Love is the Best Answer You’re Going to Get

campbellIf it were possible to have irrefutable answers to life’s big questions, I’m pretty sure we’d have them by now. We arrive in this world, and we’re received with love, or we aren’t. We don’t have to worry about a roof over our heads, or we do. We’re afforded an excellent education, or we aren’t. We have a stable home life, or we live in a war zone. We grow up being told what to think, or we’re allowed to make our own way. The possibilities are endless, but we do have some things in common.

We deal with the same parameters, that’s one thing. We’re on this pale blue dot of a planet, and we don’t know how long we get to be here, or how long our loved ones get to be here, either. We don’t know for sure what happens after this. No one tells us the best use of our time and energy, or maybe lots of people do, but we all have to make sense of that on our own. We will all suffer to some degree or another, because this life, even if you have all the advantages in the world, is not an easy gig. It’s wildly interesting, and there’s always the potential for deep love, but along with that comes the potential for knifing loss, and that is not easy to face. We are inherently vulnerable. Some of us will experience the kind of loss that makes us question the point of it all.

But we have this incredible capacity to love, and a great desire to heal our old wounds. We might not have a lot of the answers, but most people who’ve been on the planet for awhile seem to agree that love and connection are the best experiences available to us. I mean, you know you have now. So what are you doing with your now? The greatest shortcut to happiness is to do whatever you can to uplift those around you. Giving feels good. Being seen and understood, cherished and celebrated not in spite of, but because of, all our flaws and all our beauty is a great gift, and it’s beautiful to give that to other people, too. Listening deeply, caring with your whole being, these things feel amazing and they’re available, every day. You can get caught up in your plans and ideas, you can join in the race, but I really think the better focus is the moments. How can you love with your whole heart, today?

If you’re brave enough to get quiet, to sit up tall for a few minutes, and to feel yourself breathing in and breathing out, you will feel a connection to everyone and everything. That simple act will bring you right into the now, and now is where you need to be if you want to feel love, joy, gratitude and peace. You can’t be in yesterday or tomorrow, you have to be in this moment. Being present feels good. You don’t need to buy anything in order to experience that calm, that steadiness. If you want answers, they don’t reside in a place or in another person. The answers you need are always inside, and those are the only answers you’re going to get. Ultimately, you have to make sense out of this world yourself. If you take the time to create peace within you, you’ll experience it around you, and you’ll be spreading it wherever you go. We have tremendous power to affect the way our lives feel. Of course there are devastating things that can happen to any of us, but it’s how we face what we’re given.

We experience our life as if it has a beginning, middle and end. We treat this like it’s our personal story, but that isn’t it. We’re joining a much larger story. We’re in the flow, and then we’re out of it. The flow goes on without us, although what we contribute while we’re here certainly affects it, and those ripples continue on. But it’s not your story, or mine. There are currently about seven billion of us contributing to this dance. What kind of dance are you doing while you’re here?

Being present means we’re opening to things as they are and trying to come back with love. We can focus on everything we don’t have, or we can direct our attention to those gifts we do have. Part of quieting the storm that rages in the mind involves choosing the thoughts that will strengthen us. Yes, there are things that can make us sick from the outside, but a lot of the time it’s our own thinking that’s causing us to suffer. We can argue about all kinds of things, but it’s pointless. We’re all in this mystery together. We can get caught up in names, borders, colors, religions and opinions, but love is the best answer you’re going to get.

Sending you some right now,

Ally Hamilton

Life Doesn’t Happen On Paper

allypaperI get a lot of emails from people struggling with a relationship or a job that just doesn’t feel right anymore, and it seems the people who have the hardest time are the ones who feel like nothing is really “wrong”. When we’re being mistreated, it’s pretty clear; we know we’re going to have to make a move, and probably sooner than later, but when there isn’t a definable problem, and it’s just a feeling of restlessness or uncertainty, it can be hard to know what to do.

Here’s the thing: no one else can figure that out for you. We all have that inner voice, that inner knowing, our intuition. Sometimes it gets lost in the din of all our relentless thoughts. The mind is obsessive and redundant, and it will play over the same stuff endlessly, a spinning hamster-wheel of ideas, shoulds, fears, what-ifs and if-onlys. They say we have 50,000 thoughts a day (and who are “they” and how do they know?!), but I really wonder how many of them are the same thoughts. Probably a lot. All that white noise can make it very hard to hear the quiet voice that knows what you need. I really think most of the time we do know. We might not be ready to face or accept what we know, because if we do, it means change is coming, and sometimes we aren’t ready to wrap our heads around that just yet, but I think we know.

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between intuition, and our attachment to a particular outcome. Do we really feel this is the right move “in our gut”, or are we blinded by our need for things to go a certain way? The easiest way to tell which you’re dealing with is to identify the quality of the feelings that come up. If it’s your intuition, you might feel scared, or you might feel dread about what you have to do, but underneath that there will also be relief. Agonizing over decisions and choices can be brutal. Finally accepting what you need, even if you’re scared, ought to be comforting underneath it all. There’s a “rightness” about it. When it’s attachment to a particular outcome, the feeling underneath is more likely to be desperation or anxiety.

Sometimes we look for signs to tell us what to do. Allow me to say that looking for a sign IS a sign. If you’re so sad or scared or desperate that you’re asking for signs, it’s probably time to make some kind of change, even if it’s just with the way you’re communicating.

The thing is, listening to your intuition simplifies everything. When we’re going against what we know in our hearts to be true for us, we’re also betraying ourselves, and we’re swimming upstream–it’s exhausting. Of course you want to think about the way your actions will impact the people you hold dearest, but you can’t live your life in guilt, or feel pity for your partner, or try to nurture people when you’re totally depleted, and expect life to feel good. A relationship doesn’t thrive on martyrdom. Any healthy relationship is built on communication, trust, vulnerability and openness.

Sometimes it’s really hard to make a shift. A young man sent an email last year, and he was in a state of total desperation and confusion. His parents had put him through medical school. His dad had worked two jobs, and taken out a second mortgage to make it possible for his son to finish school. He was in his last year, and he realized he didn’t want to be a doctor. It had never been his dream. It was something his parents had wanted for him, with the best of intentions and a ton of love, but it was not what he wanted for himself. The guilt he felt was crushing, but you can’t live your life to satisfy other people, you really need to move in the direction that feeds your soul. What kind of doctor are you going to be if your heart isn’t in it? How well are you going to treat your patients? Sometimes your course of action won’t make sense to anyone. People in your life might call you nuts or any number of things, but your job is to be at peace, and to offer up your particular gifts, and to follow the pull of your heart. Believe me, I don’t say that without compassion for his parents. They thought he wanted what they wanted him to want. They didn’t realize the pressure he felt, or that it was their dream and not his.

Almost every time I’ve really made a mess of things, it was because I didn’t follow my intuition. I think there are always “red flags”, or that “sixth sense”, and sometimes we ignore those feelings because we’re so attached to another person, or an idea we have about how things should or could go, and so we move forward, anyway, even though we feel a little sick or unsettled inside. There’s no rug big enough to cover over your despair or heartbreak. You don’t want to sweep that stuff under anything, anyway. Life is too short for that. Find a way to get quiet, so there’s some space between the thoughts. Yoga and seated meditation are brilliant for that. You can practice with me right now, here. Then the feelings can arise between those thoughts and “shoulds” and, “can’ts”, and you can figure out which way to go.

Wishing that for you, and sending love,

Ally Hamilton

Closure Doesn’t Save Us from Grief

goodbyehelloMost of us torture ourselves at some point or another looking for closure regarding a heartbreak. Sometimes it’s something that’s happened with a family member or close friend, often it happens when we’re grieving the loss of a romantic relationship. Here’s the thing. There are some situations we’ll never understand, and our best hope for closure is acceptance of that fact.

It’s completely understandable that we’d want to know why something has happened that’s caused a rift or a split, especially when we feel devastated, bereft, confused and untethered. When these things are left shrouded in mystery, it’s so hard to let go. Sometimes we can’t wrap our heads around why someone is doing what they’re doing, because we’re on the wrong end of displaced rage. Sometimes we’re dealing with someone who’s coming from a totally different place philosophically or emotionally, and we just can’t comprehend what would make a person do, say, want or need whatever it is they’re doing, saying, wanting or needing. Sometimes we’ve blown it, and no matter how much we might apologize, the door is shut with no hope for communication or healing.

Some people communicate well, and others really struggle. There are many people who have a difficult time putting words to their feelings, and sometimes resentment or despair is mounting for ages, and one day it blows up all over the place, leaving us to wonder what’s happened, and why something so small has caused an apocalypse. We only know other people, even those closest to us, to the extent that they allow us to know them. You will only know the interior world of another person if they choose to share it with you. Sometimes, for some people, the truth feels too painful to speak, or it requires the speaker to confront weaknesses or anger they aren’t ready to face. If that’s the case, you’ve cornered a person, and even if you’ve done so inadvertently, it’s not surprising that they’ve lashed out. You can’t force a person to tell you what’s going on in their heart of hearts.

This is like a small version of how we feel when we lose someone through death. We can’t and don’t have all the answers we long for, we don’t have the information that would soothe and reassure us. We are left to hold a space in our hearts for someone we once loved. We’re invited to let the trace of that love soften us instead of harden us. We can carry some of the good stuff forward with us. We can hope this person who’s lost to us is okay, and that they know they were loved. Eventually, we’ll have to accept that some questions will simply go unanswered, and that we’ll move forward, allowing the questions to inspire us to do that with love and compassion for ourselves and other people.

When you’ve done all you can, you have to release your grip on the story, and allow it to unfold on its own. Time does not heal all wounds, but it does lessen the piercing pain of loss. Time also invites us to stop clinging and start living again. You don’t want to lose too much of today making yourself sick over what happened yesterday, last week, or last year. The day is calling, and it has its own fresh mysteries and beautiful potential. Breathe in and breathe out, and trust your heart to heal.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Make Better Mistakes

failureexperienceOften people think of their weaknesses or mistakes as failings or short-comings, when really, they’re just places where there’s still some healing or growing to do. If you notice patterns in your life, repeated choices you’re making that aren’t serving you, it’s actually a good thing, because we can’t change anything that’s happening outside our awareness, and many habits fall into that category.

A habit can be a habitual way of thinking about yourself that weakens you, such as, “No one likes me.” This idea may be so ingrained, you’ve come to accept it as the way of things, but if you dig a little, and get yourself some support, you’ll find you can choose a completely different thought. You could flip that idea around and say, “I’m longing for connection. I want to be seen and known and cherished, and that’s a beautiful and natural thing to desire.” Or, “I have deep doubts about my worth, and it’s time to figure out when and why that began.” Then you can get to work figuring out how to let down your defenses and reach out more. How to move outside your comfort zone, and let some love in.

The thing is, when we look back and try to organize our lives into lists of successes and failures, we really lose an opportunity to grow. I hear people describe shame when they get divorced, for example, because they feel like they failed, but usually, so much growth comes out of a situation that falls apart. Obviously no one would ask for heartbreak like that, but it isn’t a failure. It might even be a triumph, if you looked a piercingly painful situation in the eye and decided to release your grip on a story that wasn’t and isn’t yours to write. Perhaps you and your ex needed to release each other, so something beautiful and truthful could emerge. That isn’t a failure.

Maybe you quit a job with financial security to pursue your dreams, and everyone told you you were nuts. Maybe you had to downsize and simplify, but now you’re happy. Now you wake up excited about the day, and grateful to be alive. Not a failure.

Maybe you’ve had a series of romantic relationships that have ended badly. Maybe you have intense fear of commitment, or you find it hard to stay with one person because the grass always looks greener. Maybe you’ve hurt people because you’re in pain. The real issue isn’t what’s happened, it’s what you’re going to do about it. As long as you keep learning and growing and understanding more about yourself and other people, as long as you’re doing the best you can to be true to yourself without hurting anyone else, you’ll do fine. I think it’s a realistic goal to try to make better mistakes as you go along. It’s not that you’re looking for this moment when you’ll be “done”, because that doesn’t happen until your final exhale; it’s that you’re taking the information from each situation, regardless of the outcome, and learning from it. If you’ve hurt people in the past due to your fear or your anger or your confusion, you grapple with all that stuff, so that you don’t continue to hurt people out in front of you in those same ways.

Sometimes we set completely unrealistic goals for ourselves, or we have some very definite picture in our heads of how things should be, or how things should look or feel. Things are as they are. You can’t change what other people will do or want or say or need, but you can certainly work on how you respond. Getting down on yourself won’t get you far. Beating yourself up, or putting yourself down are two sure ways to stay right where you are, feeling awful. Apologize when you have something to be sorry about, be strong enough not to use people for your comfort, and move forward with the intent to take what you’ve learned and show up for yourself, and the people in your life, in a different way. That’s a realistic goal.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can check out my books here.

How to Stop Spiraling

pematimesSometimes our minds take us for a very unpleasant ride. We start thinking about worst-case scenarios, about all the horrendous things that could happen, terrible tragedies that could befall us or those we love. We imagine conversations that might take place, making ourselves sick as though this interaction were real, and happening now. You can raise your blood pressure with your thoughts alone.

Maybe it’s because some primal part of us is still on the alert for predators. Negativity bias has been studied at length. Our ability to recall negative experiences is greater than our ability to remember positive ones, and this has been a major survival skill we’ve needed from the beginning of time. How to stay out of harm’s way, and how to use our past experiences to recognize and try to avoid danger in our future? Is there a saber-tooth tiger around the next corner? Are we going to have to run for our lives? Will we be able to find enough food to feed our families? Whatever the reasons, the mind can get snagged easily on the negative, even though most of us can go to the store to buy our kale, and are unlikely to find ourselves on the wrong side of a hungry tiger.

It’s not just mortal peril we obsess over. We’ve extended this sense of imminent danger to include ways we’ve been slighted, wronged, betrayed, and disappointed. We can focus on all the things we don’t have yet, and wonder why other people have them. We can dwell on all the ways we don’t measure up, all the mistakes we’ve made, all the dire consequences we’ve brought down upon ourselves.

If you find yourself spiraling in this way, chances are you’re feeling vulnerable, and one of the best ways to disrupt the cycle is to turn your attention to your breath. I know that sounds absurdly simple, and it is. It’s just not easy to catch yourself, but when you do, when you become aware that you’re in the midst of self-created agony, try placing one hand on your heart, the other on your belly. Slow down and deepen your breath, seeing if you can fill your belly first, and follow the inhale up into your chest. If this is new for you, being horizontal might be helpful, but you can definitely do this at your desk if you need to. Hold the inhale in for a beat, and then exhale slowly, emptying your chest first, then your belly, and hold the breath out for a beat. Focus on a complete out-breath. Then inhale again. Repeat the cycle several times. If you feel very anxious, see if you can go for sixty breaths. In this way, you’ll calm your nervous system; you have the power to do that. By focusing on your breath, you’ll train your mind on something real, something that is happening in the now. You’ll become present.

With presence, you can start to choose different thoughts. You can remind yourself of everything you do have. Maybe you have dreams, gifts to share, ideas that are particular to you, and grow from your own experiences in this life. Maybe you might remind yourself of some of your good traits, some kind things you’ve done. You might think about all the ways things could go right. You could imagine a conversation you want to have, and you could envision it happening with love and compassion. When we come back to the now, we also give ourselves the power to choose one thought over another, and then we can pick the thoughts that will strengthen us instead of weaken us. We can imagine for ourselves and for our loved ones, all the amazing scenarios that might unfold.

Your life is made up of moments. Worrying about what might happen in the future won’t change anything, it will just rob you of this moment. Dwelling on what’s already happened won’t change anything, it will only rob you of this moment. In this moment, there is the potential for whatever is real for you right now: joy, peace, grief, heartache, rage, envy, shame, fear, hope. There’s enormous power in being with what is, and in not allowing yourself to spiral into your past or into your imagined future. When you “stop the tape”, you give your mind a rest, and everything works better with rest. Then you might find some clarity, and an easier time figuring out what the next right step is.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If you like the posts, you can find my books here <3

Obsessive Thinking

Let-each-one-mind-hisSometimes we “boil ourselves” as my meditation teacher used to say. Something has happened, or is happening, and we obsess and spiral and get so caught up dwelling on this unwanted turn of events, we lose hours and create incredible stress and pain for ourselves.

This happens frequently around breakups, or in the context of acrimonious relationships. We feel rejected, judged or completely misunderstood, and we go over the details like a detective trying to solve a case. Where was the moment? What was that one thing we said or did that turned the tides and changed things forever? Or we tell and retell our story of how many different ways we were wronged so many times, it becomes mythic. We get caught up in defending ourselves, as if the other person’s opinion is true, even if we know in our hearts it is not. (If you need help snapping out of obsessive thinking, if you’re stuck in a cycle with yourself or someone else that’s causing you pain, check out my Make the Shift Challenge, here.

We might replay a conversation that’s already happened, rewriting our lines again and again until we’ve had the perfect comeback in every moment, or we’ve said just the right thing to make everything turn out the way we wish it would. Or we might imagine a conversation that hasn’t happened yet, and get ourselves worked up as though it’s happening exactly this way, right now.

Your nervous system can’t differentiate between a painful conversation you’re actually having, or one you’re rewriting or creating in your head. If your breath is shallow and your blood pressure is going up and your shoulders are around your ears and your jaw is clenching, does it really matter if it’s a fantasy? Your thoughts create chemical reactions in your body. So allowing yourself to fixate on something outside your control can really take a toll. And if it’s happening for an extended period of time, like you find yourself dwelling on your recent ex and what they’re doing, and with whom they’re doing it, it’s really time to pick your mind up and come back to the now. Otherwise it’s like story hour, except the librarian is drunk and angry, and the doors are locked.

You can’t redo the past, and you can’t predict the future. You can make yourself sick trying to time-travel, though. There’s no point making yourself nauseated over the great relationship your ex is now having with someone else. Maybe it’s great, and maybe it’s a mess, or maybe they’re three weeks in and getting swept away by hormones, thinking, “This is it!!” People do that all the time, and then when the dust/lust clears, things get real. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter. Your work is always to manage your own mind, heart, choices and actions. If the quality of your thoughts is causing you pain, you have to come back to nurturing yourself.

Loss, fear, grief, rejection, jealousy, insecurity, loneliness, shame and guilt are not easy to lean into, but that’s the best way to release the heat of your pain. Remembering that feelings are not forever, and they aren’t facts, either, can be enormously helpful. How you feel now is not how you will always feel. Opening to things as they are is empowering and liberating. Releasing your grip on the story and the players, and allowing people to be who they are as the plot unfolds the way it will, is the strongest stance I know. I’m not saying you shouldn’t fight for things, or stand up for yourself or others when that’s the right thing to do. Honest communication is always good. Being able to express how things are for you, calmly, and with compassion is beautiful. That’s really the best you can do.

People can only be where they are. They have the tools they have. You’re not going to save someone with your love. You’re not going to teach someone the error of their ways. We all have to do our own journeys. Wishing you strength, love, and the hope that you’ll stop boiling yourself if you have been. Love feels a lot better. Ally Hamilton

Leave Nothing in the Tank

Death-is-a-challenge-ItThe tendency to look around and compare and contrast our lives, our accomplishments, our troubles, against someone else’s is not always easy to quiet. Those feelings of being on the outside looking in, of thinking other people seem to be having an easier time, of wondering whether we measure up, can be brutal. I get so many emails from people in pain. People who have a dream they don’t pursue because some voice inside doubts they could ever pull it off.

Fear and doubt are perfectly natural feelings. It’s what you do with them that determines whether you will or won’t live your life in alignment with what you feel and know in your heart will bring you peace, happiness, joy and meaning. Sometimes we’re so scared, we just toe the line. Make the safe choice. But life isn’t some linear thing. There’s no quid pro quo. You can do everything “right”, and still, your life could be turned on its head on a random Wednesday morning, without warning. We’re here, and we don’t know how much time we’ve got, or what happens next. We’re here and we have the capacity to love each other, which makes us vulnerable. We’re here, and some of us are dealt one set of cards, some another. You’ve got, what? 70, 80, 90, 100 years if you’re lucky. That’s not a lot of time, in the best case scenario. How much of it are you going to allow to pass you by because you’re scared of being judged? Scared you’ll never meet your potential? Scared it will come and go before you can get it together?

Envy is a terrible feeling that suggests we are less than. When we’re envious, we’re also assuming a lot. Things may look easy from outside a person’s life, but everyone has pain, and everyone struggles. You may encounter someone who’s worked through a lot of their anguish, and has figured out how to live life in a way that feels good to them. But maybe if you’d met them five years ago, you’d have thought they were a mess. Or maybe things look shiny and perfect from where you’re standing, but the reality is completely different. It really doesn’t matter. I mean, it would be great if we could all wish the best for each other. It’s not like someone else’s success diminishes your chances of realizing your dreams.

And I suppose we ought to define our terms. To me, success is having people in your life who see you clearly and love you for who you are. People you can have entire conversations with, just through a glance. People you love with your whole heart. It’s also finding personal meaning and purpose, figuring out what it is that lights you up, and then pursuing it, because even the pursuit feels right. Even the journey itself is enough. Uncovering your own particular gifts and sharing them freely, because doing that fulfills you and makes you feel grateful. So that on any given day, if the rug were pulled out from under you, you could say you loved with everything you had. You left nothing in the tank. I think if you have any or all of these things going on, you’re a success.

But we’re slammed with messages all day, every day about what society defines as successful. Tons of money, a huge house, a really fast car, a “perfect body”. It’s all external stuff. All you have to do is look at Hollywood to understand none of those things will make you happy. You’re either happy on the inside, or you are not. To me, tapping into that well of love within you, and sharing it wherever you go, makes for a happy and successful life. And if you’re coming from that place, you can celebrate other people’s good fortune, even if it looks like what you want for yourself. You can let other people inspire you to put yourself out there more, to shine your light even more brightly. You can let fear stop you, or you can let it inspire you. We’re all made of the same stuff, but no one else, not a single person, is just like you. Only you can offer your particular gifts, and you don’t have all the time in the world. You’re not going to look back on your life and think, “Mine was pretty good, but THAT guy over there really had an awesome time.” You won’t care anymore. You’ll only know if you gave everything you had. If you pursued your dreams. If you loved the people in your life the best way you could. You’re not going to be counting your pennies or thinking if only your corpse could have a six-pack. Don’t waste too much time. It’s precious, and so are you. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton