The Re-Education of the Heart

Your past does not have to define your future, but sometimes, in order to overcome it, you’re going to have to work like hell. It’s not a level playing field; some people have come out of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Children growing up in an unsafe environment often become adults who find it hard to trust and to open. You can only know what you know, after all. If the people who were meant to love you, nurture you and protect you were not able to do that due to their own limitations or history of abuse, you’re going to have some serious healing to do.

The problem is, it’s very common to seek what we know, because it feels familiar, it feels like home. Frequently, people who’ve come out of abuse find themselves in relationships with people who abuse them, and this strengthens their ideas that they aren’t worthy of love, and that no one can be trusted. This must be love because it feels like home. I feel unsafe or unseen or unheard. I have to earn love by being perfect. I have to dance like a monkey to get approval. These are all learned ideas and behaviors, and if this was your experience during your formative years, you have a lot of unlearning to do. You have to crash your own hard drive and start over. It’s always harder to unlearn something than it is to have it explained to you correctly from the beginning.

Not everyone can explain love to you, though. You have to have received it to understand it. You have to have had at least one person whose face lit up when you toddled into a room. Someone who taught you about hugs that make you feel like nothing could ever be wrong. Someone who wanted nothing but for you to be happy. You need to have gotten at least a little of that from someone, anyone along the way to have a clue about what it is. People who grew up in violence don’t know a lot about those feelings. Survival becomes the thing. How do I maneuver around this situation and these people in order to be safe? How do I endure this abuse without hating them? A kid turns it inward. If my own mother or father can’t love me, it must be me. It’s not conceivable to a child that maybe their parents are limited in this way, that maybe they have their own healing to do and they simply don’t have the tools to love them well or protect them, let alone nurture them, cherish them, celebrate them. Trauma and abuse can be carried forward just like genes. I’m not saying it’s genetic. I’m saying this stuff gets carried forward in the heart, in the body, in the mind, and instead of breaking the cycle, a lot of people repeat it. They don’t mean to and they don’t want to, but they simply don’t know anything else. A feeling floods the nervous system and they act out; anyone in the way is going to suffer.

For children who were sometimes abused, and sometimes loved, it gets even more complicated, especially if there was no discernible pattern. A child who never knows what to expect, never knows if she’s going to be hugged and praised, or beaten and broken down, can never feel safe. Heading into young adulthood that way, which is challenging under the best of circumstances, sets the stage for romantic relationships that are unlikely to be healthy and loving, to say the least.

Anyway, I’m writing about all this because my inbox is flooded with messages from people who are trying to forge a new path, to find a new way; people who’ve been betrayed by those they thought they could trust. People who are afraid to open, even though they desperately want to, because what if they get hurt again? Or what if they’re loved for the first time? People who think maybe they should just give up and be alone. I think when you’re coming out of a history like this, you have to work it from the bottom up, and from the top down. You have to flood your system with new information. I’m talking about the combination of therapy and yoga, which I highly recommend if you’re coming out of abuse. You need someone you trust to help you deconstruct thoughts that weaken you, and may be so ingrained you don’t even realize you’re thinking them, and you need to get in your body and retrain your nervous system which is used to a perpetual state of fight or flight. How can you even know what peace feels like? Joy? Happiness? Rage? There’s no time to honor your own feelings in a war zone. You push that sh&t down so you can survive, so you can get through. You’re so on the lookout for other people’s feelings, for the feeling in the environment around you, it doesn’t occur to you to think about what you want, what you need, or how you feel. What language is that?

The thing is, there are tools. If you’re suffering and you want things to be different, you just start where you are. You get yourself some help. You take over the job of re-educating yourself. Human beings have an insanely awesome ability to heal, to forgive, and to love, they really do. If your heart is broken, there’s more room to let the light in. People who come out of abuse and heal, tend to be incredibly compassionate, and grateful for every good thing. Joy is like this unexpected gift that’s never taken for granted. If you need some help, try this or this 🙂

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

How to Find Happiness When You’re Feeling Lost

pemaThe first way to find happiness when you’re feeling lost, is to stop looking for it! When we’re feeling hurt, scared, anxious, heartbroken, abandoned, rejected, insecure, envious or threatened, the trick is not to avoid the uncomfortable, painful and challenging feelings, it’s to embrace them. I know this might seem counter-intuitive. You might ask yourself, “How will leaning into my pain help me find happiness?” I’m going to tell you.

The greatest state of dis-ease, and one of the largest contributors to our stress, is being in one place, wishing we were somewhere else, or feeling one thing, and wanting to feel something else. The more we contract from our experience, the more we suffer. There are all kinds of ways we try to contract–we might numb ourselves with drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, or throwing ourselves into relationships. We might try to run from our pain by keeping ourselves busy from dawn until dusk. We might try denial on for size. None of that works, though. The minute you decide to avoid your pain, you’ve made pain your CEO. Now it’s in control, and your actions are determined by it. Screw that! If you want to be ruled by love and not fear, you have to embrace reality as it is, even when it breaks your heart.

The truth is, heartbreak is part of life, so is sadness, longing, loss, and in some cases, betrayal, abandonment or abuse. The deck is full of everything. You can decide that there’s something personal about the hand you’ve been dealt, or you can get busy playing with the hand you’ve got; trying to get different cards doesn’t work. Wishing with all your might you had the Queen of Hearts when you’re staring at the Ace of Spades won’t change a thing, it will just create more anguish, frustration, and heartache within you.

Also, forget about fair. Devastating things happen to incredible people every single day. You can do everything “right”, and still there will be some suffering. When you allow yourself to feel however you feel–lost, anxious, depressed, confused, jealous, ashamed, and so on–you liberate yourself. The feelings arise, they peak, and they subside; no feeling goes on and on for the rest of your life. The more you push down the feelings, though, the more they persist because they want to be acknowledged. Feelings are alive, they’re energetic, and like any living thing, they just want to be seen and understood. They’re ways for us to know ourselves more deeply, and to grow in patience and compassion for ourselves and our process.

Also, there’s the mind-body connection. If you refuse to deal with your feelings, they don’t just pack up and move on, they show up in your tight shoulders or hips, clenched jaw, stress headache, chronic illness, upset stomach, insomnia, lethargy, and so on. It takes a lot of energy to deny your reality, and that comes at a great cost to your mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Happiness cannot enter a false construct. Happiness arises from living in alignment with what is true for you. So if you want to find happiness when you’re feeling lost, allow yourself to feel lost! It’s very freeing to allow yourself to be as you are, and happiness follows from that freedom.

Sending you love, and wishing you strength and peace,

 

Ally Hamilton

heartbroken-yoga

How to Embrace Change and Leave Judgment Behind

artoflifeSo much of our struggle comes from our attachment to a picture of how things should be, or how life should look, or how we should feel, or what other people should want, say or do. So often, we should on ourselves and others, and end up carrying the weight of shame, or the feeling of alienation, both of which deplete us and make it hard to rise up. The truth is, there is no formula for life, no “one size fits all” for this thing, we just have to figure it out as we go along.

If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that everything is always changing, and that includes our feelings, circumstances, other people, dynamics, the seasons, our needs, dreams and desires. You are not a static creature, and neither am I, and neither is anyone we know. What you wanted five years ago may not be what you want today. The way you thought life would look versus how it actually looks right now might be jarring, surprising, unsettling, or totally delightful. You can make your plans, in other words, but don’t expect life to bend to your will. Make your vision board if you want to, but leave some open space for surprises, twists, turns, betrayals, opportunities, jobs and lovers across the country, births and deaths. You don’t write every part of the story after all, you only write your own part, and even that is not entirely up to you.

I know people who make choices they regret, but then cannot live with the idea of hurting those they love. I know for myself, I would rather hear and accept the truth than live a lie, or be the unknowing recipient of someone’s pity or guilt. If you love someone, have enough respect for them to be honest about what is real for you, and trust that they, too, may have a different path full of things, experiences and people they never imagined. At the very least, know that if you aren’t honest, the foundation of whatever you’ve built will start to crumble, and the only way to save it or give it any chance of resurrection is with the strength of your own convictions.

That’s not to say that it’s an easy thing to hurt or disappoint other people, I think it’s one of the most difficult and devastating experiences we go through. The thing is, life is complicated and messy for everyone, and we don’t get a crystal ball. Most people don’t set out to hurt you, any more than you’ve ever consciously decided to try to hurt someone else. You can put yourself through the wringer, but in the final analysis, no one can hate you for how you feel. The thing is to communicate before you act. I think for a lot of people, the feelings arise and they try to push them down, until finally there’s an explosion, or they’ve done something in response to those feelings that they now have to live with, grapple with, or explain. That’s when things get really challenging. If you can talk to those closest to you as you’re shifting, changing and evolving, you open the doorway to true intimacy, whether we’re talking about family, romantic partners, or friends. People can’t know you and understand you, they can’t cherish you and honor you if you won’t let them behind the veil.

Sometimes change is forced upon us–someone we love needs to take a path we don’t understand, or someone we love has betrayed us, or we get fired, or find out our child wishes he or she was a different gender, or nine million other things that life can put on the path in front of us that we might not have expected, foreseen, or wanted. The more you can open to people and circumstances as they are, the more you leave room for life to flow. I know it’s tempting to plant your feet and grow your roots and make your stand and try to control this wild world with your calendar and your alerts and your deadlines and schedules, and things you do on Wednesday, and at the very least, where you place your mat when you come to yoga, but the truth is, you are not in control of this story, and neither am I, and neither is anyone we know.

We are all going to face surprises, heartbreaks and joys we never planned for and didn’t expect, and we are all going to make mistakes and hurt people with our humanness, and that is okay, it’s a part of life. I would say, whenever possible, communicate with compassion, don’t assume, don’t project, and try not to hold onto lists of ways you’ve been wronged, because all that stuff will weigh you down. Try to release your grip on the story, open to the gifts when they present themselves, forgive yourself and others, and allow the story to unfold. That way you leave room for the surprises within you and around you, and you grant permission to yourself and those you love to be wildly, imperfectly human, too.

Beach-yoga

Sending you love,

 

Ally Hamilton

 

Work That Doesn’t Belong to Us

There-are-things-that-we (1)Much of our pain in life comes from our inability to let go and trust. Often, we’re so attached to that picture in our heads of “how things should be”, we contract against things as they are. You may have noticed, life doesn’t feel great when we’re hunched in a little ball with our eyes squeezed shut, and our hands over our ears.

Sometimes we’re trying to do work that doesn’t belong to us. Maybe we’re attempting to save people, which is different than loving them. We might think we know what’s best for the people closest to us, and we might even be right, but everyone has to do his or her own journey. You cannot keep someone else’s side of the street clean. I mean, you can cross the street and sweep all you want, but if a person is committed to making a mess, the minute you walk away the debris will start flying again. You have to open your mind to the idea that sometimes a person has to make a mess in order to learn something essential. We’ve all experienced that.

Also, the truth is we never know what is right for other people. What seems obvious to us might not be obvious to someone else. There isn’t one path to happiness, there are about seven billion. People are complicated and messy and we all have our histories, stories we tell ourselves, ideas about things that we’ve learned from our experiences, and tendencies that help or hinder us. Most people reach a point when they have to reckon with their pain, anguish, heartache and disappointment; this is part of knowing ourselves. Some people are terrified of that work, or committed to finding ways around it, like numbing out, denying or repressing. Those are not solutions that lead to happiness, but you can’t force a person to come out of hiding. People do that if and when they’re ready, and not a moment sooner.

You might create a lot of fear, anxiety and suffering for yourself by thinking it is your job to manage the path of your children. When they’re little, of course you want to create stability, a nurturing and loving home, a solid base from which they can grow and flourish. If you start to “future-trip”, however, and think that your current choices can somehow protect them from future heartbreak, I think you’re fooling yourself. I don’t know too many people who get through life without some heartbreak along the way. Of course we want the path for our children to be full of sunshine and flowers, joy and love, and a profound sense of belonging in the world, and hopefully we give them the tools to set them up for their adventures in the best ways possible. It’s not always in your control to make everything perfect, though. Some people stay in abusive marriages thinking it’s best for the kids, but is it? Is it good for our sons and daughters to model their relationships after the one they’re seeing day in and day out, if it’s full of pain and violence?

The more you can release your grip on the story, the more life flows. It’s not just your story, you are not the only writer. You don’t get to edit out the parts you don’t like, or force the other characters to do, say, or feel what you want. This isn’t a piece of fiction, this is life, and the other characters get to forge their own stories and do things that might surprise, infuriate, delight, scare, enrage or depress you. You don’t have to allow other people’s desires to affect you at all, but if you’re close to people and you’re human, they probably will. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful and mysterious and interesting to be human, and who’s to say what the right way is to go about this thing? Obviously, we don’t want to move through life intentionally hurting other people, that would be a really crappy way to go. Short of that, following your heart seems the clear choice. We’re here for such a burst of time. There’s never been another you, or me, there’s never been another any of us, nor will there ever be. The more space we can give each other to be who we are, the more the artwork of life shines through. We all have a particular color to splash all over the canvas. Trust in yours, and celebrate the splashing of those around you. We can figure out who was “right” after we die 😉 Sending you a ton of love, Ally Hamilton

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

Take Down Your Inner Critic

Its-hard-to-fight-anIf you’re suffering from self-loathing and a loud inner critic, you’re in the worst kind of prison. You can’t evict your inner voice, so if it’s harsh, shaming and unforgiving, there’s nowhere to run. If you’d categorize the way you’re speaking to yourself as abusive, were you to hear the same words coming from someone else’s mouth, then it’s time to stage a take-down. Because that’s no way to live.

Where Does Your Inner Critic Come From?

Sometimes we absorb the way we were spoken to growing up. Not everyone is received with love, not everyone is nurtured. Peggy O’Mara has a quote, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that, but it isn’t the whole truth. You may have come from an incredibly loving home, but suffered unkindness at school. Scared and confused children can be mean, as can those who feel powerless at home. Events may have occurred that made you doubt yourself, or question your ideas about your own worth. Sometimes we’re going along just fine, and then we’re completely derailed by a romantic relationship, or an interaction with someone who has power over us, and it’s a game-changer.

Other times, we learn and we grow and we look back and feel intense shame for certain choices we made, or ways we let ourselves or others down. There are all kinds of reasons that voice in our head can become critical and unrelenting. Coming out of abuse is another one. Feeling like love is conditional and can be withdrawn at any time will also do it, because any time you fail to meet your own unrealistic expectations of perfection, you’ve set yourself up for the punishing sting of pain and disappointment. There are all kinds of ways we can betray our own tender hearts.

We Are All in the Same Boat…

The thing is, in order to shine and to share, you have to have some belief in yourself. And to be straight with you, not believing in yourself is the worst kind of hubris. It’s not a level playing field, but we’ve all been given the gift of a body, some time here on earth, and the ability to love deeply. Squandering those gifts is the equivalent of hijacking your experience here. You can look back and rant and rave and point fingers. You can write a dissertation about why you are the way you are, and why it isn’t your fault, but time will keep on ticking. And you can’t have it back.

We all make mistakes. We’ve all suffered loss to some degree or another, along with heartache, grief, regret, fear, confusion, shame, doubt and longing. If we’re lucky, we’ve also tasted joy and gratitude, love, kindness and connection. It’s a mixed bag here on planet earth, but it’s a wildly interesting ride. Getting bogged down in rage is no way to travel. There are so many tools available, so many paths of liberation, so many ways to enjoy the gifts we’ve been given. You really don’t want to rob yourself of all the beauty available here.

How Do You Starve Your Inner Critic & Feed a Loving Voice?

How do you starve an inner critic and feed a loving voice? I’m sure there are many tools, but the ones I’ve tested personally are the physical yoga practice, and seated meditation. There’s a saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything”, and I believe that to be the truth. If you’re critical of yourself out in the world, the same will hold true when you’re on your yoga mat. But if you stick with it and make it about breathing deeply and consciously, and not about how you look or what’s happening around you, a miraculous thing will happen. You’ll start to take the road marked “Inward”, so you can take a look around and start dealing with anything that isn’t serving you. You can start to observe yourself from the inside out, and build the muscle called compassion. You can work on the quality of patience. You can calm your nervous system with your breath. You can create enough space between your thoughts to get a taste of something called peace. And you can develop the ability to witness your tendencies, your thoughts and your feelings. You can start to recognize that you don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. You can start to choose better thoughts. Over time, you can feed a loving voice so it grows and strengthens and takes over your life. It just takes work and determination. Feel free to reach out if you need a little nudge.

Sending you love,
Ally Hamilton

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