They Control You (Or They Don’t!)

theycontroluLast week I received an email from a colleague that really got me fired up. I wanted to laugh it off or shrug it off, but it got right under my skin. It was pedantic, arrogant and fairly offensive, and I have a strong feeling it’s not an email he would have sent to a male colleague. I could be wrong on that, of course; it’s possible he talks down to everyone, regardless of gender. Thankfully, I’ve been at this game called life long enough to realize it’s never smart to write back when you’re in a reactive state. Because believe me, the email I was writing in my head was fiery. I went about my day, teaching and picking up my kids from school, going to the dog park with our energetic, mouthy puppy, but every so often, in he crept, Mr. Let Me Tell You What Yoga Is. Let me enlighten you with my knowledge. And every time, I got pissed again, and started firing back in my head. Then I’d catch myself, and shake my head and laugh at the balls of this guy, and come back to laughing in earnest with my son and daughter, taking in the gorgeous day, feeling the breeze on my cheek. It’s always our choice whether we receive the insult or not, after all. I never did write back, nor will I, because some things simply don’t deserve the time and energy required to respond. You live your life and your truth with your heart wide open. You have nothing to prove to anyone. But I went through half a dozen drafts in my head, and I let him steal way too much of my day. My meditation teacher, S.N. Goenka, calls this ,”boiling yourself”. The event is over, but you re-live it in your head, and get yourself as worked up as if it were happening in the now.

It’s really hard to hold your center when you feel insulted, attacked, misunderstood, dismissed or otherwise pained by the comments or behavior of someone else, and that’s especially true if it’s a person you love. (Thankfully not the case in my scenario from last week :)). When loved ones are in pain, and their pain spills out all over our lives, it’s incredibly challenging to love them without being held hostage by their suffering. Life brings everything, and not all of it is easy. In fact, some of it will break your heart boldly and without warning on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or a gorgeous Tuesday morning. Life is under no obligation to give us what we want. Some people will face loss and pain that is incomprehensible; it’s not a level playing field. And not everyone handles the everything that life brings in a way that makes sense from outside the experience. Some pain is so knifing, people run from it. Try to numb it out. Push it down, avoid it at all costs. You cannot make a person ready to face their dragons. That’s inside work. When you love a person who’s in self-destruct mode, it’s the most challenging thing in the world to disengage if you must. But it’s an essential lesson in life–we cannot save other people, we each must save ourselves. Or not. You cannot manage another person’s path. You can’t take a person by the shoulders and shove them into the cave of their own despair, telling them to sit there and feel it all and let it wash over them ’til the heat of it is released. That’s a task they choose or they don’t. All you can do is manage your own path. Do your own healing, return to your own love and joy and inner yes. And if a person you love is flailing about it pain, you can do everything in your power to support them. But you do them no good if you get down in the mud and flail about with them. That’s not going to help them, but it is going to hurt you. Keep coming back to love. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself, and everyone in your life. Direct your energy. Sending you love, and wishing you love, Ally

Love and a Pair of Sandals

Love-one-another-butIf you follow this blog, you may remember the much older man I dated during college. When that all fell apart, it was awful, and it took me over a year to get back on my feet, closer to two, really. It would have been great if I’d taken some time to heal, but instead I ran head-long into another disaster. Rebounds rarely go well, but I hadn’t figured that out yet.

After finally ending the previous relationship with a man who’d been emotionally distant and unkind, inattentive and unfaithful, and ultimately, very cruel to me, I suppose a guy who was jealous and possessive, constantly in my face and in my space, seemed like a good call. I won’t recount the million examples I could, but it was so crazy that one night after we’d had dinner out, he grilled me all the way back to his house about the way I’d looked at the waiter, screaming at me as we walked north on Broadway. Apparently I had lust in my eyes when I ordered my soup.

This kind of outburst was so common, I started “watching myself.” I was a little less friendly and open (he told me I was naive when it came to men, and that my friendliness was being misinterpreted as flirtation), and I checked in with him by phone all day when we weren’t together. If I called ten minutes later than he expected, he was positive I was sleeping with every member of the New York Knicks. Nuts? For sure, but I certainly didn’t feel ignored. Anyway, this insanity continued, and I became less and less of myself, until one fateful weekend when we went to Lake George with my best friend and her then-boyfriend.

When they pulled up to his apartment to pick us up, they heard him screaming from their car from inside the building, which is saying something considering we were in New York City. I can’t tell you why he was screaming, but I’m sure it involved some other imagined transgression. By the time we got to the lake-house I was so tired, I wanted nothing more than to collapse in bed. Instead, as I unpacked, he noticed a pair of sandals he’d never seen before. “Where’d you get those sandals?” he asked. I told him I’d had them for awhile and couldn’t remember. He proceeded to ask me twenty-five questions about those sandals, with the wild look in his eyes I’d come to know so well, and I guess I’d just had it. “You know what? You’re right!! You figured it out. Some man came up to me on the street the other day, and told me he had to have me, but first, he was going to buy me a pair of sandals. Then I went home with him and we had wild sex all afternoon, and I kept the sandals on the whole time!!!” He stormed out. My friend came in to see if I was okay. “Wow,” she said, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this guy with the sandals.” And I started laughing and crying at the same time. By the time the weekend was over, so was the relationship.

This is an extreme example, of course, but in many relationships, people do some lesser degree of this dance. Frequently, the very traits that drew a person in become the same qualities they can no longer stand–gregariousness or shyness, confidence or insecurity, warmth and affection or aloofness. What was appealing or endearing when the hormones were raging, has become a source of annoyance or frustration or despair. This is different than the natural compromises that are part of the process of two complex people choosing to come together and create a relationship in the space between themselves. There’s a difference between give-and-take, and trying to change a person, or possess them. Love is not controlling or jealous. It doesn’t manipulate or force. Love is a celebration, and when it’s happening well, it’s the most liberating foundation there is. You love well with open eyes and hands, and with an open heart. It’s an acceptance and an honoring and a cherishing. It’s an expression of your deepest yes, and an extension of that yes to your partner. It’s wanting their yes to blossom also. And you simply cannot do that for someone else until you know how to do it for yourself. Two rooted flowers leaning in together and rising up toward the sun is a gorgeous thing to behold. Two weeds strangling each other, not so much. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Light it Up!

Motivation-is-a-fireIf you’re not lit up from the inside over the way you’re spending your time, then it’s likely you haven’t found your purpose yet, you haven’t found a way to pursue it, or you’re so focused on the results you’re missing the beauty in the journey. These are not easy things to do growing up in a society where we are fed constant messages that happiness lies in external stuff, like a big house or a fast car or an amazing wardrobe, the “perfect” body, or that right person who’s going to show up and “complete” us (that would be you). We are taught that in order to live the good life, we need money, and lots of it. That sets many people off on a path that has nothing to do with their passion. I’ve met countless people over the years who went to law school or medical school because that’s what everyone does in their families. If you look around, and all your friends are in a race for the golden ring (not realizing they’re on a merry-go-round), it can seem normal.

I’ve said it eight hundred ways from Sunday, “stuff” will never make you happy. This crazy equation we have that $+stuff=happiness does not add up. It’s a soul-less pursuit. That’s not to say that some people aren’t going to make amazing doctors or lawyers or CEOs. Obviously we all want to keep a roof over our heads and food in our refrigerators. My point is simply if you’re pursuing the road to riches and not the path your heart is crying for, you’re never going to be at peace, you’re never going to feel satisfied, it’s never going to be enough to fill the void.

If you locate that thing that sets your whole being on fire, you will find you have ceaseless energy for it, because we all have gifts, and gifts are meant to be opened and shared. That’s the joy in life, the connection. If you figure that out, you won’t be living for those two weeks of vacation time, and you won’t be tempted to call in sick. In fact, there won’t be enough hours in the day to cram in everything you want to accomplish, and everything you want to give away.

Living your life based on someone else’s idea of what success or happiness look like will never bring you joy. That’s a recipe for drudgery and dread. That’s a common way people end up sleep-walking through life, numbed out and mildly or majorly depressed because this can’t be it, can it? Driving to work for a job I can’t stand so I can have a paycheck so I can afford the place I call home but rarely see since I have to work so much just to pay for it? Life doesn’t wait for anyone. It’s flowing and the earth is spinning and the sun is rising and setting, and before long it will be your birthday again. Don’t let too much time go by without uncovering your gorgeousness and sharing it with the rest of us if you haven’t yet. Sending you a ton of love, Ally Hamilton

LIFE. you.

Let-the-world-kiss-youDo you ever stop and think about how insane this is? You have “your life”, and some crazy idea you get to order it, you get to have control over how it’s going. You live somewhere (if you’re fortunate), and you may have a yard you think of as “your yard”, and in it you may have “your trees” (they’re not your trees). And your view. Your car, and your routine. Your spot in the room when you go to yoga. Your friends, your dreams, your job. The clothes you pick for yourself. Your identity, you know? Your list of things to do. Your schedule for today. As if it’s up to you. As if the entire thing, your entire life, every plan you’ve got couldn’t be turned on its head in the blink of an eye.

We think of life this way, though. It began on our birthday, many years ago, and we have our story about our lives as we look back on it. But life was happening long before we arrived, and it will continue on without us. It’s not our story, we’re just a strand in a gorgeous, unfolding mystery. The more we open to the other strands, the less we feel inclined to cling and grip and force things to be the way we want them to be.

Do the people in your life know how much you love them? Are you making that clear with your actions and the words you choose every day? If something happened to you today (and I certainly hope nothing but beautiful things happen for you today), what would be left undone? Unsaid? Unexplored? Life does not have a rollover plan for wasted moments.

The only thing you truly have any control over, is how you’re going to respond to whatever it is life is going to bring your way. Maybe something or someone amazing will cross your path. You get to decide if you open to that or you don’t. Maybe something devastating or disappointing will happen. You have the power only inasmuch as you’re able to open to those events, also. But please don’t suffer under the delusion that you’re in control and you can put off your joy and your fun and your yes for now, so you can enjoy those things, life’s most meaningful gifts, in your future. Tomorrow isn’t promised, every single day is a gift and an opportunity to be lit up from the inside, powered by your purpose here, spreading all the love you’ve got in your heart and co-creating the story as it unfolds.

You’re either in the flow, or you’re exhausting yourself swimming against the current. When people wear themselves down like that, it’s so painful, they just want to sleep. How many different ways do we have to do that? To disconnect, to check out, to numb out? People on gadgets tweeting or “checking in,” instead of checking in in the most important ways. Being with themselves, being aware of how things are within them, being with the person next to them, and checking in there, too. Instead, we have everyone racing everywhere because we’re all so important, you know? We have places to be and we’re “swamped” and “inundated”, and wow, I’m beat, so happy there’s a Starbucks! What are we distracting ourselves from, and why are we so afraid to sit still and open to the wonder within us and the wonder around us? That’s the only power you have, opening to things as they are, facing reality as it is. Sometimes it’s full of indescribable beauty. You are a part of that. A unique, amazing part. It would be such a shame to miss that. You don’t have to wait until Friday, until your next vacation, until things ‘Calm down.” The moment is always now. If you’re just arriving, welcome to this moment! So glad you’re here. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

The One You Feed

twowolvesWe are all capable of incredible kindness and light, and also of indifference and self-absorption. It’s easy to move through life with blinders on, thinking of the world as though it’s rotating around us. As if whatever happens is happening to us. As though we are being punished or rewarded, or as though we are owed something. Some of life is incomprehensibly painful, and some of it will crack your heart wide open with gratitude. Life is just life, it is happening, it is moving and flowing. This was true before we existed, and it will be true after we’re gone. We get a blink, you know?

With your blink, I recommend you blaze your way through. How you respond to this life is your choice. What you feed is up to you. I believe in free will. I believe in facing your fears and slaying your dragons and sitting with your pain and owning your truth. I believe in acknowledging those places where you may be weak, and turning them into places of incredible strength. I believe in knowing yourself, and I believe in accountability. I believe if you want to be happy, you need to shift your focus and consider what you might do to uplift someone else. You cannot control circumstances, but you can work on the way you respond to them. You can weigh yourself down with resentment and rage. You can do your days bitterly. Or you can feed gratitude and light and love and oh, that sunset is unbelievable. You can soak the joy out of every moment possible, and when it is time to cry, you can cry openly, freely, on your knees with a pure heart. You can fight your way through this thing, or you can open to the flow. It takes courage to surrender, to be vulnerable, to realize you are not in control, and to meet each day with your heart wide open, anyway.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not suggesting you deny your shadow (And I also don’t feel those shadow feelings are “evil”, either. They are natural, human emotions we will all experience). When you’re angry or in pain, open to those feelings, too, because if you run from them or repress them or numb them out, they will own you. I’m simply saying don’t get stuck there. Try not to stoke the flame and keep yourself boiling. You really don’t want to hold on to a sad or angry story about yourself, life, or why things are the way they are. There is always potential for growth, for change. There’s always the possibility of a new story, every day. You get to co-create it. I think the key is just to receive those darker feelings when they arise, and explore them and let them wash over you so that the heat of your rage or your heartache or your despair or grief or betrayal is released, so you can be free to move forward. You may have a wound in your heart that will never fully heal if your loss has been profound, but that doesn’t mean your heart cannot open around it. The heart is so expansive.

Watch what you feed yourself in every area. Everything you take in is your food. Some of it feeds your body, some your mind, and some your heart. You cannot exist on a steady diet of Not. Good. Enough. and expect to be able to love yourself well. You cannot feed yourself a regular stream of violence (even if it’s fictional), and think that does not seep into your being. You cannot dwell on everything that’s wrong in your life, everything that isn’t happening the way you’d like it to, and think you’ll feel any gratitude, which is one of the best feelings there is, and a very sad thing to miss. Sending you love, and hoping you will realize who and what you are. Because you are really so stunningly beautiful and so capable of shining. If I could, I’d hold up a mirror for you so you could see that blinding light within you if you’ve lost sight of it. Wishing you peace, and hoping for peace everywhere, Ally Hamilton

It’s the Perfect Time to Jump

You-cannot-always-waitI don’t believe there’s a perfect time to do anything that’s challenging. I think life requires creativity; the ability to respond from your heart to an ever-changing set of circumstances, as you, yourself are also changing, evolving, learning. Another way of saying it, is that it’s always the perfect time.

We get caught up thinking we’ll do “it”, whatever it may be– forgiving someone, mending a fence, following our hearts, having a painful conversation, making a big but necessary change–when the “time is right.” It’s easy to take it for granted that you’ll wake up tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. And I surely hope you do. I hope you wake up for many, many more days. But life doesn’t have a “rollover” plan. You don’t get to store the time you may have wasted and use it in the future. And your contract can be revoked at any time, without notice.

Recognizing the absurd, amazing, exhilarating, painful, joyful, temporary nature of our existence will either shut a person down or open them up. The ride is the ride, how you take it is up to you. Doubt is paralyzing. If life is a creative process, doubt is the thing that will stop you in your tracks. Doubt about whether you’re enough, whether you have something worthwhile to say, to offer. You are here, and you have this amazing heart. Trust that. Speak from that. Shine it everywhere for as long as you’ve got, because you’re as much a part of this ride as anyone, you have just as much beauty to share.

Get busy uncovering anything blocking you from that connection to your joy, your purpose, those things that will light you up and set you on fire. Because I really think you may as well blaze your way through this world, doing anything and everything you can to spread some love and some light. You have a limitless amount of that stuff within you, and sharing it is the joy in life. Now is the perfect time. Jump. Sending you love, as I always am, Ally Hamilton

Don’t Miss the View!

I-want-to-stand-as-closeThere are two ways to do life. One way seems like the easy way. You follow the status quo and decide it’s all about what you have and how you look and who you’re with, and you devote all your time and energy to these things and find ways to numb yourself out from the absurdity of it all. You do this with food or drugs or sex or stuff, but most of the time you feel miserable and tired. You think things like, “What’s the point of it all?”

The other way seems like the hard way. You face your fears. You listen to that small but truthful voice inside you that says, “There is NO WAY this life is about how big your butt is, or your bank account, can we please get real? There’s a life to live here that is beautiful and amazing, there’s a song you need to be singing, what, exactly, are you doing???” And you get busy. You get busy paying attention, listening deeply, acknowledging your pain, doing the work. You stop chasing happiness in the form of “stuff”, and you start chasing the truth (I mean what is true for you). You probably feel sick to your stomach and lonely and scared and like you must be crazy for walking away from your comfort zone and all the people waving you back like the Wild Things. But comfort zones are located in the middle. You cannot see the incredible view from there.

That may seem like the hard way, and it is brutal for awhile, there’s no doubt. Getting real is a painful process of shedding anything you’ve taken on that isn’t authentic to you, including ways of thinking and being. It hurts. But it is so much better to move through your pain for awhile, realize what you know, remember who you are, discover why you’re here, and take your gorgeous self right out to the edge of life, where the sun is stunningly bright and yellow and orange and pink and you can be your true self. You can stand with your feet on the ground and your heart wide open, and just be awed by all the beauty and suffering, all the love and confusion, all the light and darkness. And you can sing the song of compassion and add your colors to this incredible life, this chaotic, mysterious, mind-bending experience. When it breaks your heart wide open, you can cry a real, true cry, right from your gut. And when it amazes you, you can receive the gifts with gratitude and love and delight. We have this thing backwards. The easy way is the hard way. The hard way is only hard for awhile. Then it’s awesome. Pick awesome. Start walking. Awesome won’t wait, and you do not want to miss it. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton