Let Love do That

You-should-sit-inA big part of being at peace involves our ability to sit with discomfort. Not everything in life feels good, or is easy to deal with or comprehend. Sometimes we are the source of our greatest discomfort, and sometimes other people or the events around us give us an opportunity to lean into our fear, our rage, our guilt, grief or shame. It isn’t easy, but it’s how we learn and grow.

We all have our stuff, and even if you do the work to heal, to become intimately acquainted with the source of your pain, the things that trigger you, or the thoughts and tendencies that weaken you, it’s likely that you’ll have to grapple with them from time to time, because you’re human and this is no easy gig. But a lot of the time, we resist and contract against our own experience, especially if it’s messy, complicated, disappointing or uncomfortable. Maybe we’ve made a mess—said something or done something we wish we hadn’t in a moment of weakness or anger or confusion, or maybe we’ve been on the receiving end of poor treatment. Perhaps it’s circumstances that have us pushed to our edge; mostly, life does not unfold according to the vision we had in our heads of “how things should be”.

The source of addiction is this feeling that we can’t take it. We can’t withstand this temporary feeling, we have to do something, now. The best thing to do is have a seat and breathe. Because if you drink the feeling away, or pop a pill, or go shopping or hop in the sack with someone, that feeling will just arise again in the not too distant future. It won’t go away unless you face it down. Unless you examine the root of your discomfort, it will direct your life. And no feeling is forever. If you practice leaning into your painful feelings, you’ll find they arise, peak and subside like every other living thing.

The very best thing you can do when you feel “pushed up against it” is to breathe. Fighting reality will not change it. You don’t have to put everything in the thank you column, you don’t have to be grateful for every experience in your life. Some things are devastating and will never make sense. But you can always grow from your pain. You can use your suffering to become softer, more open, more empathetic. That’s so much better than resisting, denying, numbing out or running. The longer you do that, the longer your pain owns you. And you know what? I wouldn’t let pain own you, I’d let love do that. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton

Not This, Not That

buckminsterfullerIn yoga practice, so much of what we’re doing is about stripping away. It’s very possible, and quite common, to reach adulthood and have no clue who we are or what we need to be at peace. Culturally we’re taught to look outward for happiness; if we just meet certain “markers”, if we can look right and have the right job and the right partner and the right house and car, then we’ll be good to go. A lot of people are so focused on attaining these outer signs of happiness, they pass right by the signs that would actually lead them there.

Also, there’s the way you grew up. Maybe you were taught, in word or through actions, that your worth as a human being was based on your performance; if you did well in school, if you were a good boy or girl, then all would be well. If you screwed up or failed to reach the bar, love was withdrawn and the disapproval was palpable. Maybe punishment was swift and intense. That’s just one example, of course. There are many. Maybe you grew up in a house where you felt unsafe, and you learned to be indispensable or invisible depending on the moment. Maybe you were spoiled rotten and taught that you were the center of everything, and that other people existed in order to orbit around your needs and wants. Perhaps you were taught that your needs and wants were something you were supposed to swallow, and that your fears and dreams had very little impact on the world around you. Maybe you were parentified and got a huge lesson in care-taking and people-pleasing. It’s a huge spectrum, but the chances for knowing yourself are slim in any of these scenarios.

This is why we have so many people who reach adulthood and have no idea which way to turn. The house doesn’t do it, the diet doesn’t do it, the right partner doesn’t do it. What’s the point? Where have they gone wrong, why isn’t the formula working? The formula doesn’t work because it’s based on the stuff around us, not the stuff within us. I know someone who’s been searching for the “perfect house” for years. Money isn’t an issue, the location could be anywhere. No matter where he goes or what kind of house he buys, it’s never the right one. It never does the trick. If you want to be at peace, you have to get your true house in order. Your body is your home. If things are not well within you, they won’t be well around you, even if you buy a mansion in Bali and have people on hand to feed you fresh mango at your every whim. There’s no escaping yourself.

In the yoga practice, we’re looking for “vidya” or “clear-seeing”; being able to identify what is real from what is unreal, what is permanent from what is impermanent. You have to question everything you think you know, because you may have accepted things along the way, decades ago, that turn out not to be true for you. You may have adopted ways of being that don’t serve you, that dis-empower you, or block you from receiving love and joy. You may have a lot of unlearning to do. Maybe you’ve come to believe you aren’t lovable, or that you’re broken in some un-fixable way. Maybe you think you can’t trust anyone, or everyone lies and cheats. There are all kinds of ideas you might have developed that just aren’t true, and so you have to dig. You have to unearth. You have to do the work to heal your deepest wounds so they don’t direct your entire life. The way to peace is inside, not outside, and the sooner you start, the faster you get to a place where life feels good. Avoiding this work is the surest way to suffer. You aren’t here to suffer, although it’s part of life sometimes. You’re here to shine. I wouldn’t wait.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Be Your Own Clean-Up Crew

jimrohnSometimes we get ourselves into difficult situations, and find we really want a way out, but the way does not seem clear. This is really common when we’re young. I certainly got myself into some tight spots along the way, and made a mess on the way out. Part of it is just that it takes time to know ourselves. It’s very easy to go through the first quarter of our lives being influenced by external factors. We might place a lot of value on what other people want for us. How other people want us to be or to feel. We might feel pressured by societal norms, or the way our friends seem to be doing things. There are countless ways to get lost on the path.

And when I say “the path”, I’m not suggesting there’s one path for everyone. I mean, your particular path. The one that’s going to lead to your deepest, truest self. The one that’s going to take you to your joy so you can swim in it and share it. The thing is, we aren’t encouraged to look inward, we’re taught to focus outside ourselves and meet certain markers, and those markers might differ from family to family, and from culture to culture, but we all have them. The expectations, the ingrained beliefs and ideas about things. Sometimes we have a lot of unlearning to do to figure out what makes sense to us, to uncover what scares us, inspires us, excites us. If you haven’t figured that out and you go ahead and make huge life decisions before you know who you are, you’re pretty much guaranteed to crash into some brick walls, and hurt yourself and others. As long as you aren’t reckless with other people, as long as you don’t set out to hurt anyone, no one can hate you for being young and confused, for thinking you want something, and then getting it, only to find out it is not what you thought it would be. That’s called being young and making mistakes, and it’s how we grow and learn.

Having said all of that, your choices and your actions define you, as does the way you make your mistakes, and the way you address them. What you do about how you feel is the stuff of character-building. Making a mistake is no crime. Handling it in a cruel or unkind way, leaving someone in the dark, showing a lack of compassion and empathy—those things are crimes. They’re crimes against your own heart and your own well-being, in addition to the harm you’re inflicting on the other party. The human heart is resilient, and most people will recover from heartbreak, abandonment or betrayal, given enough time, and assuming they avail themselves of tools that help with healing. Having to live with the fact that you treated someone poorly, though, that’s another thing. At night, in your bed, when all the noise of the day stops and you’re left with your thoughts and your internal dialogue, there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t run from yourself. You have to be able to live in your own skin, and breathe.

Sometimes we get desperate and it’s hard to face the mess we’ve made and so we try to run or hide or deny or deflect, and of course, that just compounds the pain and confusion, and lengthens the time it will take to heal. You cannot heal in murky waters, and you cannot heal if you lie to yourself. The sooner you face your problems head on, the sooner life will feel good again. It’s funny. Years ago I was on a play date with my son. He was about four. When we were leaving, I told him to go and help his friend clean up the mess of toys they’d created, and the other mom said her housekeeper would do it and that she preferred that anyway, because she didn’t want to end up with a nerdy kid who wore a pocket protector. I said I didn’t want to create a grown man who left his dishes and dirty laundry all over the house for his wife to pick up. I didn’t say it as a challenge, it just kind of slipped out, and we looked at each other and laughed and she sent both of our boys to go clean up. Often I see dog poop on the street. It’s the same syndrome. If you go through life expecting other people to clean up the messes you’ve made, don’t expect to be happy, because part of being happy requires that we’re accountable, that we’ve taken ownership of the way we’re going to show up in the world. Sometimes in an effort to help someone, we rob them of the opportunity to do that. Instead of helping, we’re enabling behavior that’s weakening this person we love, and true love doesn’t weaken us, it strengthens us.

Sending you some love right now,

Ally Hamilton

Take Off the Armor

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

 

If you need some help, you can do this with me right now: https://yogisanonymous.com/courses/from-pain-to-peace-using-your-practice-to-change-your-life

Swim with the Fishes

alextanSometimes what we think we know prevents us from seeing clearly. In “Making a Friend of the Unknown”, a talk by one of my favorite poets, David Whyte, he shares about how he studied marine zoology before he dedicated himself to writing full-time. He went to the Galapagos Islands, and got in the water with the fish, and he said he was very disappointed to discover the animals had not read the same books he had, and that they had “lives of their own.” Awesome, right?

Our ideas and opinions and frame of reference color all of our experiences. We like to think we have things figured out, we have certain people “pegged”. Did it ever occur to you that your mother has a libido, and this is one of the reasons you exist? I’m not suggesting you have to dwell on your mother’s sexual drive, I’m just saying, do you think of your mother as a complete woman, with a life and feelings and mysteries all her own, heartbreaks you may know nothing about, secret hopes, dreams, longings, or do you have her in this box labeled “mom”?

We make snap judgments all the time, and let’s get clear on this–judgements are not bad; the mind is a tool of judgement. You pull up to a red light and make a judgement to stop your car. It’s pre-judging that gets us into trouble, and yet we’re so used to categorizing everything. We’re taking in so much information all the time, but we’re also missing so much. Maybe we see someone with a yoga mat slung over her shoulder and we think, “She’s like me”, or we notice someone’s cool tattoo, or their smile, or the way they’re carrying themselves and we think, “confident”, “charismatic”. Do you know a lot of sociopaths have those characteristics? I’m just saying.

I’ve been teaching so long at this point, mostly the room is full of people I know, with new faces showing up all the time, and I love that. It’s rare for me to deal with a room full of people I don’t know, who don’t know me, unless I’m traveling to teach a workshop somewhere. Sometimes in those instances, I can feel the energy in the room. The withholding, the resistance, the pause before the judgement. “Am I going to like this? Am I going to be happy I chose to spend my afternoon this way? Am I going to sweat? Is it only going to be about whether I sweat?” The mind is constantly pulling us out of our experience so we can make decisions about the experience we’re having, but the minute you label how you’re feeling, you aren’t feeling it anymore, you’re thinking.

My mother today is not the mother of my childhood, and my father today is not the same father I grew up with; people change and things change but sometimes our ideas do not change along with them. I’m not the same teacher I was ten years ago, nor do I want to be. We’re always learning and growing, and hopefully we’re allowing life to open us and strengthen us so we have more to give, but we stunt that process when we place our ideas and opinions all over everything. It’s like a grid or a screen we can’t see through. We’ve decided things have to be one way, and we reject anything that doesn’t match our vision.

There was a time, years ago when I’d first moved to L.A., when I took over the classes of a very popular teacher at a very popular gym. For a few weeks, I had to deal with that resistant and withholding energy in the room, until everybody decided it was going to be okay, and I had made the grade, so to speak. Except for this one guy who always stood at the front of the room, rolling his eyes at me throughout class, or shaking his head, or sighing loudly. It was clear to me that he couldn’t stand me, but that he was there because the time slot worked for him, and he liked the workout. This went on for months, and though I wanted to speak with him about it, he always came right on time, and left right after.

One day I ran into him on the way to class, and I said hi. We spoke for a few minutes. He seemed shy, maybe a little aloof, but not like a person who despised me. Nonetheless, the eye-rolling and huffy breaths continued, as did the head shaking. Then, one day he asked if we could go for a hike, and it turned out he’d been shaking his head at himself. The things I was saying were hitting a nerve, and resonating with him, and he had been rolling his eyes because he couldn’t believe he hadn’t been dealing with his deep need to heal. So this whole time, I’d thought he couldn’t stand me, and it turned out he followed me all over L.A. to take class, even after I left the gym and moved to a studio in Santa Monica. He’s since moved away, but once in awhile he’ll surprise me and show up in class. He’s my oldest regular, this guy who couldn’t stand my guts.

The more you can drop what you think you know, and just open to things as they are, the less you’ll struggle. Moving through life and interacting with people with curiosity is such a great way to go. We aren’t here to peg people, or to compete with them. We’re here to see, to share, to learn, to understand, to grow, to celebrate, to cherish. Life isn’t about surviving, it’s about thriving and shifting and opening. A lot of the time, we get in our own way and become our own obstacles. Drop the stance, remove the blinders, try not to cling to a picture in your head of how things should be or how people should be. Don’t be so sure that you already know what someone will say. Do not assume you’ve gathered all there is to know about your partner, even if, and especially if, you’ve been together for years. Try not to make snap judgements about people based on one conversation, one interaction, no matter how wonderful or miserable. Get in the water and swim and observe all the animals having lives of their own.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Let the Disappointments Strengthen You

shannonaFew things feel worse than being used or duped, especially at the hands of someone we believed was a friend, but these things happen in life. Betrayal stings because we trusted, and we were wrong. Not only are we disappointed and sometimes disgusted with the other party, we’re also angry with ourselves for not having seen more clearly. Also, when we feel disgusted, it’s usually because we are really, really hurt.

The trap in these situations is to ask ourselves, “How can this person have done this to me?”, and begin to make our list of all the ways we’ve shown up and been a great and loyal friend, partner, or colleague. The reality is, it’s not about you. This person would do this to anyone in similar circumstances. This is where this person happens to be on his or her path at the present moment. You just crossed paths at the wrong time.

Now, how do you wrap your head around that if it’s your partner? How not to take it to heart in that scenario? It always takes two. In any relationship, the dynamic exists between the two parties. There’s you, your partner, and the space between you, and the relationship lives in that space. You are each responsible for what you contribute, whether it’s your care, your attention, your energy, your time, your love, your presence, your patience, compassion and forgiveness, your sense of fun, your willingness to keep learning about the other person, or not so much. You are responsible if you neglected that space, if you stopped looking or caring or listening, if you filled that space with your rage, resentment, boredom, fear, frustration, or if you didn’t fill the space at all. That’s the part to examine.

A lot of the time, we’re taking things personally that have nothing to do with us. If someone behaves in a way that lacks integrity, that’s their issue. The part that’s personal is the healing you’ll have to do if you got stung. Also, it’s helpful to remember those times when we did not show up the way we wish we had. No one operates from his or her highest self in every moment. We all make mistakes, we all blow it sometimes. Learning from our mistakes so we can make better ones moving forward is the thing. Practicing forgiveness for ourselves and others creates the environment for change and growth. Don’t get me wrong, there are some things that are just over the line. You can forgive people for your own well-being, and still choose not to have them in your life.

The thing is, life is short and precious. You can get really caught up feeling injured, wronged, or victimized, but that’s time you’ll never have back, and that isn’t a stance that’s going to serve you. Most people are just doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Sometimes people are really young, selfish, confused, or immature. We’ve all been those things at some point. No need to take it personally, because it’s not a reflection of anything lacking within you. As soon as you can, pick yourself up, because there’s a lot of beauty in this world, and there are a lot of wonderful human beings. As far as the people who’d walk through fire for you, don’t expect a roomful. Maybe a handful. For sure, one. You can always walk through the fire on your own behalf, and sometimes life asks that of us.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Don’t Consent to Poor Treatment

eleanorrNot all friendships or romantic relationships will stand the test of time, and that is okay. Of course it hurts, but it’s just the way of things. People change, circumstances change, everything in the known universe is in constant motion. Sometimes we think something is “for life”, but it turns out not to be. Certain people are going to turn out to be “somebody that you used to know.” Yes, you can thank me for having that song stuck in your head for the next little while. But it’s really the truth.

Of course it doesn’t feel good when someone rejects us or ditches us or treats us with very little respect or concern. Especially if there’s a history of kindness and shared memories, of times when you really went out of your way to show up or to help, but if you are suddenly discarded, you’ll probably look back and realize you were dealing with a mostly one-way street. Someone who genuinely cares about you will not treat you carelessly, no matter how caught up he or she might be with other interests.

If someone is behaving in a disappointing way, that’s no reflection on you, it’s a reflection of where that person happens to be on her or his own path. You don’t have to take it to heart. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting or hurt, it just means you don’t have to take it as a sign that you’re easy to discard. There’s another great Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

Generally, you’re dealing with one of two things: either you have some part in the dissolution of what was once a beautiful bond, but the other party is unwilling or unable to communicate in a respectful way so you can understand a differing point of view, and apologize if the situation warrants that, or, you’re dealing with a person who truly doesn’t give a sh%t. And either way, it takes two to make a “thing go right”. There’s another song for you, you’re welcome.

If a person won’t tell you what’s up, don’t lose sleep over it. I mean, in order to own your end of a thing, a person has to be willing to tell you what the thing is, and if they won’t, it really has to go in your, “no time for this” folder. Because that’s okay in high school, but otherwise, not so much. If a person doesn’t care enough to communicate, why waste your precious time and energy on it?

The thing is, life is so short. All you can do is manage the way you show up, and pay attention to what you do. If you blow it, own it, apologize, and take some time for self-inquiry so you can learn and grow and do it better the next time. Try not to hurt people. If you’re the person doing the leaving, whether we’re talking about the end of a friendship or a romantic relationship, communication is always a good way to go. I mean, if you went on one date with someone and it wasn’t a match, I’m not saying you have to spend an hour talking about why that is, but don’t say you’ll call if you have no intention of calling, because that’s also only okay in high school, and not really even then. If someone is into you and it isn’t mutual, don’t leave them hanging in the wind. People are precious and the human heart is tender. Take care of your own, and be kind to others.

Sending you love, lovers,

Ally Hamilton