Be Where You Are

The-greatest-weaponAny time you can change your perspective from, “Why is this happening to me?”, to simply, “This is happening”, you do yourself a great favor.

Every so often, I tell the story of the frog and the scorpion. If you’ve never heard it, it goes something like this:

Once, there was a frog on the side of a river, and a scorpion called out to her, asking for a ride to the other side. The frog, being a smart frog, declined. She said, “If I give you a ride, you’ll sting me, and I’ll die.” The scorpion, being a scorpion, said, “If I sting you, we’ll both drown, because I can’t swim.” This made sense to the frog, so she agreed to give the scorpion a lift. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. With her dying breath she said, “Why have you done this to us?!” And the scorpion said, “Dude, I’m a f&cking scorpion.”

Whenever I find myself taking something personally, I think of this story, and it always makes me feel better. Most people are not setting out to hurt you, or me. Most people are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Also, there is no boogeyman, there is no plot against you, so if you feel the “universe” is out to get you, or “you never get any breaks”, those are ideas you’ll want to ditch as soon as possible. One definition of stress is being in one place, while wanting to be in another. This state causes dis-ease. It happens anytime we try to argue with the reality of a situation. It happens anytime we compare our situation, life, relationship, or handstand to someone else’s. It happens when we numb, run or deny. These are all forms of being in one place, wanting to be somewhere else.

Accepting things as they are does not mean we have to like them or agree with them. You may have noticed there are things that happen in life whether you agree with them or you don’t. “Should” is one of the more dangerous words in the English language. Anytime I catch myself thinking or saying that word, I put the brakes on and check myself. There are only a few places where you don’t have to worry about your should. Here’s one: Everyone should floss. Here’s another: People should pick up after their dogs. Last one: If you have children, you should teach them about being kind and compassionate by being those things yourself, because that’s the important stuff in life, and because we could use more kind and compassionate people in the world. After that, I’m stumped.

A couple of months ago, I was teaching and a regular student of mine grabbed a bolster and put it at the front of her mat while we were practicing an arm balance. She has a (rational) fear of falling on her face, and her fear was stopping her from attempting the pose at all, so I’d gotten her a bolster one day, and presto, feet off the floor, huge smiles for both of us. When you work with your fear, when you acknowledge the truth of what you’re feeling and figure out what you need to be at ease so you can move forward, it’s amazing what happens. But I digress. The guy next to her, who has plenty of stuff to work on just managing his own practice, state of being, journey, and so on, turned to her and loudly said, “You can’t do a headstand on a bolster!” I told him she wasn’t attempting a headstand and he should stay on his own mat. (There’s another acceptable “should” for you).

People do this all the time. They get caught up in what other people are doing or not doing, or they tell stories about what’s happening, or they get entangled with someone else’s experience, needs, wants, or drama. Anytime you get swept away in someone else’s adventure, you’ve exited your own. You probably have plenty to manage keeping your side of the street clean, anyway. You can’t control what other people do or want or say or need or feel, nor is it your job to try. You manage your own situation, your own response to what you’re being given, to what you’re experiencing from moment to moment, and that is plenty.

There are a lot of things in life that shouldn’t happen. People shouldn’t up and leave one another with no explanation and no communication, but it happens all the time and maybe it’s happened to you. Is that fair? Is that right? Did you deserve that? Does anyone? No, no, no, no, but so what? These things happen and this is the stuff of life sometimes. What is the point in getting caught up with the unfairness of it? Things happen and some of them break your heart wide open, and you get to decide, once you’ve grieved, raged, cried until you thought there couldn’t be a tear left inside you, how you are going to rise up like a phoenix from the ashes. That is what you get to do. You get to offer up your gorgeous heart again and again. If you have the insight of knowing what it is like to not want to go on, you get to offer a hand to other people when they face those same dark nights, and there is beauty in that. You get to know what it means to love fully and deeply, with everything you have, and there’s incredible beauty in that; some people will live to one hundred and never feel that.

Understand that sometimes hope will make you sick. I know that might sound strange; we’re always taught to hold onto hope. The thing is, hope can be seductive and delusional, and if you hope too much it can cloud your vision. You might hope with your whole heart for someone to love you, and maybe they say they do, but if they don’t show that, your hope is a poison. You might hope that someone makes a shift, but if your hope is making it impossible for you to move on, it’s a poison. Life can be so sweet when we stop kidding ourselves, when we stop clinging to some picture we have of how things should be. Most of our pictures come from things we’ve been fed culturally from the time we could reason…”And they lived happily ever after”…oh, yeah? Did they have a great therapist? Did they struggle to pay the mortgage? Did they have fertility issues, problems with in-laws, confusion about how to balance work and romance? The pictures we’ve been sold are so surface-level. Life is messy and complex, and so are people. The truth is better than any fiction, even if it breaks your heart because it’s real, and that is what we are here to be. Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton

The Double-Edged Sword of Attachment

When-we-were-children-weRecently, my dear old dad was visiting from North Carolina. I don’t see him as much as I’d like to because of the distance, but we make the most of the time we have, and the visits are frequent enough that my kids know and adore their grandpa. They’re also infrequent enough that he really sees the leaps in growth for both kids, and I notice the changes he’s going through acutely, as well.

On this last trip, we went to the beach. It was a hot day, and I knew my kids would love to swim in the ocean and build sandcastles, and I figured my dad wouldn’t mind sticking his toes in the water, either. My dad is eighty-eight. He’s got the brainpower he’s always had, but the body is slowing down. He also spent years running six miles a day on the streets of New York City, so the knees are not what they once were. But he works out every morning, looks fit and strong, and still has that spark in his eye. Anyway, we drove to the beach instead of walking, because I knew the hill on the way home would be too much. Also, he’d just talked to me about the particulars of his will, and other things he thought I ought to know about his wishes when the time comes. That’s where we’re at now. It’s not some conceptual thing that might happen in the distant future, it’s a reality, and we both know it. I mean, my great Aunt Tess lived to 103 and was sharp as a whip until her final exhale, so I’m not counting him out. It’s just, you have to start to accept the inevitable at some point. We don’t last in the bodies we have forever and ever. And we’ll all be lucky if we make it to eighty-eight. It’s not like we can ever take anything for granted, including tomorrow. But we do it all the time. So anyway, we drove to the beach.

When we got there, I laid out a blanket, and my kids took off for the water. My dad and I followed. He was wearing shorts, not a bathing suit, so we went knee-deep, but the waves were splashing and he was getting a little wetter than he wanted, so we decided to back up a little. When my dad turned around, he lost his footing and couldn’t recover, and I watched him fall onto his side. I could see he was upset and disconcerted and maybe even a little afraid. I wasn’t sure if I should reach out and pull him up, or let him get up on his own, because he also seemed embarrassed. It’s a difficult thing to have your body betray you, and to have yourself laid out in front of your kid. But the waves kept coming and the sand was soft and uneven, and I could see that he needed help to get up, and that he was willing to receive it, so I put my hands under his arms like I’ve done for my kids a million times, and we got him back to standing. I could feel his heart racing and his body shaking.

He held onto my arm until we were back on the blanket. When I sat down next to him, he said, “Well, that was my act for the day.” And he told me that his balance has been off since he had emergency pacemaker surgery a few years ago. I was grateful neither of my kids had seen, because I think they would have been scared. For me, I just felt sad. My dad has never been a “false bravado” kind of guy; he’s always been honest with me about his struggles, and when I was little, it was way too much. I know he has regrets about that. I see the way he is with my kids, and I know if he had some things to do over again as a father, he’d do them differently. I also know he loves me to pieces. We’ve been through all that, and have nothing left to clear up, which is a gift and a relief. You don’t want to feel you’ve left things unsaid or unresolved. My dad of today is not my dad of yesteryear.

I think this is an important point, because so many people get stuck in a time warp and feed their rage, which doesn’t leave any room for change or growth, and doesn’t allow the space for something new to emerge. You are not the same you of five years ago, and five years from now, the you you are today will have evolved and shifted in ways you can’t imagine. The same is true for anyone. I know so many people who are grown adults, still blaming their parents for their unhappiness. Here’s the reality: some people should not have children because they don’t have the emotional tools, patience, maturity and resilience for it. That doesn’t mean you have to hate them and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be here, shining in all your glory. It just means you may have some serious work to do to get from there to here. So that’s your work. Is that “fair”? No. It’s just what is, and you might as well deal with it, and get yourself whatever support you need to work it out. Because it won’t be that long before you’ve fallen in the ocean and can’t get up.

I think the main thing is to live your life in a way that you can feel at peace about it when you’re eighty-eight. We are all going to make mistakes, some huge and some small. The best thing I know to do is to acknowledge the mistakes when you make them, to examine what happened that resulted in your not showing up the way you wanted to, so you can do it differently the next time. It’s not about not making mistakes, it’s about making better mistakes as you go. And also, you can always try to mend fences when possible. Not everyone will be open to forgiveness. You can’t force it, and if someone won’t meet you halfway, that’s how it is. But change does happen and some people do learn, and do shift, and do want to fix things and grow beauty out of pain. I’m not saying you have to let them. Some things are unforgivable. There are certainly instances where you have to create and maintain boundaries for your own well-being. But those are extreme cases.

Lastly, we should all remember to say what’s in our hearts. Sometimes it’s tempting to think we can wait until it feels easier, or to put things off because we’re busy or immersed in our own lives. But you can’t take anyone for granted, at any age. The vulnerability of being human is just built into the experience. Fighting that, denying it, or ignoring it won’t make it go away, it’ll just exhaust you. Better to open your heart, your hands and your mind, and love the people in your life with everything you’ve got. Better to have the hard conversations that touch the raw places so you create an environment where healing can occur. Better to slow down, and appreciate the beauty, the gifts and the love, because they don’t last forever. Sending you love, as always, Ally Hamilton


A-mind-is-like-aLife always has plenty of surprises in store for us. We make our plans, and then, BAM! Something totally unforeseen happens. Sometimes these are good surprises–perhaps we meet someone who amazes us in every way, on a random Tuesday when we were just going about our business. Other times they’re challenging–we lose a job, or even worse, a whole person. We are given opportunities to practice for the unexpected every day, so that when the big twists and turns come, we aren’t knocked over by life.

The birth of anything is the death of something else. Each moment comes to an end so a new moment can arise. We contract against change, we fear the unknown, and yet, this is the one constant in life: everything is always in a state of flux. Things change, people change, our feelings change, the seasons change, you have already changed while reading this.

I try to experience the unwelcome surprises in my life as invitations to open and breathe. I don’t always succeed, of course, but I try. And I’m grateful to my yoga practice for that, because that’s less time spent suffering. There is always something to learn, and there’s no doubt challenge helps us grow. That doesn’t mean we have to be grateful for everything that happens along the way; some things will rip your heart out of your chest and bring you to your knees. But always, we have the opportunity to learn and evolve and open.

There is no pain-free birthing process, whether we’re birthing a person into this world, or we’re struggling toward a new way of being. Let the pain open you. Pause, breathe, acknowledge. When you’re ready, get up. There’s a lot of beauty in life. This is why we don’t want to resist the difficult parts. What we resist, persists, as the saying goes. Persist in love. Life feels better that way. Sending you some right now, and wishing you strength, grace and ease as you open to the surprises around the corner, Ally Hamilton


You-must-love-in-such-aYou are the sum of all your actions, and so is everyone else. That doesn’t mean you can’t and won’t make mistakes, or that your poor choices stay on your “permanent record” forever; it’s just that what we do, the things we say, and the choices we make define us. As long as we learn and grow along the way, as long as we do our very best not to hurt other people intentionally, we’ll all do just fine.

The thing is, sometimes we want something so much, we refuse to look at a person’s actions or hear their words. Maybe what they’re saying is shocking to us, or disappointing, or hurtful, or just not at all what we’d expected. Maybe the choices they’re making are confounding. You really don’t want to brush these things under the rug, or try to talk a person out of feeling the way they do. If, for example, your partner tells you he or she is not happy in your relationship, you have to hear that. Telling a person that the way s/he feels doesn’t make sense is not the same thing as taking in what was said. It’s not.

If your loved ones say they don’t feel heard, and you respond with all the evidence about what a great listener you are, don’t expect them to feel like you’re getting it. You can’t tell someone that what he feels isn’t valid, because feelings don’t have to be true, and they don’t have to make sense. That doesn’t mean you have to agree, but if you want people who are close to you to feel like you understand them, you have to try to wrap your head around the idea that what’s clear to you may not be to other people.

Did you know that one in twelve men suffer from some degree of color-blindness? That means if you grabbed a guy off the street, there’s a one-in-twelve chance he won’t see what you’re seeing when you look around. Now, when we’re talking about being color blind, we get that there’s a real difference in perception that can’t be helped, but we’re all color blind to each other to some degree. We’ll never fully be able to look through someone else’s eyes, or live in someone else’s head. We will only know people to the extent that they allow us access to their interior worlds. And the same is true for us. How honest are you with the people in your life? You can be in a relationship and still be totally alone. You can be alone without being lonely at all.

It’s hard enough to embrace the vulnerability of this gig. The worst thing you can do is make your life and your relationships murkier and more fragile by running from what’s true for you, or what’s true for others. If someone wants to leave you, you have to let them. If someone feels unheard and it’s a someone you love, you have to hear that, and see if you can learn to listen in a different way. Sweeping things under the rug, grasping to the reality you want when it isn’t real, clinging to people who want to run, none of that is living. That’s grasping, and it’s exhausting. Open hands. Open eyes. Open mind. And most of all, open heart. Sending you love and a huge hug, Ally Hamilton

Let Go and Look

johnlubbockWe’re always bringing so much to the table. We all have our histories, our life experiences, our ideas, our frames of reference. Everything that happens outside of us is filtered through what we know, and what we think we know. So what is really happening? Is our perception different from reality? Can two people participate in a conversation and walk away with totally different feelings about what happened? I think we all know the answer to that question.

Yogis call clear-seeing “vidya”. It means we can differentiate between what is permanent and what is impermanent. “Avidya” is the state of ignorance about ourselves, other people, and the world around us; it’s like a sleep-walking state. The practice of yoga, and by that, I mean all eight limbs, is about wiping the lenses clean, and waking ourselves up. Examining those frames of reference we have, and seeing if they’re distorted. Letting go of our attachment to “how things should be” and allowing them to unfold as they are without fighting or clinging or denying, because there isn’t any power in that. We’re never going to control other people, nor do we want to try. We’re not going to control outcomes, or the weather, either, but we can work on facing reality as it is, and responding with bravery, honesty, compassion, awareness, patience and acceptance. We can also pick our battles this way. There are things, people, and causes we need to fight for, and times when acceptance is not the way. Discernment, “viveka”, is the thing.

We save ourselves and the people closest to us a tremendous amount of pain when we get hungry for the truth. And by that, I don’t mean there’s one truth for everyone, I mean what is true for you? What is true for the people closest to you? What is true about the situations you’re in, the dynamics between you and other people? Are there places where you’re hiding from yourself, things you don’t want to see, or feel you cannot accept? Do you have deeply ingrained ideas about yourself or other people that are weighing you down, and preventing you from opening to love, joy and gratitude? Like, “I’m not good enough”, or, “I’m unlovable or broken”, or, “You can’t trust anyone”?

Also, are you taking things and other people for granted? Are there people in your life you think you know “like the back of your hand”? When’s the last time you looked at the back of your hand, by the way? Everything alive is changing all the time. If you think you have someone pegged, even your partner of thirty years, you’re in trouble. When we stop looking, we miss so much, and we don’t leave space for life to surprise us, either. When we think we know, when our cup is full, there’s no room to learn, and if we aren’t learning, we’re dying. As much as possible, wipe the slate clean, and try to move through the world with curiosity. Life is full of extraordinary gifts, and you don’t want to miss them.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

There’a a Lesson in Everything, But Not Everything is a Lesson

nehruIt’s always good to learn from our experiences. This is how we grow and open, it’s how we develop character and begin to know ourselves. There’s a lesson in everything, but not everything is a lesson, and I think that’s an important distinction to make if you want to be at peace.

I’m a yoga teacher, and I’ve been teaching for quite a long time, and I know a lot of yoga teachers. So my newsfeed is filled with inspirational quotes on a pretty frequent basis, and some of them are great, and some of them make me want to stick toothpicks in my eyeballs like they’re deviled eggs on a tray at a cocktail party. Sometimes people will post things like, “There are no bad events, there’s just the way we respond to them.” Oh. Really? There are no bad events? Can anyone be awake and say that, looking around the world today? There are plenty of heartbreaking, devastating events, and that’s true personally and globally. Pain is part of life, and to deny that is to live in a dreamworld full of unicorns and glitter, with an occasional leprechaun running through.

Another really popular saying: “Everything happens for a reason.” I always cringe when I see that, because years ago, in another lifetime, I said that myself. Then I got older and saw some things and went through some things, and realized that’s an awful thing to say, even though I meant well when I said it. It’s an awful thing to say, because you never know who you’re saying it to, especially if you say it in a room full of students you don’t know personally, or you post it on social media to friends you don’t know. What if there’s a grieving parent in the room, or on your newsfeed? Do you think they’re going to take any kind of comfort in that idea, or do you think you might have inadvertently alienated them, leaving them to feel even more alone and angry than they already did? I’m not saying you can’t believe that, I’m saying it isn’t a compassionate thing to say.

“Everything is perfect and unfolding exactly the way I need it to for my soul to evolve. This moment is offering me everything I need to know.” Get me the f&cking toothpicks. When we speak in these terms, we’re suggesting there’s a divine plan, and a certain path that’s been designed just for us, so that we can get the lessons we need, and maybe you believe that. Maybe you believe in karmic inheritance and reincarnation. I’d love to believe that. I’d love to believe we get more than one crack at this thing. I’d love to believe that some of the devastating things that have happened in my life have happened in order to balance out any of my past transgressions, and to help my soul evolve in this lifetime. I mean, reincarnation is such a comforting idea. We get to come back, and maybe we even get to travel with the same souls, we get to be with our loved ones again? That would make death a lot less scary, right? And I mean, we know energy doesn’t die, it just changes form, so who knows? We’re energy. And I believe in the continuation of consciousness, because that makes sense to me, and because I want to, but I don’t know for sure what happens after this, and neither does anyone else, and I’m not going to pretend differently. And because I don’t know for sure, I’m not going to say things with confidence that might not be true. What I do know for sure, is that we get to choose the lessons. We get to decide what we’re going to glean from our experiences, the wanted ones, and the unwanted ones. We get to decide if we’re going to pick ourselves up and start again. We get to do the work to grow beauty from our pain, or not.

Anyway. Here’s the other problem with that line of thinking. If you believe everything is happening for a reason, you’re probably also going to treat the trials and challenges of your life as some kind of test. You’re going to ask yourself, “Why is this happening to me?” In other words, you’ll relinquish your own power. Sometimes we exaggerate our own importance, and sometimes we dishonor it. I mean, there are about 7 billion of us on this planet. Each of us unique. So right off the bat, we’re going to have 7 billion distinct experiences, but there’s universality, right? I mean, talk to people. We’re a lot more the same than we are different. We all dream. We all long for connection, love, touch, understanding, compassion, forgiveness and acceptance. We all have our heartbreaks, our unfulfilled wishes, nights when we’ve cried ourselves to sleep. We all feel alone in this gig from time to time, on the outside looking in, when really, we’re on the inside looking out.

If you see a pattern in your life, if you keep making choices that lead to your heartbreak, I’d take a good, hard look at that. Then the question is not, “Why is this happening to me?”, but, “Why does this pattern keep showing up, why do I keep making these choices, and what is this pattern trying to reveal to me?” That way, you’re acknowledging your free will, and your own power. Things are not just happening to us. Life brings its everything, and we respond. We co-write this story.

Sometimes people do crappy things because they’re young and selfish, or they don’t know themselves well, or they grow in a different direction, or they can’t face what they want so they make a mess. You don’t have to be on the receiving end of poor treatment, wondering where the lesson is for you. I mean, again, if it keeps happening, then yes, you have to ask yourself why you keep picking people who lack the tools to love you well, but we can all cross paths with a scorpion from time to time. The only lesson in that case is that people in pain, spread pain. That is all.

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