What to Do When You Feel Really Vulnerable

standthereAh, vulnerability. Sometimes it stuns you and brings you into a state of gratitude for being able to love so deeply, and sometimes it makes you want to run screaming from the room. I am often stunned into gratitude by my children, and the way that I love them, and the way that I am humbled in the face of that love. If you’ve been on this planet for any length of time, then you know that you do not call the shots, you do not get to decide what life is going to put in your path, or the paths of those you cherish. You know that the parameters are outside of your domain, you get no insight into the number of days or years you have here, and the same holds true for everyone you hold dear, and my god, if that does not make you acknowledge your own fragility, I don’t know what will. I’m usually inspired by that. I really try to leave nothing in the tank on any given day, and by that I mean I try to make sure the people in my life know how I feel about them without any doubt by the time I put my head on the pillow. That’s a day well spent.

I share anything I’ve learned along the way that might be useful (and was often learned as the result of a poor choice that led to a painful lesson), and even the stuff that is messy or not quite figured out yet, because I think we all feel better when we realize we are not alone in this thing. I am not drawn toward people who try to wrap things up in a neat little package because life is not neat, humans are not neat, and many of the things we feel cannot be tied up with a ribbon and deposited in the “isn’t this grand?” file. I want to know what your mess is, what your fears are, what keeps you up at night, or stuck in a job or relationship that’s crushing the soul out of you, because we have all been there, and when we talk about this stuff, it’s a relief; we realize everyone is human. Otherwise everyone walks around feeling alienated, like they’re the only loser who can’t seem to get this life thing “right.” When you lay your stuff on the table, you see it’s the same stuff everyone else unpacks, it’s just got your own fingerprints on it, your own particular spin. Think you aren’t worthy of love, that there’s something essentially broken about you? Yeah, I’ve been there. Think there are things that you’ve done that are so shameful you have to keep them hidden, even from your closest friends? I’ve also been there. Know what happens when you edit yourself because you’re afraid of what people might think? You feel like a fraud. I’ve been there, too.

Maybe you’re enraged and you feel like your pain is someone else’s fault, but that’s going to keep you stuck. You’re better off making friends with your pain, and dwelling less on how you accrued it. Regardless of whose fault it is, your pain can teach you a lot about who you are and what you need to be at peace. Nothing brings your pain and fear to the surface like an intimate relationship. When you start to get close to another person, when you start to share in a real way, in a deep way, in an unguarded way, you give that person the roadmap to hurt you if they wish. So you want to be careful about the people you draw close because your heart is precious and you don’t want to be reckless with it, any more than you’d want someone you love to be reckless with theirs. You cannot get close to people if you won’t drop your guard. This applies to friendships, familial relationships, and romantic ones, which tend to be the most triggering.

Self-study is part of the yoga practice, and it’s at the heart of any spiritual practice. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t be accountable for the things you do and say; you won’t know what’s driving you. Even if you do that work, it doesn’t mean your stuff won’t come up, it just means you’ll have the insight to recognize when it’s happening, and the tools to deal with it and sit with it, instead of acting out and having to clean up the messes behind you, if and when you can. You save yourself a lot of heartache when you can lean into your discomfort instead of trying to deny it, run from it, or numb it out.

I’m having one of those days today. Feeling weird about a situation in my life and like I want to jump out of my body for a little while, because I am just so uncomfortable. But since I can’t jump out of my body, I’ve just been trying to be kind to myself all day, and stay focused on everything that is beautiful and wonderful in my life, which is a lot, while also giving myself permission to feel confused and unsettled. Part of me can laugh a little because for f&ck’s sake, I’m not eighteen, and I’ve been through this so many times it’s not new territory. Getting close to someone new, or even thinking about doing that takes guts and a willingness to wait and see, and sometimes that is really hard, walking that line. Letting your guard down, but not too much. Feeling things out, and keeping your eyes open. Trying not to control the outcome, but just letting it unfold, and then watching as all your “friends” come out to wreak a little havoc. Fear of Abandonment wants to play hopscotch! Fear of Rejection just sat down on the couch and wants to have tea! Fear of Commitment wants to take a spin on the dance floor! Defensive Debbie thinks coffee with someone else is a fine idea, because screw this vulnerability thing! I just have to laugh and shake my head and feel thankful that I have a yoga practice and a meditation practice, and the ability to distance myself from my thoughts so I can look at them without necessarily believing them. Time solves most mysteries. People show you who they are, you just have to be willing to see them. When you feel vulnerable, the best thing to do is sit with that feeling. If you struggle with that, try this. It works for me!

Sending you lots of love, and a little chuckle. We humans are funny, aren’t we?

Ally Hamilton

being-present

Let’s Not Give Up on Each Other

eachotherThe last few days have been painful in our country, but in all fairness, for many people the pain has been real and heartbreaking for years. I needed a couple of days to process, because I was shocked by the result of our election on Tuesday, and in that shock, I needed time to recognize and think about  my own ignorance. When half the country votes in a way you never saw coming, you understand you have been out of touch with a huge segment of the population.

 

 

I am not confused about the pain in our country, and I was not unaware of it. Rampant gun violence, black men being shot by the police, women being paid $.80 for every dollar a man makes, I mean, you have to be asleep to miss the fact that we are not living as the country we purport to be. This is not the land of the free, everyone is not equal, and working your ass off does not mean you are going to realize the American dream, or even guarantee health insurance or a college education for yourself or your family. People are tired and angry and frustrated. Many feel unrepresented, disenfranchised, and enraged.

 

This election season has been the ugliest I’ve ever lived through; I have never seen anything like it, and hope I never do again. As a country, we embarrassed ourselves on the world stage. The level of conversation was so low, it is hard to fathom how it could have dropped any lower. In my view, the hatred, rage and fear that were enflamed were done so intentionally. There’s plenty of it out there, I just did not realize how much, and that is the part that has shocked me and broken my heart. I think a lot of people feel the system is broken, Washington is owned by rich people who don’t give a shit about them, and all politicians are liars and cheats. It seems half the country felt the best idea was to send in somebody from outside the system to blow things up from the inside. I really get that, I just don’t believe this was the right somebody. I understand frustration. I understand distrust, we all do. The problem for me is many-fold.

 

Hate speech against minorities and women is absolutely never okay in my book. Ever. That is not leadership, that is bigotry, racism, sexism and misogyny. When you rile people up in that way, when you feed on the worst in us, you never bring out the best. The people who feel heartbroken right now are heartbroken about that, it isn’t even the political piece. The people who are afraid right now are the people who have been watching and listening to the kind of speech that makes us all wonder what is going to happen now. Whose rights are going to be violated, or taken away completely? We were already in trouble, and now we wonder, can this person who said such hateful things about so many of us, any of us who aren’t white Christian men, possibly bring our torn country together again? Or shall we prepare ourselves to watch everything we hold dearest go up in flames?

 

It is too easy to label anyone who voted differently than you as crazy or ignorant. I know it’s tempting. I understand some of us are absolutely flabbergasted, but what’s vitally important to grasp, is that the people who voted differently feel the same way about you. They cannot fathom how you don’t see what they see. They cannot understand why you don’t feel the way they feel. When we don’t even try to understand, to find a thread of commonality, we’re lost to each other. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t feel your fear. I feel it. I’m concerned about our Supreme Court. I’m worried that the hate speech we heard will become commonplace. I am scared for my children, especially my daughter. My son is a white, blonde, blue-eyed kid, and he cried his eyes out Tuesday night. It hurt me to see my child affected that way, but it also gave me hope. His tears were not political, his tears were emotional. He has friends at school who are worried their parents are going to be deported while they’re playing handball at recess. He understands compassion already, at ten. He does not understand racism or sexism or bullying, it makes no sense to him, or to my daughter, and I hope it never does. His tears pained me, but they also comforted me, and that’s the first time my child’s tears have ever done that. We need the next generations to come up and fix the things we’ve gotten so wrong.

 

I know we want to point fingers and lay blame and separate ourselves from each other. The Canadian immigration website crashed Tuesday night. I saw many people posting about Australia. I, myself, thought maybe now would be a good time to go to Ireland, which has been singing a siren song to me for years. Calexit was looking good to me. The truth is, though, I would never leave right now. We need to stay and work this out, and we will not get there in fear. We will not get there by labeling half our country as insane. We will not get there by only worrying about our own families and our own lives. We are each other’s keepers and we have not been doing a good job. We have not been hearing each other, but my God, we are hearing each other now. Don’t scream into the void. Don’t join the hatred and rage. Try not to label and villainize people, it won’t help anyone. Try to understand, try to listen, try to hope. Take action where you can, and where you feel called to do so. Fight for the things that are meaningful to you, speak out whenever you see someone or something that insults your soul. Treat your neighbor as the family member she is. Understand that we are one people on one planet, and no one can change that or take that from us. Where you don’t understand that, pause and reflect. You get to decide how you’re going to rise up in this situation, and who you’re going to be. We’ve had dark days in our country before, and we will get through this together.

 

Sending you love, and a big hug,

 

Ally Hamilton

 

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Surprise!

A-mind-is-like-aLife always has plenty of surprises in store for us. We make our plans, and then, BAM! Something totally unforeseen happens. Sometimes these are good surprises–perhaps we meet someone who amazes us in every way, on a random Tuesday when we were just going about our business. Other times they’re challenging–we lose a job, or even worse, a whole person. We are given opportunities to practice for the unexpected every day, so that when the big twists and turns come, we aren’t knocked over by life.

The birth of anything is the death of something else. Each moment comes to an end so a new moment can arise. We contract against change, we fear the unknown, and yet, this is the one constant in life: everything is always in a state of flux. Things change, people change, our feelings change, the seasons change, you have already changed while reading this.

I try to experience the unwelcome surprises in my life as invitations to open and breathe. I don’t always succeed, of course, but I try. And I’m grateful to my yoga practice for that, because that’s less time spent suffering. There is always something to learn, and there’s no doubt challenge helps us grow. That doesn’t mean we have to be grateful for everything that happens along the way; some things will rip your heart out of your chest and bring you to your knees. But always, we have the opportunity to learn and evolve and open.

There is no pain-free birthing process, whether we’re birthing a person into this world, or we’re struggling toward a new way of being. Let the pain open you. Pause, breathe, acknowledge. When you’re ready, get up. There’s a lot of beauty in life. This is why we don’t want to resist the difficult parts. What we resist, persists, as the saying goes. Persist in love. Life feels better that way. Sending you some right now, and wishing you strength, grace and ease as you open to the surprises around the corner, Ally Hamilton

A Matter of Degree

Find-a-place-insideLife is complicated and messy sometimes. It doesn’t take much to land yourself in a challenging set of circumstances; one poor choice is often all it takes. But the reality is, we all have our stuff. Some people have more than others, but I know very few people who get through 80-100 years without some serious difficulty along the way. In fact, I don’t know anyone.

What we’re talking about is degree. Break-ups are painful. Divorce is harder. Divorce with children is even more devastating. This is not to say that a heartbreak where there wasn’t a marriage is not brutal. This is not a contest about who wins the prize for suffering the most, because who would want that award? The reason divorce is harder than your average break up is because you have so many people to tell. You’ve stood up in front of everyone you know and you’ve taken vows. Now you have to acknowledge to yourself and everyone else that you are not able to keep the promises you made, and that hurts. In most cases, you’ve asked people to make a huge effort on your behalf—to travel so they can bear witness to this big decision you’ve made, to drop whatever is happening in their lives so they can be there for you. There’s a feeling of accountability around it. There are two families involved. Sometimes there’s the merging of money. So there’s your heartbreak, and then there’s all this other stuff, too. With children in the mix, you can take all of that stuff I just mentioned, and add to it your fear that your inability to keep your promise is going to cause pain to the people you love most in the world. Along with a million other things that can happen, and all the complications that arise for everyone when you have to go down that path. Losing people we love because we grow apart or can no longer tolerate certain treatment, or because we’ve had a misunderstanding, will cause us grief. Losing someone through death will cause even more because the possibility of seeing them, holding them, hearing them, touching them…it’s gone. So it’s a matter of degree, and it’s how we’re going to work with the pain. You can make it your enemy, or you can make it your friend and your teacher.

Sometimes situations are hard to navigate because the boundaries are always shifting; what worked at one point no longer does, and the peace we’d found is lost again. So be it. The river flows, and we have to flow with it. The more we contract against our feelings, the more we suffer. The more we deny reality or try to convince ourselves or other people that everything is okay, or we are okay when it isn’t and we aren’t, the more we compound our pain. There’s no pain-free option, so get over that. Pain is part of life, but you don’t have to feed it or help it to grow. If you’re going to feed something, feed love. Life will feel a lot better that way. Sometimes we make mistakes and we’re going to pay the price and that is called growing up. You may not like where you find yourself, but if you can look back and recognize that your actions and choices have landed you where you are, then you can grow from the experience and create something new. Beauty can grow out of pain. Nothing comes from nothing. That’s really the issue. Not whether you’re going to have any issues, but what you’re going to do, or not do about them.

Sometimes the pain comes from the outside. Maybe we love an addict. That’s brutal because addiction takes hostages, and it does not care how kind they are. All I’m saying is that human beings are complex and life is complex and a lot of what determines how much we’re going to suffer, and how much we’re going to be at peace, is nuance, attitude and perseverance. A spiritual practice gives you a foundation, so when times are good you have the tools to receive the gifts and take nothing for granted, and when times are tough you have some ground to stand on in that rain. In between the highs and lows, you also recognize there is no such thing as an ordinary day.

Also, there’s this: nothing comes from nothing, and nothing dies. Before the big bang, there was something. I don’t know what it was, but there was something. It’s the old chicken or the egg question, but it’s one or the other. There was a chicken, or there was an egg. There was something. You might have your birth certificate with the time of your birth stamped as the moment you took your first big inhale, but you existed before that moment. In fact, you’d already had a profound experience, a journey through the birth canal. And before that, you were in your mother’s womb, and in your mother and father before that, and in all your ancestors. You would not exist without them, you were in them, they are in you, and when you die, you will not be nothing, no matter what you believe. If you decide to be buried or cremated, eventually you will become part of the earth, you’ll be watered by the rain, you’ll grow into the trees and into the air and toward the sun. Your soul, if you believe in souls, will go on its own journey. But even if you don’t believe there’s something essential that goes on, you will not be nothing. You can never be nothing. It’s a miracle you’re here, scientific or otherwise, it’s a miracle any of us are here. And I say all this to you, because so much of our trouble comes from our strong identification with the body we’re in, with our names and our jobs and our weight and our hair color, and our huge fear that we are going to die and become nothing. This is why we cling. This is why we struggle and try to control and force. This is why we forget to live sometimes.

So what if you’ve made a mess of it? Most people do at some point. Clean it up, that’s all. You’re here. You have the capacity to love. You’re changing every second, whether you want to or not, so why not change in the ways that are going to help you to heal and thrive? Things do not have to be perfect in order for you to give freely from your heart, and have a positive impact on the world around you. If you wait for things to be perfect, you will spend most of your life waiting, because perfection comes in moments, and they’re easy to miss if you’re stuck in rage and blame and shame, or you’re numbing yourself out. There’s so much love. There’s so much beauty. Your heart can expand and so can your mind. You are not stuck. You are not nothing. You are everything. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Don’t Die on the Inside

A-coward-is-incapable-ofIf you want people to know you, you have to be willing to show yourself. You can’t lie, deflect, manipulate or play games, and also expect to feel close to anyone. But for so many people, fear seems to get in the way. Most of us long for connection, for shared experiences, for genuine intimacy, but then we sabotage any hope for those things by hiding our true selves, our real needs and desires. People do it in relationships all the time. They fall in love with someone, or they get hooked on an unhealthy dynamic and think it’s love. And they accept far less than what they truly want, and pretend to themselves and to their partners that it’s okay. That less is enough. That all is well.

A lot of people struggle with self-doubt. I’d say that’s a normal part of being human, and if you never doubt yourself, you’re probably in some trouble. Uninterrupted confidence that you’ve got everything figured out is not a great sign. But if doubt is an overriding issue, if you aren’t sure you’re lovable, if you fear you might not be worthy of respect or consideration, or you ask yourself questions like, “Who am I to do anything extraordinary?”, then you’re going to have a very hard time being close to people. Because in order to be close, you also have to be brave enough to expose the parts of yourself that aren’t pretty. If you fear you aren’t good enough, that you don’t measure up in some important ways, you’re going to be motivated to hide those deficiencies, not highlight them. Fear doesn’t make you brave. Of course, what you really need to do is puncture a hole in the idea that you’re less than. Because that is not real. Sometimes we learn things because they’re taught to us, and sometimes we learn things because those around us don’t have the tools to love us well. We internalize the lack as our own. Those are all lies you’ll need to unlearn if you want to free yourself from ideas that imprison you. How can anyone get in if you’ve blocked them with walls?

We all have our stuff. Our histories, our pain, our tendencies, and the way that we deal with them. If you’re constantly trying to put up a good front, or be the way you think people want you to be, then you’re going to feel alone, and rightly so. Before you can feel comfortable sharing who you really are, you have to feel comfortable with yourself. People avoid that work for years sometimes, and some people avoid it for their whole lives. You can’t solve it from the outside. No relationship will fix it if you think you might be broken. No job will ease your fears, no amount of money, no house or car or dress size. If your main house is not in order, you will take that mess with you wherever you go.

I know people who spend an inordinate amount of time promoting themselves, but underneath it, right underneath the surface, you can feel the need. “Love me, see me, tell me I’m here and I’m wonderful.” If you need that affirmation every second of every day, you are in pain. And no amount of external reassurance will solve that, because that’s what you call an inside job. No one can crash your internal hard drive but you, and that’s what you’ll need to do if you want to rewire your system. Of course that sounds scary. Most people try to keep the system running, even if they have to shore it up with denial, or numb out or keep themselves so distracted they don’t realize the system is failing. Better off to let it fail, and start doing things a different way. Some of the best stuff in life includes connection. Feeling comfortable in your own skin. Being able to love and live with your heart wide open. There are so many tools available if you need to create a new way of being, and start living your life in a way that feels good. Doing this work won’t kill you, but avoiding it makes you die on the inside, and life is too short for that. Sending you love and a hug, 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

Take Off the Armor

 

glassmanThere comes a time when you really have to put down the blame and the sad stories and take ownership of your life, and your own happiness. You can’t point fingers and expect to feel good, because you’re making yourself powerless, and that feels terrible. You can’t feed your despair and also wonder why you aren’t happy. We are all here for a blink of time. It’s not how long we have, although I hope we all have long and healthy lives, it’s what we do with the time we’re gifted. Stoking the flames of your rage and bitterness would be an awful way to go.

There are so many people living in fear. Maybe it’s the vulnerability of being human that terrifies them, but it seems they’ve decided a shield of anger is better than an open heart. Usually when you’re dealing with that kind of armor, it’s because the heart it’s protecting was so badly broken. The thing is, those breaks can harden us or soften us. Softening feels a lot better. I know people personally who seem determined to die angry, though. It’s almost like they want their tombstone to read, “My life was hard, and it wasn’t my fault,” with a list of people at fault underneath.

You can’t cuddle up with the “last word”. If you choose being right over being at peace, it’s going to be a long and lonely road. Sometimes people are afraid to put down the sad story, because who are they without it? I once met a woman with blazing eyes who told me she could not forgive her father because then he wouldn’t pay for what he’d done, but she hadn’t spoken to him in years. So who’s paying? I mean, some things are unforgivable. Sometimes you have to choose not to have someone in your life, but you can do that with rage or acceptance.

Pain makes us grow. The butterfly needs the struggle out of the cocoon to strengthen its wings. If you cut open the cocoon, it will never fly. We need the travel down the birth canal to squeeze the fluid out of our lungs so we can breathe easily. If you’ve never suffered, you can’t help people who are in pain, because pain creates empathy. Sometimes people have blinders on and they actually think their story is unique, but you know what? I hear stories from people every single day and they’re the same. Something happens when we’re young. Maybe we aren’t received with love. Maybe we learn the world is unsafe and our best bet is to be invisible or indispensable, or both, depending on the minute or the day. Maybe those experiences create doubt within us. Doubt about our own worth. That’s a very common story. That, and fear of abandonment. Also, people suffering over betrayal, abuse, cruelty. Almost every time I post someone says, “This was exactly what I needed to hear today.” Or, “Are you psychic?” I’m not psychic. We’re all so much more the same than we are different.

Your memories are yours. Your ideas, your experiences, your frame of reference, the way you’ve come to perceive the people and the world around you, all of these are unique to you, but if you start talking to people you will also find the themes are uncannily similar. The pain and struggles and fears and doubts and failures we face are universal. How we respond to them defines us.

Life is not easy. It’s incredible and wildly interesting. It’s full of moments that are so gorgeous they suck the air out of your lungs and make your heart expand simultaneously. There are events that will undoubtedly put you on the ground with your mouth full of dirt and your head full of why. In the world right now, there are bombs going off, shots being fired. Children are dying, or they’re watching their parents die. These things are happening and it’s hard to bear witness and there are no easy answers. Sometimes people are ripped from us when we aren’t done loving them. We aren’t done. It’s not a level playing field. Some people will suffer in ways that make your own heart ache. Don’t think you’re the only one. You’re not alone in this.

The thing is, you have a spark that is yours alone, and you can feed that spark until it becomes a roaring fire in your heart, and lights you up from the inside. You can give that fire that’s yours, you can give that away every day. Whether it’s a fire of rage or a fire of love is up to you, but I think we have enough rage in the world. Healing is a lot easier than being bitter and angry and isolated for eighty, ninety or one hundred years. When I say healing, that’s personal. What you’ll need to heal is something only you can determine, but I’d get on that, because life is ticking away right now, this minute. I don’t say that without compassion. It takes a lot of bravery to release an old story.

I tried life the angry way. I pointed fingers and made my unhappiness and frustration and disappointment the fault of other people, but it wasn’t. Things happen and they shape you, but none of us is in a time warp unless we choose to be. The earth keeps spinning, and it will continue to do so long after we’re gone. Take hold of the one thing you can—how you’re going to show up, what you’re going to offer. May all beings be free from suffering.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

 

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