You Save the Day

There’s no running from yourself. If you have pain, it’s going to surface and if you try to stop it, deny it, numb it out or run from it you’re just going to make yourself sick. People do it every day, all day long. They keep themselves so busy, so scheduled down to the minute, there isn’t any time to feel anything. Others try to feed the beast of their pain with stuff. I’ll just keep consuming until that horrible emptiness goes away. Some people numb it with drugs, alcohol, food, dieting, sex, relationships, shopping, television or video games. And weeks go by, and those weeks turn into years, and a whole life can go by that way.

If you’re on the run, you’re not going to be able to stop and take in the scenery. If you’re in a fog, you’re going to miss some exquisitely gorgeous moments. If you’re in denial, you’re also denying yourself the opportunity to figure out who you are and what you need to be at peace. You can’t reject a huge reality about where you’re at and how you feel, and simultaneously know yourself well. Chances are, eventually you’ll wonder if this is all there is. Your pain does not have to own you, but it will if you don’t face it. We all have our stuff, our histories, those places where we’re raw or jagged, where those deep wounds have left their scars. Your pain might shape you, but it can shape you in a beautiful way so that you open and become more compassionate, more able to understand the suffering of others, and more equipped to lend a hand.

Knowing yourself is some of your most important work, otherwise how can you be accountable for the energy you’re spreading? For the ways you’re contributing to the world around you, and showing up for yourself, and all the people in your life? If you refuse to face down your dragons, they’re going to run your show, and they’re going to throw flames at anyone who gets close to you. You won’t mean for that to happen, you’ll probably feel terrible about it, and yourself, which simply compounds your pain. Now you have the old stuff, and the new stuff that springs up around you in your current life. Won’t it ever release its grip on you? You can keep playing it out, hoping for that happy ending, but you’re not going to get it until you become the hero of your own story. No one is coming to save the day. That’s your job.

The thing is, saving the day is not easy, but it’s a lot better than being on the run or being in a haze or feeling desperate for someone or something to make it better. You get to do that and you’re totally capable, no matter what you’ve been through. I say that with the full understanding that you may have suffered through intense grief, neglect or abuse. Being the hero might simply mean you find your way out of bed today and make an appointment with a good therapist. That would be heroic. Just acting on your own behalf would be something huge, because you may need someone to kindly hold up a mirror and say, “Of course you can.” (You’ll still have to do it yourself.) You might need someone to acknowledge that the old pain is real, and that it’s natural you’ve been carrying it with you for so long, but that maybe you can put it down now. Maybe you can unpack it and lay it all out and hold it up to the light so that you really absorb, as you are now, the full spectrum of your feelings. So that this stuff isn’t buried in your unconscious, outside of your awareness anymore, causing you to do things or say things you wish you hadn’t. Causing you to harm yourself, or hurt other people, or make choices that are inexplicable, even to you. Maybe you’re very aware of your pain, but it’s still overtaking your life. If you feel hopeless, that’s another indication that you might want to reach out and get some back-up. You examine your pain so you can integrate it and recognize it when it shows up. So you can be kind to yourself, and take care of yourself, and empower yourself.

There’s no reason your past has to dictate your future. Rage and blame won’t liberate you, but heading into the dead center of your darkest most painful places will. You don’t have to stay there forever, just long enough to know yourself. Then you can start a new chapter where you, the hero, lay the sh&t down. Where you decide where you’re going and what you’re doing and how you’re going to spend your time and energy. How you’re going to show up. Not the dragons. The dragons are small yappy dogs now. They bark sometimes, but all it takes is one look from you, and those dogs roll over and play dead. Directing your energy and strengthening your ability to choose one thought over another are two things you can work on through a consistent yoga practice. You can learn how to feed a loving voice if you’re in prison with an unforgiving internal dialogue. There are so many healing modalities available to help you find your power again. Better get busy if you need to, and if you need help with that, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here, and my yoga classes and courses here.

The Re-Education of the Heart

Your past does not have to define your future, but sometimes, in order to overcome it, you’re going to have to work like hell. It’s not a level playing field; some people have come out of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Children growing up in an unsafe environment often become adults who find it hard to trust and to open. You can only know what you know, after all. If the people who were meant to love you, nurture you and protect you were not able to do that due to their own limitations or history of abuse, you’re going to have some serious healing to do.

The problem is, it’s very common to seek what we know, because it feels familiar, it feels like home. Frequently, people who’ve come out of abuse find themselves in relationships with people who abuse them, and this strengthens their ideas that they aren’t worthy of love, and that no one can be trusted. This must be love because it feels like home. I feel unsafe or unseen or unheard. I have to earn love by being perfect. I have to dance like a monkey to get approval. These are all learned ideas and behaviors, and if this was your experience during your formative years, you have a lot of unlearning to do. You have to crash your own hard drive and start over. It’s always harder to unlearn something than it is to have it explained to you correctly from the beginning.

Not everyone can explain love to you, though. You have to have received it to understand it. You have to have had at least one person whose face lit up when you toddled into a room. Someone who taught you about hugs that make you feel like nothing could ever be wrong. Someone who wanted nothing but for you to be happy. You need to have gotten at least a little of that from someone, anyone along the way to have a clue about what it is. People who grew up in violence don’t know a lot about those feelings. Survival becomes the thing. How do I maneuver around this situation and these people in order to be safe? How do I endure this abuse without hating them? A kid turns it inward. If my own mother or father can’t love me, it must be me. It’s not conceivable to a child that maybe their parents are limited in this way, that maybe they have their own healing to do and they simply don’t have the tools to love them well or protect them, let alone nurture them, cherish them, celebrate them. Trauma and abuse can be carried forward just like genes. I’m not saying it’s genetic. I’m saying this stuff gets carried forward in the heart, in the body, in the mind, and instead of breaking the cycle, a lot of people repeat it. They don’t mean to and they don’t want to, but they simply don’t know anything else. A feeling floods the nervous system and they act out; anyone in the way is going to suffer.

For children who were sometimes abused, and sometimes loved, it gets even more complicated, especially if there was no discernible pattern. A child who never knows what to expect, never knows if she’s going to be hugged and praised, or beaten and broken down, can never feel safe. Heading into young adulthood that way, which is challenging under the best of circumstances, sets the stage for romantic relationships that are unlikely to be healthy and loving, to say the least.

Anyway, I’m writing about all this because my inbox is flooded with messages from people who are trying to forge a new path, to find a new way; people who’ve been betrayed by those they thought they could trust. People who are afraid to open, even though they desperately want to, because what if they get hurt again? Or what if they’re loved for the first time? People who think maybe they should just give up and be alone. I think when you’re coming out of a history like this, you have to work it from the bottom up, and from the top down. You have to flood your system with new information. I’m talking about the combination of therapy and yoga, which I highly recommend if you’re coming out of abuse. You need someone you trust to help you deconstruct thoughts that weaken you, and may be so ingrained you don’t even realize you’re thinking them, and you need to get in your body and retrain your nervous system which is used to a perpetual state of fight or flight. How can you even know what peace feels like? Joy? Happiness? Rage? There’s no time to honor your own feelings in a war zone. You push that sh&t down so you can survive, so you can get through. You’re so on the lookout for other people’s feelings, for the feeling in the environment around you, it doesn’t occur to you to think about what you want, what you need, or how you feel. What language is that?

The thing is, there are tools. If you’re suffering and you want things to be different, you just start where you are. You get yourself some help. You take over the job of re-educating yourself. Human beings have an insanely awesome ability to heal, to forgive, and to love, they really do. If your heart is broken, there’s more room to let the light in. People who come out of abuse and heal, tend to be incredibly compassionate, and grateful for every good thing. Joy is like this unexpected gift that’s never taken for granted. If you need some help, try this or this 🙂

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

How to Live in the Now and Trust Yourself

montaigneThe mind just loves to time travel, have you noticed? Left to its own devices, it will pull you into the past, or send you into the future, often with feelings of regret, longing, sadness, fear or anxiety. Sometimes the accompanying feeling is a good one, like recalling something wonderful that’s happened, or feeling excited about an event that’s about to happen, but more of the time we’re sad about something behind us, or scared about something that might or might not be in front of us.

Have you ever revved yourself up for a conversation or situation that never came to pass? Yeah. Me, too, and that’s time we can’t have back. Ever gotten yourself heated over an interaction that already took place, even though you can’t go back and redo it? Yup, I’ve done that, too. Do you know that you can raise your blood pressure just by thinking about things that are upsetting? Your nervous system doesn’t differentiate very much in its response to things that are actually happening, versus things that are only happening in your mind.

Also, when you’re dwelling on some event from your past, or worried about some situation that could occur in your future, you are missing the main attraction, which is what is happening right here, right now. If you aren’t present, you also are not tuned into your intuition, which is a living, energetic response system that causes things like the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up when you’re in danger. If you’re too focused on your destination, you might miss the signs that something is off in the environment around you as you’re traveling. If you’re obsessing over a conversation you’ve already had, you might be missing the chance to connect with someone who’s standing right in front of you.

Last night as I was driving to the studio to teach, I turned up the alley to get to our garage and there was a little girl probably about seven, like my daughter, and she was doing a happy dance, full out, for no apparent reason except that it felt good to be her in that moment. Face upturned, eyes twinkling, cheeks flushed. Her dad was looking at his phone. Now, maybe that’s unusual, and I just happened to drive by in a moment when he was texting mom so they could all meet up, or maybe he’s missing lots of moments like that, I don’t know. What I do know is that I made eye contact with that little girl, and laughed with her and waved, because I wanted her to feel seen in her joy.

If you want to trust yourself, you have to be engaged with the conversation your body is always having with you. The body speaks in the language of sensation, and it is very clear in its messages. If you’re happy, you’re going to feel that energy coursing through your system, those relaxed shoulders and that openness across your chest, your arms relaxed, or wrapped around someone in a delicious hug, or holding an ice cream cone, or a mic, or a pen, or your fingers flying across the keyboard of your laptop–whatever it is that brings you pleasure. Maybe your leg will bounce underneath your desk like mine is right now, because you can’t type as fast as the thoughts are coming. Maybe you’ll notice your spine is long as you’re sitting in your chair, or that you’re sweating a little because there’s a sudden heatwave. There are a lot of things happening in every single moment, and your body is talking to you about all of them. A little breeze through the window going noticed or unnoticed, the way the neighbor is talking to her dog, the smell of exhaust as a truck goes by, the sound of a plane overhead, the taste of the cacao and cashew hemp-spread lingering in your mouth because you had a spoonful awhile ago. Those are small things, but bigger things include the feeling that something is not right, or that you’re feeling alone, or stuck or inspired or grateful. There’s so much we can miss when we aren’t paying attention. When you want to know what to do, believe me, your body is giving you information about what feels right for you. When you need to make a change, your body knows, well before your mind picks up the thread.

The quickest pathway to right now is your breath. Your inhales and exhales are always happening in the now, so when you simply allow yourself to become conscious of this unconscious process that is always happening, and therefore always available to you, you become present. You can become aware of the feeling of your lungs filling and emptying, your chest, rib cage and belly rising and falling, anytime, and anywhere. Right now, if you wanted to, you could close your eyes, and let yourself feel that, and if you took a few conscious breaths, I have no doubt you’d feel an immediate sense of peace, of relief.

The mind is full of ideas, and redundant, often obsessive thoughts, and it will spin you in circles if you let it. Culturally, we’re like a bunch of talking heads with all of our shoulds and fears and doubts and worries, and honestly, if you don’t learn to quiet that racket, you’re going to feel overwhelmed and besieged by life a lot of the time. It’s hard to trust yourself if you’re spinning, but it’s pretty easy if you can come to center. The funny thing is, you can do this in a crowded room, before a presentation, while you’re having a tough conversation, while you’re driving–it’s something you can learn to do throughout the day to slow things down, and open up to the story your body is telling, which is full of truth and wisdom. You have gifts to share that only you can, but it’s going to be very hard if you don’t have faith in yourself. If you want to start working on that, I’m ready to help. Try this short guided meditation right now:

meditation

 

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,
Ally Hamilton

Work That Doesn’t Belong to Us

There-are-things-that-we (1)Much of our pain in life comes from our inability to let go and trust. Often, we’re so attached to that picture in our heads of “how things should be”, we contract against things as they are. You may have noticed, life doesn’t feel great when we’re hunched in a little ball with our eyes squeezed shut, and our hands over our ears.

Sometimes we’re trying to do work that doesn’t belong to us. Maybe we’re attempting to save people, which is different than loving them. We might think we know what’s best for the people closest to us, and we might even be right, but everyone has to do his or her own journey. You cannot keep someone else’s side of the street clean. I mean, you can cross the street and sweep all you want, but if a person is committed to making a mess, the minute you walk away the debris will start flying again. You have to open your mind to the idea that sometimes a person has to make a mess in order to learn something essential. We’ve all experienced that.

Also, the truth is we never know what is right for other people. What seems obvious to us might not be obvious to someone else. There isn’t one path to happiness, there are about seven billion. People are complicated and messy and we all have our histories, stories we tell ourselves, ideas about things that we’ve learned from our experiences, and tendencies that help or hinder us. Most people reach a point when they have to reckon with their pain, anguish, heartache and disappointment; this is part of knowing ourselves. Some people are terrified of that work, or committed to finding ways around it, like numbing out, denying or repressing. Those are not solutions that lead to happiness, but you can’t force a person to come out of hiding. People do that if and when they’re ready, and not a moment sooner.

You might create a lot of fear, anxiety and suffering for yourself by thinking it is your job to manage the path of your children. When they’re little, of course you want to create stability, a nurturing and loving home, a solid base from which they can grow and flourish. If you start to “future-trip”, however, and think that your current choices can somehow protect them from future heartbreak, I think you’re fooling yourself. I don’t know too many people who get through life without some heartbreak along the way. Of course we want the path for our children to be full of sunshine and flowers, joy and love, and a profound sense of belonging in the world, and hopefully we give them the tools to set them up for their adventures in the best ways possible. It’s not always in your control to make everything perfect, though. Some people stay in abusive marriages thinking it’s best for the kids, but is it? Is it good for our sons and daughters to model their relationships after the one they’re seeing day in and day out, if it’s full of pain and violence?

The more you can release your grip on the story, the more life flows. It’s not just your story, you are not the only writer. You don’t get to edit out the parts you don’t like, or force the other characters to do, say, or feel what you want. This isn’t a piece of fiction, this is life, and the other characters get to forge their own stories and do things that might surprise, infuriate, delight, scare, enrage or depress you. You don’t have to allow other people’s desires to affect you at all, but if you’re close to people and you’re human, they probably will. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful and mysterious and interesting to be human, and who’s to say what the right way is to go about this thing? Obviously, we don’t want to move through life intentionally hurting other people, that would be a really crappy way to go. Short of that, following your heart seems the clear choice. We’re here for such a burst of time. There’s never been another you, or me, there’s never been another any of us, nor will there ever be. The more space we can give each other to be who we are, the more the artwork of life shines through. We all have a particular color to splash all over the canvas. Trust in yours, and celebrate the splashing of those around you. We can figure out who was “right” after we die 😉 Sending you a ton of love, Ally Hamilton

Join the Dance

The-only-way-to-makeYears ago, one of my friends called me from a gorgeous vacation spot where she was sitting at a bar, not spending time with her husband. This was a common theme—he worked constantly, and would book these amazing trips when they were supposed to have some quality time together, but then they’d get there and he’d keep working, or take off and do his own thing. They had three little kids at home, and my friend was starting to despair. A nice house and exotic vacations were not making up for a relationship that was plagued with rage, trouble and pain. It wasn’t all him; it’s rarely one person, but there wasn’t a willingness to look at the issues and work on them.

When I heard her voice on the phone she sounded small and lost, and my heart hurt for her. She told me she was flirting with the bartender for no other reason except that it was distracting her from her own desperation. Years later, after she’d made huge shifts in her life, she told me I said four words to her during that conversation, and they opened a doorway in her mind. They weren’t particularly profound, but they hit her in the right moment: “You are not stuck.”

Most of us fear change, but it’s the one constant. It’s understandable that we’d want to cling, that we’d want some things to count on. Maybe you put your mat down in the same place in your yoga class all the time. You probably have a lot of rituals, we humans like to make order out of this chaos, and try to control some of the uncertainty, and that’s okay. Put your mat where you want it, just be aware that you’re doing it. The problem arises when we seek too much insulation from the normal shifts and evolutions of life, many of which involve loss. When we’re too afraid of change, we also cease to live fully. Life happens on the edge, when we’re loving our hearts out. If you aren’t willing to risk your heart, you’re never going to find your joy or your purpose. These things don’t happen when the primary objective is safety and stability.

For many people, the idea of getting quiet is terrifying. Culturally, we’ve become addicted to busyness, to our devices, to our lists of things that need to get done, so that finding time to sit and breathe and connect to that most essential part of who we are is becoming obsolete. Why are people afraid of silence? When we get quiet, there’s space for our feelings to arise. Not every feeling we have is comfortable or desirable. The attempt to avoid or deny our feelings sets us up for the deepest alienation and isolation—our intuition is lost to us, and we are lost to ourselves.

If you’re unhappily married with three small children, is it terrifying to contemplate making a huge change that’s going to impact these people you love more than your own life? Of course it is. You don’t have to act on every feeling you have, though, and to deny yourself the opportunity to have the conversation, to entertain the possibilities, to come into contact with what is true for you—that isn’t going to lead to happiness for you or the people you love. If any relationship is going to improve, romantic or otherwise, it’s going to improve with communication and honesty. You can’t pretend for sixty or seventy years that you’re okay if you aren’t. Eventually, something is going to happen that turns over your applecart, or you’re going to numb yourself until no one can find you, until there’s no you to find. When you allow the questions to arise, you come into conversation with the answers, even if it takes awhile for the answers to emerge.

There’s no need to be afraid of yourself, and there’s no need to fear silence. I mean, you want to know yourself, right? You’re not a robot or a wind-up doll who can live a life prescribed by someone else, or many someone else’s, you are you. When we sit down to meditate, we don’t try to get rid of our thoughts, we just observe them, the same way we observe our inhales and exhales, and other sensations in the body. We notice the sensations change, the thoughts change, and we watch, and try to cultivate friendliness and compassion toward ourselves, and our passing fancies. If you’re looking to develop a sense of humor about yourself, meditation is a great place to go, because I’m sure you’re a riot. If you’re like most other human beings, you have your particular absurdities, obsessions, stories you tell yourself that may or may not be true, days you feel like a victim, hero, or victimized hero, worries about things that are meaningless and/or outside your control. And so you just observe and breathe, and little by little you come into contact with that essential part of yourself underneath all the noise and thoughts and longings, and that is what we call peace and communion. You are not so different from your neighbor, your ancestors, or the billions of people who’ve come before you and will come after you. You’re part of a grand, crazy, heartbreaking, beautiful mystery, and you’re here for the blink of an eye, so there’s not time to waste living a life that isn’t meant for you, flirting with bartenders and staving off your desperation.

Time is ticking, and there will be losses, and things will change whether you want them to or you don’t. People will love you and understand you and celebrate you, and other people won’t do any of those things. Some people will break your heart, but you get to decide whether beauty can arise from that breaking. You will grieve, you will be confused and inspired and lost and found and lost again. But don’t be lost to yourself through all that, because that would be the real shame and truest loss there is.

The truth is, it feels really good to get quiet, and if you don’t believe me, try this: https://yogisanonymous.com/previews/meditation-intro-to-meditation-ally-hamilton-2586

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Petty Things That Matter Not

I-have-found-that-if-youThe real question in life is how do I show up with love? We can get caught up in details and heartbreak and clinging to our pictures of “how things should be”; we can make lists of ways we’ve been wronged and file them away in the space at the front of our hearts. We can pound the earth and shake our fists at the sky and ask why people won’t feel the way we want them to feel, or do the things we want them to do. We can tell ourselves stories about what has happened to us, and why we are the way we are. We can feed the tendencies and ideas that weaken us and make us feel less than, easily abandoned, victimized. Or we can get busy, and make better choices.

Life is as it is, and people are as they are, and it is not personal. There is no boogeyman out to get you, or me, there is no monster under the bed, there is no saber-toothed tiger coming after you, not today, not tomorrow. People may have hurt you, in fact, I can almost guarantee you have been hurt, heartbroken, betrayed, disappointed, and I say, welcome to the human experience. None of us gets a road map, and most of us screw things up from time to time. Maybe your parents didn’t love you well, and even that is not personal, although it feels personal. But parents are people and people have the tools they have, and they are where they are, and maybe you showed up at an inconvenient time, before your parents were grown enough to show up well. So be it.

When we get caught up in fear and anger, we block ourselves from love, joy and gratitude. You can’t just block out the challenging stuff–if you build walls, it all gets stuck outside, and then you’re left to wonder why you feel alienated and alone. Sadness is part of life. We love, we lose–we grow or we shrink in response. Loss is part of life, nature is teaching us this very thing every minute. The tide comes in, the tide goes out, you cannot stop it. The sun sets, and it rises again. People are born, and you love them with your whole heart, and one day you will die, and I will die, and eventually they will also die, but while we are all here, the thing is to love, wholly and completely. That is the only thing. Accruing money and stuff won’t stop the world from spinning or time from ticking. Covering your gray hair and denying your wrinkles with creams and god knows what else won’t stop you from aging. Celebrate your life, even if it looks nothing like you thought it would or wanted it to; try to make peace with the shape of things. There is always something to mourn and there is always something to celebrate, so do both. Feel the piercing sadness when it arises, and open to the joy when it overwhelms you. If you stop denying the shadow emotions, you will find there’s much more light than you might think. This isn’t Cloak and Daggers.

If you’re going to collect something, collect moments. If you’re feeling alone right now, surround yourself with art, with humanity. There’s so much of that available, so much to show you and assure you, you are not alone. Find the art that soothes your soul, and immerse yourself in it. Create art yourself, and don’t question it. Do that with your days, with your words, with your feelings. Maybe do it with your hands, your voice, your fingertips, whatever you’ve got. If you were an entire universe, and I believe you are, your heart would be the sun, so trust that. Your intuition would be like the oceans, flowing, rising, ebbing, sometimes calm, sometimes thrashing. Wonderful, swim with that. Your dreams, your hopes would be the stars in the sky, sometimes shooting brilliantly through the galaxy, sometimes already gone, like some of the stars you see when you look up at the sky.

The point is, don’t wait, and don’t allow yourself to become distracted with petty things that matter not. Life is precious, you are precious, and you have the blink of an eye to get that, and to shine. Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton

The Perils of the Poker Face

brenebrownWhen we don’t speak up about what we’re feeling, it comes out in other ways. This is particularly true in any intimate relationship, whether familial or romantic. Things we hide from ourselves will also swim to the surface to bite us in the a$$ and demand our attention, but you can multiply that bite by at least two when we’re talking about the way we relate to others. It’s not surprising that clear communication is so difficult for the majority of us, because we’re taught to edit our feelings from an early age. “Don’t cry”, “Don’t be sad”, “Don’t be scared, “Don’t be angry”–these are like cultural mantras we hear as early as we hit the playground, and often sooner, in our very own homes. Loving parents say these things, so I’m not throwing anyone under the bus, I’m just saying we need to understand when we love people, we have to teach them that it is okay to be sad, scared or angry, it’s what we do about the feelings that matters.

It’s never easy to watch someone we love as he or she grapples with difficult feelings. We know the pain of it from having grappled ourselves. Of course we want to spare those we care for, pain, anguish and discomfort, but these feelings are part of life, and they’re an essential part of knowing ourselves. If we learn to push down the feelings that make those around us feel uncomfortable or inadequate, you can safely bet we will also have no clue about how we feel as we reach adulthood. When we cut ourselves off from what is true and real for us, we also cut ourselves off from our intuition, and that is the surest way to get lost on the path. And when I say “the path”, I don’t mean there’s one path for everyone, I mean the path that will lead any of us to our deepest joy.

Recently, I was talking with good friends of mine who were laughing about a heated game of poker they’d played. Apparently, my friend’s wife and his mother went head-to-head, and his wife wondered if she should go easier on her fairly new mother-in-law, but my friend assured her this made her an official part of his family. Friends of theirs chimed in, and said things also got crazy and competitive in their house when the cards or board games came out. The woman turned to me and said, “You should try playing with THIS heartless prick”, and pointed her thumb at her boyfriend, whom I’d only just met. I knew from our mutual friends that she adores her boyfriend and thinks the world of him. I knew she was just trying to join in on the “heated family games joke”, but the words “heartless” and “prick” came out with a lot of force, and I watched his face change from the happy, social mask we wear when we’re meeting people for the first time, to a closed one that was obviously covering hurt and surprise. She turned to him with her eyes dancing, and saw that her words had landed in a way she didn’t intend, and she immediately apologized. He recovered but they walked away shortly after, and my heart went with them. I knew they were probably in for a difficult conversation at best, and a rough night at worst.

There’s always a little truth in a joke. I don’t think this woman believes her boyfriend is either heartless, or a prick, I think she’s in love with him. But I’d also guess there’s some anger swimming underneath the surface of whatever is happening between them, and it reared its head for an instant. If there’s anger there, it’s coming from some kind of pain. Either she perceives that he’s hurt her or disappointed her in some way, or he actually has. Either way, her pain has not been acknowledged and dealt with in a way that’s satisfying for her (maybe she hasn’t brought it up, doesn’t know it’s there, etc), and so it’s popping up at parties over card games. Isn’t it amazing how these tiny little things can turn into land-mines? Something as innocent as poker can bring up a well of pain neither party sees coming. And now he’s hurt, and probably angry.

Why do we hurt each other? We have pain, and things arise as they always do when two people are close, and we either deal with these things in the moment, or we don’t. When we don’t, it’s because we’re afraid. Maybe we’re afraid of confrontation, rejection, or heartache, but it’s fear of some kind. Our fear causes us to hurt each other. If only we could give one another the benefit of the doubt, if only we could breathe and consider whether someone we love is intentionally hurting us, or whether there’s a chance we’ve misunderstood, taken something to heart that wasn’t intended that way, are dealing with their pain that’s coming to the surface in a way that’s hard to understand, or are bringing some of our history into the present, we’d save ourselves and those who love us a lot of feelings of alienation, frustration, sadness and anger. And we’d save ourselves, as well.

It feels terrible when someone we care for deeply won’t forgive us, or is so ready to doubt our love. That alone feels like a betrayal. I saw it between those two people I barely know—he felt betrayed she’d said something hurtful to strangers in a social situation with zero provocation from him, and she felt betrayed that he would doubt her love over something that was supposed to be funny, but ended up coming out badly. Again, maybe there’s some unresolved pain on both sides there. I have no idea what’s happening inside their relationship. But I’ve seen that moment they had a million times. I’ve been in that moment myself, and I’ve watched it happen between other people more times than I can count, and it’s always the same moment with different words. It’s never about poker, that’s for sure.

The more we learn to acknowledge and deal with our own uncomfortable feelings as they arise, peak and subside, the more we can do that for the people we love. Not every feeling in life is like unicorns or leprechauns or stardust. Some feelings hurt us to the very core. Rage, grief, shame, guilt, fear, loneliness—none of these are easy, but they’re all normal human emotions we are going to deal with at some time or another. Denying that is futile. If you don’t learn to embrace and examine your painful feelings they are not going to magically disappear, they’ll just keep trying to get your attention, because that’s all we want when we’re struggling or suffering. We want someone to say, “I see you, I feel you, I understand why you feel the way you do, I’m so sorry you’re hurting. Hang in there, it won’t always be this way. “ We just want understanding. We want to be seen and held without anyone telling us that what we feel isn’t true. And the sad thing is, we can do this for ourselves, but so many people run from their feelings, or numb them, or deny them, and so pain rules their lives. It doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the main reasons I teach yoga is that it changed my entire life for the better. I was one of those numb-ers and deniers myself. I tried to manage my pain that way for years and I was anxious and depressed a large majority of the time. I kept trying to fix things from the outside. Maybe if I met the right person, or got thinner, or had a perfect job, then I’d be happy. None of these things ever worked. Until I sat down and faced my pain head on, it owned me, and at a certain point I decided I did not want to be owned by pain, I wanted to be owned by love. And then I found out love doesn’t own you, it liberates you. And so I teach, because I think if it worked for me, it could work for anyone. It’s not a magic bullet. Change is hard. It’s a practice, and it has eight limbs, and you have to work every one of them. But it’s doable and beautiful and eventually it’s inspiring and you want to see how much you can open, and what it means to really love and release your grip on the story. Sending love to all of you, Ally Hamilton