How to Forgive Yourself and Move On

gainpainSometimes we’re in so much pain we just act out. We find some way to ease the burden or numb it out or deny it in the short-term, and we can breathe again. Maybe part of us feels sick about it, disappointed in ourselves, ashamed of our weakness or dysfunction or poor choice in the moment, but this is a normal part of being human. None of us operate from our highest selves all the time.

When we’re on the outside of a thing, it’s so easy to see when a loved one is heading down a prickly path. When we act impulsively so we can feel better, it might work as far as instant gratification goes, but for the long haul, we’ve probably set ourselves back. As hard as it may be to witness, though, we never know what anyone else needs for his or her growth and healing. Sometimes a person needs to slide down a slick, muddy hill into a tree trunk again and again to “get it.”

If you, or someone you love is going through this, try to have compassion. Very few people consciously want to be in pain. Sometimes we’re working out old stuff. Sometimes we have self-esteem issues and things have to get really intolerable before they can get better. We might be acting on unconscious impulses to play something out in order to master it. We may be in a situation that’s clouding our judgment; being in love can do that. Maybe there are other people along for the ride with us, who will be affected by the choices we’re making and we feel overwhelmed by guilt. Basically, being human is complicated. Being a happy human takes a lot of effort, and a willingness to sit with the discomfort of our pain sometimes.

Do you ever have a day, or a bunch of days when it’s just deeply uncomfortable to be in your own skin? Ugh, that is so hard, because there’s no escape! Maybe you’re feeling abandoned or envious or afraid or angry, or you’re feeling tremendous guilt. Maybe your internal dialogue is harsh, shaming, unforgiving, relentless. Maybe you’re stuck looking over your shoulder with regret and despair. Lots of people do not want to sit with any of that, it’s not as if it’s easy or fun. Of course, there’s no way to know yourself if you don’t sit with your feelings as they arise, but many people run from that work for a good, long while. At the same time, you don’t want to get stuck in an old loop, where you’re feeling your feelings but not moving through them.

Usually being on the run gets old, and the realization dawns that if we don’t do things differently, we’ll keep “getting what we’ve been getting.” Since we can’t change the external stuff—circumstances, what people will say, or want, or do—we have to change the way we respond. If you haven’t gotten to that point yet, where you’re ready to try things a different way, try to have patience with yourself and the people in your life. We all get there as we get there, and we’re never done, we’re always in process. Try to honor your tender heart, and do your best not to be reckless with it. When you are, examine what’s happening within you, how you’re feeling about yourself, and what you hope to accomplish with your choices. Know yourself, but be kind, and have some faith that you won’t always choose the muddy, slick hill that ends with a painful collision with some raw, unhealed place within you. There are tools available so you can calm your nervous system and make it easier on yourself when difficult emotions arise. You can also work on the ability to choose one thought over another, which is often the beginning of forging a new path.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

You Define Yourself

growhorizonThere’s no point trying to make someone “see the light.” First of all, you can never be certain that your ideas or opinions about how things should be are right for anyone but yourself (barring the obvious instances where something is clearly not okay, like when a situation puts someone in emotional or physical danger). We never know what other people need for their growth, nor do any of us have a crystal ball, and for most people, strength comes from having been tested. Even if you can see clearly that a loved one’s course of action will end up causing them pain, you can’t know if that very pain will be the thing that causes them to break open and love themselves at last. Sometimes we need to crash into a brick wall again and again before we decide, “Okay, I’ve got that lesson. Next!”

Some people are blinded by anger and their need to be right. It doesn’t matter what you say, your logic won’t help, and neither will your patience or compassion. If someone is determined to make you the enemy, to blame you for their unhappiness, there’s nothing you can do, except decide not to participate in the madness. If you engage, defend yourself, try to point out those instances that prove your perspective, you’re still not going to get anywhere, because if a person needs you to be wrong so they can be right, they will invent the story that backs up their point of view. Trying to communicate is futile, but you can go ahead and exhaust yourself for awhile if you must.

When people are attached to blaming others for the state of their life, they’ve made themselves powerless, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It does not matter what anyone has done to me. I take ownership of my own life. I decide what I’m going to do with what I’ve been given. I rise up, or I allow the past to ruin my present and future. It’s up to me, and it’s up to you. It’s up to all of us. Is blaming other people easier? I don’t really think so. I know it can feel that way for awhile; if we point fingers at other people, we can avoid looking at those places where we still need to heal for a bit longer, but eventually, we’re just on a mountaintop, by ourselves, shouting into the wind. People can spot bitterness a mile away. You may gain sympathy, but what kind of payoff is that? I’d take empathy over sympathy eight days a week. You define yourself as a victim, or a survivor, it’s a choice.

Sometimes a person is so hurt and so confused and so unable to face their own self-loathing, they just spew venom. You don’t help by standing there with your arms open so you can get covered in it, you do them a disservice that way, and you certainly dishonor your own tender heart. Sometimes you have to leave people on that mountain so they can spit it all out until there’s nothing left but their pain. They might die on that mountain, screaming into the ethers about how wronged they’ve been, or they might climb down that mountain eventually, ready to start again. You can’t control another person’s journey. You can love people with your whole heart. You can wish them well. You can offer tools that have worked for you if they’re even remotely open to listening, but if they’re in the blame/rage/shame cycle, it isn’t likely they’ll be able to hear you, anyway.

I know it can be brutal. If someone is close to you by blood, or through circumstance, it can hurt so much not to be seen clearly. That doesn’t even feel good from a stranger, but you know yourself. As long as you know you’ve done your best and you’re doing your best and you’ve apologized when and where it made sense to do that, as long as you know you’ve shown up with love, and in the best way you know how, then you can look yourself in the eye when you’re brushing your teeth at the end of the day. Life is too short and too precious to spend a lot of your time and energy trying to rewrite someone else’s story. You have your own horizon to look toward, and you get to choose the path as you walk toward it, and you also get to choose the way you walk it. That’s enough, and that’s a lot.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, please find my books here <3

Time for Something New?

doinggettingWe can never control what other people will do or say or want or need, nor can we control what life is going to put in our paths; our power lies in our ability to choose the way we respond to what it is we’re given. I get so many emails from people who tell me their relationships would be great, if only their partners would change some fundamental thing about themselves. You can’t make someone else change, or be happy, or kind or compassionate or patient, or in love with you. People are those things, or they are not. You might be able to inspire people to show up as the best version of themselves by showing them what that looks like yourself, but you can’t convince or bribe or manipulate a person toward growth.

If you have patterns of destruction in your life, at a certain point you’ll have to examine your own choices, right? Maybe this shows up for you in the realm of romantic relationships. Maybe you’re so jealous, you choke the life and fun out of every relationship you’ve been in, because you’ve been hurt and you’re scared. Being hurt and scared is totally fine; acting out on that stuff is a surefire way to destroy your chances for true intimacy. Maybe you sabotage yourself in the professional realm–fight hard for a job, and then show up late or under-prepared all the time. Maybe your relationship with your grown children is a source of pain. Perhaps you try to manage their journeys, walking over all their boundaries in the name of love and concern, and maybe they push back in anger.

We have all kinds of ways we get in our own way, lie to ourselves, or avoid saying the hard things; ways we cling, and shut our eyes tightly so we don’t have to face reality. Maybe we push people away because we believe we aren’t worthy of love.

If you aren’t happy with the way life looks and feels, with the quality of your relationships, or the way you’re moving through the world, it’s time to start something new. I say that like it’s easy, but it isn’t easy at all. Awareness would be the first step; just realizing you have this tendency, or belief, or way of being that isn’t serving you. If it’s deeply ingrained, you may need some help in uprooting it, and intentionally moving outside your comfort zone. If you normally check your partner’s email when you feel nervous or insecure, for example, this time you have that uncomfortable, painful conversation instead.

If your boss is driving you nuts (again), you start to work on non-reactivity. You train yourself to breathe consciously when you feel triggered, attacked or invisible. You look at places within you where you’re intolerant, with yourself or with others, places where you’re harsh or unforgiving and you try to identify what it is within you that could use your kind attention, and an opportunity to heal. Maybe you aren’t nurturing yourself well. Maybe you need to slow down, and find more effective ways of managing your stress and anxiety. If you tend to lash out in anger, perhaps it’s time to start a yoga practice, a breathing practice.

If you want the things around you to change, your best option is to work on the environment within you. When we pin our happiness on external events or other people, we rob ourselves of power. Blame is a joy-stealer. When we take responsibility for our lives, and make the choice to be accountable for the energy we’re spreading, when we do our best to keep those things, people, gifts for which we’re so grateful in the forefront instead of buried under a pile of “nothing is working out”, it’s amazing what happens around us. If you behave differently, people will respond differently. I’m not saying that’s going to solve everything, I’m just saying that’s your best hope for changing things around you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful you can find my books here <3

Free Yourself

Most of us struggle with control and attachment to some degree, thinking if we just try hard enough, we can get life to bend to our will. We start dating someone and want this to be “it” before we even know the other person, before they know us. We’re ready to have a baby, and expect to get pregnant on the first try, or the second. If it hasn’t happened by the third month, we start to get upset. We have our plan, and life needs to get with it, right? Or we want our kids to do well, but maybe our idea of well, and theirs, is different. We want to be promoted, we deserve it, but our boss is a fill-in-the-blank.

I’ve given this a lot of thought. When it comes to human beings and to life, force is a sure recipe for suffering. It’s fine when you want to open jars of almond butter, or remove a tiny Lego piece for your kid, but you can’t force another person to love you or do what you want them to do, or to want what you want them to want, or feel what you want them to feel. Setting intentions is great. It clarifies what it is you’d like, and can inspire your actions every day. That’s a lot different than gripping to an outcome. Things have to go this way or I’ll be miserable. Nothing clouds the vision like attachment. You’re going to be attached to people, that’s part of the human condition; one of the more beautiful parts, actually. Anyone who says differently is fooling themselves or you. We want to be able to hear the voices or the laughs of the people we love most in this world. We want to be able to hug them and kiss them, and if they’re taken from us, we are going to suffer. If you have children, you will be attached to wanting the best for them, wanting them to be healthy and happy and strong. If they are not any of these things, you will suffer.

So some attachment is just part of the gig, unless you want to move to a cave, but as much as possible, open hands, open heart, open mind. Attachment to people comes after love, not before. Loving an idea of a person is not the same as loving a person. Sometimes we meet someone and want them to be this magical person we’ve been waiting for because we’re thirty and the plan was to be married sometime around now, with kids on the way by 32. That’s the kind of attachment that you want to nip in the bud: attachment to our idea of “How Things Should Be,” to that picture in our heads. Life is how it is. It’s not obligated to go along with your plans, and it probably won’t. Maybe something more amazing than anything you’ve planned will unfold.

Sometimes we’re attached to how things were, to a relationship that’s come to an end, for example. We long for the way we felt. We think maybe there’s some way we can get back there, but if a person doesn’t love you for who you are, if they can’t see you anymore, if everything has become dark and no one is shining, allow yourself to be released, even though it hurts like hell. There are some things you’ll never understand. The more you can face reality as it is and work with that, the less you’ll suffer. Be attached to your own discernment. Be attached to working with the truth of a thing even if it breaks your heart. Be attached to the people in your life whom you love beyond words, and understand it makes you vulnerable, and do it anyway. Try to let go of the rest. Life is an adventure. Sometimes it breaks your heart, and sometimes it hits you in the face with so much love it knocks you off your feet and fills your heart with yes. You can’t force that stuff.

You can treat yourself well, though. You can be kind and patient with yourself, and you can do that for other people, too. You can explore what it means to really love someone. Practice on your parents or your friends or your nieces and nephews or a person you’re just getting to know. Practice on yourself. Be curious about acceptance, about looking clearly at someone and listening without allowing your own opinions to block you from hearing them, without allowing your own defenses or wants or needs to prevent you from seeing theirs. Most of the stuff we become fixated on is so meaningless. I think we just lose the thread. Life is to be experienced and examined and explored. Trying to control it is like trying to control the weather.

Sending you love and a giant hug,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

Compassion: Tastes Great, Less Filling

Once when I was fourteen, I walked to the front of the room in my science class to hand in a paper, and I heard giggling. When I returned to my seat, this girl I had always liked leaned over and loudly whispered, “You can see your panties through your skirt. Nice flowers!” And then she and another girl I’d also thought was a friend, snickered. One of the guys in my class leaned forward from the row behind me and said, “Don’t worry about it, you’re looking good,” which only intensified my embarrassment. Shame is such a powerful, uncomfortable, debilitating feeling. It hits you in the gut and makes you feel wrong and bad and unworthy of love or kindness. I remember being annoyed with myself for blushing and making it obvious I was bothered. I wanted to be tough, to act like it didn’t phase me, to deny those girls the feeling that they had any power over me; things like that seem such a big deal when you’re fourteen. My heart was racing, and I was cursing myself for not having checked my reflection before walking out the door. I felt betrayed and confused by these girls I’d considered friends, who now seemed to be taking pleasure in humiliating me. Beyond that, I wanted the world to open and swallow me so I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of the day with people laughing because they could see through my skirt. I think about it now, as a grown woman, and shake my head. I wish I could go back to my teenage self in that room and say, this is so not a big deal, but it’s funny that it stands out, all these years later.

We all have moments when we feel exposed, when we’ve shown our fallibility and our vulnerability more than we’d intended; when we’ve accidentally let people see the flowers on our undies. There’s so much I could say here. We tend to be so hard on ourselves and on each other. Gossip magazines (which I never buy and encourage you to boycott along with beauty magazines which are anything but) are nothing but mean girls gone wild. Look at this awful thing this person is doing! Here’s someone else with their life falling down around them. Here are ten ways you really suck, and even though you’ll never measure up, here are ten things you can try so that you won’t suck so much, with an occasional story about a person with a fairytale life you could never hope to live. It’s a big plate of awful.

The thing is, you’re always feeding yourself. You’re feeding your body, but you’re also feeding your mind and your heart with everything you watch, read, or dwell upon. You know the old saying, “You are what you eat.” If you focus on all the things people are doing that are terrible, and all the ways you’re disappointing yourself, it’s so defeating. You really don’t want to feed the idea that, “people suck,” because they don’t and you don’t, either. It’s simply not an easy gig, this work of being human, especially when you’re trying to be kind, conscious and compassionate. That’s why it’s important to be vigilant about what you feed yourself. If you look around and find you have contempt for people easily, it’s probably time for a change in diet: Compassion: tastes great, less filling. When you have some for yourself, you’ll find you have some for other people, too. We all make mistakes, every single one of us. We all have choices we’d love to make over again. It’s easy to be the person who points a finger and has that snarky, biting thing to say, but I don’t think it feels good at the end of the day, and it definitely doesn’t up the happiness quotient. Choose love, feed that.

Sending you some right now,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

Love is Your Birthright

If you have trauma in your past, you are not defective, you are not “marked” for life, you have not been shut out of any chance at happiness; you’re just as worthy of love and joy as anyone else. You may look around and think you’re the only person with serious pain in your past, or in your present, but I can assure you that isn’t so. I get emails from people every day who’ve been through things that would break your heart in two, or who find themselves in situations they’re desperate to flee.

If the people who were meant to love you and protect you, to nurture you and support you, were not able to do that because of their own damage, that is not on you. It is not a reflection of your worthiness to receive love. You were worthy the millisecond you came into existence. The other day I was talking about time folding in on itself; moments overlapping each other, or continuing long after you’ve grown away from them. Here’s where that gets tricky: the “grown-up you” may easily grasp that some people are damaged, and that maybe your parents fall into that category, or did at the time you came on the scene, but a child doesn’t get that. Children have no choice. The situation is what it is, and a child in an abusive environment must figure out how to survive, how to appease, or how to be invisible. At a certain point, a child in that framework will seriously begin to doubt in her own lovableness. She’ll think it must be something within her that is just bad, or that love is conditional, and must be earned. A child in that kind of family has to question if there’s something defective about himself because the alternative doesn’t occur to a little person. A child simply does not have the frame of reference to understand that some people are carrying around so much pain, are so ill-equipped to take care of themselves, they’re in no condition to be responsible for anyone else. In general, the cycle of abuse is repeated, or the person who was hurt breaks the cycle and heads in the opposite direction. In other words, if you were abused, it’s very likely the person who inflicted pain upon you was also abused, but I know a lot of amazing parents who grew up in a war zone. You can come out of abuse and create something beautiful. Your past does not have to define your future (or your eventual parenting style should you have children) once you’re old enough to make your own moves.

If you question whether there’s something within you that is unworthy of love, allow me to say that’s not it; that’s not the problem. You are love. I genuinely believe that. We’re energetic beings and my belief is that the energy from which we arise is love. The problem is your doubt in yourself, because when you fail to recognize what a gift you are, what a miracle you are, and I do not use the word lightly, or in any cheesy kind of way, you just aren’t seeing clearly. I believe in accidents, I think some things are just random, but I do not believe in accidental people. You’ve had your experiences and they are unique to you. You’ve had your pain, the ways you were let down or neglected, the ways you’ve had your heart broken. People have come along who’ve broken you down more, and some have lifted you up. You have your memories and your stories and your internal dialogue. You have your dreams. You have your specific heart. No one could ever replace you. Not ever. To me, that’s an incredible and obvious miracle.

So you have that. You have you. Maybe you have a lot of healing to do to begin to understand what a gift that is. The great news is that healing is possible, you just have to find the path that works for you. I really think talking to a great therapist is essential, and I also think some physical expression is key. Whether it’s yoga or hiking or windsurfing, whether you get regular bodywork or you dance, I think there’s something powerful that happens when you tune into your breath and into your body. Your body is full of incredible wisdom, and sometimes it’s also holding on to so much pain. Old pain. Pain from when your shoulders were hitched up around your ears, or your arms were protecting your head, or you were cowering in a corner, terrified. Pain in your jaw from wanting to scream but knowing that would only make it worse. Pain in your heart because you weren’t being seen or loved. You really need to release that pain, because a lot of the stories are ancient and woven into your body, and they won’t strengthen you. There’s nothing good that comes from grasping them or feeding them or pushing them down into some deep place so that your only hope then, is to numb out.

I’ve had people apologize to me after class because they found themselves weeping in a hip opener, or thought they might start bawling in Savasana. You know what? Weep. Bawl. The job of a yoga teacher is to create a space where healing is likely to occur. A safe space. A person letting it out would indicate the teacher has done a good job. Feeling secure enough in someone’s class to fall apart is a beautiful way to say thank you. We are all human beings. Raw emotion is gorgeous. Everyone has pain. Some people have more than others, some people are more resilient than others, but everyone has pain. You let that stuff out so you can uncover the love. You may have been forced to bury it, you may be inclined to doubt that it’s there, but I guarantee if you find the ways that work for you to dig a little, you’re going to be amazed. Love is your birthright. No one can take it from you unless you let them.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

Let the Breaking Open You

So much of what we’re going to feel as human beings is uncomfortable. Longing, loneliness, rage, bitterness, resentment, insecurity, doubt, fear, shame, guilt, jealousy…none of these are comfortable, and we aren’t taught how to sit with these feelings, how to lean into them and breathe. For so many people, the impulse is to do something, to fix it, to push it down, to make it go away, but these are just natural sensations. That’s all loneliness is, it’s an uncomfortable sensation in your heart. It hurts, it aches, but it’s temporary and if you open to it you might also open to the understanding that you’re longing for connection. Maybe some part of you feels invisible or unworthy of love, and what you want more than anything is for someone to see you and know you and embrace you; that’s beautiful and understandable. Maybe there’s some healing that needs to happen within you before you can truly allow yourself to be vulnerable with someone else, but if you run out the door, or open that bottle of wine, or pick up the phone, or try to shop the feeling away you miss an opportunity to know yourself and not knowing yourself is the loneliest thing there is.

If you’re enraged and you allow yourself to feel that feeling, if you loosen your grip on the story around why you’re angry, you might start to feel something underneath that rage. People get angry when they feel misunderstood, wronged or discarded. Those are some of the most painful feelings we have. Avoiding them doesn’t diminish them, it strengthens them. Alienating yourself from other people won’t lessen those feelings, either, it will increase them. What we resist, persists as the saying goes. Intense sensations are markers for places where we have healing to do, places where we really ought to sit down and dig our hands in the dirt. A lot of people get so freaked out by the discomfort, they run like hell and wonder why the pain never goes away for long. Life is not something to “get through”, it’s something to experience fully.

It’s human to crave the things that feel good and to try to avoid the things that don’t, but that is also the root of all suffering and it’s wildly unrealistic. No one has a life full of only good things and if they did, they wouldn’t be able to distinguish them from anything else. There’s gradation, it’s not a level playing field. Some people will suffer the “normal” amount, and some will suffer so much it makes your head spin and your heart hurt. In the end we are all going to die. That’s about the only thing we know for sure and even that is shrouded in uncertainty. The body will die, but what about the energy that is you? What about your spirit, or your essence or your soul, or whatever you want to call it? I don’t believe that dies, I think it lives on in the people we’ve loved and the places where we’ve given our hearts. You might think that’s wrong, and you might be right. No one will know for sure until they exhale for the final time, so I don’t see any use in arguing about it. This life is full of unanswered questions, suffering, confusion, heartache, longing and things that just make you wonder why, but it’s  also full of beauty and love and the kind of joy that makes your heart expand if you let it, of laughter and connection and moments of absolute bliss. There’s piercing beauty in suffering, too, if you examine it carefully enough. Even if you’ve lost someone and you have no idea how you’ll go on, there’s beauty in having loved like that and there’s enormous power in opening to things as they are.

There’s a funny thing about opening to your pain as well as all the obvious beauty in life. Your heart may break, but you can let the breaking soften you. You can also let it harden you, but you’ve probably noticed human beings are not born with shells. We are not born with armor. We don’t thrive when we hide or develop a thick skin. We are born with the strength of being able to love and feel and express, to recognize it when we love, to see when we’ve been given a gift, and to open it slowly, and with gratitude. It’s very easy to lose the thread.

Opening to love does not mean you embrace everything. Some things cannot be embraced. Some things will break you, but just as human beings aren’t born with shells, we aren’t made of glass, either. Rumi on this, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” You can glue the broken pieces together with love and kindness and time, with patience and compassion, and with the ability to hold even more light. When life breaks you, let it open you.

Wishing you the strength to face reality as it is, and sending so much love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here and my yoga classes here.