Throw Some Luggage Overboard!

losingsomeofthebaggageOne of my oldest girlfriends, I’ll call her Sue, is incredibly self-aware when it comes to identifying her “stuff”, and owning it when she doesn’t show up the way she’d like. She started going to therapy when she was thirteen years old due to her parents’ ugly divorce, and as she got older, for her own relationship issues. She had watched her parents tear each other down directly and indirectly, through her. Her mom said horrendous things about her dad, and her father said awful things about her mom. When they each remarried (which they both did, more than once), the bitterness was quadrupled. Her stepmothers made snide remarks about her mother, her mother couldn’t stand her father’s new wife, either time. Her father thought her first step-dad was not very bright, and her step-mom said he laughed like a woman. I witnessed a lot of this myself, as did all our friends, at sleepovers and afternoons at her mom’s or dad’s house, and once, sadly, during Sue’s sweet sixteen. Her dad got drunk and took the mic to toast Sue, but it somehow deteriorated into a tirade about Sue’s mom. Not so sweet, and Sue ended up in the bathroom, with a bottle of champagne that she downed, and then threw up all night. And so it went. In high school Sue struggled with an eating disorder, and I watched her turn herself inside out trying to be perfect. To control the little bit she could. She was smart as a whip, but sometimes she’d play dumb because she thought guys liked that. Her family has a lot of money, and Sue would often buy lunch for a whole group of us. Or more accurately, she’d pay for lunch with her American Express and her dad would pick up the tab. Because her parents believed throwing money at the situation would somehow make it okay. We went to college together as well, and as we grew up, a pattern emerged for Sue that was no surprise to any of us who’d watched her struggle over the years. She kept picking guys who ended up hurting her. Not the typical stories of ways men and women can misunderstand each other, or not show up all the way, but deep, “I just realized he’s been stealing money from me for months” kind of pain. The relationships were usually high-drama, and there were many times Sue showed up at my house unexpectedly, eyes puffy and red, sobbing in the middle of the night. Sue started drinking heavily, first a couple of nights a week, and then most nights. Eventually she cleaned that up. If you were to talk to Sue, you’d know within minutes you were speaking to an awake, aware person. She’s intelligent and funny and kind. She can tell you exactly why she’s done the things she’s done. She can give you the whole road-map to explain all her choices and all her behavior. But so far, it hasn’t helped her resist the pull of that ancient pain. Sue wants a happy ending. But she keeps trying to go back and carve one out of her past. As if she could rewrite history. As if she could change her parents into people who were mature enough and loving enough to put her first. To love her well. And time and again, Sue ends up crashing into the brick wall she keeps choosing, even though the crashing part sucks. A few years ago, I really worried for her. She’d hit such a low point I wasn’t sure she was going to be okay. I went back to New York to teach, and I saw Sue for the first time in many months. She was gaunt, and her nails were bitten down to the quick. Her eyes were dull, and so was her spirit. Through it all, Sue has always been a force. So I was really disturbed to see this lifeless person who looked like Sue sitting before me. She’d just had another painful breakup, and I could see this time she was taking it particularly hard. She started to relay all the details of what had happened. What she’d done. What he’d done. What she said, and why she felt the way she did. I listened as I had so many times before. And when she was done, I looked at her and said, “Sue, I love you. You’re an incredible person with such a beautiful heart. But you have to put the baggage down now, or it’s going to destroy you. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re as lovable as a person gets. Your parents did the best they could but their best kind of sucked. You have to stop letting this own you.” And Sue started sobbing, right there at the restaurant. People looked over at us, and Sue apologized to me for making a scene. I went to her side of the table and hugged her, and told her to go ahead a make a scene. Because sometimes you work your sh&t out on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at a Thai restaurant downtown. Sometimes you’re just sitting there sobbing with chopsticks in your hand deciding it is finally enough.

Carrying your old, painful stories around with you wherever you go is exhausting, back-breaking work. At a certain point, it simply drains the life out of you. Everybody has pain. Everybody. Some people have more than others, and some are better equipped to deal with the everything that life brings. The heartache and disappointment. The trauma and abuse. The neglect and loneliness. The confusion and shame. We’ve all experienced at least one of these, some people have seen all of that and so much more. I once met a girl at a workshop I taught, who told me she had to stay angry at her father so he’d pay for what he’d done to her. I asked her how that was making him pay, since she never spoke to him or saw him. I said I was pretty sure she was the one paying. Your past will shape you and inform the way you think about yourself and the world. If that way isn’t loving, you’re going to have to unlearn some stuff, which is, of course, harder than learning it the right way the first time. If you think people suck, for example, you’re going to have to unlearn that. If you think you suck, you’re going to have to unlearn that first. Have some compassion for yourself. Be kind. In some way or another, we’ve all been Sue, collapsed on the bathroom floor, throwing up our pain all night long. If you want to travel back to your past in a productive way, go back there and give yourself a hug. Re-parent yourself if you need to. But put some of the heavy stuff down. It does not have to own you. The destination that really counts is your journey to inner peace. You’re going to have to throw some bags overboard to get there. Wishing you strength and love, Ally

Run Like Hell

runmydearI’m going to state some things that may seem totally obvious when you read them in black and white, but which I think we tend to forget in our tender hearts. Unconscious people do unconscious things. Damaged people do damaged things. Unkind, hardened people are not suddenly going to be soft. People with rage are going to behave in violent ways. If someone is envious of you, they are not going to have your back. Selfish people will not suddenly think of you, and how you might feel in any given situation. And there are people who are so damaged, they actually want to drive the thorn in your side intentionally. Hurt people hurt people as the saying goes. People who behave in any of these ways are in pain themselves, and are living in a certain kind of prison. All kinds of abuse and trauma can lead to imprisonment like this. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” The sad fact is, help is only available to those who decide to help themselves. You can’t do it for someone else. You can’t save anyone except yourself.

Of course you can’t define a human being in a word, we are all complex beings and only to the degree that we examine our pain and our motivations will we be accountable for our actions and the kind of energy we’re spreading. The way we’re being in the world. A person coming from an angry place most of the time may be able to pull it together to do some great stuff on those days they’re able to rise above. What I’m talking about here is a baseline way of being. If someone is commonly thoughtless or cruel. If someone consistently behaves in ways that are hurtful. If someone is generally so wrapped up in their own experience it doesn’t even occur to them to think about the impact of their actions. People who hurt us the most are usually also suffering the most. And you can have compassion for them, and you can practice forgiveness. But you really don’t want to put yourself in their path if you can help it; you don’t want to keep paying the tab for someone else’s cruel or thoughtless acts. If a person stabs you in the back, don’t expect them to turn around and call an ambulance for you. We can look at any of this stuff and say it’s not personal, right? A scorpion will sting you because that’s the nature of a scorpion. You can also open your heart and your mind to the idea that a person can change and grow. Where they are now is not necessarily where they’re always going to be. And if someone hurts you, it’s the most liberating thing to wish them well. But you do that from a safe distance. The part that IS personal is how you choose to respond. You don’t stick around to see if they want to push the knife in more deeply.

I say this to you because if you’re kind and open and trusting, if you want to hope for the best from people, you may need to look at whether you’re sacrificing your own well-being in the process of loving someone who is not able or willing to love you well. Or participating in a set of circumstances that insults your soul. Your work is to heal your own heart so you can open to all the love within you, and give it away freely. If you keep hanging out with people who crush your heart, thinking tomorrow might be the day they realize what they’re doing, that’s kind of like “expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian”, as Dennis Wholey says. Forgive if you can, for your own sake, so you’re not held hostage or made sick in your soul by the actions of someone else. But set up your boundaries, and be prepared to get out your hammer and nails and shore up those walls when you need to. Because some people just won’t get it. Not in the time-frame you’d like, and maybe never. If it’s a person you must have in your life, like a family member, then you figure out what it is you need to maneuver as safely as possible through painful terrain. You set up the best possible circumstances you can to take care of yourself. But if it’s not a person you need to be dealing with, run like hell, my dear. Sending you love, Ally

Soul-Purging Truth

soulpurgingtruthLast time I was in New York, I had lunch with a couple of girlfriends I’ve known for years. They spend a lot of time together. I only see them when I’m in town, but we talk on the phone, over email, and on Facebook. One of them, I’ll call her Sue, had recently started seeing a guy she met on a dating site. It seemed like they had a lot in common, and we were happy for her. The last guy she dated stole money from her for months, and took off one day without a word. She (admittedly) has a history of dating men who end up hurting her one way or another, so we were hopeful this was going to be different. After we’d been catching up for awhile, she confessed that there was this “one thing” that was troubling her. “Oh boy, here we go”, said our other friend, whom I’ll call Bertie. I pinched Bertie’s arm because she needs behavioral therapy sometimes. “No, it’s no big deal,” said Sue, “he’s just really close to his mom.” When we asked what she meant by “really close”, she explained that his mom called him every night at 10pm. At which point he’d go in his room and close the door and not come out for at least an hour, usually two. Sue was not supposed to interrupt or come into the room, or make any loud noises. Bertie’s mouth fell open and she hit my arm and threw her hands in the air before putting her head in her hands. Sue’s eyes got wide. “Hmmm,” I said, “that’s kind of unfortunate timing. What’s with all the privacy/secrecy? Does he not want his mom to know he’s dating someone for some reason? And you’re just supposed to wait until he comes back out of the bedroom? Maybe this has just been their pattern all the years he’s been single, talking at night. Have you talked to him about it?” I was trying to get a fuller picture. But before Sue could answer, Bertie said, “I KNEW something was off about this guy!! That’s disgusting, okay, Sue?! He should talk to his mother during the day, not at night when the two of you should have some intimate time together. That’s just not normal. Something’s really off about this. And how many times do you have to get this lesson?? You have horrendous judgment when it comes to men!!!” Sue started crying. Bertie got angrier, said she was not, “up for another round of this”, and left in a huff.

Bertie loves Sue like a sister. I totally understood that’s what was motivating her outburst. Total frustration that someone she loves was probably heading for another brick wall (Sue is no longer dating the guy; she got out quickly and is relatively unscathed, and she and Bertie have made up). We’ve all been there. A person we care about deeply seems likely to get hurt, and we are powerless to stop it. It happens with family members, too. A couple of years after I graduated from college, a friend of the family said to me, “What are you doing with your life? You’ve graduated from Columbia University. When are you going to get it together?” And even though I knew she loved me, it stung, and it sunk me a little further into that darkness. When a person is struggling, cutting them down is not going to help.

It’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but we never know what another person’s journey is supposed to look like. Each of us has our lessons to learn, and sometimes we need the lesson over and over again to really get it. To be done with a certain way of being, or thinking, or treating ourselves. It’s hard to love someone who’s struggling without stepping in and trying to manage their path. Pick them up and say, “Go THAT way, COME ON!!! It’s so obvious!!!” But it’s inside work. You can ask for help if you’re in pain, and get yourself some support. But ultimately, we each have to do our own work to heal. If you love someone who’s struggling, patience is the lesson. Compassion. Understanding. We all struggle, we all have pain. If you love someone who’s bent on self-destruction, that’s a heartbreak. Sometimes it means you have to love the person from afar. But you can’t control anyone else’s journey, any more than you can control your own. You can work on the way you respond to the people in your life, and the circumstances that present themselves. You won’t always show up the way you want to, you won’t always make the healthy choice. And neither will anyone else. You may knowingly head for a brick wall, because maybe you need one last ride to be done with that chapter. If you have something to communicate to someone in pain, do your very best to be kind and clear. It’s not easy, this business of being human. Honest communication is always good, but screaming your viewpoint in frustration, not so much. Words are very powerful, and they can go right to the center of a person’s heart. And a person’s heart is precious. Just like yours. Sending you love, Ally

Don’t Drive the Scorpion Ferry

notastatementaboutuThere’s an old tale I love about the Scorpion and the Frog. If you don’t know it, it goes something like this (although I’m taking some liberties): Once there was a scorpion on the bank of a stream. He called out to a frog, “Excuse me! Could you give me a ride across? I can’t swim!” And the frog said, “Dude, you’re a scorpion. I’m not giving you a ride. If you sting me, I’ll die.” And the scorpion said, “If I sting you, you’ll drown, and I’ll die, too.” This made sense to the frog, so he said, “All right, climb on.” Halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog. With his dying breath, the frog says, “Why have you done this to us?”, and the scorpion says, “Dude, I’m a f&cking scorpion!”

The way people treat you is a statement about where they are on their journey as an evolving human being. It’s also subject to change; a scorpion may not always be a scorpion. The main thing to grasp is that it’s not a reflection of anything lacking in you. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll remember the much-older man I dated when I was seventeen. He was seeing other women for the three years we were together, and although I could never prove it, I always felt it. (I confirmed my fears once). And at the time, I took it as a sign that I wasn’t enough. Not pretty enough or “something” enough to keep him interested solely in me. And I spent so much time over the course of those three years feeling awful about myself. I was hooked on this interaction, and convinced if I could just be enough for him, then I’d be happy. I didn’t realize that his inability to be faithful had nothing to do with me, or that a person who’s lying and sneaking around is ultimately having a painful relationship with him or herself. When you respect yourself and are making choices that are aligned with what’s true for you in a conscious and kind way, you’re not going to lie. And I think if you’re like most people, the tendency is to take those times we’ve been hurt, disappointed, neglected, betrayed, or even abused, personally. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. A person can only be where they are, working with whatever tools they’ve got. What IS about you, is what you do about it if someone isn’t treating you well. Sometimes we get caught up in relationships with lovers, family members, friends, or colleagues. Maybe things start out well, but over time the quality of the interaction deteriorates. Or circumstances change and you observe responses you wouldn’t have predicted. If you have a pattern of participating in relationships with people who treat you badly, then it is time to take a long, hard look at why. It’s about something. Identifying that something is the key to your freedom. Your deepest pain is your greatest teacher.

There are lots of frogs in the world, but there’s no other frog just like you. If you’ve been swimming in shark-infested waters too long, hiding in shadows and making yourself as small as possible out of fear, or some idea that you’re not lovable, or enough, or worthwhile, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to turn around and swim directly for the mouth of that shark. Otherwise you’ll never rest. You’ll keep running the Scorpion Ferry, becoming harder and less hopeful with each ride. Being a hopeless frog sucks. I know, because I was one. Letting yourself get swallowed whole by the shark of your fear is not a fun ride, but it won’t kill you, either. If you’re still hanging with my Moby Dick-Aesop’s Fables-Life of Pi metaphor, then you probably already understand the Willa Cather quote, “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” The Dark Night of the Soul is a storm. But it’s also an invitation to know yourself, truly and deeply. To heal and liberate yourself from your pain, so that the next time a scorpion calls to you from the bank of a stream, you’ll be like, “What up, Scorpion? You need to get your ride from a shark, my friend!” Sending you love, and the strength to swim toward your pain if you need to! You are enough. Amazingly enough. Ally

Get Up!

Even-if-youre-on-theAwareness is the first step, but action is what’s needed if you want to see a shift happen. People often get stuck at the level of identification, meaning they can tell you in great detail why they are the way they are, but that’s as far as they’ll go. The past experiences explain and justify the current behavior. Except they don’t, because there’s always space for growth, and for free will.

Healing requires openness and honesty and a willingness to not look away, even when you must stare at the center of your deepest pain. It also demands vigilance, especially when you detect unhealthy patterns in your life. It means re-training yourself to feed a loving voice, and to starve any tendencies that make you feel less than, or unworthy of love. We are always in process. Knowing yourself well is a gift that makes it possible to “catch yourself” sooner, so you can make healthy decisions based on how things are, and not how they once were. To move forward with love and trust, even when the road is dark and slick and we’re traveling with no map. In order to proceed in a direction that’s going to lead to happiness and peace, you’ll have to avail yourself of some tools that give you the power to pause and breathe when you feel triggered. Yoga practice is excellent for that.

Healing also requires your creativity, and a willingness to let go of the chains that are holding you back. Sometimes we’ve been attached to a sad story for so long, we can’t imagine what would happen if we just released it. If we weren’t blaming other people or circumstances for our unhappiness, what would we do with our time, and how would we explain our lack of joy or purpose? These are tough questions to face, and getting support is a really good move if you’re in this position. The combination of yoga, seated meditation and therapy worked for me, but you may need other tools. That part is personal, and you’ll have to figure out what you need by trying different things, and staying with it until you find something that resonates with you. But that’s a much better use of your time than explaining that your current abandonment issues are based on a time, twenty years ago, when your dad left you and your mom. Identification is great, but you have to add excavation on top of that. Is it your mom’s and dad’s story, or is it your story now?

Giving up on yourself is a serious shame and an act of ingratitude. As heartbreaking as it can be sometimes, this life is a gift, and this experience of being human, vulnerable, awake, and changing is an opportunity to heal more than just ourselves. We come into this world with an insane amount of love inside of us, and I believe we are meant to uncover it, and spread it all over the place. The story of your life will keep unfolding, every day. There are the circumstances, and there’s the way you respond to them. In that way, you co-create the story. The pieces are always moving, the ground below us is always shifting, there are no promises or guarantees, and you don’t have forever. There are big questions that need to be lived, that you can never truly answer, but that you’ll have to grapple with if you want to be at peace. The key is to keep moving, keep growing, keep seeing and listening and exploring. To be willing to allow life, and your very own self, to surprise you. To recognize you’ll never have all the answers, in fact, you’ll have very few. Only a couple truly matter, anyway. How much are you going to love, and how much are you going to do what you can to heal yourself, and in so doing, the world around you? Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton

Unpack Those Bags!

Forgiveness-is-theI don’t believe there’s any way of moving through this life without some pain, heartache, disappointment, loss, confusion, fear, and loneliness. I’ve never had the experience of getting to know anyone closely without discovering a deep well of pain within them. We all have our stories, our losses, and those places where we mourn for ourselves.The difference between happy people and unhappy people lies in their resiliency, the amount of support they find for themselves, their ability to integrate and make peace with what’s happened, and the way they respond to what they’re given. Sometimes you try to find support for yourself, and nothing seems to work. Depression is real, it’s not a choice, it’s a fight for your life. So is addiction. And sometimes people lose the battle.

There are also situations where it is a choice. You can carry your pain on your back and into every experience you have. You can keep your pain alive by feeding it and compounding it with the confusion that results from choices fueled by old wounds. The longer you allow yourself to deny, avoid, feed, or numb out from your pain, the longer your heart will wither and your soul will be crushed. Your heart is made for love. Your soul wants to dance, to expand well beyond the borders of your body. But if you’re dousing yourself with bitterness, resentment, fear, shame, guilt, doubt, insecurity and some crazy notion that you aren’t lovable, there’s just no way you’re going to be able to shine. To throw off the blinders. To realize what you know, to acknowledge what you are.

At a certain point, you’re going to have to sit down and unpack those bags if you want to find some inner peace. If you want to unhook your journey from past experiences and find the freedom and the expansion that comes from forgiveness, compassion and taking responsibility for your own happiness. You’re going to have to examine everything you’ve been carting around and find that raw place inside you that is connected to that baggage and give it your kind attention. You’re going to have to wrap your arms around your own pain and say, “I know you. I feel you. I’m right here.” And you’re going to have to let it out. To grieve until the heat of the wound is washed away by your tears. That’s the only way to stop the bleeding and start the healing. You have to honor and acknowledge that pain before you can let it go. Or it can let you go.

People who are hurting will hurt others. That’s how it works. Please get that because it’s important to grasp. If someone hurts you, betrays you, treats you with disrespect or cruelty, it’s because that is what is inside them. That’s where they are on their journey; that’s how they’re dealing with their own pain. I’m not saying that’s okay, I’m just saying you don’t have to take it on. You don’t have to accept and own it as something you caused or deserve. You don’t have to receive it as a response to you, a rejection of you. It has little to do with you, except inasmuch as you choose to participate. And if you’re in pain, you’re going to spread it. You probably won’t mean to do that, but it will happen. I have all the love and time and patience in the world for people who are struggling, who are trying in earnest to face their stuff and deal with it, because it’s difficult, painful, lonely work. I’ve been there, I know. And it’s so uncomfortable. But people who are sleepwalking through life, who refuse to own their actions, who want to point fingers or explain or justify bad behavior, who want a pass on the hard work (and we’ve all been these people at one time or another, yours truly included)…I want to get up in their mix and say, “WAKE THE EFF UP!!!” With love, of course.

Because life is going to be pretty miserable lugging heavy bags of pain around everywhere. And being too afraid or too lazy to get to work is a shabby reason to have a sad life where you end up hurting yourself and other people the whole time. What an act of total unconsciousness and ingratitude. To exist in a world where you could be living. Giving. Growing. Loving. Life is going to bring all kinds of stuff our way. Some of it is going to crush us. Some of us will go through things the mind and heart will struggle to understand and accept. And some of it is going to be amazing, heart-expanding, mind-blowingly awesome. Respond with courage. Be vulnerable. Receive it all, the storms that knock everything down, and the gorgeous sun on your face. Say, “Yes, I am Here. I am awake”. That’s all you can do. If you do the work to find your inner yes, you will be at peace even when life keeps sending you no’s. Because no one can take that kind of love away from you once you’ve found it. Please put your bags down. Don’t waste another day, another minute. Your heart, your soul, and your very life are too precious for that. Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton