What Are You Doing?

The-difference-betweenThere’s no doubt that a train of thought will affect the way you feel. If you’re in a negative frame of mind, that’s going to create a set of circumstances within you. Some thoughts will affect your physical body–the way you’re holding yourself, the way you’re breathing, the degree to which your muscles are “holding on”, your jaw is clenching, or your brows are furrowing. Some thoughts will affect your ability to sleep or eat well, and some will have an effect on your emotional body, and lead to feelings of listlessness and hopelessness. But nothing is going to have a greater effect upon you than your own actions. At the end of the day, you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror while you’re brushing your teeth. You have to be able to live with yourself. And that’s not going to be easy if you’re acting in ways that are hurtful to you, or to other people.

Having said that, we are all going to hurt other people at some time or another. Sometimes two people grow in different directions, and there’s just no stopping the reality that someone is going to be crushed. Sometimes we’re young and we don’t know what we’re doing. Sometimes we’re selfish and immature, and don’t understand the ramifications of what we’re doing. I’m not talking about that, though. I’m talking about those actions we take even when we realize somewhere deep and real, we shouldn’t. Feelings can be powerful, but they’re just feelings. They come and go, like everything else. You don’t have to act on every feeling that comes over you. Sometimes pain is just brutal, relentless, exhausting, and it’s natural to want a break from it, an escape. But if you’re in pain, the pain is there to teach you something. I know that isn’t a pleasant reality, but it’s the truth. Again, I’m talking about the kind of pain we create for ourselves, not the kind life brings (although frequently we create pain for ourselves because we haven’t healed a wound from the kind of pain that life can bring). Avoiding it or trying to escape it will not make it go away. You can try drugs, or alcohol, or sex, or shopping, or eating or not eating. All you’re doing is prolonging the inevitable. There’s no permanent escape that’s appealing, there’s no lifelong distraction that is going to bring you peace. At a certain point you’re going to have to walk right into the center of your pain and sit your a$$ down. Your pain is your path to freedom. Avoiding it is a jail sentence you’re imposing upon yourself, with the key in your pocket and your mind full of can’t.

I don’t say this without compassion, because I certainly avoided dealing with my own stuff for many years, but it’s really self-indulgent to desist from dealing with your issues. It’s an act of ingratitude. We don’t think of it that way when we’re in the grip of fear, thinking our pain will destroy us; we think of it as survival. But that’s flawed thinking. That’s your real, actual work here–healing yourself, filling yourself with love and compassion and kindness and inspiration, so you can spread those things freely. I realize fear is a big factor. People often feel overwhelmed and defeated by their past, their past behavior, and the idea that they might be able to do anything about it. Not doing anything about it is the thing to fear. A lifetime of emptiness and loneliness and quiet desperation, or not so quiet rage is the thing to fear. A life where you want to numb yourself or distract yourself constantly is something to fear for sure. A life where no one can get close to you because then the real work has to start and you’ve chosen to bow out of that, is something that ought to make you feel a little sick to your stomach. When you refuse to plunge in, your soul gets sick. Soulsickness. Like seasickness, but it’s your heart that’s getting thrown against the rocks.

Your pain won’t defeat you. Not dealing with it will, though. The ability to sit with your feelings without reacting to them is a tool you need to develop if you want to know yourself. If you want to be close to other people. I’m talking about real intimacy, total nakedness with someone else. Trust. The ability to have an uncomfortable, deeply painful conversation with someone about how you feel before you act on your feelings, even if the conversation terrifies you.

“Developing the witness” is something we talk about in yoga and meditation. The idea that you can have your feelings without identifying with them so much. Finding the strength to pause and consider and explore a set of actions before you do anything. That’s freedom. That’s also where character develops and strengthens. In order to change your behavior, sometimes you need to change your thinking. Creating space between yourself and your thoughts, recognizing that you are not your thoughts, is step one.

It’s going to be very hard to love yourself if you aren’t living up to your potential. Because somewhere inside, you’ll know you’re not. You’ll know you’re sleepwalking. And treating yourself and other people carelessly. And you’ll also realize time is passing. You could be shining, that’s the essential thing. You could be so full of love and consciousness and kindness and yes, that it would spill out all over the place wherever you went. Please don’t deny yourself that kind of shining. You could love your life if you don’t, already. You could love yourself and everyone you encounter. You could say, “Okay, Life, let’s dance”. I really hope you do. Sending you love, as always. Ally Hamilton

Dig the Well Before You’re Thirsty

Dig-the-well-beforeYou need a center, a way of being in this world, so that you are not going up and down with the ups and downs of life, there’s just no power in that. Of course, sometimes life brings situations that are so shockingly brutal, you’ll need time to recover, to grieve, to process. But short of those times when we’re blindsided, betrayed, or brought to our knees, we really don’t want to be stuck in a powerless cycle of suffering.

At a certain point, you have to unpack your bags if you feel you may be carting some old, heavy stuff around. The “how” is the thing for you to discover. Your “liberation pathway” is a personal process; there is no singular path to healing. For me, discovering and practicing yoga changed my life and my way of being in this world, which is why I teach. I believe if these tools worked for me, they have the potential to work for anyone. So I want to share, it lights me up to share. You can practice with me here, anytime: http://www.yogisanonymous.com I always try to emphasize the “how of healing” when I teach. There’s no better feeling in this world that I know of, than the feeling of lifting someone else up. Of lending a hand, an ear, a shoulder, whatever you’ve got. Yoga was no “magic bullet”, and I don’t believe there is one when it comes to healing yourself. So far I’ve been practicing over 20 years, 6 days a week. I’m not done yet, and I don’t believe we are ever done. We are always in process. But knowing yourself and healing yourself are essential pursuits if you want to be happy, at peace, comfortable in your own skin. If you want to be aware of what it is that gives you a sense of purpose and fills your whole being with YES, so you can spread that yes wherever you go. I feel all of those things now, but I certainly didn’t when I started this journey. It’s painful, lonely, uncomfortable work sometimes, but it is totally doable and also necessary if you want to realize what you know. And it does get easier.

For me, personally, I’d been in therapy on and off for quite awhile when I started practicing yoga. I have always found human behavior fascinating and intriguing. And like most humans, I’ve always wanted to be happy. In my experience, working with a great therapist can be very enlightening as far as identifying your “stuff”, or going through your baggage. (It might not be for you. Again, I’m just sharing my own “how to unpack story” in the hope that it may be helpful). A good therapist can help you put everything on the floor and sort it out, so you can start to figure out why you do the things you do. And how old stuff might be at play in your present. Part of being at peace is knowing yourself, understanding what makes you tick. It’s like having a trustworthy person hold up a mirror and kindly say, “Can you see what you’re doing? And is this serving your higher good?” So, I’d say I had that information about myself when I took my first yoga class. If we’d met and you’d been interested, I could have told you about why I was the way I was, but I couldn’t have done much about it. And I was not a very happy person. I was actually pretty serious and somewhat depressed. Numbed out. I was attached to my stories, justifications and rationalizations. I had my rage and my finger-pointing. I was a young adult, after all. And I liked my story, it was comfortable. Kind of like an old sweatshirt you just won’t throw away.

When I started practicing yoga, I began to realize that the quality of my internal dialogue was harsh and critical. Unforgiving. Judgmental. Your inner voice is your constant companion, like your roommate, except you cannot evict that voice. I was a Type-A perfectionist, and I realized I had zero idea how to give myself a break. If I made a mistake, said something or did something I wished I hadn’t, I’d beat myself up for days, relentlessly going over the event in my mind and redoing it, rewriting it, obsessing over it. I’d agonize and berate myself until I felt sick. Exhausted. Alone. In Vipassana meditation, that’s known as “boiling yourself.”

And I also had no real sense of what made me happy. What I was doing here. So I started to work on that on my yoga mat. My practice became a place where I did my best to feed a loving voice. If I fell out of a pose, or felt sluggish, and that harsh inner critic started piping up, I’d say, “No. Not here. Go away.” And I’d give myself a break, and try to replace the harsh thoughts with some kind and compassionate ones. I focused my mind again and again on my breath. And little by little my mind quieted and I started to understand what a loving inner environment felt like. Sadly, it’s not natural to most of us. We are inundated all day long with messages about how we are “wrong” in almost every way. How we don’t look right or smell right or feel right, or dress the right way, or live in the right house, or drive the right car, or sleep next to the right person. It’s kind of insane.

As I started to strengthen that loving, kind voice, I found it followed me into other areas of my life. I realized I’d had blinders on, for a long time. I’d been so fixated on my life, on what wasn’t working or hadn’t happened yet. On why I wasn’t happy. It was a me-focused life, and in retrospect, that’s kind of sad. Because if you really want to be happy, you need to turn your attention to spreading some love and some light wherever you go, whenever you can. And once you tap into that enormous, limitless well of love within you, you will naturally want to share it. To plunge your hands into it and fling it all over the place with abandon, with joy.

I’ve always been an avid reader (“Happiness Is An Inside Job” by Sylvia Boorstein, “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self” by Stephen Cope, “Comfortable with Uncertainty” by Pema Chodron, “Still Writing” by Dani Shapiro, and anything by Mary Oliver or David Whyte are titles I’d recommend), and I’ve always loved to write, so those are also tools of healing that I’ve used along my way. And I began a seated meditation practice about 12 years ago, Http://www.dhamma.org/ if you want to check it out. I hope at least some of this is helpful to you. It’s a bit of a departure from my usual posts, and pretty personal, but I want you to know I care, and I’ll share whatever I’ve got that might be helpful. It’s frustrating to read about these life-changing ideas without some tools to help get you there if you aren’t there already. Sending you so much love, and a big hug, 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

Root Down and Rise Up

For-a-seed-to-achieveIn almost every pose we do in yoga we are “rooting down” and “rising up”. Whatever is touching the floor is rooting down and how we balance ourselves on top of that foundation and breathe is really when the yoga happens. We don’t always stand on our feet. Sometimes we stand on our forearms or our hands or our sit bones. We keep looking at things from different perspectives, balancing ourselves, breathing in and breathing out.

The same can be said for life. If you want to rise up, you are going to have to root down and get real with yourself. A structure is only as strong as its foundation. If your foundation is built with denial or rage or bitterness or laziness, it’s only a matter of time before the whole thing collapses in on itself.

In order to blossom into the you that has been waiting, your authentic self, you have to be willing to unravel, to unlearn, to un-think, and to unhook your journey from past experiences so you can be free to set a new course. There is an element of destruction. You do away with those things that block you from moving forward, and prevent you from letting go.

Sometimes people stand in the wind, contemplating a new way of being. We like our routines in life. We prefer to keep the seed of our being hidden, even from ourselves. But if you want to be at peace, you had better be willing to unlearn everything, and crack your seed open. Crush to the wind those ideas and ways of being that were never yours in the first place. That’s where the growth happens.

You have the seed of beauty within you. The seed of love and compassion and kindness. The seed of your own truth. Plant something that is yours alone, and rise up toward the sun, beyond the sun, add your spark to the limitless universe, why don’t you? Sending you love, a shovel, and the strength to deal with your fertilizer for awhile. You’re going to grow a gorgeous flower if you can hang in there and breathe.

Ally Hamilton

Are You Tense?

The-past-the-present-andYou know what’s funny? The past, present and future will show up everywhere with you if your mind is running the show, because the mind LOVES time travel. And it prefers the past or the future to the present. We humans are supposed to be elevated because we can reason. But we are so great at screwing it up. We’re like a bunch of talking heads. Blah blah blah.

I believe a mind that is serving your heart and your intuition can be a beautiful and powerful tool. You can use your mind to answer questions like: How do I put my dreams into action? How do I face my fears? How do I have this painful conversation, what is the best way to go about it? What actions can I take to make a difference, to bring more fulfillment and purpose into my life? What tools or methods appeal to me, how do I go about this journey of healing, of quieting, of discovering?

But in order to function optimally, we have to be able to quiet the mind, so we can hear that voice that knows the way. Our intuition can chart the course to our purpose, fulfillment and joy if we have the courage to follow it. Otherwise, the obsessive, redundant nature of the unchecked mind will spin us right out of the joy, wonder, beauty, pain, love, anger, confusion, grief, laughter and connection that is ONLY available in the present. That stuff is the juice of life. Without it, life is a painful process of change and darkness, fear and anxiety, confusion, depression and longing. Because usually when we visit the past we do so with some sadness or regret or desire. If we’re revisiting a person we’ve lost, the memory may be happy, but the resulting feeling will be the thud of grief that lands on the heart and renders us breathless. (And please don’t misunderstand me, I believe in remembering those who have been taken from us too soon. I just don’t think they’d want us to live in that space of pain and heartache for too much of our present. I believe they’d want us to find the joy again, and to open to love). And when we think about the future we do so with anxiety or fear, or craving. We might have a vision of how we want things to be, and then feel frustrated or dissatisfied with how things are.

I’m going to say something that I feel is left unsaid too often. There are certain losses that will never fully heal. If you’ve endured a loss like that, then you know what I mean. I’m not talking about the break-up of a relationship. I’m talking about the kind of loss where your heart and mind scream with the pain of, how do I possibly face this? All that can be hoped for in those extreme cases is the discovering of a new normal, where a certain amount of sadness is present, more so on some days than others. And hopefully that sadness will lead to greater compassion and understanding for ourselves and others.

But allowing yourself to move through life as the servant of your mind is a sure way to be absolutely miserable. If your body (which is your home) were a building, the un-mastered mind would be the top floor, and there’d be about 900 people up there, running around in circles, arms waving, holding files full of thoughts, judgments, ideas, shoulds, can’ts, why’s, and worries, screaming at each other. With harsh lighting, and windows that don’t open.

The heart would be right in the center of the building. Quiet, with huge, floor-to-celing windows, a beautiful breeze blowing in, and the most extraordinary light. No yelling, no people, just a presence, just a voice, just you. Or me. Or any of us. Because that spark lives in all of us.

In the basement, you have storage. File cabinets full of every experience you’ve ever had, some marked “awesome”, some marked, “heartache, betrayal, loss”, some marked, “rage, jealousy, moments I wish I could do over”, some marked, “really unhealthy choices”. There are no windows in the basement, and there’s no light, because there’s no potential in the past.

The 900 people on the top floor love to race to the basement and grab files to run around with. They might pass by that peaceful, quiet, truthful floor of the heart, because it can be uncomfortable to face reality as it is. To come into the now. To realize how extraordinary you are. To take responsibility for your own peace, even if it’s the peace of enduring what cannot be changed, and healing where we can heal. The view from the heart is so expansive, sometimes it scares people and they go running for the basement. But when the heart takes over, it is a gorgeous thing. Because you know what the heart does?

It goes upstairs and fires almost everyone. The most efficient person will remain to keep things organized. Two or three others may be left behind, but they’ll only be able to cause a minimal amount of trouble, and only on really challenging days. Mostly, the heart will be able to shush them easily. Then the heart goes to the basement, and sets fire to all those old files. Except for two or three very special entries that may need to be protected. And then the heart goes and sits by that open window, with the breeze blowing by, and watches the whole world unfold with new eyes, with relief, with, Yes. Finally.

Life is such a gift. Just the experience of being here. Of learning. Of growing. Of screwing it up and trying again. Of finding your purpose. Of being really, truly present and awake and aware. Engaged with the now of the thing. Your heart has a beautiful song to sing. If you want to be at peace, you have to let it. I really really hope you do. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

How Did This Happen?!

A-person-often-meets-hisDo you ever find yourself in the exact situation you were trying to avoid and wonder how this could have happened, or find yourself thinking the universe has a twisted sense of humor? Are you sure it’s the “universe”?

Carl Jung has a quote, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Any places within you that could use some healing will make themselves known to you one way or another. If you’ve found yourself in a set of circumstances you were consciously hoping to avoid, it’s your unconscious at work, waving a burning flag at you. The flag is a marker. It’s your intuition drawing you toward an obstacle you need to address first, in order to open fully to love. We all want to heal.

Knowing yourself is at the heart of any spiritual practice. And there’s just no getting around those places where we’re raw, where we’ve been hurt or disappointed or betrayed or abandoned. Until you acknowledge those places and sit with them for awhile, they’ll continue to seek your attention.

But it’s not really “them” seeking you, it’s YOU seeking you. You just may have to play it out in order to “get it”. When a current experience feels like the ghost of an old situation, you’re probably in for some serious pain. Because in a very real sense you’re re-living the original wound. Sometimes people have to do that over and over again, especially those who run from the experience or numb it out or push it down. It’s so much better if you can turn and face it, because ignoring or denying it won’t make it go away. It’ll just keep chasing you. And ruling your life.

We all have pain. Sometimes people apologize to me for crying in the yoga room during class. Are you kidding me? Let the tears flow. Give yourself a safe place to allow those feelings to come up so you can release them. This is how you unhook your journey from an old wound and find the freedom to move forward without having to carry that heavy stuff on your back. There’s no reason your past has to rule your present or your future, and there’s no sense in finding yourself on the same painful road over and over again, either. Sit down on the curb for awhile and bawl your eyes out if you need to. When you’re ready, stand up and start walking. Just put one foot in front of the other. When you come to the fork in the road and one sign says “Same Old Road” and the other says, “Highway of Love”, I’m pretty sure you’ll know which way to go. And you’ll still think, “How did this happen?!”, but you’ll have a big grin on your face. Because love feels good. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton

Love Smiles at Strangers

Darkness-cannot-driveThe world is in a state of pain because we’ve separated ourselves from each other. If you look around and wonder why you see despair, depression, war, famine, slavery, greed, apathy, pollution, a planet whose depletion is becoming more and more apparent, the answer is simple. We are at war within ourselves. Nothing is happening outside that isn’t happening inside.

It is true that we are going to be alone through much of our time here, sometimes even when we’re in a room full of people we love. That internal dialogue, that relationship you’re having with yourself, is the number one relationship to examine. Because if your inner dialogue is harsh and unforgiving, you are in pain. If you’re in pain, you’re going to spread pain. You won’t mean to do that, but it will happen. In that case, you are living with a nasty roommate you can’t evict, who makes you feel alone, “less than”, resentful, envious, hopeless, angry and frequently bitter. No way you’ll be treating yourself well if you’re feeling that way. And that roommate has a lot of help “out there” to make you believe those feelings are facts. That help comes in the form of constant messages that we are bombarded with from every direction. (Those messages are out there so that we buy stuff as if that will help). You may find yourself asking questions like, “What’s it all for?”

But that roommate is an impostor, and those messages are lies. There’s another voice inside you that is full of love and compassion and truth. It’s a lot quieter and you have to shut out the white noise (which includes the nastiness of that inner critic, your cell phone, your computer, your television, those horrific “beauty” magazines, gossip rags and anything else that tells you, “you suck”) to hear it, but it’s there. The more you make room for that voice, the louder it will get. It’s just been waiting for you. It’s stronger than the critic, it’s stronger than depression, apathy, and disrespect. It does not ever use the word “should” regarding you or anyone else. It is full of compassion and awareness and patience and understanding and forgiveness. The voice is love. We are all made of the same stuff, love, we have just forgotten.

The world is upside down because of that, and although we are all alone on this journey in many ways, we have separated ourselves from each other in a way that makes the ride scary, that makes true connection with anyone else unlikely. Because of course, if anyone knew who you really were, they wouldn’t like you, right? If you edit yourself, no one can know you, thus you will be, in a very real way, alone, and you will suffer. We need connection, we need love, we need to feel like people know us and care. We all need that–people, animals, the beautiful, giving planet. We look around at the state of things and we are overwhelmed by what is wrong with the picture. The picture could be so different. It’s totally simple, but it’s not at all easy. Because the road to uncovering that love might be dark and lonely and full of pain. The more each person refuses to travel that road to internal healing, the more stuck we all become. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Three times probably isn’t enough. Say it to yourself a million times. Say it every time some mean nasty thought pops up. Keep going back to love. If you’re full of love, you’ll spread it wherever you go. You won’t mean to, but it will happen. Love smiles at strangers. Love lends a hand for no reason except that it’s natural. Love doesn’t turn a blind eye. Love doesn’t say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do”. We need a serious love explosion. That’s how the picture changes. Sending you love right now, Ally Hamilton