How to Embrace Change and Leave Judgment Behind

artoflifeSo much of our struggle comes from our attachment to a picture of how things should be, or how life should look, or how we should feel, or what other people should want, say or do. So often, we should on ourselves and others, and end up carrying the weight of shame, or the feeling of alienation, both of which deplete us and make it hard to rise up. The truth is, there is no formula for life, no “one size fits all” for this thing, we just have to figure it out as we go along.

If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that everything is always changing, and that includes our feelings, circumstances, other people, dynamics, the seasons, our needs, dreams and desires. You are not a static creature, and neither am I, and neither is anyone we know. What you wanted five years ago may not be what you want today. The way you thought life would look versus how it actually looks right now might be jarring, surprising, unsettling, or totally delightful. You can make your plans, in other words, but don’t expect life to bend to your will. Make your vision board if you want to, but leave some open space for surprises, twists, turns, betrayals, opportunities, jobs and lovers across the country, births and deaths. You don’t write every part of the story after all, you only write your own part, and even that is not entirely up to you.

I know people who make choices they regret, but then cannot live with the idea of hurting those they love. I know for myself, I would rather hear and accept the truth than live a lie, or be the unknowing recipient of someone’s pity or guilt. If you love someone, have enough respect for them to be honest about what is real for you, and trust that they, too, may have a different path full of things, experiences and people they never imagined. At the very least, know that if you aren’t honest, the foundation of whatever you’ve built will start to crumble, and the only way to save it or give it any chance of resurrection is with the strength of your own convictions.

That’s not to say that it’s an easy thing to hurt or disappoint other people, I think it’s one of the most difficult and devastating experiences we go through. The thing is, life is complicated and messy for everyone, and we don’t get a crystal ball. Most people don’t set out to hurt you, any more than you’ve ever consciously decided to try to hurt someone else. You can put yourself through the wringer, but in the final analysis, no one can hate you for how you feel. The thing is to communicate before you act. I think for a lot of people, the feelings arise and they try to push them down, until finally there’s an explosion, or they’ve done something in response to those feelings that they now have to live with, grapple with, or explain. That’s when things get really challenging. If you can talk to those closest to you as you’re shifting, changing and evolving, you open the doorway to true intimacy, whether we’re talking about family, romantic partners, or friends. People can’t know you and understand you, they can’t cherish you and honor you if you won’t let them behind the veil.

Sometimes change is forced upon us–someone we love needs to take a path we don’t understand, or someone we love has betrayed us, or we get fired, or find out our child wishes he or she was a different gender, or nine million other things that life can put on the path in front of us that we might not have expected, foreseen, or wanted. The more you can open to people and circumstances as they are, the more you leave room for life to flow. I know it’s tempting to plant your feet and grow your roots and make your stand and try to control this wild world with your calendar and your alerts and your deadlines and schedules, and things you do on Wednesday, and at the very least, where you place your mat when you come to yoga, but the truth is, you are not in control of this story, and neither am I, and neither is anyone we know.

We are all going to face surprises, heartbreaks and joys we never planned for and didn’t expect, and we are all going to make mistakes and hurt people with our humanness, and that is okay, it’s a part of life. I would say, whenever possible, communicate with compassion, don’t assume, don’t project, and try not to hold onto lists of ways you’ve been wronged, because all that stuff will weigh you down. Try to release your grip on the story, open to the gifts when they present themselves, forgive yourself and others, and allow the story to unfold. That way you leave room for the surprises within you and around you, and you grant permission to yourself and those you love to be wildly, imperfectly human, too.

Beach-yoga

Sending you love,

 

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

The Eye of the Storm

Our-wounds-are-often-theSometimes we’re feeling low or vulnerable or insecure or alienated or depressed, and someone we don’t know, or someone we know well, walks right into the heart of that mess we’re in, and says something or does something that sets us off spinning even more.

It’s all well and good to say that people can’t make us feel anything unless we allow them to, and that is the truth. A person can’t drive you crazy or make you happy unless you open yourself to those feelings. Nonetheless, when we’re already feeling tested, fragile, or down, we’re not going to be in a place where it’s easy to direct our energy, or focus our minds on what we know in our hearts to be true. Namely, that another person’s cruelty, indifference, envy, or misplaced rage has nothing to do with us. It’s hard not to take things personally when we’re already walking through the fire.

When you’re spiraling, or feeling confused, scared, ashamed, guilty, or anxious, the best thing you can do is open to it. That isn’t what we’re taught, and it might feel counter-intuitive, but the more you try to run from or deny your feelings, the more you try to make them go away or numb them out, the harder they’ll push to come to the surface. The best way to stop the spinning is to sit down in the eye of the storm, because from that vantage point, you can see that you are not your thoughts. There are a lot of things we think sometimes that are just absolute garbage. Sometimes we’re getting some kind of pay-off, and from the center of the whirlwind, you might find the space to be honest with yourself about that. Is it easier to feed the idea that you’re a victim, or that there’s something broken about you, than it is to pick yourself up and get to work? If you’re doing something that isn’t serving you, there’s some kind of benefit, even if it isn’t immediately obvious. I’m not talking about depression here, so please don’t misunderstand me. Depression is not a choice you make, it’s an affliction that causes suffering, and sometimes people need medication to regulate it. I’m talking about repeating patterns or ways of being or thinking that you already know bring you nothing but pain.

Maybe you’re punishing yourself, maybe you’ve hurt people in your past, and you feel like you deserve to be treated badly. Maybe you’re lying to yourself about what you want. Maybe you’re terrified of screwing up, so you’re paralyzed. It’s all okay, seriously. This business of being human is a messy job for most people, at least at some time or another. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be honest with yourself about where you have work to do, assuming you want to be happy. And that might seem like an obvious thing, right? I mean, who doesn’t want to be happy? But I can look in my rearview mirror and remember times when I wanted to be angry more than I wanted to be happy. Times when I was more invested in my story than I was in changing it.

Shame is debilitating, and it won’t get you far. In fact, it’ll keep you stuck, and deplete you of the energy you need to do things differently. Try to let it go. Be where you are, and have some compassion for yourself. If everything is a mess, believe me, it’s not because you suck at being human, it’s because you probably have some unlearning to do. When we make a mess of things, it’s because we lack the tools to not make a mess of things. And if we lack the tools, it’s because they weren’t taught or modeled. Relationships of any kind require some tools. Communication is a huge one, as is the ability to listen with your heart, and not with the burning desire to be right. Intimacy is terrifying for some people, because maybe their past experience of love involved smothering, or a lack of control. No one likes to feel powerless or imprisoned, but if those are your fears about real relationships, they’re unfounded. Love does not imprison you, it frees you.

You don’t have to keep feeding a story about why you are the way you are, because it doesn’t really matter, and you aren’t set in stone. Is it harder to have to unlearn and relearn something than it is to learn it well the first time? Of course. But is it easier to stay stuck than it is to unstick yourself? I really don’t think so. Figure out the tools you need to dig, because time doesn’t stop and wait for anyone. Choose happiness over anger, choose compassion over shame. There’s no formula for healing, but that’s a solid foundation for anyone. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Finding Peace in the Storm

allylifecolorSometimes there’s an intense desire to be anywhere but where we find ourselves, especially if we find ourselves in the middle of a truly challenging situation. Life will offer each of us no shortage of opportunities to practice patience, grace, awareness, strength, compassion and clear-seeing. The only question is only what we’ll do with the opportunities. Of course, there are some opportunities we’d rather not have, some lessons we’d rather not learn, but we don’t get to choose. In yogic philosophy, “dvesha” is defined as “aversion”, and it’s one of the “kleshas”, or five poisons that cloud the mind and lead to suffering. When we resist the reality of our current situation, we will surely suffer.

Case in point: recently I was contacted by a young man who’s sister was diagnosed with cancer. He and his mom have been with her every step of the way. It’s just the three of them. There have been ups and downs, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, and all the pain that comes along with the disease, and the battle against it, but he’s been showing up for his sister and his mother as best he can. Now, his mother has been diagnosed with cancer, too, and he wrote to me because he’s terrified of losing the only family he has, and he’s upset with himself for being scared when he knows he, “needs to be strong for them”. The truth is, it is terrifying to think you could lose the two people you hold dearest, and that it could happen all at once, and to deny that it’s scary and enough to make a person feel completely vulnerable and powerless, is to compound the pain. Now, not only are you scared and humbled and at a total loss, you’re also disappointed in yourself for feeling those things.

Sometimes we underestimate ourselves. You can be scared and brave at the same time. You can be scared and strong at the same time. You don’t have to reject one thing to be another.

Let’s make it less life-and-death for a moment. You can be in a committed relationship, you can be totally in love, and still feel passing attraction for other people. You can be happy, and still wonder how it would be if you were single and free. It’s what you do with your feelings that defines you. It’s how much energy you feed them, how much time you allow them, how seriously you take them. Human beings are complex, and life is wildly interesting, but it’s not easy. It’s understandable that we want to categorize things, clean them up, put them in neat boxes with clear labels, but so much of what we experience happens in the grey areas.

If you’re scared out of your wits, and the voice inside your head is yelling at you to be strong, that’s brutal. Now, you don’t even have a safe haven within yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. We’d do ourselves and each other an enormous favor if we could hold a space to feel many conflicting things at once, so that we could calmly take a look at what’s real. Facing reality as it is takes bravery, there’s no doubt about that, and sometimes reality is tough to bear, but trying to “buck up” and muscle your way through the parts that break your heart will just make the experience that much harder.

One of the greatest gifts of a regular yoga practice is that you learn to quiet the storm that rages in the mind. Seated meditation offers us a chance to create space between our thoughts, and also to identify with them less strongly. We all have crazy, strange, fleeting thoughts and feelings. Ideally, you get to a place where you choose the thoughts that strengthen you. You decide what to feed, but self-acceptance is key, it’s essential if you want to be at peace. You don’t have to feel shame about your passing feelings. If you notice a pattern, or you observe that you’re always heading in a direction that’s going to bring you down, of course you perk up and pay attention. You examine why you’re heading down a path that will bring you pain, so you can crawl out of that groove and pick a road with potential for healing. Short of habitual thinking that’s weakening you, go easy on yourself. It’s your actions that define you.

Sending you love, as always,

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