Ah, vulnerability. Sometimes it stuns you and brings you into a state of gratitude for being able to love so deeply, and sometimes it makes you want to run screaming from the room. I am often stunned into gratitude by my children, and the way that I love them, and the way that I am humbled in the face of that love. If you’ve been on this planet for any length of time, then you know that you do not call the shots, you do not get to decide what life is going to put in your path, or the paths of those you cherish. You know that the parameters are outside of your domain, you get no insight into the number of days or years you have here, and the same holds true for everyone you hold dear, and my god, if that does not make you acknowledge your own fragility, I don’t know what will. I’m usually inspired by that. I really try to leave nothing in the tank on any given day, and by that I mean I try to make sure the people in my life know how I feel about them without any doubt by the time I put my head on the pillow. That’s a day well spent.
I share anything I’ve learned along the way that might be useful (and was often learned as the result of a poor choice that led to a painful lesson), and even the stuff that is messy or not quite figured out yet, because I think we all feel better when we realize we are not alone in this thing. I am not drawn toward people who try to wrap things up in a neat little package because life is not neat, humans are not neat, and many of the things we feel cannot be tied up with a ribbon and deposited in the “isn’t this grand?” file. I want to know what your mess is, what your fears are, what keeps you up at night, or stuck in a job or relationship that’s crushing the soul out of you, because we have all been there, and when we talk about this stuff, it’s a relief; we realize everyone is human. Otherwise everyone walks around feeling alienated, like they’re the only loser who can’t seem to get this life thing “right.” When you lay your stuff on the table, you see it’s the same stuff everyone else unpacks, it’s just got your own fingerprints on it, your own particular spin. Think you aren’t worthy of love, that there’s something essentially broken about you? Yeah, I’ve been there. Think there are things that you’ve done that are so shameful you have to keep them hidden, even from your closest friends? I’ve also been there. Know what happens when you edit yourself because you’re afraid of what people might think? You feel like a fraud. I’ve been there, too.
Maybe you’re enraged and you feel like your pain is someone else’s fault, but that’s going to keep you stuck. You’re better off making friends with your pain, and dwelling less on how you accrued it. Regardless of whose fault it is, your pain can teach you a lot about who you are and what you need to be at peace. Nothing brings your pain and fear to the surface like an intimate relationship. When you start to get close to another person, when you start to share in a real way, in a deep way, in an unguarded way, you give that person the roadmap to hurt you if they wish. So you want to be careful about the people you draw close because your heart is precious and you don’t want to be reckless with it, any more than you’d want someone you love to be reckless with theirs. You cannot get close to people if you won’t drop your guard. This applies to friendships, familial relationships, and romantic ones, which tend to be the most triggering.
Self-study is part of the yoga practice, and it’s at the heart of any spiritual practice. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t be accountable for the things you do and say; you won’t know what’s driving you. Even if you do that work, it doesn’t mean your stuff won’t come up, it just means you’ll have the insight to recognize when it’s happening, and the tools to deal with it and sit with it, instead of acting out and having to clean up the messes behind you, if and when you can. You save yourself a lot of heartache when you can lean into your discomfort instead of trying to deny it, run from it, or numb it out.
I’m having one of those days today. Feeling weird about a situation in my life and like I want to jump out of my body for a little while, because I am just so uncomfortable. But since I can’t jump out of my body, I’ve just been trying to be kind to myself all day, and stay focused on everything that is beautiful and wonderful in my life, which is a lot, while also giving myself permission to feel confused and unsettled. Part of me can laugh a little because for f&ck’s sake, I’m not eighteen, and I’ve been through this so many times it’s not new territory. Getting close to someone new, or even thinking about doing that takes guts and a willingness to wait and see, and sometimes that is really hard, walking that line. Letting your guard down, but not too much. Feeling things out, and keeping your eyes open. Trying not to control the outcome, but just letting it unfold, and then watching as all your “friends” come out to wreak a little havoc. Fear of Abandonment wants to play hopscotch! Fear of Rejection just sat down on the couch and wants to have tea! Fear of Commitment wants to take a spin on the dance floor! Defensive Debbie thinks coffee with someone else is a fine idea, because screw this vulnerability thing! I just have to laugh and shake my head and feel thankful that I have a yoga practice and a meditation practice, and the ability to distance myself from my thoughts so I can look at them without necessarily believing them. Time solves most mysteries. People show you who they are, you just have to be willing to see them. When you feel vulnerable, the best thing to do is sit with that feeling. If you struggle with that, try this. It works for me!
Sending you lots of love, and a little chuckle. We humans are funny, aren’t we?
The last few days have been painful in our country, but in all fairness, for many people the pain has been real and heartbreaking for years. I needed a couple of days to process, because I was shocked by the result of our election on Tuesday, and in that shock, I needed time to recognize and think about my own ignorance. When half the country votes in a way you never saw coming, you understand you have been out of touch with a huge segment of the population.
I am not confused about the pain in our country, and I was not unaware of it. Rampant gun violence, black men being shot by the police, women being paid $.80 for every dollar a man makes, I mean, you have to be asleep to miss the fact that we are not living as the country we purport to be. This is not the land of the free, everyone is not equal, and working your ass off does not mean you are going to realize the American dream, or even guarantee health insurance or a college education for yourself or your family. People are tired and angry and frustrated. Many feel unrepresented, disenfranchised, and enraged.
This election season has been the ugliest I’ve ever lived through; I have never seen anything like it, and hope I never do again. As a country, we embarrassed ourselves on the world stage. The level of conversation was so low, it is hard to fathom how it could have dropped any lower. In my view, the hatred, rage and fear that were enflamed were done so intentionally. There’s plenty of it out there, I just did not realize how much, and that is the part that has shocked me and broken my heart. I think a lot of people feel the system is broken, Washington is owned by rich people who don’t give a shit about them, and all politicians are liars and cheats. It seems half the country felt the best idea was to send in somebody from outside the system to blow things up from the inside. I really get that, I just don’t believe this was the right somebody. I understand frustration. I understand distrust, we all do. The problem for me is many-fold.
Hate speech against minorities and women is absolutely never okay in my book. Ever. That is not leadership, that is bigotry, racism, sexism and misogyny. When you rile people up in that way, when you feed on the worst in us, you never bring out the best. The people who feel heartbroken right now are heartbroken about that, it isn’t even the political piece. The people who are afraid right now are the people who have been watching and listening to the kind of speech that makes us all wonder what is going to happen now. Whose rights are going to be violated, or taken away completely? We were already in trouble, and now we wonder, can this person who said such hateful things about so many of us, any of us who aren’t white Christian men, possibly bring our torn country together again? Or shall we prepare ourselves to watch everything we hold dearest go up in flames?
It is too easy to label anyone who voted differently than you as crazy or ignorant. I know it’s tempting. I understand some of us are absolutely flabbergasted, but what’s vitally important to grasp, is that the people who voted differently feel the same way about you. They cannot fathom how you don’t see what they see. They cannot understand why you don’t feel the way they feel. When we don’t even try to understand, to find a thread of commonality, we’re lost to each other. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t feel your fear. I feel it. I’m concerned about our Supreme Court. I’m worried that the hate speech we heard will become commonplace. I am scared for my children, especially my daughter. My son is a white, blonde, blue-eyed kid, and he cried his eyes out Tuesday night. It hurt me to see my child affected that way, but it also gave me hope. His tears were not political, his tears were emotional. He has friends at school who are worried their parents are going to be deported while they’re playing handball at recess. He understands compassion already, at ten. He does not understand racism or sexism or bullying, it makes no sense to him, or to my daughter, and I hope it never does. His tears pained me, but they also comforted me, and that’s the first time my child’s tears have ever done that. We need the next generations to come up and fix the things we’ve gotten so wrong.
I know we want to point fingers and lay blame and separate ourselves from each other. The Canadian immigration website crashed Tuesday night. I saw many people posting about Australia. I, myself, thought maybe now would be a good time to go to Ireland, which has been singing a siren song to me for years. Calexit was looking good to me. The truth is, though, I would never leave right now. We need to stay and work this out, and we will not get there in fear. We will not get there by labeling half our country as insane. We will not get there by only worrying about our own families and our own lives. We are each other’s keepers and we have not been doing a good job. We have not been hearing each other, but my God, we are hearing each other now. Don’t scream into the void. Don’t join the hatred and rage. Try not to label and villainize people, it won’t help anyone. Try to understand, try to listen, try to hope. Take action where you can, and where you feel called to do so. Fight for the things that are meaningful to you, speak out whenever you see someone or something that insults your soul. Treat your neighbor as the family member she is. Understand that we are one people on one planet, and no one can change that or take that from us. Where you don’t understand that, pause and reflect. You get to decide how you’re going to rise up in this situation, and who you’re going to be. We’ve had dark days in our country before, and we will get through this together.
Sending you love, and a big hug,
If you need help coming back to center, try these classes:
So much of our struggle comes from our attachment to a picture of how things should be, or how life should look, or how we should feel, or what other people should want, say or do. So often, we should on ourselves and others, and end up carrying the weight of shame, or the feeling of alienation, both of which deplete us and make it hard to rise up. The truth is, there is no formula for life, no “one size fits all” for this thing, we just have to figure it out as we go along.
If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that everything is always changing, and that includes our feelings, circumstances, other people, dynamics, the seasons, our needs, dreams and desires. You are not a static creature, and neither am I, and neither is anyone we know. What you wanted five years ago may not be what you want today. The way you thought life would look versus how it actually looks right now might be jarring, surprising, unsettling, or totally delightful. You can make your plans, in other words, but don’t expect life to bend to your will. Make your vision board if you want to, but leave some open space for surprises, twists, turns, betrayals, opportunities, jobs and lovers across the country, births and deaths. You don’t write every part of the story after all, you only write your own part, and even that is not entirely up to you.
I know people who make choices they regret, but then cannot live with the idea of hurting those they love. I know for myself, I would rather hear and accept the truth than live a lie, or be the unknowing recipient of someone’s pity or guilt. If you love someone, have enough respect for them to be honest about what is real for you, and trust that they, too, may have a different path full of things, experiences and people they never imagined. At the very least, know that if you aren’t honest, the foundation of whatever you’ve built will start to crumble, and the only way to save it or give it any chance of resurrection is with the strength of your own convictions.
That’s not to say that it’s an easy thing to hurt or disappoint other people, I think it’s one of the most difficult and devastating experiences we go through. The thing is, life is complicated and messy for everyone, and we don’t get a crystal ball. Most people don’t set out to hurt you, any more than you’ve ever consciously decided to try to hurt someone else. You can put yourself through the wringer, but in the final analysis, no one can hate you for how you feel. The thing is to communicate before you act. I think for a lot of people, the feelings arise and they try to push them down, until finally there’s an explosion, or they’ve done something in response to those feelings that they now have to live with, grapple with, or explain. That’s when things get really challenging. If you can talk to those closest to you as you’re shifting, changing and evolving, you open the doorway to true intimacy, whether we’re talking about family, romantic partners, or friends. People can’t know you and understand you, they can’t cherish you and honor you if you won’t let them behind the veil.
Sometimes change is forced upon us–someone we love needs to take a path we don’t understand, or someone we love has betrayed us, or we get fired, or find out our child wishes he or she was a different gender, or nine million other things that life can put on the path in front of us that we might not have expected, foreseen, or wanted. The more you can open to people and circumstances as they are, the more you leave room for life to flow. I know it’s tempting to plant your feet and grow your roots and make your stand and try to control this wild world with your calendar and your alerts and your deadlines and schedules, and things you do on Wednesday, and at the very least, where you place your mat when you come to yoga, but the truth is, you are not in control of this story, and neither am I, and neither is anyone we know.
We are all going to face surprises, heartbreaks and joys we never planned for and didn’t expect, and we are all going to make mistakes and hurt people with our humanness, and that is okay, it’s a part of life. I would say, whenever possible, communicate with compassion, don’t assume, don’t project, and try not to hold onto lists of ways you’ve been wronged, because all that stuff will weigh you down. Try to release your grip on the story, open to the gifts when they present themselves, forgive yourself and others, and allow the story to unfold. That way you leave room for the surprises within you and around you, and you grant permission to yourself and those you love to be wildly, imperfectly human, too.
Sending you love,
If you’re human, (and I assume there are no zebras reading this post), then you can probably look in your rearview mirror and spot some choices you wish you could make over again, and differently. The truth is, most of us do the best we can as we go along, and that means most of us will probably fall short from time to time. Life does not unfold in a linear fashion, we do not get to hit the “pause button” until we’re ready, sometimes we think we’re ready for something only to find out we are wildly unprepared or had an unrealistic idea of what we were getting into in the first place. Also, sometimes we’re coming out of abuse or neglect, a dysfunctional family system, a crazy culture that expects us to edit out our difficult feelings, or we’ve developed coping mechanisms along the way that don’t serve our highest good at all. We may have stories we tell ourselves that are not true, ideas about other people that are based on our own misperceptions or lessons we learned that we have to unlearn, or a whole host of other difficulties that come along with being human. It’s an interesting and incredible gig, but no one would argue that it’s easy! You can lose a lot of time dwelling on the past, obsessing over decisions you cannot unmake, or feeling regret that won’t serve you or anyone else.
Here are three things you can do to lift the weight of regret from your shoulders, stop dwelling on the past, and free yourself of the burden of shame.
1. Embrace your fallibility and join the human race.
Welcome to the party, sport. We have all screwed up, some of us in big ways, some of us in smaller ways, but there is not a person on this planet over thirty who doesn’t have some questionable choices in his or her past. We learn as we go, and sometimes we hurt people because we are too young to know what we want, or too confused, or we wanted it then, but five years later we felt the soul being crushed out of us. If you feel badly about some of your past actions, please recognize this is because you have a kind, gentle heart. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t even be thinking about this stuff. If you have a warm and gentle heart, you are not an a$$hole, and that is fabulous. Please take a moment right now, place your hand over your heart, close your eyes, take a deep breath and say out loud in a firm voice, “I forgive myself for being human.”
TIP: If you’re at work, say it in a firm voice inside your head, but say it enough times that you feel it. If you exhale out some tears or other emotions, that’s great.
2. You are not Atlas.
Your work here does not involve carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. If other people won’t or can’t forgive you, that is on them, that’s a weight they’re choosing to carry, and an obstacle to their own freedom; at a certain point, you have to forgive yourself. Having said that, it never hurts to communicate clearly. If there’s something you feel you need to say to someone to make things right, go ahead and say it. Think carefully about your motivation, and how this might be for the other party. If you think you might disrupt someone’s life, or his or her tenuous grip on being okay, if you think the other person might still be healing from heartbreak, then it might be best to write a letter you never send.
TIP: It’s incredibly powerful to get things down on paper and out of your head, so don’t hesitate to put your thoughts in black and white. When you’re done, you can determine whether this is a missive that was just for you, or for you and them.
3. Be present.
It’s good and important work to know yourself, and that means it makes sense to examine the choices, decisions and behavior you regret, but you serve no one by marinating in that sad sauce. Once you’ve looked at your part in any story, owned what you can of it, apologized when necessary or appropriate, then there comes a time when you need to close the book on that story. Your life is not happening behind you, any more than it’s happening in front of you. The mind loves to hurtle back into the past, or careen forward into the future, but all that does is rob us of the present. Of course your memories and experiences are part of the fabric that makes you, you, and of course that makes them part of the tapestry that is your present, but how can you do a journey with your back to the road? That’s not a great way to navigate, or open to things as they are now, but it’s an excellent way to crash into feelings, things or people who are trying to get your attention in this moment.
Everything is in a constant state of flux, and if you keep looking back over your shoulder, you are trying to stop time and stop the current. Maybe your mistakes will help you travel through your present-day waters with more ease, strength and insight. Perhaps recognizing the bumps in the road will help you avoid repeating mistakes, so you can, at the very least, make better mistakes as you go. Your breath is an excellent anchor-point. When you become aware of your inhales and exhales, you’re directing your mind to focus on something that’s happening right here, right now. This is an excellent way to catch yourself when the mind wants to head in a downward spiral, when you notice obsessive thinking, or when you recognize you’ve already examined a situation to the degree that it’s productive.
“Svadhyaya” means “self-study”, and it’s one of the Niyamas. We want to understand ourselves and know what’s motivating our choices and actions, but we also want to embrace the reality that we’re continually evolving. Don’t allow yourself to continue to set your compass toward something behind you, because you’re failing to integrate your own metamorphosis. That’s not something you want to miss!
Sending you love and a hug,
So much of our ability to be at peace and to live life in a way that feels good, has to do with what we feed, and what we release. I have these two relatives, and I’ll call them uncles, although they aren’t uncles. One of them is the kindest, sweetest, most loving, joyful, affectionate, fun, generous person you’d ever want to meet. If you sit down next to him at a family function, he will share with you a list of all the amazing things you’ve ever done in your life from the time you were four, to the present. He will talk to you about the joy you’ve brought to his life, and how he knew you were special from the moment he laid eyes on you. You will tell him how much you love him, what an important person he is in your life, and how grateful you are that he is your uncle. You will want to make sure that he knows this. The family function will fly by, and you will leave feeling grateful and full and happy and inspired.
The other uncle, though, he’s a different tune altogether. If you sit down next to him, he will present you with a list of all the ways you, and every member of the family, have disappointed him over the years. If he adds alcohol to the mix, which he almost always does, he will even go back generations, and share a list of ancestral wrongs that predate you, him, and everyone you know. He will do this because he makes a hobby out of should. He’s something of an expert on what people should and should not do. If you let him, he will involve you in his should, and try to get you to should on yourself and everyone else. By the end of the family function you will feel drained and angry at the relative who did the seating arrangement.
These are two actual but disguised relatives in my family, but I’ll bet they mirror people in your own life. I’ve been watching this for years, and the kind uncle is living a life that is happy and fulfilled and full of family, while the other uncle is isolated and often feuding with family members, or writing them off altogether. He’s missed decades of time with certain cousins because he wasn’t speaking to their parents, but for him, this just adds fuel to the fire. Now he can be angry that these children were not brought to him as they grew up, and therefore do not know him, or have any real bond with him today.
The thing is, it’s really a choice. We all have heartaches and disappointments, ways we were let down, or in some cases neglected, abandoned, or abused. You know how the lotus flower grows in mud and muck, but emerges out of that as this gorgeous, white, stunning bloom? The same is true for people. We all have our mud and our muck, and it’s up to us to grow beauty out of the pain, or to wallow in it. Of course we can hold up our muck and show everyone how awful it is. We can excuse our poor choices or crappy behavior on the mess we’re coming out of, or we can get busy strengthening ourselves, and reaching toward the sunlight.
As a society and a culture, we are constantly encouraged to focus on what we don’t have, what isn’t going right, and all the ways we don’t measure up. Internally, we’re wired to worry, thanks to negativity bias, and the days when we had to avoid being eaten for lunch by saber tooth tigers. Externally and internally, we’re trained on lack, but that leaves us stuck in the mud of envy and despair, and that’s no way to live. You can point fingers like my angry uncle, or you can dig your way out of the mud like my happy uncle.
What are you focused on? Upon what do you place importance? Is it your looks? Your bank account? Your house, car, size of your boobs or biceps? Is it the latest, greatest vacation your friend took that you didn’t? Is it whether you have a partner, or whether you should get rid of the one you’ve got because s/he isn’t making you happy? Do you keep lists? If so, what’s on them? Do you have a list of ways you’ve been wronged, betrayed and let down, or a list of ways you’ve been amazed by the beauty in this world?
Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen. Is it important to acknowledge that your past has shaped you? Of course. You cannot be at peace if you don’t know yourself, and part of that work has to do with recognizing your wounds and figuring out what you need in order to heal. That doesn’t mean you dwell on your past and drag it into your present and future, it means you glean the meaning from the pain, and you allow it to open your heart and your mind so you have empathy for other people. Being human is a tough, but wonderful gig. You have to embrace your vulnerability if you want to be free, so that fear and rage don’t rule your life. Be the happy uncle. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton
Much of our pain in life comes from our inability to let go and trust. Often, we’re so attached to that picture in our heads of “how things should be”, we contract against things as they are. You may have noticed, life doesn’t feel great when we’re hunched in a little ball with our eyes squeezed shut, and our hands over our ears.
Sometimes we’re trying to do work that doesn’t belong to us. Maybe we’re attempting to save people, which is different than loving them. We might think we know what’s best for the people closest to us, and we might even be right, but everyone has to do his or her own journey. You cannot keep someone else’s side of the street clean. I mean, you can cross the street and sweep all you want, but if a person is committed to making a mess, the minute you walk away the debris will start flying again. You have to open your mind to the idea that sometimes a person has to make a mess in order to learn something essential. We’ve all experienced that.
Also, the truth is we never know what is right for other people. What seems obvious to us might not be obvious to someone else. There isn’t one path to happiness, there are about seven billion. People are complicated and messy and we all have our histories, stories we tell ourselves, ideas about things that we’ve learned from our experiences, and tendencies that help or hinder us. Most people reach a point when they have to reckon with their pain, anguish, heartache and disappointment; this is part of knowing ourselves. Some people are terrified of that work, or committed to finding ways around it, like numbing out, denying or repressing. Those are not solutions that lead to happiness, but you can’t force a person to come out of hiding. People do that if and when they’re ready, and not a moment sooner.
You might create a lot of fear, anxiety and suffering for yourself by thinking it is your job to manage the path of your children. When they’re little, of course you want to create stability, a nurturing and loving home, a solid base from which they can grow and flourish. If you start to “future-trip”, however, and think that your current choices can somehow protect them from future heartbreak, I think you’re fooling yourself. I don’t know too many people who get through life without some heartbreak along the way. Of course we want the path for our children to be full of sunshine and flowers, joy and love, and a profound sense of belonging in the world, and hopefully we give them the tools to set them up for their adventures in the best ways possible. It’s not always in your control to make everything perfect, though. Some people stay in abusive marriages thinking it’s best for the kids, but is it? Is it good for our sons and daughters to model their relationships after the one they’re seeing day in and day out, if it’s full of pain and violence?
The more you can release your grip on the story, the more life flows. It’s not just your story, you are not the only writer. You don’t get to edit out the parts you don’t like, or force the other characters to do, say, or feel what you want. This isn’t a piece of fiction, this is life, and the other characters get to forge their own stories and do things that might surprise, infuriate, delight, scare, enrage or depress you. You don’t have to allow other people’s desires to affect you at all, but if you’re close to people and you’re human, they probably will. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful and mysterious and interesting to be human, and who’s to say what the right way is to go about this thing? Obviously, we don’t want to move through life intentionally hurting other people, that would be a really crappy way to go. Short of that, following your heart seems the clear choice. We’re here for such a burst of time. There’s never been another you, or me, there’s never been another any of us, nor will there ever be. The more space we can give each other to be who we are, the more the artwork of life shines through. We all have a particular color to splash all over the canvas. Trust in yours, and celebrate the splashing of those around you. We can figure out who was “right” after we die 😉 Sending you a ton of love, Ally Hamilton