The Part That Is Personal

Sometimes-life-knocksOften I get emails from people who tell me their relationships would be wonderful, if only their partner would change. And sometimes they tell me they’ve been to therapy hoping that would help, but there hasn’t been any movement. Here’s the thing. We can never change other people. No one can ever change us, either, unless we want to make a shift. And you can find yourself at a real stalemate, and start to feel hopeless and stuck.

But just as we can never change other people, we are also not set in stone. You can always change what you are doing, and there’s tremendous power in that. When you look at the situations in your life, the story to pay attention to is not the one about what this person did, or how things unfolded in ways you couldn’t have imagined, or how something beautiful turned to something painful. I mean, you can examine all of that, but the thing you really want to dive into, is the story of your own participation.

Sometimes people get very clear on the “not taking things personally” part, and that’s wonderful. If someone is abusive, cruel, unkind, dismissive, thoughtless or disrespectful, that’s a reflection of where they are on their particular journey at this point in time. Is is not a reflection of anything lacking within you. But, and this is an important but, what is about you is your decision to continue to interact with people who don’t know how to do anything but hurt you. That part is the personal part, that’s the part you want to understand.

We’re not always talking about awful, abusive situations. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the spark going out. People take their partners or loved ones for granted all the time. Sometimes we think we have people “pegged”, and we don’t have to pay attention anymore. But everyone and everything is in a constant state of flux. You are not the you of five years ago, and neither is anyone else. You can’t ever peg anyone. But you can stop looking and listening and appreciating and cherishing and celebrating people, and that’s a sad but common occurrence. And if you find you’re in a relationship like that, where you feel unseen and unheard and taken for granted, you’re probably not going to turn that around by pointing fingers, and letting your partner know all the many ways he or she is blowing it. Because it’s never one person. In any relationship, there are two people, and the third thing, the space between them. That is where the relationship exists, in that space. Each person decides what’s going into the space, and this is true whether we’re speaking romantically or otherwise.

It’s easy to lose the thread. But if there was a spark in the beginning, if there was communication and vulnerability and honesty, you can find those things again, by offering them yourself. When you change what you do, things change around you, people respond to you differently. Also, your happiness is your own responsibility. You can’t put that on anyone else, that’s an inside job. If you are not at peace within yourself, if you’re not feeling inspired, if you’re not loving yourself well, no one can solve that but you. The idea in a healthy relationship is that you support your partner, you don’t look to him or her to solve your pain for you.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, and by that I mean verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive, it’s time to do something. Physical abuse demands that you create physical boundaries. In other words, you have to get out, and you’ll probably (definitely) need support in doing that. You cannot stay and expect things to change because they won’t. Or they will, but not in a good way. Your life here is a gift. It isn’t something you want to gamble. And thinking your love or patience or tolerance will finally change things is a dangerous delusion.

If we’re talking about verbal and emotional abuse, boundaries are also in order. If you’re not worried about your physical safety, it’s time to draw the line. If a person cannot treat you with care and consideration, then what is the relationship about? Are you financially dependent? Does the abuse remind you of the way you grew up? Does some part of you believe that you are not good enough to deserve love? If you get a yes to any of those questions, you need help and support. Low self-esteem is dangerous because we betray ourselves when we feel we aren’t worthy of being cherished. We put ourselves in situations that are crushing and heartbreaking, and you can only take that for so long before you become depressed or hardened, or you need to numb the pain. That’s no way to live.

There is no happily ever after without your participation and action. There is no person who’s going to sweep in and save the day and make everything okay, unless you decide to be that person. Be that person, seriously. Life is too short for anything else, and it can be so beautiful. Sending you love and a hug. Reach out if you need help, Ally Hamilton

Color-Blindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are You Waiting For?!

The-show-doesnt-go-onThere’s such a tendency to wait in life. We seem to suffer from this delusion that life is going to start somewhere out in front of us, when “things calm down”, but this is it. Life is happening right here, right now.

Sometimes we put off difficult conversations thinking we’ll wait until the situation is less intense, or hoping that circumstances will magically change on their own. We think we should wait to have a baby until we have our “ducks in a row”—a larger house or more financial stability, and don’t get me wrong. Bringing a human being into the world is a huge responsibility, and you want to be as emotionally and financially prepared as possible. You want to know yourself, and have some sense of your strengths and weaknesses (you’ll get a huge lesson in all that even if you do), but babies need love and stability. They need that a lot more than fancy stuff.

Anyway, the point is there’s never a perfect time to do a challenging thing, whether it means standing up for yourself, ending a relationship that doesn’t feel right, pursuing your dreams with everything you’ve got, committing to your partner, working on shifting a way of being that isn’t serving you, or bringing a person into the world. There is no perfect time.

Life is messy and complicated and unpredictable. You can do your best to find inner steadiness, to follow the pull of your heart, to forge a path that feels right for you. You can learn to communicate honestly and with compassion. You can do your very best not to hurt other people, to consider the impact of your speech, actions, and choices on those closest to you, and to practice empathy. But if you’re waiting for things to be less chaotic or uncertain, you’ll be waiting a very long time, because that’s the name of this game.

You create peace within you, and you can try to create it around you, by inviting people into your life who are also trying to communicate what’s real for them in a kind and loving way. But things change and people change, and life will always surprise you, sometimes in devastating ways, and sometimes in ways that expand your heart more than you could have imagined. We aren’t here to wait. We’re here to play, to explore, to make mistakes, to learn, to grow, to share, to connect, to give. But not to wait. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Anger Management 101

charlesglassmanMany people struggle with handling their anger in healthy ways. Did you ever have an altercation with someone, and let them know you could see they were angry, only to have them yell, “I’m NOT ANGRY!!!”? Have you ever been that person?

Sometimes we deny our anger because what we’re really feeling is so much more complex. Underneath anger, there’s always pain. We might feel vulnerable or threatened. We might feel deeply hurt. We might be afraid that some of our most raw and unhealed places have been exposed. Maybe we feel disrespected, unseen, or unheard. So when we’re angry and we say we aren’t, sometimes it’s because we’re trying to express there’s so much more to it, and sometimes it’s because we don’t want to admit our vulnerability in the moment when we’re feeling the most unsafe.

When the nervous system is overwhelmed and we’re in a state of “fight or flight”, the chances are slim for constructive conversation about what’s happening. If your heart is racing and your hands are shaking and you have that shallow chest-breathing happening, you’re probably not going to be in a position to identify the nuances of what you’re feeling. Also, anger is a perfectly natural, human emotion we’ll all experience, but sometimes people push it down, and other times they lash out. Learning to manage our anger in healthy ways so we don’t deny the truth of what we’re feeling, nor do we do or say things we might regret, is a skill worth working on.

We don’t have to be afraid of our own anger, nor do we have to be afraid of anyone else’s, assuming they aren’t going to become so overwhelmed by it that they’re dangerous. Recently, I had the unfortunate and heartbreaking experience of watching a man pull his car over to the side of the road and punch the woman in the passenger seat, who was screaming and yelling, “Don’t hit me!” He took off before I could get his license plate, and by the time the police arrived (just two minutes later), he was long gone. If you’re in a situation like that, you need support, and you need to leave. We can love people who don’t yet know how to manage their anger, but we can’t stay with them. Living in fear is not living, and you are not here to be a punching bag for anyone. Your physical safety is not something you can compromise, and someone who hits you, and then apologizes and promises it will never happen again, only to hit you a short time later, needs serious help. The cycle isn’t going to end just because you love her or him, or because you want it to.

A lot of people are never taught the tools that help when we’re in the midst of intense sensation in the body. Any strong emotion—rage, jealousy, insecurity, anxiety, fear, depression, longing, grief, shame—creates incredible, visceral sensations. The body does not lie, so if you’re angry, it will show on your face, in your hands, in the way you’re moving, breathing, standing. Sometimes we’re so upset, we want to let it out, and that is okay. In order for people to know us and see us, they have to be willing to enter the fire with us. If you’re going to be close to someone, if you’re going to work on real trust and intimacy, you’re also going to have to share your deepest fears. This is why it’s so important to take your time. It takes quite a while to really know another person, but if you’re on that path, then you’re going to have to give that family member, close friend or romantic partner access to your interior world. And if you’re like most people, not all of it is going to be pretty and full of sunshine and flowers.

When anger erupts, it’s like a volcano in the body. You have to let the heat out, or you’ll scorch and burn from the inside, but how you let it out is the thing. Words can be like daggers, and certain things can never be unsaid or forgotten. The body is full of wisdom and it’s full of information. The next time you feel overwhelmed, trapped, cornered, or attacked, try to pause and notice your breath. Notice what’s happening in your body. See if you can slow down your breathing. The breath is the only involuntary system in the body that we can affect with our minds, and it’s powerful. If you can calm your nervous system in the midst of a storm, you give yourself some power over how you’re feeling, and what you do about it. You give yourself some room to choose your response, and that’s a gift you give to yourself, and everyone in your life. If you want to work on this, you can get started with me right now, here.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Let Go and Look

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

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

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

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

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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