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

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

The Danger of Shiny Packages

be-easy-take-your-timeRecently, I was at the grocery store with my kids, and my son asked if he could have a green juice he saw on the shelf. It was made by a company with shiny packaging, that purports to be all about good health, and natural ingredients. I pulled it down and looked at the back of the bottle, and my eyes popped out of my head: 53 grams of sugar. Even my son, who’s eight, did not need an explanation about why we weren’t going to buy it. Instead, we talked about critical thinking and not taking things at face value. And then we went home and made our own green juice.

The juice got me to thinking about a friend of mine who’s going through some heartbreak. She was dating a man for the last eight months. Kind of a whirlwind thing, and also a case of good packaging. They moved in together after eight weeks of heated dating, and she was sure he was “the one.” He was charming and kind and attentive and great-looking, and it seemed they had a good thing going. Until one of our mutual friends called to tell her he was active on Tinder, and had tried to make a date with her. So now my friend is crashing at her parents’ house and looking for a place to live, and beating herself up.

The thing is, most of us have done this, romantically or otherwise. We make quick decisions based on how things look or seem, but when it comes to people, or situations, or even juice, you really have to take your time. Not everything is as it appears to be.

Some of the things that cloud our vision the most are our own wants, projections and assumptions. If you’re longing for connection, for example, and you meet someone who’s attractive to you, you may find yourself diving in and projecting all these wonderful traits on a person you really don’t know. You don’t know someone after a week, or two, or even six. If we’re talking about romance, you REALLY don’t know, because nothing blinds us like hormones. You have to wait for the lust/dust to clear a little before you have any sense of who you’re dealing with, and even then, it takes time. Also, most people can do the beginning of relationships well. I mean, it’s not hard, right? Spending time with someone you’re nuts about, getting naked, and having lots of great sex? Not too many people are going to feel burdened or challenged by that! And those long conversations deep into the night, when neither of you cares about having to get up early in the morning. The touch of his hand, the look in her eye, the flirty texts. Even people who have a deep fear of intimacy can usually do the beginning pretty well. You know why, right? It’s not really intimate yet. You can get physically naked with someone and not really know who they are. You can confide your past disappointments, your struggles, your fears, your hopes and your dreams, and still not know someone, not deeply. Most people lead with their best foot. Most people are not going to tell you about their darkest issues in the beginning, because they are digging the high off your adoration, just like you’re digging the high off theirs. No one wants to burst that bubble. We all like to have a clean slate, a chance to begin again, an opportunity to see ourselves the way this new person is seeing us.

You get to know people slowly, whether we’re talking about new friends, or romantic partners. Of course we love to pin things down and make our plans and think about the future, and that’s okay, that’s human. But the truth is, we never know what’s coming next, and the best thing any of us can do is know ourselves, and stay centered. You don’t have to decide how you feel about everything right off the bat. You can give yourself a little breathing room, and allow things, people, and situations to unfold. You don’t have to decide “this is it!”, and you don’t have to decide “this isn’t it.” You can just enjoy and pay attention and see.

“Viveka”, or discernment, is a huge part of the yoga practice. Recognizing what is real from what is not real, what is permanent versus what is impermanent. Solitude is part of being human. You’ll spend more time with your internal dialogue, occupying the vast world of your innermost space, than you will with anyone else. People will only have access to that interior world to the extent that you allow, and the same holds true for others. You will only know anyone to the extent that they give you access. Some people guard the deepest sanctuary of their inner world out of fear. It might be fear of rejection, it might be fear of intimacy, it might be the fear of losing one’s freedom. The point is, people are complicated, therefore situations involving people are doubly complicated. We all bring so much to the mix, and most of it is not on the surface. There are mysteries everywhere. To think you can figure it all out by skimming the top is a sure way to get bitten in the ass, and probably hard. Take your time with people. And take your time with juice, too. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Choose the Lesson

shannonlalderRecently, a close friend of mine was left suddenly and without explanation by her husband of less than a year. They were having the normal struggles of any newly married couple, exacerbated by the fact that neither of them had lived with romantic partners before. Just the normal communication issues, and the push-pull we all go through when we’re shifting our perspective from “I” to “we”. They’d talked about going to counseling, and about making some other changes, too. He’d expressed a desire to move to another part of the country, and she’d been open to that. Throughout the relationship, right up until the day he took off, their text messages were loving, flirtatious and affectionate, their time together was mostly fun, and she had no reason to imagine he’d bail. One morning he got up, kissed her goodbye as they left the house to go to their respective jobs, and that was the last time she saw him.

When he didn’t show up for dinner, she texted, and he said he was out with friends and that he’d probably crash with one of his buddies. She asked him where he was, but he just said he was out having fun, and he’d see her in the morning. And then he didn’t show up in the morning, and she called and got his voicemail. When she texted, he said he’d be home later in the day, and that he was running errands. It turned out he’d gotten on a plane and flown across the country. She found out from his friend’s wife, when she called to see if he knew what was going on.

She flew across the country to see him and sit down face-to-face, but he refused, and his family told her to go away. He wouldn’t even respond to her texts, his mother texted to let her know he did not want to see her. She’d spent three years with him, she’d spent plenty of time with his parents and siblings, and not one of them would meet her for a tea, or even get on the phone. Her family and all her close friends, myself included, told her to come home. When there’s no communication, there’s also no hope. And when his family also shunned her, we all understood this was their modus operandi.

Two weeks later, he served her with divorce papers, citing irreconcilable differences. Then he proceeded to make demands about all the wedding gifts and furniture he wanted. She told me when she saw the list he sent with the movers, the nine-page list of things he wanted them to collect, it finally sank in. He cared about kitchen knives, but not her heart. He wanted the garbage can, but he didn’t want to know if she was okay, or how she was coping. He just didn’t care.

And so she was left in the dark, trying to figure out what had happened. Was the whole thing a sham? Had he ever loved her? Was the huge wedding he’d wanted just for show? Had he meant anything he’d said on their wedding day, or any day? She told me she felt like she was in the “Twilight Zone”, and that at any moment, Rod Serling would step out from behind a closet door, or from around a corner, and tell her she’d entered another dimension.

Life is like this sometimes. We’re going along, and BAM! A bomb goes off in the middle of our lives, and everything we thought we knew is just blown to pieces. Sometimes it happens because we’re abandoned, like my friend, and sometimes we lose people because they’re ripped from us too soon. Sometimes circumstances create the boom. Maybe we’re fired, or our house burns down, or we’re facing some other huge turn of events we could never have seen coming.

We’d never wish that on ourselves or anyone else, but it happens. And once you feel all the feelings around the experience—the shock, the grief, the confusion, the rage—you have a chance to begin again. Some things are so brutal, you have to accept you’re never going to be the same. Some things will never make sense, some things will never be explained, some things will rip your heart out of your chest and eat it with a fine chianti. So be it.

The question is, what are you going to grow out of those ashes? People and circumstances can hurt you, but they can’t defeat you unless you let them. You can’t rush through your feelings when you’re in turmoil; in fact, I’d say that’s the moment to use every bit of the support system you have in place, or to get busy creating one. That’s when you figure out who in your life is really going to be there for you. And that’s really good information to have, because then you know where to invest your time and energy, and with whom.

All you can ever do, is start where you are. We learn and grow from every experience, but we have to choose the lesson. My friend doesn’t want anyone to speak badly of her ex, and she isn’t fighting him for stuff or money. As she said to me, “The more he takes, the less he has.” How’s that for choosing the lesson?

There are confounding things that people do to each other sometimes. I get emails from people going through divorce with children, and one partner is using the kids as pawns against the other. Who do you think pays in that scenario? But again, those kids will grow up one day, and they’ll choose the lesson. There’s a lot of power in that, so if you’re in a situation that’s making you feel weak, try looking at it from that perspective. No one can take that away from you. Pick the lessons that strengthen you and open you. We have enough hard, closed people in the world. And when things happen that you don’t understand, do your very best to have compassion and recognize there’s probably more going on than you know. We can only know another person’s interior world to the extent that they allow us access. Many, many people have pain and they don’t know how to work with it so they lash out or they take off. Some people suffer from personality disorders that render them incapable of empathy. Some people have been taught that their feelings are the only ones that matter. Imagine how life must be for them. The more they take, the less they have. Sending you love, and wishing you peace and strength,

Ally Hamilton

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

You Can’t Control the Tides

smaraboliSometimes we’re trying to control things. It’s understandable; we’re on a spinning planet and we each have our unknown expiration dates, as do the people we love. We don’t know for sure what happens after this, so it’s a gig that makes us all inherently vulnerable, and some people have a very hard time with that. Most of us suffer great losses at some point or another, because the loss of someone we love is like the loss of a whole, gorgeous universe. It’s not hard to understand why you might want to put your mat down in the same place when you come to yoga, or why most of us thrive on some routine, some rhythm, something to count on.

Here are some other realities. We are in control of very little. We don’t control what life is going to put in our paths. We don’t control other people, nor should we try. We don’t control what anyone else is going to do, or say, or want, or need, or feel. All we can work on is the way we respond to what we’re given, and there’s tremendous power in that. Sometimes people do things that are incomprehensible. I know someone who was just abandoned in a cruel and heartless manner when it would have been just as easy to end things with dignity, and to honor the love that was there. But “just as easy” for who? For me? For you? I mean, from the outside, I can look at the situation and feel astounded. Why would someone do it like THAT? With no communication, respect, tenderness? But for me those things are obvious. And probably for you, too.

That’s where we get into so much trouble. We start to project what’s clear to us onto other people. Shouldn’t this be totally obvious to them, too? I’d argue that certain things are indisputable. You should treat people the way you’d want to be treated. You should treat other people’s children the way you’d want your child to be treated. The thing is, people can only have the tools they have, and they can only be where they are on their own journeys. Some people are so full of fear, they can’t imagine trusting and being kind and compassionate, because some part of them feels if they do that, they’re going to get screwed. I mean, you can’t project your world-view on anyone else, that’s my point. It’s easy to take things personally, especially when an intimate relationship comes to an end, and we’re left with no explanation or chance for closure, but honestly, if that’s the way your partner operates, then they aren’t ready for a real relationship with anyone. Relationships require a willingness to listen and understand, to communicate and to try; without that, there is no relationship. Someone who lacks those tools doesn’t lack them because of anything missing in you.

The very best thing any of us can do is work on inner steadiness; confidence in ourselves to hold and examine whatever life throws in our paths with strength and grace and breath and curiosity. This is how it is right now. Let me lean into it. Let me allow myself to feel whatever I need to feel, whether it’s rage, or grief or confusion or shock, or all of those things. Let me remember that how it is now, is not how it will always be. Let me understand if I missed something along the way, if I sailed by red flags because I didn’t want to accept what I knew in my gut. Let me understand if I often override my intuition, or I just got burned this time. Let me know myself. Let me honor and cherish myself. Let me learn and grow from this pain so I have that much more empathy to share when other people in my life suffer. Let me use the heartbreaks to soften and open, so I’m also ready to receive the love and the joy and the astounding beauty when it shows up. Life is full of everything. You have to be ready. Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

Be Your Own Clean-Up Crew

jimrohnSometimes we get ourselves into difficult situations, and find we really want a way out, but the way does not seem clear. This is really common when we’re young. I certainly got myself into some tight spots along the way, and made a mess on the way out. Part of it is just that it takes time to know ourselves. It’s very easy to go through the first quarter of our lives being influenced by external factors. We might place a lot of value on what other people want for us. How other people want us to be or to feel. We might feel pressured by societal norms, or the way our friends seem to be doing things. There are countless ways to get lost on the path.

And when I say “the path”, I’m not suggesting there’s one path for everyone. I mean, your particular path. The one that’s going to lead to your deepest, truest self. The one that’s going to take you to your joy so you can swim in it and share it. The thing is, we aren’t encouraged to look inward, we’re taught to focus outside ourselves and meet certain markers, and those markers might differ from family to family, and from culture to culture, but we all have them. The expectations, the ingrained beliefs and ideas about things. Sometimes we have a lot of unlearning to do to figure out what makes sense to us, to uncover what scares us, inspires us, excites us. If you haven’t figured that out and you go ahead and make huge life decisions before you know who you are, you’re pretty much guaranteed to crash into some brick walls, and hurt yourself and others. As long as you aren’t reckless with other people, as long as you don’t set out to hurt anyone, no one can hate you for being young and confused, for thinking you want something, and then getting it, only to find out it is not what you thought it would be. That’s called being young and making mistakes, and it’s how we grow and learn.

Having said all of that, your choices and your actions define you, as does the way you make your mistakes, and the way you address them. What you do about how you feel is the stuff of character-building. Making a mistake is no crime. Handling it in a cruel or unkind way, leaving someone in the dark, showing a lack of compassion and empathy—those things are crimes. They’re crimes against your own heart and your own well-being, in addition to the harm you’re inflicting on the other party. The human heart is resilient, and most people will recover from heartbreak, abandonment or betrayal, given enough time, and assuming they avail themselves of tools that help with healing. Having to live with the fact that you treated someone poorly, though, that’s another thing. At night, in your bed, when all the noise of the day stops and you’re left with your thoughts and your internal dialogue, there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t run from yourself. You have to be able to live in your own skin, and breathe.

Sometimes we get desperate and it’s hard to face the mess we’ve made and so we try to run or hide or deny or deflect, and of course, that just compounds the pain and confusion, and lengthens the time it will take to heal. You cannot heal in murky waters, and you cannot heal if you lie to yourself. The sooner you face your problems head on, the sooner life will feel good again. It’s funny. Years ago I was on a play date with my son. He was about four. When we were leaving, I told him to go and help his friend clean up the mess of toys they’d created, and the other mom said her housekeeper would do it and that she preferred that anyway, because she didn’t want to end up with a nerdy kid who wore a pocket protector. I said I didn’t want to create a grown man who left his dishes and dirty laundry all over the house for his wife to pick up. I didn’t say it as a challenge, it just kind of slipped out, and we looked at each other and laughed and she sent both of our boys to go clean up. Often I see dog poop on the street. It’s the same syndrome. If you go through life expecting other people to clean up the messes you’ve made, don’t expect to be happy, because part of being happy requires that we’re accountable, that we’ve taken ownership of the way we’re going to show up in the world. Sometimes in an effort to help someone, we rob them of the opportunity to do that. Instead of helping, we’re enabling behavior that’s weakening this person we love, and true love doesn’t weaken us, it strengthens us.

Sending you some love right now,

Ally Hamilton