on me because I had what it took. I told him for me, personally, hearing that then would have made all the difference in the world. I didn’t need “tough love” and I didn’t need shaming. Someone who believed in me would have worked wonders.

The thing is, we often internalize those voices we hear growing up. If we’re told we’re loved and cherished, if we’re made to feel that we have an impact on the people and the world around us, we’re likely to have a pretty kind and forgiving inner voice. If our effort is acknowledged, we learn to appreciate our process, instead of getting hung up on the results. But if we’re met with constant criticism, if we get the message that we never measure up, we’re very likely to develop a loud and relentless inner critic. My son’s guitar teacher is an incredible guy. Kind, loving, patient, encouraging, and tough in all the right ways. He’s bringing out the best in my son. Anyway, I explained to my boy that an inner voice that roots you on is a huge help as you move through life. Shame is a poor teaching tool, and it’s a horrible constant companion. Telling yourself you’re having a tough moment is a lot kinder than saying you’ll never get it. And it’s a lot more accurate.

I get lots of emails from people who are in pain, and so many of them are incredibly hard on themselves. We all make mistakes. We all have pain, and we all struggle. None of us acts from our highest self in every moment, or in every situation. Sometimes we have healing to do in a certain area, and maybe we’ve been avoiding that work. And then it springs up and bites us in the ass, this raw place within us that’s crying for our kind attention. Sometimes we make a mess of things out of sheer confusion and desperation. Beating yourself up isn’t going to serve anyone, and it isn’t going to aid you in your growth process. It really isn’t. Telling yourself you’re a terrible person who screwed up and made your own bed which you now deserve to lie in isn’t going to help you get to the source of what caused you to move in the direction you did in the first place. It’s okay. You’re human. Just start where you are and examine what happened with a compassionate eye. You’re not a terrible person who deserves to suffer. You didn’t set out to hurt anyone. If you were that kind of person, you wouldn’t torture yourself about it. You see what I mean? If you feel badly, it’s because you have a kind heart. Maybe you made some really poor choices. So be it. Get to work figuring out why you weren’t respecting yourself. Or why you didn’t speak up and say that you were feeling unseen or unheard or unloved.

Life is short and amazing, or long and painful. I’m pretty sure those are the options. And I think the key difference is how you’re talking to yourself. If the world within you is loving, it makes it so much easier to move through the world around you. I can say for myself, I worked this out on my yoga mat. I took that loud, shaming voice and I starved it. I stopped believing in it. I stopped giving it power or credibility. And I fed a loving, kind, patient, compassionate voice. I still worked my ass off, but I did it with a smile on my face, because it feels good to be in a healthy conversation with yourself. Wishing that for you so much, and sending you love, Ally Hamilton

How to Love People in Pain & Still Love Yourself

August 27, 2014

Sometimes-people-changeEarlier this week I wrote about being held hostage by someone else’s depression, addiction, personality disorder, or general instability. And I heard from a flood of people who wonder what to do when these challenging people are cherished loved ones. I heard from many mothers, struggling with their children, grown, or almost-grown, or very little. And from people who are having difficulty with one parent or the other, a sibling, their partner, their best friend.

I’m going to say the most excruciating thing is watching your child suffer. That’s a pain and powerlessness that’s simply brutal. And if that’s what you’re grappling with, walking away is not an option. If we’re talking about depression in a small child, you have to find help. A great therapist would be step one. There are brilliant people who specialize in working with children. If finances are an issue, and you’re here in the states, go to http://www.nami.org/ and get some support for yourself and your little one. This is a great resource for anyone suffering from mental illness, or loving someone with mental illness, at any age.

Parents who watch their grown children struggling often blame themselves. I’ve heard a lot of that over the last few days; the heartache and feelings of failure and shame. So I think the first thing I’ll say, is please try to stop beating yourself up. If you were there, if you were present, if you loved your child with everything you had and did the very best you could, you have to release yourself from feeling that you’re the root of your child’s suffering, whether your child is 19 or 49. And if you didn’t do a great job with your parenting responsibilities because you were a child yourself when you had your babies, or because you were suffering from your own mental illness, personality disorder, addiction or depression, that’s a heartbreak for you and your kids, but blaming yourself just perpetuates and feeds the pain. Let go of blame.

We’re all going to suffer. This is not an easy gig. The parameters make us all vulnerable, and some people have a harder time with that reality than others. There are people who always see the glass as half empty. People who look on the dark side of things, expect the worst from people, and feel frequently disappointed in themselves. If you’re seeing that tendency in your little one, I’d get in there and point out a different perspective whenever you can. Keep re-framing things for your child. But also be sure to normalize their feelings. There’s such a desire to make everything okay for our little people. And loving, well-meaning parents say things like, “Don’t be sad”, or, “Don’t be angry”, or, “Don’t be scared.” But the truth is, these are normal human emotions we’ll all experience. When we, as children, get the sense that certain feelings are not okay, like fear, or sadness or anger, we start to push things down. We start to edit ourselves. And that’s the beginning of loss and confusion. We become lost to ourselves. Also, show them what it looks like to be a forgiving and compassionate person. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it, but don’t berate yourself. Our kids do what we do, not what we say.

If you see your little one feeling down, you might just speak out about it, as in, “Hey buddy. You seem a little blue today. Everything okay?” And if you don’t get far with that, you can get more specific. “What was the best part of your day today?” and, “What was the hardest part of your day?” Just keeping the lines of communication open is huge. Making your child understand that s/he is safe to talk to you about anything, any feeling or any situation, or any confusion that might arise creates a foundation of trust. Naming what you’re seeing in a loving way is also good. “It seems like you’re focusing on everything that isn’t going well. Can you think of three good things that happened today? Or one thing you’re really thankful for?” Basically, you are your child’s nervous system when they’re little. They can’t always self-regulate, so you’re helping them learn how to process and integrate all the things life is putting in their path, whether that’s the changing structure of your family, a friend who’s moving away, a new school, bullying or exclusionary behavior from someone else, or their own acting out. Any intense emotion that’s flooding their little nervous system might require some help from you. The steadier you are, the easier it will be for them to lean on you. And the more you’re accepting of all their feelings, the more comfortable they’ll be to share everything with you.

If you’re dealing with your older child, and this could mean your teenager, but it could also include your 50 year old child, you’re in a different area. With depression,  I’m going to recommend what I did above. A great therapist is the place to start. If you’re dealing with addiction, then chances are the whole family is being held hostage, and you’re going to need help for everyone. There’s always a family system in place. Roles each person is playing. A dynamic between all parties which needs to be examined and, in most instances, changed. If it’s serious, rehab may be your best hope, with additional support for every member of the family. Al-anon is a great resource here, both for people suffering with addiction, and the family members around them. But search for yourself, because there isn’t just one way, or one solution. There are obviously so many different situations with all their complexities, but understand when you’re living with and loving someone who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, you’re also in the mix. You can’t save them, but you can do everything in your power to get them some help. And I think radical honesty is a good bet in that case, too. If you have things you want to own, own them. If there’s anything you wish you’d done differently, tell them. But also let them know they’re on their own path now, and they have the power to make it great, or to stay stuck. And that you’re going to help them, but you’re not going to enable behavior that keeps them powerless.

If you’re dealing with mental illness or a personality disorder, it’s rough. Certain behaviors can’t be helped, they can only be regulated. It’s not easy to love in the first place. It requires that we make ourselves vulnerable, and it’s really hard to do that, and even reckless, when we don’t feel safe. So loving someone you cannot rely upon to be steady is no easy feat. It’s hard to love and protect yourself simultaneously. I think the best thing you can do in that case is have enormous compassion for yourself. And set up a solid support system, so you don’t feel isolated in your experience. Find those people you can trust, and lean on them when you need to; sometimes our feelings of being hijacked and imprisoned make it hard to reach out. Think about what you need to feel respected and understood. This is where boundaries do come into play. You can love someone who’s having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. You can love someone who careens from high highs to low lows. You can love someone who says one thing to you one day, and something completely different the next. But it’s not easy. As always, your first responsibility is to your own heart. If you betray that, you won’t be able to help anyone. Sending you love and hugs, Ally Hamilton

Free Yourself

August 25, 2014

Taking-crazy-thingsSometimes you realize you’re being held hostage by someone else’s instability, mental illness, or addiction. This can only happen if you care deeply in the first place; that is, if you’re invested in the relationship, or if this person is in your life and it’s not easy to extricate yourself from all communication or connection (your boss or colleague, for example). Often, we meet people and they may present one face to us, but inside it’s a whole different story. It takes time to get to know people, and even time won’t get the job done if a person wants to keep things from you. We only ever know the interior world of another person if they give us access to it.

If you’re a warm, trusting, open person, you probably project and assume that other people are also that way. That’s what we all tend to do, we make assumptions about other people based on how things are for us. And that’s a great way to have your eyes opened, but it probably won’t feel very good. Because we can never assume, and we can never project. We all have our various upbringings, experiences, ways we were supported or neglected, different tendencies and dreams, varied emotional lives, relationships, things that are driving us consciously or unconsciously, heartbreaks, levels of resiliency, disappointments, achievements and fears. How things are for me is not how they are for you, but we exist in this same world. We just cannot expect other people to see what we see, even the things that seem totally obvious to us.

People with addictive personalities are usually very good at hiding their addictions or tendencies. And I don’t say that without compassion. It’s awful to be a slave to a numbing agent. To feel like you have to have access to your “fix” at all times, whether we’re talking about drugs and alcohol, or sex, or the internet, or shopping, or eating disorders. So you might observe erratic behavior in someone you’re getting to know, but think it’s just an “off day” here and there. Mental illness can work the same way. Maybe you’re dealing with a personality disorder that renders a person unable to consider how their actions impact the people around them, but unless you’re a target, you might go a good long while before feeling like something isn’t right.

Sometimes, in order to be close to someone, you have to accept their version of reality. Maybe you’ve known people like this. I once had a girlfriend who had a serious drinking problem. When I’d try to talk to her about it, she’d say she was a social drinker, and I was over-worrying. But I poured her into a cab enough times to know this wasn’t something to sweep under the rug. I talked to her mother about it, but she wasn’t ready to face it, either. And when I refused to be quiet about it, my friend wrote me off. In certain situations, there’s nothing you can do but walk away and hope a person decides to get help before it’s too late.

There are many people attached to their stories about what’s happened in their past, and why things are the way they are, and why they are the way they are. I lived that way during my late teens and early twenties, and it was awful. Blame keeps you stuck pointing, when you really want to be digging. You’ll find most people living this way are angry or bitter or depressed, and probably all three. I once became friends with a guy who had story after story about how he’d been screwed professionally. First by this company, then by another. And I believed him, I believed he’d been unfairly overlooked, unappreciated, and mistreated. But then he went to work for close friends of mine, and I watched him blatantly sabotage every opportunity he had to grow. He was more attached to the sad story than he was to writing a new one. When I tried to point that out to him, he became enraged. Sometimes people cling to their stories because they aren’t ready to take ownership of their lives yet. They use their anger like a shield, and anything you try to say or do bounces off. It’s understandable. We all have our coping mechanisms, and you can’t make a person be somewhere they are not.

If you’re attracted to the “walking wounded”, you’re probably going to encounter people like this. And I’ll just remind you in case you need to be reminded, you cannot save anyone. You can love people and you can try to get them help and support, but you can’t make another person happy, or compassionate or kind or loving. You can’t make anyone fall in love with you. You’re not going to change the way someone moves through the world. This is all inside work; everyone has to do their own journey. You can decide who you want to bring close, and who you want to keep at a distance. Often, you won’t have to make these decisions, they’ll be made for you. If you back someone against the wall and ask them to be accountable for what they’ve done, and they aren’t ready to do that, they’ll head for the hills, anyway. But pay attention to your tendency to draw people close who aren’t able to do anything but hurt you. Don’t participate in someone else’s instability. You can’t fix it, but it also doesn’t help when you enable it. It doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t help you. Create boundaries where necessary, and defend them when you must. You can’t control what other people do or say or feel or want or need, but you can control the way you choose to respond. Just keep your own side of the street clean, the rest will take care of itself. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Breathing Through Sensation

August 24, 2014

Feelings-come-and-goEmotions create sensations. When we say we’re enraged, we’re describing the feelings that are flooding our bodies—maybe the blood pressure is going up (thus we’re “hot-headed”), or the breath is shallow, or the jaw is clenching or the shoulders are up around our ears. When we say we’re depressed, we’re describing the weight of being listless and hopeless, of having no energy to get out of bed, or take a shower or “start the day”; we’re describing that ache that’s settled into everything. When we say we’re in love, we’re talking about the endorphin rush that’s coursing through the system, making us feel giddy and excited and “drunk” on someone else. If we’re feeling jealous, we’re really talking about that burning deep in the belly, that primal instinct that tells us we’re threatened.

The next time you’re having an intense emotion, observe what’s happening in your body. Get quiet if you can, sit up tall, close your eyes, and see if you can just breathe in and breathe out, witnessing your experience. For so many people, when uncomfortable feelings arise, the tendency is to run, or numb, or deny, to “push” the feelings away, or sit on them. But no feeling is forever. And when we race from how we feel, we lose an opportunity to know ourselves, to figure out where we are, what we need, and why we’re feeling what we’re feeling. Why are we enraged? Are we feeling disrespected, unseen, unheard, or invisible? Is that an old, familiar feeling, and if so, when did it first arise? When we understand what’s happening within us, it’s a gift we give to ourselves, and all the people in our lives; it’s a relief. Things that felt skewed and uncomfortable suddenly fit, even if we’re left with a feeling of grief, rawness, and deeper understanding of where we still have healing to do. Now we can be accountable for the actions we’re taking, the things we’re saying, and the energy we’re spreading.

Conversely, racing to numb a feeling robs us of all this very valuable information. This is the source of all addiction, this idea that we “can’t take it”, that we have to do something, that the feeling is going to do us in unless we act. And when I say addiction, people jump to drugs and alcohol, and of course those are big ones, but plenty of people are addicted to shopping, or the internet, or exercise, to eating or not eating, to throwing themselves into relationships or turning to sex to make the painful feelings go away.

If we want to be at peace, we have to come to an understanding about who we are and what we need. Not knowing yourself is the loneliest feeling there is, and it’s also a sure way to flail around through life. Happiness will be short-lived and accidental, something you just fall into by chance. One of the biggest gifts of a consistent yoga practice is the ability to breathe through intense sensation. Sometimes the quadriceps are on fire, or there’s a “fire in the belly”, and we breathe and observe. Then in life, when painful or pleasurable sensations arise that threaten to throw us off our centers or rob us of our peace, we breathe and observe. I think when we say we want to be happy, we really mean we want to feel that inner steadiness. We want to feel we’re living in alignment with what’s true for us. We want to be able to identify what’s blocking us, or inspiring us, or terrifying us, so we can work with that stuff. When we come up against some pain, some jagged, raw place within us that still needs our kind attention, we want to be responsible with our feelings. We want to show up for ourselves and other people in a way that feels good. We want to believe in our ability to have a positive impact on the world around us. There’s no way to do any of that if we run every time a difficult feeling arises. Sending you love, and wishing you peace, Ally Hamilton

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