The Picture in Your Head

What-screws-us-up-theDo you know people who get married because they’re thirty and the clock is ticking, and that’s where they thought they’d be by thirty, and so this guy or girl will have to be the one? Or talk to people with rigid ideas about things, like, if they’re dating someone for a year and there’s no ring, it’s over? How about people who go to medical school because that’s what their dad did and their grandfather, too, and that’s just what people in their family do? When you have a picture in your head about how something should look or feel, you are rejecting things (or people) as they are. Sometimes the person you reject is you, your authentic self.

Life rarely looks like the picture we have in our heads. Sometimes it’s so much more incredible than what we had imagined, and other times it’s way more painful than we had hoped. But there are always opportunities to grow and to open, to dig more deeply and see more clearly. I don’t know why things unfold the way they do. I have theories and ideas like we all do, but who knows if they’re right? Some things are so incomprehensibly painful you just have to let your heart be broken open.

Whatever your feelings, the ability to be with things as they are makes the journey so much easier. To look at your life as it is, with curiosity and compassion for yourself and everyone you encounter, because it’s not an easy thing, this business of being human. To be awake and aware and engaged with what is, not with a daydream or a fantasy or a memory or a picture in your head. I’m not saying thoughts aren’t powerful. The chair you’re sitting on started as a thought in someone’s head. I’m just saying, don’t think your way into a box, where nothing but the picture you’ve imagined will do. Because it might not go like that.

I had a beautiful birth plan with my first, for example. Low lights, no drugs, just a few people to support me. I ended up with a respiratory team in the room, monitors blaring, fear like I’ve never known before or since, panic everywhere. But you know what? I have the most amazing son. Like, insanely amazing. Kind and sweet and smart and funny with a smile that could light up any room. He has incredible enthusiasm for life, hunger for information, a contagious laugh. There’s more love than my heart can hold. So much laughter, so many hugs, such an adventure. And we are both okay. And there has been more joy than I ever pictured or imagined or planned for. Open to what is. Be with it. Explore it. Maybe you’ll be surprised, amazed, heartbroken, head over heels in love. I don’t know. But I do know that whatever you take in as it is, is real, is full of truth, and its own particular beauty, even if it’s the truth and beauty of having your heart broken. This is the ride, this is the best mode of transportation I know. The rest of it is numbed out illusion, a dream, a sleepwalk, an attempt to control something that is really no different than if you woke up today and decided you were going to try to manipulate the tides of the ocean. Just get in and swim. So much love to you, Ally Hamilton

Love Smiles at Strangers

Darkness-cannot-driveThe world is in a state of pain because we’ve separated ourselves from each other. If you look around and wonder why you see despair, depression, war, famine, slavery, greed, apathy, pollution, a planet whose depletion is becoming more and more apparent, the answer is simple. We are at war within ourselves. Nothing is happening outside that isn’t happening inside.

It is true that we are going to be alone through much of our time here, sometimes even when we’re in a room full of people we love. That internal dialogue, that relationship you’re having with yourself, is the number one relationship to examine. Because if your inner dialogue is harsh and unforgiving, you are in pain. If you’re in pain, you’re going to spread pain. You won’t mean to do that, but it will happen. In that case, you are living with a nasty roommate you can’t evict, who makes you feel alone, “less than”, resentful, envious, hopeless, angry and frequently bitter. No way you’ll be treating yourself well if you’re feeling that way. And that roommate has a lot of help “out there” to make you believe those feelings are facts. That help comes in the form of constant messages that we are bombarded with from every direction. (Those messages are out there so that we buy stuff as if that will help). You may find yourself asking questions like, “What’s it all for?”

But that roommate is an impostor, and those messages are lies. There’s another voice inside you that is full of love and compassion and truth. It’s a lot quieter and you have to shut out the white noise (which includes the nastiness of that inner critic, your cell phone, your computer, your television, those horrific “beauty” magazines, gossip rags and anything else that tells you, “you suck”) to hear it, but it’s there. The more you make room for that voice, the louder it will get. It’s just been waiting for you. It’s stronger than the critic, it’s stronger than depression, apathy, and disrespect. It does not ever use the word “should” regarding you or anyone else. It is full of compassion and awareness and patience and understanding and forgiveness. The voice is love. We are all made of the same stuff, love, we have just forgotten.

The world is upside down because of that, and although we are all alone on this journey in many ways, we have separated ourselves from each other in a way that makes the ride scary, that makes true connection with anyone else unlikely. Because of course, if anyone knew who you really were, they wouldn’t like you, right? If you edit yourself, no one can know you, thus you will be, in a very real way, alone, and you will suffer. We need connection, we need love, we need to feel like people know us and care. We all need that–people, animals, the beautiful, giving planet. We look around at the state of things and we are overwhelmed by what is wrong with the picture. The picture could be so different. It’s totally simple, but it’s not at all easy. Because the road to uncovering that love might be dark and lonely and full of pain. The more each person refuses to travel that road to internal healing, the more stuck we all become. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Three times probably isn’t enough. Say it to yourself a million times. Say it every time some mean nasty thought pops up. Keep going back to love. If you’re full of love, you’ll spread it wherever you go. You won’t mean to, but it will happen. Love smiles at strangers. Love lends a hand for no reason except that it’s natural. Love doesn’t turn a blind eye. Love doesn’t say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do”. We need a serious love explosion. That’s how the picture changes. Sending you love right now, Ally Hamilton

Expose Yourself (not like THAT)

The-strongest-love-isSometimes stealthy fear sneaks in using any and all of it’s cohorts–anger, bitterness, doubt, envy, blame, despair, loneliness, shame, or guilt, and puts the mind in a vise grip. Thoughts carry energy, and if you’re in the grip of any of these states, you’ll notice a tangible bunch of sensations in your body, as well. The breath shortens, the shoulders tighten, the brow furrows, and the heart actually hurts. It’s perfectly natural that you would feel alone in these moments, because you are now “outside the flow”, you’ve been tricked away from your natural state of love.

If at all possible, the heart is the place to go. All you can ever do is your best, and sometimes the terrain is rough and rocky, and the way is uncertain. Being human means being vulnerable. The more you embrace your vulnerability, the degree to which you’re able to be with these painful and uncomfortable feelings, is the same degree to which you’ll experience the flip side of all these emotions. When you feel overtaken by a painful feeling, you can also rejoice a little, because you are here, you are alive, you are aware of your feelings and engaged with them.

When we try to avoid the feelings that make our hearts ache, we also close ourselves off to the feelings that make our hearts sing. The pain is there to reveal something, to teach us something, to help us along our way, to give us something essential. And if you can be with that, if you can open to that, you will equally open to the flip side of fear: love, and all it’s cohorts~ trust, forgiveness, joy, connection, worthiness, ownership of your feelings and and knowledge about yourself. Circumstances are constantly changing, giving us an opportunity to keep growing, to keep learning, to keep opening and deepening. Love is always there, always waiting, always ready to spread some light, even in the darkest of times. So even when the ground is slipping out from underneath you, see if you can tap into that love. Let it deepen your breath, calm your mind, and open your heart once again. Then the way will become clear, the strength will be there for you, and a tiny little voice inside will say, “Yes, you can do it”, even if the path is dark and uncertain. Love always lights the way. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton

On St. Patrick’s Day and every day, 7 deep thoughts :)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here are 7 Irish Proverbs for you:
1. You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.
2. Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.
3. It takes time to build castles.
4. It’s no use going to the goat’s house to look for wool.
5. It is often that a person’s mouth broke his nose.
6. You’ve got to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather
7. It’s easy to halve the potato where there’s love.
If you start seeing leprechauns you’ve had too much to drink (that’s mine :))

On Gurus, Pedestals, and Dogs…

The-dream-begins-with-aThe work of becoming awake and aware is not easy for anyone, and it’s even harder without a community of people on the same path, and a teacher (or teachers) along the way. When you choose a teacher, hopefully it’s because you feel some energy flowing from them (probably love), and you have some feeling this person has grasped something you may not have, as yet. Otherwise, what can they offer you?

I have had many amazing and gifted teachers along the way, and I have incredible gratitude for each of them. When I first started practicing yoga, I put a few of my teachers on pedestals. I had stars in my eyes and was falling in love with the process of coming home to myself. Once or twice I did this because a couple of them gave me the impression that’s where they belonged. If you put your teachers on pedestals, you do them, and your own process a disservice,  although it’s very understandable.

There are a few definitions of guru, and they vary a little between Eastern and Western schools. In the east, a guru is someone who has attained “God-Union”, someone who is going to help to bring you back to God. In the west, a guru is usually thought of as a spiritual teacher, or a “remover of darkness.” We tend to over-use the word in my opinion. Someone can come into your life, and help you begin to lift your own darkness and explore its roots, and heal. I believe that’s the work of a great teacher, to create an environment where healing is likely to occur. These people have a serious and lasting effect on your life, you are forever changed, but if you put them on a pedestal, there’s only one way for them to go. And if they’ve asked you to put them up there, they themselves have gotten lost. It’s a huge red-flag for me when I see someone refer to themselves as a guru, a master, a visionary. That’s a person who has started to lose their grip, and it’s unlikely they’re going to be able to help you much, because they are attached to an image of themselves, and of external confirmation of their own greatness; they have become confused.

If a teacher disappoints you over time due to their actions, it is still possible, and I believe it’s right, to remain grateful for the help they were able to offer to you. Just like a failed relationship, it’s still good to be thankful for the experience, and celebrate the love you were able to explore, and the growth that happened as a result of that. Anything that brings you closer to your truth, closer to that well of love within your heart, more in line with your inner voice, more aware of the divinity that exists within you, is a great thing. Of course if your trust was abused, or your vulnerability was exploited, it’s very difficult to remain grateful. There are a couple of teachers in my past for whom I have mixed emotions. But I’m still grateful they appeared in my life when they did, and helped me along my way, even if they proved to be all too human later.

I’m sharing this with you because I think finding your teacher at any given time is important and not to be taken lightly. Listen to your intuition. If it feels like an act, it’s an act. If it feels like a sales pitch, run. If it feels like a schtick, be careful whose Kool-Aid you’re drinking. I believe the work toward healing yourself and getting back to love is sacred. I believe teaching is an honor, and anyone teaching is hopefully open and honest and aware, willing to share their struggles and imperfections with you, not pretending to be anything other than human. If you’ve been hurt by a trusted teacher, my heart goes out to you. I will say, the best teacher you’ll ever meet lives within your own heart. I’ll also share that the teachers who have never let me down once, and who have removed the most darkness from my path, have been the dog I was blessed to live with for a decade because that was a lesson in unconditional love, and my two children who teach me so much about true love every single day. I have been in the presence of the Dalai Lama a few times, and I believe he has the goods. Other than that, I have been blessed with some very amazing, very human teachers, and I bow to them all. Sending you love, light, peace, and the ability to follow your intuition as you make your way, Ally Hamilton

It’s Not You, It’s Me (for real)

Until-you-make-theSometimes the best way to figure out where there may be room for some deep inner healing is to examine patterns in your life. Patterns frequently show up in romantic relationships. If you have not experienced peace and steadiness in your personal life, maybe it’s the time to look back and see if there’s a theme threading through your history. Are you always trying to save people? Are you attracted to partners who are unavailable in some way? Do you go after people who don’t treat you well? Or, are you the one sabotaging your chances for love? Do you run? Do you “check out”? Do you keep finding yourself in the very situation you were trying to avoid?

If you’re getting a yes to any of these, or you recognize other patterns, chances are, you have found the thread that can lead you back to some very old, very deep pain. It seems to be a human tendency to try to “rewrite history”. Even in day to day life, the mind will get snagged on a conversation that has already happened and try to re-do it, to come up with the “perfect” thing to say. But, there’s no potential in the past, it is done, it cannot be rewritten. It’s good to examine it, though, particularly if you feel you might be dragging your past into your present.

If you can identify the “original why” of any patterns you detect, you can take the unconscious repetition out of your future. (Not that it’s easy, speaking from my own experience). Grooves that we repeat are known as “samskaras” in yoga. But your past does not have to determine your present or your future. If you can bring the source (or sources) of your pain into your consciousness, into your awareness, you take the power away from that inner wiring that may be attracting you to the very situations bound to result in more pain. You can “catch yourself”, identify that “old, familiar feeling” that can be mistaken for love (this feels so reminiscent, this must be it!! uh, no), and sit with yourself instead of acting out. Acknowledging and leaning into your pain takes the “heat” out of it, and that old fire that pulls you to act, even when you know you’re heading straight into a brick wall, will start to subside and cool.

Loving yourself is soothing for your soul, it’s a salve, and it’s a relief. The process of rewiring your system will probably be uncomfortable at best, and it’s very easy to slip back into that old groove as you try to head toward something different. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you “must” head into another brick wall. Your awareness alone is huge, and beating yourself up will just make the crash even worse. Eventually, the wall will lose it’s power over you. There are other paths to take that lead toward love. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton

Be A Leaf, Why Don’t You?

In-the-depth-of-winter-IIf you were a leaf, everyone would want to look at you and celebrate you in the Fall, when your color was the most vibrant, and you were expressing the fullness of all your experiences. But we cling to the green. People spend a ton of time and energy trying to look green, and we romanticize the idea of wiping the slate clean and being innocent again, having everything ahead of us again.

The truth is, you can retain your innocence if you walk into each experience with curiosity. Nature is teaching us all the time that everything is always changing. Nothing living is exactly the same twice, so you can always walk into a situation with open eyes and an open mind and an open heart. And you can wipe the slate clean at any time. You don’t have to keep your past alive by feeding it too much energy. You can continually, “start again”, allowing yourself to open and grow and embrace your experience as it’s happening. Surprise yourself. You don’t have to put yourself in a box. You don’t have to decide you are “THIS” kind of person, or you would never do “THAT”. Allow other people and experiences to surprise you, too. Examine sweeping generalizations carefully.

When we are “green” we are working it out…our time of greenness usually involves some confusion and loneliness and flailing about. The wind can really whip us around as we try to figure out our purpose, and what it is that’s going to allow our Fall to be full of color. Why cling to that? And as hard as we cling to the green, we also resist our Winter, the time when everything hardens, and gets brittle and cold. We forget to acknowledge and honor and celebrate the wisdom that usually comes when someone is granted a long and healthy life, and that frequently, although the body may harden, the heart can be at its’ softest and most open state.

There’s nothing to cling to, and nothing to resist, it is happening. And if you consider areas in your life where you may be suffering, underneath that pain there is almost certainly a craving for something, or an aversion to something; craving and aversion are at the root of all suffering. At our core, if we keep craving the green and feeling aversion about the inevitable Winter, we will certainly suffer. If you can live your life celebrating all its seasons, rejoicing in your own growth, your expanding potential to spread love, and living in a way that recognizes your experience is fleeting, then you will truly want to be alive and present and open to each moment, you won’t want to miss or minimize or resist anything. You will want to embrace each breath, each conversation, each smile, each tear, each hug, each breeze, each rain, each sunrise, each heartbreak, each joy. Of course it’s human to fear the unknown, but if a leaf eventually falls to the forest floor, and is gently blown into the river, and that water ends up feeding the very tree the leaf grew upon, I think it’s pretty likely we all keep feeding the whole, feeding the LOVE.

Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton