Haters Gonna Hate

You-will-never-reachIntentionally or not, we give things, people, accusations, or situations validity and power when we give them our attention. People are complex, and it takes a long time to know the interior of another person’s world unless they give you access to it, and even then, you never know if you have the full story.

When you put yourself out there and follow your heart, some people will feel inspired to do the same, and others will feel threatened or envious. Envy is an uncomfortable but human feeling we all experience sometimes, but if it’s ruling your life, that isn’t any fun at all. Sometimes people see someone else thriving, and it’s easier to be enraged and mean-spirited than it is to get off their own a$$es and do something. I’m a big believer that each one of us has something unique and amazing to offer, that only we can. There is not another collection of 37 trillion or so cells that is exactly like the collection that comprises you, there never has been before, nor will there ever be again. If you don’t pull that song out from the center of your being, then you rob the world of beauty only you can offer. So no one can ever steal your spot in the sun.

But some people are attached to their rage and bitterness, to their lists of all the people who’ve wronged them, to their version of reality that paints them as the heroic, kind, and generous victim, and everyone else as the evil villain with no morals. Chronic victims need their oppressors in order to stay secure and comfortable in their victim-hood. If a person wants to create a fiction where you are this terrible person, and they take no responsibility for the deterioration and demise of a familial relationship, friendship, business relationship, or marriage that once was, and potentially could have remained wonderful, there is not a thing in the world you can do about it. In the vernacular of our times, “haters gonna hate,” and all you do is give the hater power when you give her or him your attention and energy.

People are complicated and life is full of challenges and things are not always what they appear to be. Sometimes a person is covering a deep well of pain, anger and instability under a cloak of peace and calm that is carefully constructed, but falls apart behind closed doors. I’ve dealt with so many people over the years who are struggling with personality disorders but refuse to get help, because according to their construct and worldview, they don’t need any. The thing is, any sane and rational person recognizes that we all need help from time to time, and that it takes two, or sometimes three, to tango. A person who refuses to be accountable for their behavior, actions, choices, lies, and abusiveness, but remains committed to pointing fingers and telling tales, is not a person you can deal with in a rational way. Although you can make yourself sick, tired and crazy trying. I know, because I tried myself.

Eventually you realize there’s nothing you can do with certain people except to step away and create boundaries. And that once in awhile that person is going to stand up from behind the fence you built because you decided you didn’t want to be crapped on anymore, or held hostage by someone else’s rage, and yell at you again. So be it. Let them yell, and you stay focused on all the good in your life, and all the good you can do. Maybe you’ll do so much good, eventually it will spill out onto their mountain of vitriol and they’ll realize you aren’t the enemy and never were. And maybe not. That isn’t something you get to control. Sending you love, and wishing you peace, Ally Hamilton

Take Down Your Inner Critic

Its-hard-to-fight-anIf you’re suffering from self-loathing and a loud inner critic, you’re in the worst kind of prison. You can’t evict your inner voice, so if it’s harsh, shaming and unforgiving, there’s nowhere to run. If you’d categorize the way you’re speaking to yourself as abusive, were you to hear the same words coming from someone else’s mouth, then it’s time to stage a take-down. Because that’s no way to live.

Where Does Your Inner Critic Come From?

Sometimes we absorb the way we were spoken to growing up. Not everyone is received with love, not everyone is nurtured. Peggy O’Mara has a quote, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that, but it isn’t the whole truth. You may have come from an incredibly loving home, but suffered unkindness at school. Scared and confused children can be mean, as can those who feel powerless at home. Events may have occurred that made you doubt yourself, or question your ideas about your own worth. Sometimes we’re going along just fine, and then we’re completely derailed by a romantic relationship, or an interaction with someone who has power over us, and it’s a game-changer.

Other times, we learn and we grow and we look back and feel intense shame for certain choices we made, or ways we let ourselves or others down. There are all kinds of reasons that voice in our head can become critical and unrelenting. Coming out of abuse is another one. Feeling like love is conditional and can be withdrawn at any time will also do it, because any time you fail to meet your own unrealistic expectations of perfection, you’ve set yourself up for the punishing sting of pain and disappointment. There are all kinds of ways we can betray our own tender hearts.

We Are All in the Same Boat…

The thing is, in order to shine and to share, you have to have some belief in yourself. And to be straight with you, not believing in yourself is the worst kind of hubris. It’s not a level playing field, but we’ve all been given the gift of a body, some time here on earth, and the ability to love deeply. Squandering those gifts is the equivalent of hijacking your experience here. You can look back and rant and rave and point fingers. You can write a dissertation about why you are the way you are, and why it isn’t your fault, but time will keep on ticking. And you can’t have it back.

We all make mistakes. We’ve all suffered loss to some degree or another, along with heartache, grief, regret, fear, confusion, shame, doubt and longing. If we’re lucky, we’ve also tasted joy and gratitude, love, kindness and connection. It’s a mixed bag here on planet earth, but it’s a wildly interesting ride. Getting bogged down in rage is no way to travel. There are so many tools available, so many paths of liberation, so many ways to enjoy the gifts we’ve been given. You really don’t want to rob yourself of all the beauty available here.

How Do You Starve Your Inner Critic & Feed a Loving Voice?

How do you starve an inner critic and feed a loving voice? I’m sure there are many tools, but the ones I’ve tested personally are the physical yoga practice, and seated meditation. There’s a saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything”, and I believe that to be the truth. If you’re critical of yourself out in the world, the same will hold true when you’re on your yoga mat. But if you stick with it and make it about breathing deeply and consciously, and not about how you look or what’s happening around you, a miraculous thing will happen. You’ll start to take the road marked “Inward”, so you can take a look around and start dealing with anything that isn’t serving you. You can start to observe yourself from the inside out, and build the muscle called compassion. You can work on the quality of patience. You can calm your nervous system with your breath. You can create enough space between your thoughts to get a taste of something called peace. And you can develop the ability to witness your tendencies, your thoughts and your feelings. You can start to recognize that you don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. You can start to choose better thoughts. Over time, you can feed a loving voice so it grows and strengthens and takes over your life. It just takes work and determination. Feel free to reach out if you need a little nudge.

Sending you love,
Ally Hamilton

starve-your-inner-critic

Not This, Not That

buckminsterfullerIn yoga practice, so much of what we’re doing is about stripping away. It’s very possible, and quite common, to reach adulthood and have no clue who we are or what we need to be at peace. Culturally we’re taught to look outward for happiness; if we just meet certain “markers”, if we can look right and have the right job and the right partner and the right house and car, then we’ll be good to go. A lot of people are so focused on attaining these outer signs of happiness, they pass right by the signs that would actually lead them there.

Also, there’s the way you grew up. Maybe you were taught, in word or through actions, that your worth as a human being was based on your performance; if you did well in school, if you were a good boy or girl, then all would be well. If you screwed up or failed to reach the bar, love was withdrawn and the disapproval was palpable. Maybe punishment was swift and intense. That’s just one example, of course. There are many. Maybe you grew up in a house where you felt unsafe, and you learned to be indispensable or invisible depending on the moment. Maybe you were spoiled rotten and taught that you were the center of everything, and that other people existed in order to orbit around your needs and wants. Perhaps you were taught that your needs and wants were something you were supposed to swallow, and that your fears and dreams had very little impact on the world around you. Maybe you were parentified and got a huge lesson in care-taking and people-pleasing. It’s a huge spectrum, but the chances for knowing yourself are slim in any of these scenarios.

This is why we have so many people who reach adulthood and have no idea which way to turn. The house doesn’t do it, the diet doesn’t do it, the right partner doesn’t do it. What’s the point? Where have they gone wrong, why isn’t the formula working? The formula doesn’t work because it’s based on the stuff around us, not the stuff within us. I know someone who’s been searching for the “perfect house” for years. Money isn’t an issue, the location could be anywhere. No matter where he goes or what kind of house he buys, it’s never the right one. It never does the trick. If you want to be at peace, you have to get your true house in order. Your body is your home. If things are not well within you, they won’t be well around you, even if you buy a mansion in Bali and have people on hand to feed you fresh mango at your every whim. There’s no escaping yourself.

In the yoga practice, we’re looking for “vidya” or “clear-seeing”; being able to identify what is real from what is unreal, what is permanent from what is impermanent. You have to question everything you think you know, because you may have accepted things along the way, decades ago, that turn out not to be true for you. You may have adopted ways of being that don’t serve you, that dis-empower you, or block you from receiving love and joy. You may have a lot of unlearning to do. Maybe you’ve come to believe you aren’t lovable, or that you’re broken in some un-fixable way. Maybe you think you can’t trust anyone, or everyone lies and cheats. There are all kinds of ideas you might have developed that just aren’t true, and so you have to dig. You have to unearth. You have to do the work to heal your deepest wounds so they don’t direct your entire life. The way to peace is inside, not outside, and the sooner you start, the faster you get to a place where life feels good. Avoiding this work is the surest way to suffer. You aren’t here to suffer, although it’s part of life sometimes. You’re here to shine. I wouldn’t wait.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Let the Heartbreaks Soften You

 

keatsSometimes people do things that are incomprehensible. I once knew a man who was married to one woman, while starting a family with another, two towns away. I mean, you have to know it’s only a matter of time before that explodes everywhere, right? I was once betrayed by someone I believed was a friend, someone I’d tried to help, in a way that left me in tears for weeks, trying to make sense of it. I had another friend years ago who screwed me over for a job. The thing is, it takes a really long time to know another person. Sometimes you believe you do, and then something happens and you realize you didn’t know the person at all, not really.

Sometimes this happens because we project and assume. We project our own ideas of what it means to be a friend onto the other party, without stopping to wonder whether they have the same definition. Or we project our ideas about who we think someone is, or want them to be, without allowing them the time and space to show us through their actions. Or we assume how things are for us, is how they are for other people. We imagine everyone is working with our frame of reference, and what’s obvious to us will be to them. There are all kinds of ways we can get burned.

Transitions are never easy. Even though we long for stability, we resist the one stable thing we can count on: everything is in a constant state of flux. Fear is usually at the root of our resistance to change. The devil we know is better than the one we don’t, or something like that. That very thinking keeps us stuck in situations that crush the light out of us. If everything is always changing, if people and feelings and circumstances are always in motion, it means we can never know what will happen next, and for many people that’s a scary thought, so they try to pin down the things they can. People don’t like to be pinned down, though, or taken for granted or expected to always be the same. That isn’t a fair, reasonable or rational expectation.

What we can hope for from our close family members, partners, and loved ones, is communication. Few things are worse than transition without conversation. I know a woman whose fiancé left her three months before their wedding and never looked back, never explained himself, never said a word. He just took off while she was on a business trip, and left a note that said “Sorry.” That’s it, one word, and she was left to piece together what had happened on her own. It’s cowardly to bail without explanation, and it’s also disrespectful to the tender heart of the person left in the dark. Life is hard enough when we do have answers. Maybe we’ve grown apart, or what we wanted five years ago doesn’t feel right today. You have to be where you are. You can’t force love and you can’t force life, and you cannot control what other people are going to do, or say or want or need, but you can handle yourself with integrity and have compassion for people, and think about the way you’d like to be treated. Y’know, just common human decency.

Even when we aren’t treated with respect, we’re still getting an answer, right? If someone won’t talk to you, they’re actually speaking volumes about their own limitations. Some of the most important conversations happen without words. Could words soften the blow? Undoubtedly, but you can’t manage another person’s path, and people can only have the tools they have. What you can do is recognize something very essential: if a person treats you poorly, that’s a reflection of where she is on her journey, it’s not a reflection of anything lacking within you, and then you can go about the business of healing. Your first task is going to be opening up your gorgeous heart once more. Try not to let the heartbreaks harden you. Recognize that people in pain spread pain, and that it can be no other way, and try to wish them well. In the meantime, let your own light shine.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Raise Your Words, Not Your Voice

rumiWords are powerful. They can be used as tools for healing, communication, connection, understanding, comfort, gratitude, joy and love, or they can be used as weapons, knives, arrows, or bullets. As with any tool, it’s how you wield it.

Sometimes people grow up in homes where words are used as tools of pain and destruction. It doesn’t take much to make a kid doubt his own worth, or come to know the taste of fear. The holding of breath, the desire to be invisible, or safe, wanted, protected or loved. We only know what we know. We each have a frame of reference. If you grew up in a house where your parents fought like enemies, where they cursed at each other, or at you, or threw things, or stormed out the door, you’re going to have to develop a communication style that’s different from what you saw if you want to have healthy relationships in your life, not just with lovers, but with your children, your friends, and your colleagues. Try to imagine how terrified you’d be right now if giants tore through your house screaming, and multiply that times a million, because as a kid, you can’t reassure yourself, or understand that it’s no reflection on you.

It’s a very confusing experience when we don’t know what to expect from the people who are supposed to love us and nurture us. It’s even more troublesome if they’re sometimes loving, affectionate and kind, and other times reactive, abusive or nasty. There’s no way to feel secure. There’s actually a name for this, and it’s called “disorganized attachment”, and it can follow you into your adult life, and probably will. It’s hard to relax with people if you’re always waiting for the other shoe to come crashing down over your head.

People tend to go in two directions; they either repeat the cycle of abuse, or they go in the absolute opposite direction. Either way, if you didn’t have a model of healthy communication, you’re almost definitely going to need some help with that. You don’t have to use the map you’ve got; in many instances it would do a person good to burn that map and chart a new one, but it isn’t easy to rewire the system. It takes enormous desire and dedication and herculean effort. If you come out of terror, it’’s likely you either shut down when conflict arises, or you go for the jugular. Neither of these options are going to lead you toward healthy communication.

This is one of the great gifts of a consistent yoga practice. So much of what we do is about breathing through intense sensation. I know we don’t think about emotion this way, but when we say we’re “enraged”, we’re not talking about an abstract concept; we’re not talking about some idea. We’re describing the feelings we have when our bodies are flooded with sensation. The racing heart rate, the rising blood pressure, the tense shoulders, the shortness of breath, the clenched jaw or fists, these are all physical sensations. This is why it’s so powerful to breathe deeply while you’re holding a lunge and your quadriceps are on fire. You’re training both your nervous system and your mind to stay centered, to keep breathing, and to stay curious. If you stick with the physical practice long enough, and if you use your practice in this way, you ought to find you’re becoming less reactive and more responsive. Which is really what we’re talking about. (You can take my “Yoga for Anger Management” class, here: http://pages.yogisanonymous.com/preview/1529)

When we’re reactive, something within us gets triggered. Someone says something or does something that taps some raw, unhealed place within us, and BAM! We’re exploding. Cruelty and mean-spiritedness have no place in loving relationships. They have no place anywhere. Sometimes people say things that are so knifing, they leave a scar as deep as any blade. Or sometimes someone says something or does something that taps a place of intense pain, like the pain of being abandoned or neglected or unseen, and we shut down, or we flee the scene. Those are examples of reactivity. An event from our present ignites pain from our past, and it’s as if the prior event is happening all over again. All of our pain, or all of our rage comes crashing to the surface. A response comes out of the present. We might feel triggered, but we remember to breathe and to stay calm and to listen. We create a little space between the event, and what we decide to do or say about it. We take in the person in front of us. We recognize that we’re feeling hurt or angry, and we speak about what’s happening within us. Maybe we tell the other party we’re feeling overwhelmed and we need a minute. Or we explain our heart is racing and we don’t want to say something we’ll regret. We communicate rather than annihilate.

You don’t have to be ruled by your past. There are tools you can use to reverse the damage. You can create a life out of ideas you have about how you’d like to show up in the world. If you want to start to shift the way you’re speaking to other people, start with your inner dialogue. If you berate yourself relentlessly, you’re going to be filled with pain, and you’re going to spread it. Feed a loving voice. That’s something else you can do on your mat. So what if you fall? So what if your hamstrings aren’t as open as the person next to you? You aren’t here to balance on one leg, or put your ankle behind your head. You’re here to be at peace with yourself, to uncover your gifts, to share them freely, and to connect and love and give everything you’ve got. Fill your tank with love, so you can spread it wherever you go. The world needs more of that.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

The Cycle of Abuse

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

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, and 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. It’s not just an issue for women, there are cases where men are being abused by their female partners, but it’s an overwhelmingly larger issue for women.

People who come out of abusive homes tend to seek out those relationships in their adult lives; we gravitate toward what we know, even if what we know feels terrible. So, too, do children of alcoholics tend to marry alcoholics. This might seem insane from the outside, but it’s what Freud called the “repetition compulsion”, what Jung referred to when he said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life, and you will call it fate”, and what Einstein defined as insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.” Yogis call these “samskaras”, or grooves that we play out again and again. We all want to heal and be happy, but a lot of the time, we avoid the very work that would bring us peace. Instead of examining, facing, and working with our pain, we run from it, or deny that it’s there, or numb it out, and then we call into our lives those situations that evoke the same ancient dynamic. We don’t do it on purpose, we’re just driven to heal, to overcome, to master those feelings we couldn’t master as children.

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

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

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

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

You’re a Broom-Taker

To-paraphrase-severalWhen I was about twelve years old I saw a group of kids huddled around a bucket in a courtyard I was passing on my way home from school. Some of the kids were younger than me, and a few were older, or at least bigger. Some of them were laughing, some were just staring, and a couple looked scared. The biggest one, a boy, was holding a broom upside down, and thrusting the end of it into the bucket over and over again. There was something squealing in the bucket, and I found myself walking over without thinking about it. Some of the smaller kids saw me coming and took off, but the boy with the broom had his back to me, and didn’t notice me until I was right up next to him, peering over the edge of the bucket at a small, white, terrified mouse. It was covered in some kind of powder that smelled like bleach. “What are you doing??!!” I asked him, shocked. I took the broom. He stared at me, and so did the other kids who were still there, frozen. “I don’t know, ” he finally mumbled. “We found this mouse and didn’t know what to do with it.” He looked horrified and embarrassed, but he said, “Fine, you take it.” Which I did.

There’s so much I could say about the cycle of violence and abuse. Hurt people hurt people (or mice), as the saying goes. If the people who were meant to love, nurture and protect you, didn’t, due to their own limitations or history of abuse, that’s a wound that needs healing. Few things feel worse than the belief that you are somehow not lovable. Or that you don’t matter, that you’re invisible. Most people experience times when they feel like that mouse. Terrified and alone and confused. Trapped and running in circles, shrieking for help, or feeling their fate is not in their own hands. Life can be like that sometimes. The end of a broom handle coming at us without any cause. Grief and loss can feel that way. The why of it can strip a person down to their bones. You might believe in karma. You might think everything happens for a reason, or we choose the experiences we need for the evolution of our soul, or we arrive here with debts to pay from past lives. You may believe in chaos theory, in the butterfly effect, or that we turn to worm-food when we die and that’s that.. You may think you create your reality with your thoughts. It doesn’t really matter. You’re a human being, and when you experience devastating loss, or violence or the kind of pain that makes it hard to breathe in and breathe out, it becomes obvious that we are all equally vulnerable. People cling to beliefs as if they’re shields. If I’m a good person and I do good things, I’ll be rewarded. But life doesn’t work that way, as any number of good people can tell you. Sometimes horrendous things happen to the most beautiful human beings.

We want to believe we can control things, and that our good behavior will guarantee us freedom from suffering. There’s no such contract. You will lose people you love beyond words simply because you’re a person with an expiration date and so is everyone else. And then there’s all the stuff that life brings. The fact is, we need each other. We come into this world needing to be held and fed and cared for, and that need for connection doesn’t end when we learn to walk and can feed ourselves. The joy in life comes out of love. If you didn’t have a foundation of love, you can create one for yourself, but it takes time and work and a willingness to sit with all your pain until the heat of it dissipates. And you may need some help with that. You don’t have to repeat what you know, especially if what you know breaks your heart. You can learn something else. You have a choice in life, you can be the person with the broom, or you can be the person taking it away. I believe we all come into the world as people who’d take the broom and save the mouse. I think we all come from love. But if you were taught fear and pain and that people will hurt you and life will hurt you and you cannot trust anyone, then you really need to unlearn that. Because it isn’t true. And if you learned that you are not lovable or that your feelings don’t matter, you need to unlearn that as well, because those are also lies. No one owns you. And your past doesn’t own you, either, unless you let it. We belong to each other, but it’s the kind of belonging that’s based on absolute freedom. It’s my belief that you’re here for a reason. The odds that you are the only you in a world of seven billion people and it’s some kind of accident or coincidence seem extremely low to me. I believe you have a particular song to sing, and that if you fail to sing it, the world is robbed of a beauty it can’t create any other way. But your song may be buried under rage and grief and disappointment. In which case it’s your job to start digging. For yourself, for your own peace and freedom, and for all the people in your life. Be the broom-taker you really are. Sending you love. Ally