Happy New Year!

Ive-learned-that-youAs we close out the year today and set ourselves up to begin again tomorrow, it’s a good time to think about what you might release that isn’t serving you. It could be an attachment to a certain outcome that just isn’t going to happen. This can be difficult or even heartbreaking to relinquish, but sometimes we’re gripping so much, we’re using up a lot of energy that would better be spent opening and trusting and allowing. As always, we cannot control circumstances, or other people, or what anyone else will want or say or do or need. We can simply work on the way we respond to what we’re given, and on the way we’re showing up, without looking away, or pretending that things are different. That doesn’t serve anyone. Maybe it’s a way of being that’s creating obstacles for you; a particular stance, or lens you’re looking through that’s coloring everything you do and say as you move through the world. Maybe it’s the way you’re thinking of yourself, or the way you’re treating yourself, or it could be a habit that’s weakening you or taking you prisoner. It’s possible that you’re holding up your rage and blame as a shield, and it’s also possible you’re pushing your anger down. There are all kinds of ways we can sabotage ourselves.

The thing is, life doesn’t wait for any of us to get it together. We do or we don’t, and either way, the clock strikes midnight tonight, and a new year begins. This is a gift, regardless of what’s happening in your life, because as long as you’re alive, there’s potential. There’s potential for joy, for peace, for love, for laughter, for the feel of the sun on your face. There’s the possibility of love so deep and mind-blowing, it will take the breath right out of your lungs, and fill your whole being with gratitude. There’s the chance that you could help someone, in big ways or small. There’s the chance that you’ll do the work to know, accept, honor and celebrate yourself, so you can uncover your gifts and share them with everything you’ve got. There’s the prospect that you could create something gorgeous and unexpected and needed, like incredible love within you, and love all around you.

If things aren’t unfolding the way you’d hoped or wanted or envisioned, I’d get really concrete about your goals and objectives. I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions because they tend to be vague, and they usually address symptoms rather than root issues. “This year I’m going to lose ten pounds” might sound concrete, but it’s not meaningful. Are you having an adversarial relationship with your body? Do you struggle with your body image? What’s your relationship with food? Are you in a constant state of deprivation, with occasional binging because you feel so starved? Are you carrying an extra ten pounds around, or are you buying into some insane vision of thinness? Do you eat when you feel afraid, lonely, angry or bored? If you don’t get at the underlying issue, the “resolution” will be out of reach, and anything you write down on a piece of paper will probably lead to feelings of disappointment, shame and self-loathing. No one needs to start the year with a list like that.

Most New Year’s Resolutions fall under that umbrella. “This year I’ll meet someone.” Why do you want to meet someone? Are you feeling good about yourself, and longing for connection and the chance to share the love you’ve cultivated? In that case, a better objective would be, “This year I’m going to take a cooking class, or sign up for salsa dancing, or play golf on Saturday mornings, or fill-in-the-blank with something you love to do.” Because if you get out there and do the things you love, you’ll meet other people who also love those things, and you’ll connect on a deep level, whether we’re talking about friendship, or something romantic. If you want to meet someone because you feel desperate since all your friends are getting married, or you feel empty inside, or you think someone else is going to complete you, you’re in trouble, and you’re setting yourself up for heartache. We always have to get at the “why” of things. Why do we want what we want? What’s driving us? We have to know ourselves, and that’s another reason I love yoga so much. It’s a process of coming to terms with who you are, and figuring out how to integrate everything. Everything you’ve been through, everything you want, everything that’s true for you. If you’re in pain, make it a priority to explore healing modalities. Make an appointment with a therapist. Find your local yoga studio and try a class. Book a massage. Go for a hike. Listen to music that feeds your soul. Connect with yourself.

My point is, try to get very clear about what’s blocking you or holding you back, and then avail yourself of the tools you need to start healing. We’re always in process, but sometimes people avoid their pain and run from that kind of work because they think they’ll be overwhelmed. The reality is, the longer we run from our pain, the longer it rules our lives. That is a fact. The more we work with it, acknowledge it, deal with it, the more we take our power back. Your life belongs to you. It doesn’t belong to your past.It belongs to you, and what you do with it is up to you. I believe your very first priority is getting right with yourself. Nothing else flows until we do that. If we aren’t happy on the inside, if we aren’t at peace with ourselves, nothing external will make it right.

If you’ve been chasing love, approval, affection or self-worth, figure out why you’re doing that, and get yourself some support, so that you can have the feelings and urges and impulses without acting on them. Obviously, I teach yoga because it changed my life, and I believe if it could do that for me, it could do that for anyone. I love sharing the tools that helped me make the biggest and most important shifts in my life, and continue to help me to do that. But maybe there’s a different path for you. Get passionate about figuring out what you need to be at peace with yourself, and don’t stop pursuing that until you’re able to live your life in a way that feels good to you. If you’re struggling and suffering, and have been for quite some time, then you know you’re not going to solve that by midnight tonight, nor do you need to feel any pressure to do that. But take a step today. Do one solid, tangible thing to nurture yourself. Remember that there’s always the potential to start again, in every moment, in every breath. Begin again. Wishing you the happiest New Year, and a 2015 full of love, laughter, hugs, joy, great surprises, good health, and healing if you need it. I’m so grateful to be in conversation with you all, you have no idea. Here’s to more love in the coming year,

Untie the Knot in Your Heart

We-all-have-an-old-knotThe holidays can be a beautiful time of year filled with family, friends, laughter, and a little more time to relax and enjoy, but they can also be a time of loneliness and longing, of regret and despair, and of too much time on our hands to dwell on the “what if’s” and “if only’s”. You can make yourself sick with that stuff.

A lot of people suffer from the holiday blues. If you’ve recently lost a loved one, they’re particularly painful. The grief is compounded by the intense longing to share more time with the person we wish we could hug, when it seems everyone else gets to be with family and friends. Basically, the holidays magnify everything. If you’re happy right now, that happiness is multiplied in the sharing of the experience. If you’re in pain, the pain feels even larger, and more defeating and overwhelming.

Sometimes we’re derailed by our expectations and “shoulds”. We have ideas about how things should be, how life should be, how people should be, and how we should feel. And sometimes our expectations are not realistic. Remind yourself that no feeling is forever, and that you don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. And also, short of grieving the loss of someone due to death, or heartbreak of any kind, try to be disciplined. Again, this does not apply to people who are grieving, because I’m a firm believer that you have to allow yourself to feel your feelings and lean into reality as it is. But short of those knifing losses, be disciplined with your mind. Don’t allow yourself to spiral down, or feed a sad story, or contract against your experience. Open to it, acknowledge your pain or envy or longing, but don’t feed it or wallow in it, because it will become hard to breathe.

If you notice that you’re doing a number on yourself, pick your mind up and choose some thoughts that will strengthen you. Maybe this holiday season will be tough, but who knows what 2015 has in store? I’ve certainly lived through some challenging and lonely holidays. It’s not easy, but then they’re over and life moves forward, and the truth is, you really never know what’s around the bend. Your world could be turned upside down in good ways or difficult ones, on any given day, and with no warning. That’s how life is.

Maybe today is challenging, but tomorrow, anything could happen. You might have an idea that lights you up and inspires you and sends you down a road you’d never have imagined taking. Maybe you’ll meet someone, and you won’t even recognize the way your life looks six months from now. I’m not necessarily talking about romance. I’m just saying, leave room to heal. Leave space to be surprised and amazed. If this holiday season is rough, and you have it in you, find a way to uplift someone else. That will definitely lift your spirits. And do take some time to focus on what you do have, right now. When we feed gratitude, we remember the gifts in our life, and how many things are going right, and that sets us up to come from a place of abundance, rather than fear or neediness. We really can take so much for granted. It’s a gift to wake up, even if you’re in the midst of despair. Just having this experience of being human is a gift. Having a healthy body, a place to call home, food in your fridge, people you love beyond words, who also love you and see you and cherish you. These are the most important gifts in life. Just the potential for connection is huge.

Hang in there if you’re having a tough time. You’re not alone. Sending you love, and extra hugs, Ally Hamilton

It Doesn’t Have to Own You

fearPatience and tolerance are two qualities well worth working on if we want to move through life in a peaceful way. Sometimes things unfold the way we want them to, and at other times, we may find ourselves at a complete loss to make sense of what’s happening, what we’re doing, or which way to head. So many of the things we’ll move through are not comfortable or desirable, but it’s how we face what we’re given that most determines how life will feel.

There are certain things you can control. You can do the work to heal, and that in itself is a personal project that might take years, and a willingness to explore the tools that will be the most useful to you. Maybe it’s yoga and seated meditation, maybe it’s therapy, journaling, reading, salsa dancing, hiking, the possibilities are endless. Generally, those pursuits that put you in a state of “flow” are going to help you loosen your grip on any stance or story about your life, or why you are the way you are, that might not be serving you. That might, in fact, be blocking you from opening to joy.

Sometimes people bristle, and say, “Wow, there’s so much emphasis placed on people turning inward, like it’s all about them.” The thing is, if you want to give everything you’ve got, your first order of business is to strip away anything that’s blocking you. Like self-doubt, low self-esteem, feelings that you might not be worthy of love, or have anything special to offer. Also, you might need to lean into your rage, or stop blaming other people for your unhappiness. You might need to reclaim your power, or discover it for the first time. You might need to unlearn things like, “Everybody leaves”, or “Everybody cheats”, or “You can’t trust anyone”. You might need to mourn, to grieve. It’s also possible that you’ll find yourself way off course, and totally out of touch with your intuition. It’s more common than you might think, because so many people learn to push things down, to repress their feelings, needs, wants, ideas, to take care of other people at their own expense. The healing process is personal, but the one commonality amongst us all is that it isn’t easy. I’d argue that it’s a responsibility to undertake that journey, though, because once you’re at peace with yourself, you can move through the world in a peaceful and loving way. It might be an inward journey at the start, but it leads toward connection and the ability to live and love with your heart wide open, and those are gifts you can then bring to the world around you.

Being patient and tolerant with yourself is huge. So many people are living with a loud, relentless, shaming inner critic. It’s like living with a roommate who loathes you, who’s full of contempt and disgust, who never misses an opportunity to let you know all the ways you aren’t measuring up. Who would ever want to live like that? You can’t evict your inner voice. You might have to starve it, and learn how to feed a loving voice. That way, the inner roommate is rooting you on, not tearing you down. That’s life-changing. Being at war with yourself is heartbreaking. When you feel like crap about yourself, you aren’t going to make loving choices. You’ll find yourself in relationships where you have to shrink, or accept so much less than what you really want. You may be inclined to drown out that inner tyrant with drugs or alcohol or shopping or food or sex, but none of that works. You really have to get in there and have a face-off. A voice-off. Eventually, you’re going to have to grab that nasty voice by the throat, push it up against the wall, and say, “Enough! Enough with your crappy attitude, you don’t get to pollute my house and kick me in the head anymore.” Believe me, that feels good. caring about yourself, your well-being, your tender heart, those things feel good, and you deserve to care about yourself. It’s a gift that you’re here. Your body is a gift. Your energy is a gift. Your time here is a gift. These are not gifts you want to squander.

Life is amazing and incredible and really, really interesting, but no one would argue that it’s easy. People will do things and say things and want things that break your heart. You will break other people’s hearts, too. Mostly, people don’t do this to each other intentionally. Most people are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. They’re trying to figure it out just like you, like me, like all of us when we’re honest about it. Sometimes you’ll get the breaks, sometimes you won’t. You can’t control that, but you can work on the way you deal with it. I wouldn’t keep score in your head. I wouldn’t try to bargain with life. If you think you’re going to get a free pass from suffering because you’re a good person, it won’t take long for you to realize the error in your thinking.

The absolute best things I know are love and connection and shared experiences and giving everything you’ve got every day. Figuring out what you can do, today, that will uplift the people around you. What you can do, today, to nurture yourself, so you’re coming from a place of abundance, and not lack, or the feeling that you have to cling or grasp.

Opening to reality as it is, is the most powerful and brave way to walk through the world. No one can take that from you. If you’re able to lean into your feelings, to be with your longing, your grief, your shame, your confusion, your loneliness, your fear and anxiety, you’ll find these feelings don’t own you. They don’t overpower you. They don’t move in and plunk themselves down on your couch, or unpack their bags and take over your drawers, closets, shower. They come, you acknowledge them, you allow them, but you also keep the door open. After you’ve given them a little of your time and kind attention, you walk them to the door, and encourage them to move on. That way you can also be ready to receive joy, love, laughter, gratitude, hope. What you resist, persists, as the saying goes. Try not to resist too much, try not to worry too much. Work on your relationship with yourself, and feed the relationships in your life. Uncover your gifts and share them, freely. Don’t worry so much about your five-year plan or your ten-year plan, or what all your friends seem to be doing. Just follow your heart and do those things that set your soul on fire, and try to trust that the way will become clear. Wishing that for you, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Time is a Gift

tomrobbinsBecause our time and energy are finite assets, it’s really essential that we’re careful about where we invest them. It’s so easy to get caught up in other people’s dramas, or to allow the mind to get snagged on some thoughtless or unkind thing someone said or did. We can lose hours, days or years dwelling on choices we’d like to do over, differently, or sad tales we tell ourselves about why we are the way we are, or why life is unfolding the way it is.

We can find ourselves trying to chase down love, approval or acceptance, we can allow the sting of rejection to overwhelm us, we can spend time trying to defend ourselves against lies, but it’s time we’ll never have back again. Life will bring us enough ups and downs; we really don’t need to create suffering for ourselves, but so many of us do. I am not someone who believes that there are no tragic events, or that it’s just the way we’re thinking about an event that makes it unbearable. In my view, there are things that can happen sometimes that bring you to your knees and make you doubt everything you thought you knew about heartbreak and pain and the ability to go on. Those same events remind us that there isn’t any time to waste, and that the best use of our energy is to love the people in our lives with everything we’ve got, and to follow our dreams and believe in ourselves. Life isn’t going to hand you five or ten years to be pissed at your parents or your ex or all the people you’ve ever worked for, to boil yourself and keep your rage alive by feeding it, to point your finger in blame, and then hand you back that time one day when you realize what a gift it is just to open your eyes in the morning.

People who want to be angry and bitter deserve compassion, surely, but not a lot of your time and energy. I’m not talking about people who are trying to heal or take ownership of their lives, or make big shifts. I’m talking about people who are unwilling to loosen their grip on their angry story. I had an acquaintance like this. I’d see her at different functions every five years or so, and it was always the same. She’d find a way to corner me, and tell me her tale of why she was the hero of her family and her workplace, the generous but unappreciated benefactor, the one who always got the short end of the stick. Usually she’d be quite drunk, and the more she drank, the more angry and self-righteous she became. For quite some time, I’d listen to her, even though it was exhausting. I thought maybe she just needed someone to hold a space for her to unload the pain. I really didn’t care about the details of her stories, the list of wrongs, the way this person or that person had failed her or betrayed her, but sometimes I’d try to offer up a different viewpoint, and then she’d attack me, too. You can’t help a person who’s armored themselves in bitterness. I don’t make myself available to people who don’t want to let the love in. It’s a choice.

Let me be clear: we do not get to choose what life will put in our paths. We get beautiful lessons in life, and we get brutal ones, too, and that is not a choice. Unthinkable tragedy could befall any of us. People sometimes ask, “Why me?”, but why any of us? There’s no way to predict what any of us will have to endure, and if you go through a knifing loss, I hope you don’t compound your pain by feeling that you ought to be able to get over it faster, or with fewer racking sobs or relentless tears. The more we’re present in each moment, the more we allow the feelings to wash over us and through us, the more we’re honoring our experience. Loving someone so intensely that the loss of them makes it hard to breathe, loving someone that way is a gift and an honor. The loss of the ability to express that love through hugs or phone calls or shared experiences is so painful. If it’s a sudden and unexpected loss, of course that has its own particular difficulties.

My point is, death and loss put things into sharp perspective for us. If you’re worrying about the five pounds you’ve gained, for example, perhaps that’s not the best use of your time. Hugging someone you love would feel so much better. If you’re obsessing over a call or email you haven’t gotten, maybe there’s a better use of your energy. Maybe you could do something nurturing for yourself or someone else instead. If you’re getting caught up in what other people think of you, remember it’s none of your business. When the big losses or heartaches come, you take the time to breathe, to be kind to yourself, to reach out for help if you need it. Short of those tragedies, don’t be your own obstacle by dwelling on the unimportant crap. Pick your mind up, and bring it back to right now. Choose better thoughts. Make better mistakes moving forward. Forgive yourself, and forgive other people, as much as you can. Holding grudges and carrying heavy stories around will weigh you down, and that of course, makes it harder to fly. I really wouldn’t waste too much time.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

The Cycle of Abuse

frogsIf you’ve never been in an abusive relationship, you’re probably going to have a hard time understanding what would keep a person in a situation that’s so unhealthy and soul-crushing. This applies whether we’re talking about emotional and verbal abuse, or physical abuse. People who find themselves in these kinds of relationships didn’t land there out of the blue. A person who’s allowing herself or himself to be abused is a person in pain, and judging or shaming someone because they aren’t strong enough to get themselves out of harm’s way, is only going to compound their pain. The last thing a person needs in that situation is to feel someone else’s disdain; people allowing themselves to be abused are already swimming in shame and guilt and low self-esteem. What they need is support.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, and 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. It’s not just an issue for women, there are cases where men are being abused by their female partners, but it’s an overwhelmingly larger issue for women.

People who come out of abusive homes tend to seek out those relationships in their adult lives; we gravitate toward what we know, even if what we know feels terrible. So, too, do children of alcoholics tend to marry alcoholics. This might seem insane from the outside, but it’s what Freud called the “repetition compulsion”, what Jung referred to when he said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life, and you will call it fate”, and what Einstein defined as insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.” Yogis call these “samskaras”, or grooves that we play out again and again. We all want to heal and be happy, but a lot of the time, we avoid the very work that would bring us peace. Instead of examining, facing, and working with our pain, we run from it, or deny that it’s there, or numb it out, and then we call into our lives those situations that evoke the same ancient dynamic. We don’t do it on purpose, we’re just driven to heal, to overcome, to master those feelings we couldn’t master as children.

This isn’t a formula that works. When we call an abuser into our lives so we can overcome our original pain, we simply find ourselves powerless once again. We revert back to that scared kid. We think, it must be us, it must be our fault, because look, it’s happening again. We think we don’t measure up, we must not be lovable. Sometimes people put themselves in a powerless position financially. Maybe there are kids in the mix, and they think they should take it, because at least the family is intact, and the abuse isn’t affecting the kids (of course it is). There are all kinds of reasons people stay. They might not make any sense from the outside, but if you haven’t lived someone else’s life, don’t expect to understand the way they think about things. Let’s talk about the other side, here, too. Abusers didn’t just become violent out of the blue. Most abusers were abused themselves. That doesn’t make it okay, but condemnation helps no one.

When we doubt that we’re lovable or worthwhile or of value, we’re likely to call people into our lives who reflect those doubts back to us, and if you’re in a situation like that, you might think, “If only I could get this person to love me, then I’d be happy.” Or maybe things are really, really good a lot of the time, and just every so often, your partner hauls off and punches you in the face. It’s never okay. Abusers manipulate. They sweet-talk. They’re contrite. Maybe they cry and tell you it will never happen again, but it always does. Maybe you think if you just love your partner enough, he’ll stop. Maybe you think it’s your fault because you provoke him. Whatever the stories, the bottom line is, none of us was put here to be a punching bag. Love does not abuse you, mistreat you, disrespect you, lie to you, or hit you in the face. Not ever. You can’t be in love with someone’s potential, and in the meantime, excuse his or her behavior, not if that behavior is causing you physical or emotional pain. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. We all have pain, we all suffer, and sometimes we just don’t have the tools or the strength to get ourselves to a safe space. If that’s where you’re at, you have to reach out and get yourself some help. A good therapist is a great place to start. You have to get to the root of the thing. You have to figure out when you started believing you were not worthy of love. You really need to dig that root up, and cut yourself away from it, because that root was planted in the soil of lies. If you need help, or you know someone who needs help, go to: http://www.thehotline.org/

Let me just say that most men are as outraged about this as women. It’s really important to me that these conversations don’t alienate anyone. As always, these are problems we need to solve together, and the only way we can do that is by bringing them into the light so we can help each other.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Get Hungry for the Truth

gloriaSometimes we know something but we don’t want to accept what we know. Maybe we’re attached to a certain picture in our heads of how things should or could be. Maybe we’re in love with someone’s potential and think if we just hold on and wait, eventually this painful situation will grow into something else, something beautiful. There are all kinds of reasons we might reject the truth of how things are. The thing is, it always leads to suffering.

We are energetic creatures, and we all have instincts. That’s one of our main modes of survival. What you feel in your gut can be trusted, but our hearts and our minds are also in the mix, and this is where things get complicated. When we’re attached to people, or ideas about how things could be, it makes it so hard to walk away. It’s brutal. When the mind gets involved with all its shoulds and coulds and questions and rationalizations, it gets even harder to act on what we know. We can stay and suffer for days, weeks, months, years, all the while allowing our light to be dimmed. It feels terrible to ignore, repress or deny what you know to be true. It’s like trying to lift the ocean; it’s futile, but sometimes we’re just not strong enough yet. We’re not ready to let go, to accept, to surrender, to swim.

Those are the times when it’s the least comfortable to be human. When we just suffer and feel a little sick and tired all the time. When we spend our energy developing constructs that support the version of reality we pretend to be living in. The truth is a relief. It hurts like hell sometimes, but it’s so much easier. All the white noise drops away. We can breathe again. Maybe we’re heartbroken, but we can breathe. There is no one way. There is no one person, except yourself. There is no one path. Life is not obligated to give you what you want, and neither is anyone else. Sometimes the healthiest and scariest thing you can do is trust that something else is coming. Something that looks totally different than the picture you’re grasping, or the person you’re grasping, or the identity you’re holding onto like a cat sliding off a roof.

Most people will tell you that their lives did not unfold the way they thought they would. We all have our ideas and our longings, but sometimes our attachment to them really blocks our ability to let life flow. If someone doesn’t want to be with you all the way, release them and release yourself. If someone doesn’t know how to love you the way you long to be loved, accept the way they can love you, or don’t, but love yourself in the ways that are missing. Just don’t lie to yourself. Don’t kid yourself. Don’t numb out so your reality feels less harsh. Let the harshness push you up against the wall until you can’t take it anymore and you have to try something else, because life is short and time is precious, and so are you. You don’t have time to be in denial. I mean, you can do that if you want to, but there are so many better uses of your time and energy. Being with what is, leaning into all the beauty and all the pain, is incredibly liberating.

I understand the desire to be happy. Everyone wants that, but get hungry for the truth instead. Not everything is happy. It’s not realistic to expect we’re going to be joyful in every moment. Sometimes I see quotes that say things like, “We can choose happiness in every moment.” No, we can’t. Tell that to a grieving mother. Sometimes we compound our pain by feeling guilty about not being happy. I think we set ourselves up to fail and we alienate people who are suffering huge losses when we say things like that. It’s okay to be heartbroken or enraged or in despair. It’s okay to grieve until you think you can’t possibly have any tears left. In fact, I’d recommend that a lot more than trying to force yourself to choose happiness when everything in you is looking for a way to keep breathing. Just be where you are. Lean into it, breathe into it. It will change and it will pass, and it will do those things a lot sooner if you accept where you are rather than deny it.

I know sometimes it’s painful. That’s part of the path. Pain opens us and strengthens us and teaches us about ourselves. It shows us where we still have healing to do. It softens us so we understand empathy and compassion. It gives us a sharp taste of the opposite of joy, so that when joy comes, we get to appreciate and experience that fully, as well. Spirituality is not about being positive and light in every moment, it’s about being your authentic self. It’s about honoring what’s true for you. That’s a gift you give to yourself, and also to everyone you encounter. Don’t deny yourself that gift.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Breathing Through Sensation

thichcloudsEmotions create sensations. When we say we’re enraged, we’re describing the feelings that are flooding through our bodies—maybe our blood pressure is rising (thus we’re “hot-headed”), or the breath is shallow, or the jaw is clenching or the shoulders are up around our ears. When we say we’re depressed, we’re describing the weight of being listless and hopeless, of having no energy to get out of bed, or take a shower or “start the day”; we’re describing that ache that’s settled into everything. When we say we’re in love, we’re talking about the endorphin rush that’s coursing through the system, making us feel giddy and excited and “drunk” on someone else. If we’re feeling jealous, we’re really talking about that burning deep in the belly, that primal instinct that tells us we’re threatened.

The next time you’re having an intense emotion, observe what’s happening in your body. Get quiet if you can, sit up tall, close your eyes, and see if you can just breathe in and breathe out, witnessing your experience. For so many people, when uncomfortable feelings arise, the tendency is to run, or numb, or deny, to “push” the feelings away, or sit on them, but no feeling is forever and when we race from how we feel, we lose an opportunity to know ourselves, to figure out where we are, what we need, and why we’re feeling what we’re feeling. Why are we enraged? Are we feeling disrespected, unseen, unheard, or invisible? Is that an old, familiar feeling, and if so, when did it first arise? When we understand what’s happening within us, it’s a gift we give to ourselves, and all the people in our lives; it’s a relief. Things that felt skewed and uncomfortable suddenly fit, even if we’re left with a feeling of grief, rawness, and deeper understanding of where we still have healing to do. Now we can be accountable for the actions we’re taking, the things we’re saying, and the energy we’re spreading.

Conversely, racing to numb a feeling robs us of all this very valuable information. This is the source of all addiction, this idea that we “can’t take it”, that we have to do something, that the feeling is going to do us in unless we act. When I say addiction, people jump to drugs and alcohol, and of course those are big ones, but plenty of people are addicted to shopping, or the internet, or exercise, to eating or not eating, to throwing themselves into relationships or turning to sex to make the painful feelings go away.

If we want to be at peace, we have to come to an understanding about who we are and what we need. Not knowing yourself is the loneliest feeling there is, and it’s also a sure way to flail around through life. Happiness will be short-lived and accidental, something you just fall into by chance. One of the biggest gifts of a consistent yoga practice is the ability to breathe through intense sensation. Sometimes the quadriceps are on fire, or there’s a “fire in the belly”, and we breathe and observe. Then in life, when painful or pleasurable sensations arise that threaten to throw us off our centers or rob us of our peace, we breathe and observe. I think when we say we want to be happy, we really mean we want to feel that inner steadiness. We want to feel we’re living in alignment with what’s true for us. We want to be able to identify what’s blocking us, or inspiring us, or terrifying us, so we can work with that stuff. When we come up against some pain, some jagged, raw place within us that still needs our kind attention, we want to be responsible with our feelings. We want to show up for ourselves and other people in a way that feels good. We want to believe in our ability to have a positive impact on the world around us. There’s no way to do any of that if we run every time a difficult feeling arises.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton