That’s How the Light Gets In

leonardcohenI remember the morning my mom told me my dad didn’t live with us anymore. I was almost four, and we were sitting at the dining room table at breakfast, and she told me he was going to be living somewhere else, and that eventually I would visit him there. I went into their bedroom, and looked through all his drawers and closets. His denim shirts were gone, his sun lamp was gone, and so were the styrofoam heads that held his different wigs; he was an actor. When I saw he’d left his robe, I thought he’d have to come back, but I was wrong.


It had been a confusing time already. My beloved grandma had died the week before, and I’d been too young to visit in her hospital room that last day, which was probably good. I remember my grandma laughing, and hugging me, full of life. But suddenly it seemed people were disappearing, and not peripheral players, either. We’d seen my grandma almost every day of my life. She and my mom were really close. She and I were really close. It amazes me to think about the impact she’s had on my life, and to realize I didn’t even get four full years with her. Now my dad had gone to some unknown place, and I had no real sense of time. I don’t know how my mom got through that conversation with me without crying.

For years, I lived in fear of being left. I didn’t realize I was doing this, of course, but it’s obvious in the rear-view mirror. I tried to be a good girl. I thought if I got straight-A’s and looked right and behaved well, then maybe I’d be safe, and that followed me into my adulthood. I entered into relationships with people not thinking about what I wanted or needed, or even if I was having fun, but solely focused on how I could be perfect for them; how I could make myself indispensable. Un-leave-able.

I’m sharing this with you not because it’s a heartbreaking tale. I hear worse stories every day. Lots of people get divorced (not that it makes it easy on the children involved), lots of people lose their grandparents. The proximity in my case was unfortunate because it was like a bomb went off, or an earthquake shook the foundation of what I’d known, but my parents had been keeping up appearances because my grandma was sick that last year, and they didn’t want her to worry. I know someone who watched his father die at eight years old while they were playing. I know someone who’s dad left when she was seven and never looked back. I can’t even wrap my head around how you could leave your kid and never look back. And then there are stories of abuse and neglect and all kinds of things that would leave you on your knees. My point in sharing is that our pain does not just magically disappear. If we don’t examine it when we become conscious adults, it swims beneath the surface of everything we do, wreaking havoc on our lives, and life doesn’t have to be that way. We all want to heal. We all want to be happy. We wrote it into our Declaration of Independence, so there’s not much doubt that we value happiness. It’s just that the large majority of us will seek to heal in all the ways that make things worse.

Because we long to heal, we call into our lives those dynamics that reflect our deepest wounds. Most of the time, we don’t even know we’re doing that. If you’re afraid of being left, you probably have an excellent, uncanny, perverse knack for picking people who struggle to commit. This is no coincidence, because, presto! Now you have your chance to heal, right? All you have to do is get your partner to want to be with you, and that will be the balm for your original wound. Except it won’t, because if you pick people who struggle to commit, you set yourself up to be left again, thus confirming your deepest fear that you are the kind of person it’s easy to leave. Or worse, that you just aren’t worthy of love. You’re leave-able, not lovable.

There’s the hard, long road, and there’s the hard, short road. I’m not going to lie about that, those are the choices. I mean, those are the choices unless you happen to be one of the three people in the world who had idyllic childhoods, and even if you are, someone else has probably come along and broken your heart by now. Chances are, you probably have some issues, some stuff to work through like any other human, and it’s not a level playing field as I mentioned above, so what you’ll need to heal, and how long it will take and what tools you’ll use are all personal. Avoiding that work is a surefire way to prolong your pain and allow unconscious drives to rule your life. The longer you wait, the longer you suffer. There’s no reason your past has to screw up your present. You are not stuck in a time-warp.

It took me a long time and a lot of work to get right with myself, and it’s still a daily practice, but at this point, I’m in the maintenance part. Of course things come up that might tap an old wound, but the wounds have scar tissue, they aren’t raw and bleeding, and they aren’t unknown to me. They’re almost like old, familiar friends. Ah, fear of abandonment. I feel you. I see you. I tip my hat to you. But you don’t own me anymore.

If you’re an adult, and you’ve had enough time as an adult to recognize patterns in your life that aren’t serving you, I’d get on that. Tools that have worked for me are a daily yoga practice (and I mean all eight limbs), seated meditation, and therapy. If you want to try some yoga with me right now, you can go here.

I’ve also read some tremendously helpful books, and I’ve done quite a lot of journaling. There are so many tools available. It’s my personal belief that it isn’t a luxury to pursue healing modalities until you find a mix that works for you; I believe it’s your responsibility. You have this life. You have a body. You have time and energy. These things are all gifts. Then, there are your own, particular gifts that are born of your own experiences and perspective and ways of looking at the world. There’s only one of you. So if you don’t figure out how to set yourself free, you rob the world of gifts only you can bring to it. That would be a tremendous shame.

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

Grief, Healing & Connection

fallapartSometimes we grip and cling and refuse to accept reality as it is. We reject the truth. The more we contract against our experience, the more we suffer. It’s just that sometimes, reality really hurts, and our mind isn’t ready to integrate and accept it. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say our minds and our hearts aren’t ready.

We can do this in big ways and small. Maybe we’re dealing with the pain of rejection, and keep writing a script in our heads about what’s really happening, and how we’re going to get our happy ending down the line. Or maybe we’ve lost someone we don’t know how to live without, and it’s happened so suddenly, we’re in a state of shock. The limbs work, we can put one foot in front of the other, we seem okay to those around us, but inside we’re bargaining with the universe. We’re coming up with some way we might get back the person we’ve lost, as if that might be possible.

Some things are so painful, we look for another way, a different route, a formula that creates a livable outcome. We might do this by retracing our steps. If only we’d done or said “this”, maybe these other events wouldn’t have transpired, and life would still make sense. If only we could go back in time and redo one decision, perhaps that would have all kinds of implications that would save us from the current pain, and here’s the thing. When you’re dealing with those big losses, the loss of an entire person, for example, it’s a process, like anything else. It’s not something you can rush, and there isn’t any “how-to” book. You just have to move through your pain in whatever way you can, and hope that the people in your life show up for you, feed you, make sure you get a little sun on your face. Sometimes we go through experiences that make us feel we’re in a bubble, like there’s an impenetrable film between us, and everyone in the “living world”. Regina Brett has a quote, “You have to give time, time.” Time doesn’t heal every wound, but it helps lessen the crushing, incomprehensible nature of sudden grief. That waking up, and having to “re-remember” what’s happened goes away over time, because eventually you will integrate it, you will know it in your bones. You won’t wake up in the middle of the night, disoriented, panicked, feeling as though you’ve forgotten something urgent.

We deal with all kinds of losses in life. The loss of our innocence, whenever that comes. The loss of our trust when someone betrays us for the first time. The loss of the idea that we’re invincible. Sometimes we deal with the loss of our faith in ourselves, or the world at large. Losing your keys is just a moment you get to practice not panicking. Dealing with a car that won’t start is a chance to realize the things you take for granted won’t always work the way you want them to, or think they should. The more we accept that life is really another word for energy, and that energy is always in motion, the less we’ll expect things to be stable and predictable and safe. We all know we’re going to die, but that isn’t a comfortable thought, so we don’t always live like we know that. It’s as if we know, but we somehow don’t really believe it. That won’t really happen to us, or to those we love. Sometimes we live as though we have all the time in the world. We “waste” time, or “kill” time as if it isn’t precious. Death puts things in perspective. It shocks us into awareness, but grief is so overwhelming, and we don’t create a safe space for people to move through it. We’ve become so attached to positivity and light, it’s as if we’re supposed to feel ashamed when we feel dark and hopeless, like we should stay home until we’re ready to smile again. People who are grieving and need support more than ever, are often left to manage on their own, because grief reminds people of their own mortality.

None of us is going to live forever in the bodies we have right now, that much we know for sure, and we can allow ourselves to be crushed and devastated and paralyzed by that, or we can allow that to inspire us to really be living and loving and giving and seeing and listening and tasting and hugging and crying and laughing and grieving and cherishing the whole experience, every facet of it. If we’re grieving, it’s because we loved deeply, and there’s beauty in that. Some people will never allow themselves to be vulnerable that way, they’ll never really open, or let themselves be seen and understood. I don’t believe you have to feel grateful about everything that’s ever happened to you, but I do think every experience is a chance to grow and learn and soften. I think we can become more empathetic, understanding and compassionate. If we’re going to suffer from time to time, let’s at least put that suffering to good use. Let’s help each other. We don’t do that by rejecting the uncomfortable feelings. We don’t do it when we reject them internally, and we don’t do it when we refuse to meet people where they are. Most of the time, a person dealing with loss will appreciate your kindness, your presence, your thoughtfulness. These aren’t huge things to give, and at some point, we’ll all need to lean on each other.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Let Inspiration be Your Hook

thichFor many people, rejection is like a hook. They might be dating someone and feeling kind of “on the fence” about it, but if their potential partner starts to lose interest, it’s like an instant fever; now this person becomes enticing and coveted and the one they have to have. The same thing can happen with new friendships, it can happen amongst colleagues, it can even happen with strangers. If we harbor doubt about our own worth at our very core, having that doubt reflected back at us is almost intolerable. It’s like a message from the universe being delivered through this unavailable person: “It’s as you thought, you are not good enough, and you are not truly lovable.” It can be brutal.

What happens when we feel excluded, shunned, ignored, disrespected, discarded or unseen? These things never feel good, of course, but if we’re in a healthy, stable place, we can probably talk ourselves off the ledge. Not everyone is going to understand us, or see us clearly or dig our vibe, and that’s okay, it really is. Also, if a person is rude or haughty or demeaning or demanding, that’s a reflection of where they are on their own path, it’s not a reflection of anything lacking in us, but if we’re suffering from low self-esteem, if we’re having a hard time believing we’re worthy of happiness and love and peace, then feeling rejected by someone, even a stranger, can set us on the run. We might think if we can just convince this person that we’re actually amazing, then we’ll feel better, but the minute you’re in that kind of power struggle with another person (even if they have no idea it’s happening), you’re doomed because you aren’t going to be your authentic self. You’re going to be jumping around, chasing them down, waving your arms and dancing like a monkey to show how great you are, and that’s going to make you feel sick, as it should. Why should that make you feel sick? Because it’s the worst kind of betrayal; it’s the betrayal of self. It is never, ever your job to sell yourself. If someone is dismissive or unkind or unsure about whether they want to give you their time and energy, move along.

Sometimes we pick unavailable people because we have deep fear of intimacy. We think if we open and trust, we’ll surely be hurt, so we choose people who can’t commit. That’s not the only reason we might chase people who don’t have the capacity or interest to take us in, in all our entirety, with all our flaws and beauty and occasional absurdites. Sometimes a thing starts out hot and strong and we get swept up in the intensity and fall in love, only to find when the lust/dust clears, that we’ve chosen someone who could only give us their all in the beginning. Maybe we stay because we think this person is capable of being present and hot for us, and fully “in it”, because they displayed that when we started, so we wait and hope that person will show up again, but hormones and the frenzy of something new do not add up to true intimacy. That takes time, and fearlessness and commitment, and a willingness to look at our own raw, unhealed places; not everyone is up to that, and not everyone wants to do that kind of work. When we’re in love, we tend to excuse behavior that hurts, because we hope. We hope and we hope, and time passes, and we feel smaller and smaller, and more and more hurt. We feel rejected by this person who once seemed so into us, and we can’t understand how that could be, so we stay and we try and we bend over backwards and see if we can be perfect or different or better, or we see if we can accept what little is being offered, and somehow be okay with it. This is not a healthy scenario, and it isn’t good for your heart.

People change and grow, but it’s never our job to manage anyone else’s path. People are ready if and when they’re ready, and it isn’t loving to try to manipulate or force or control an outcome that we want, but our partner or friend or family member does not. Love is accepting, and sometimes that means you have to accept that what you want is just not what someone else wants, and you have to let it go, even though it hurts like hell. The alternative is not livable or sustainable. You can’t allow your light to be dimmed and your spirit to be crushed, and expect that life will feel good, or that you’ll blossom the way you could. Maybe your paths will cross in the future, or maybe something else will unfold that you never could have imagined. It’s impossible to know, but one thing you can know is that you have to be you. You really can’t compromise on that. You can make adjustments, and work with the people you love so you can coexist harmoniously, so you can respect one another’s needs and space and dreams and necessary solitude, but you can’t try to be something other than who you are, because there’s only one of you. I don’t know if I can get across how amazing that is, but there are roughly seven billion people on this planet, and yet, we only get one you, for one blaze of time. Don’t let rejection be your hook. Really, you don’t have time for that. Let inspiration be your hook. Let that be the thing that sets you off running to show what you’ve got, not because you have anything to prove, or any doubt to undo, but because you have so much to give.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Speak Out

kuhnClear communication is so important when we’re looking for understanding, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes people don’t say what they feel out of fear that the truth will hurt, that there will be repercussions for themselves or others, or because they know if they say this particular thing, the ground underneath them is sure to shift. We resist change, but it’s the only thing we can count on, and it’s the only chance we have for connection when we’re feeling misunderstood, disrespected, or unheard. Of course, when you’re sharing something with someone, you want to express yourself with as much compassion as you can muster. Hopefully, when you go to share something with someone you love, you do that because you’re hoping to be closer, you’re hoping to be seen. 

In-person communication is always the best bet when you’re expressing something that’s emotional, sensitive in nature, or has a “charge” to it. So much can get lost in translation with emails and texts. If you can’t meet face-to-face, a phone call is your next best bet; at least you can hear the person’s voice, you can hear the tone, or their voice cracking, you can hear the frustration, and the pain underneath it. Words on a screen are impersonal, people get reckless with their fingertips; they write things they’d never say. A text is not a place to break up with someone, or to express rage or despair about anything, and neither is an email. If you’re frustrated or angry, go ahead and write it down if you need to get clear about the storm that’s raging in your mind, but don’t hit “send” until you’re in a calm state of mind. Words are powerful. Once you put them out there, you can’t take them back, and some things are so hurtful, they may be forgiven, but it’s unlikely they’ll be forgotten. This is true personally and globally–part of the pain so many people are in right now is a result of words that have been spoken and cannot be forgotten.

Manipulation is no way to go about getting what you want. If you want something, or you need something, ask for it. You may not get it, but take the mystery and agony out of things for yourself, and the people in your life. No one can read your mind, or mine. Being passive aggressive is also not a fabulous communication style. Expecting people to try to figure out what’s wrong or what you need makes it harder on everyone. If you’re angry, disappointed, scared, sad, hurt or confused, try saying that out loud.

When we’re angry, it’s almost always just a cover for our pain, or intense feeling of vulnerability. If we’re defensive, it’s because we feel attacked, even if that’s just our perception. Many people cannot receive anything but positive feedback. If you offer any kind of constructive input, that, too, might be received as an attack. Sometimes this happens with personality disorders like narcissism. Sometimes it happens because a person grew up in an abusive household, and an admission of error was met with incredible pain and punishment. You really don’t know what someone is dealing with unless they tell you, but you can work on the way you express yourself. You can work toward clear, truthful, compassionate communication. That’s really all you can do. As with everything, you can never control what someone else does.

There’s no hope for our personal relationships if we can’t speak clearly, and there’s no hope for healing rifts and divides with people we may not know, unless we can call it out when we see things that are not okay. Sometimes we have to speak up on behalf of someone else, and sometimes we need to act on our own behalf, but having no voice for either is no way to go through life.

Sometimes we keep quiet because we don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations, or we think we already know what the other person will say. Let me say this: If you have a long history with someone, and you know that sane, satisfying communication isn’t possible, then don’t bark up that tree. A lot of people are struggling with family members and close friends right now, who may have wildly different ideas about what we need in this world at the moment. It’s very painful when your entire ideology or life philosophy is rejected or ridiculed by those closest to you. Having said that, anyone who refuses to make an effort to understand your point of view is a person who is also struggling to understand what it means to love. Ridicule and disrespect have no place in that arena. You don’t have to agree with the people close to you all the time, but there needs to be some effort to grasp, to understand. Accept people where they are and how they are, or don’t have them in your life, or have them in your life, but create boundaries. In general, though, if you struggle with being assertive, work on it. Most people will really appreciate your honesty, if you’re kind; being truthful and mean is crappy, it’s not funny or brave or strong or tough. It’s crappy. So there’s that.

Maybe you grew up and no one ever asked you how you felt, or what you needed or wanted. Perhaps you’re still trying to figure that out. Maybe it doesn’t occur to you that how you feel is important and worth sharing. Maybe you feel invisible, or believe your worth lies in what you can do for other people. Those are all lies. Maybe you think it’s better for you to be in pain, and silent, than it is for you to express yourself, and disappoint someone else. What kind of relationship can possibly result? There’s no intimacy without honesty. Find your truth, and then find your voice. It really matters. If you struggle to say what’s real for you, get some help with it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Love More, Judge Less

All-differences-in-thisOn Tuesday mornings I volunteer for an hour in my daughter’s Kindergarten class. It’s extremely fun. I love my daughter’s teacher. She’s very warm, but very firm, and she maintains standards in the room. The kids have to listen to each other. They have to keep their hands to themselves. They don’t have to agree with each other, but they have to be respectful. She’s really setting them up with great tools for life. Last week when I was there, one of the little girls was sitting at my table, and she crossed herself when an ambulance went by, and said something under her breath. I knew what she was doing, but she looked up at me with this little smile, and said, “I’m praying that everyone is okay.” She’s five. I told her that I do that, too, but I don’t use my hands. One of the other kids asked what she was doing with her hands, and she explained that she was asking God to take care of anyone who might be hurt. One of the kids asked what “God” was. I said it was a word that meant different things to different people, and that was a topic she could explore with her mom or dad, and we had a conversation about what it means to care about people, whether we know them or not. It was easily the best conversation of my week.

We get so caught up with labels and separation. We try to figure out who’s like us, and who’s different. We’re so prone to create an us and a them, but true spirituality doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t separate. It asks us to care about everyone, because we’re all part of the same family. I know it’s not easy, but if we start to expand that same idea to all living creatures, and the planet itself, we start to shift the way we’ve been moving through the world. Sometimes we learn things at home, like hatred. Hatred can be passed down from generation to generation, just like eye-color. When we’re little, our parents are god-like creatures, and it doesn’t occur to us to challenge what we’re being taught or told until we get old enough to realize we’re our own beings. We have our own minds and our own hearts and our own ability to discern and intuit and make sense of the world.

Hatred is a great divider, and it weakens its host. When we hate, we’re blind. In my opinion, it’s also unnatural to us. I spend a lot of time with little kids, not just because I have two of my own. I always have, because my little brother is eleven years younger than me. I’ve had a little person trailing around after me asking why questions for most of my life. We come into this world full of love and curiosity. We’re trusting and open, unless or until we have a reason not to be. Kids might ask guileless questions, like why someone has a different skin color, or why they observe different holidays, but it’s never with contempt. It’s with a genuine desire to understand, and kids do what we do, not what we say, as we well know. Maybe you don’t have kids, and maybe you don’t want them, but you were a child once, and it’s good to examine your beliefs about yourself, about other people, and about the world around you. Sometimes something we’ve learned is so ingrained, we don’t even question it. I get emails from people who were told they were mistakes. That they’d never amount to anything. That they were meant to be seen and not heard. That their parents wanted a boy, not a girl. That they’re a disappointment.

Also, you can preach compassion all day long, but if you’re hard on yourself, don’t think that will go unnoticed by your kids. We internalize everything. We’re energetic creatures, and we both emit and absorb energy wherever we go. If your mother was always dieting and scrunching up her face when she looked at herself in the mirror, even if she always told you you were beautiful, don’t be surprised if you have body-image issues. If you were taught that people who didn’t believe the same things your family believed were wrong or not to be trusted, you’re going to have some unlearning to do.

The outside might look different, and I mean this for all of us. We may be male or female, short or tall, thin or stocky, dark or light. We may believe in one god, many gods, or no god at all. We may believe in a continuation of consciousness, or we may believe we’re worm food when it all ends. We may be rich, or we may struggle to put food on the table. The bottom line is that we all deal with certain parameters. We have a finite amount of time in the body we’re in. We have the capacity to love people wildly, openly, with everything we’ve got. We have our attachments, our fears, our dreams, our heartbreaks, our nights when we cry ourselves to sleep, or wonder what we’re doing here, or flail about trying to find our place in the world. The more we look for the vulnerability behind the mask, the kid underneath the grown-up, the similarities instead of the differences, the kinder we become, and the world could really use that right about now.

Yes, there are some people who’ve closed their hearts and fed their hatred, and are so far off the grid, there’s not much hope for any kind of epiphany at this point, but that’s a tiny percentage of human beings on planet earth. The vast majority of people recognize that an us versus them mentality isn’t getting the job done. It isn’t creating a world that’s safe for us, or for our children, and it also doesn’t have to be this way.

Examine your thoughts, your words and your actions. Maybe you’re already operating from a place of love the vast majority of the time, but maybe you’re still struggling with this. Start with your own internal dialogue. Since there’s no (good) escape from the voice in your head, start to starve a loud inner critic if you have one. You don’t have to believe everything you think. Sometimes our thoughts about ourselves are so violent, so unforgiving, so relentless, it’s a wonder we can get out of bed in the morning, and if you’re that hard on yourself, I guarantee you’re hard on other people, too. Perhaps not as harsh as you are with yourself, but whatever we have within us is what we spread. Start there. It might seem like a small thing, but if everyone worked on creating a peaceful and loving world within themselves, the whole landscape around us would change. If you’re in the habit of saying things like, “I’m such an idiot” when you make a mistake, shift that thought to something like, “I’m human and I make mistakes sometimes, and that’s okay, and very normal. Let me take a deep breath and see what I can do.” Find a nickname for yourself that makes you smile, like, “Chief”, or, “Sport”, or “Tiger”, and whenever you feel that self-loathing come up, catch yourself, with an, “Okay, Sport, that didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but it’s no big deal.” What I’m trying to say is that you really want an inner voice that roots you on, not one that tears you down. May we all send good thoughts and love when we hear an ambulance go by. May we all care about each other more, and judge each other less. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings be happy.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Meditation or Electric Shock Therapy?

pemaskyDid you know there are a significant number of people who’d rather give themselves electric shocks than sit quietly in a room with nothing but their own thoughts for just 6-15 minutes? So reported Kate Murphy in Sunday’s New York Times, with her excellent article, “No Time to Think”. In an article she cites from Science Magazine, researchers were amazed with results from several different studies involving 700 people, “In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.” You can read the full, fascinating report here. Apparently, participants were interviewed before the experiment, and all said they’d pay not to be electrically shocked, but when push came to shove, 65% of the men, and 15% of the women ended up opting for self-administered shocks as opposed to just a few minutes of sitting with their feelings.

Researchers theorized that the difficulty for people arose because their thoughts tended to be negative. That does seem to be our default setting, that “negativity bias”. Back in the days when we were living in caves, this was probably a key factor to our survival. We needed to worry about things like being eaten by saber-tooth tigers. We needed to be on the alert for danger, we needed to be thinking ahead about all the things that could befall us. And even though most of us don’t have to worry about being eaten for lunch at this point, we’ve replaced those primal worries with other pressing anxieties and stresses of the day. So given the opportunity to sit quietly, without distractions, without our mobile devices, without anyone calling or texting or emailing, chances are, our minds will start to lean into those fears which are often hiding just below the surface. Maybe we worry about what we’re doing with our lives, or we feel anxious about the state of our relationships with those closest to us, or we start thinking about financial pressures. Maybe we feel lonely, or bored, or deeply unfulfilled. Maybe we’re enraged, but we keep ourselves busy enough that we don’t have to feel that often. There are all kinds of uncomfortable feelings we humans experience—shame, doubt, guilt, envy, jealousy, despair, grief—just to name a few, and no one would invite these feelings into his or her living room for tea. Nonetheless, we’ll be visited by all of these perfectly natural, human emotions form time to time. And if we distract ourselves, or numb ourselves or busy ourselves so we don’t have to face those feelings, we also lose an opportunity to know ourselves, and to grow.

We have such fear about being with what is. Maybe we think if we stop and breathe and get quiet, we’ll remember that we have a finite amount of time here, and so does everyone else, even those we treasure beyond words. Maybe we’re scared that old pain will rise to the surface and overwhelm us. But this is the stuff that keeps us miserable and suffering. The denial, the avoidance. If we refuse to look at our issues, our problems, or pain, then all of that remains bubbling below everything we do and say. Living your life on the run is no way to do things. Not knowing yourself is the loneliest thing there is. Getting quiet and allowing your feelings to arise, peak and subside, is a beautiful lesson in impermanence. No feeling is forever if you acknowledge it. If you repress it, it’ll just keep coming after you. And if you develop a practice of sitting quietly and observing your breath, your thoughts and your feelings, you’ll find such relief. You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. You have the ability to step back from all that white noise and take a good look and listen to your internal dialogue. You’ll find, if you haven’t already, that “you do not have to believe everything you think”. You’ll find that everything is in a constant state of flux, including you. You’ll find that you have the power to choose one thought over another, and that this power will give you your life back. To the extent that you’re able to face your pain and work with it, you’ll be able to set yourself free. Otherwise that stuff owns you. It rules your world, and there’s just no need for that.

It is true that the rules of this game are not easy to swallow. If we’re lucky, we get 80, 90, maybe 100 years, as do all the people we love, if they are also lucky. That’s not a lot of time. But it’s enough time to have a blast. It’s enough time to live with your heart wide open, and to love the people in your life with everything you’ve got. It’s enough time to take in the insane beauty that’s around you if you look up from your phone now and then. Now AND then. Yes, some of it is devastating. We’ll all be heartbroken from time to time. Some of us will endure knifing losses. But there’s also joy. There’s also the laughter of those people you adore. There’s holding hands. There are hugs. There’s the ocean and the sun on your face, and the wind in the leaves of the trees. There are moments that take your breath away and fill your heart with yes. You really can’t have one without the other. If you numb out the pain, you numb out the joy. And that’s a great way to miss what could have been 100 incredible, interesting, meaningful years. Don’t let it happen.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton