How to Live in the Now and Trust Yourself

montaigneThe mind just loves to time travel, have you noticed? Left to its own devices, it will pull you into the past, or send you into the future, often with feelings of regret, longing, sadness, fear or anxiety. Sometimes the accompanying feeling is a good one, like recalling something wonderful that’s happened, or feeling excited about an event that’s about to happen, but more of the time we’re sad about something behind us, or scared about something that might or might not be in front of us.

Have you ever revved yourself up for a conversation or situation that never came to pass? Yeah. Me, too, and that’s time we can’t have back. Ever gotten yourself heated over an interaction that already took place, even though you can’t go back and redo it? Yup, I’ve done that, too. Do you know that you can raise your blood pressure just by thinking about things that are upsetting? Your nervous system doesn’t differentiate very much in its response to things that are actually happening, versus things that are only happening in your mind.

Also, when you’re dwelling on some event from your past, or worried about some situation that could occur in your future, you are missing the main attraction, which is what is happening right here, right now. If you aren’t present, you also are not tuned into your intuition, which is a living, energetic response system that causes things like the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up when you’re in danger. If you’re too focused on your destination, you might miss the signs that something is off in the environment around you as you’re traveling. If you’re obsessing over a conversation you’ve already had, you might be missing the chance to connect with someone who’s standing right in front of you.

Last night as I was driving to the studio to teach, I turned up the alley to get to our garage and there was a little girl probably about seven, like my daughter, and she was doing a happy dance, full out, for no apparent reason except that it felt good to be her in that moment. Face upturned, eyes twinkling, cheeks flushed. Her dad was looking at his phone. Now, maybe that’s unusual, and I just happened to drive by in a moment when he was texting mom so they could all meet up, or maybe he’s missing lots of moments like that, I don’t know. What I do know is that I made eye contact with that little girl, and laughed with her and waved, because I wanted her to feel seen in her joy.

If you want to trust yourself, you have to be engaged with the conversation your body is always having with you. The body speaks in the language of sensation, and it is very clear in its messages. If you’re happy, you’re going to feel that energy coursing through your system, those relaxed shoulders and that openness across your chest, your arms relaxed, or wrapped around someone in a delicious hug, or holding an ice cream cone, or a mic, or a pen, or your fingers flying across the keyboard of your laptop–whatever it is that brings you pleasure. Maybe your leg will bounce underneath your desk like mine is right now, because you can’t type as fast as the thoughts are coming. Maybe you’ll notice your spine is long as you’re sitting in your chair, or that you’re sweating a little because there’s a sudden heatwave. There are a lot of things happening in every single moment, and your body is talking to you about all of them. A little breeze through the window going noticed or unnoticed, the way the neighbor is talking to her dog, the smell of exhaust as a truck goes by, the sound of a plane overhead, the taste of the cacao and cashew hemp-spread lingering in your mouth because you had a spoonful awhile ago. Those are small things, but bigger things include the feeling that something is not right, or that you’re feeling alone, or stuck or inspired or grateful. There’s so much we can miss when we aren’t paying attention. When you want to know what to do, believe me, your body is giving you information about what feels right for you. When you need to make a change, your body knows, well before your mind picks up the thread.

The quickest pathway to right now is your breath. Your inhales and exhales are always happening in the now, so when you simply allow yourself to become conscious of this unconscious process that is always happening, and therefore always available to you, you become present. You can become aware of the feeling of your lungs filling and emptying, your chest, rib cage and belly rising and falling, anytime, and anywhere. Right now, if you wanted to, you could close your eyes, and let yourself feel that, and if you took a few conscious breaths, I have no doubt you’d feel an immediate sense of peace, of relief.

The mind is full of ideas, and redundant, often obsessive thoughts, and it will spin you in circles if you let it. Culturally, we’re like a bunch of talking heads with all of our shoulds and fears and doubts and worries, and honestly, if you don’t learn to quiet that racket, you’re going to feel overwhelmed and besieged by life a lot of the time. It’s hard to trust yourself if you’re spinning, but it’s pretty easy if you can come to center. The funny thing is, you can do this in a crowded room, before a presentation, while you’re having a tough conversation, while you’re driving–it’s something you can learn to do throughout the day to slow things down, and open up to the story your body is telling, which is full of truth and wisdom. You have gifts to share that only you can, but it’s going to be very hard if you don’t have faith in yourself. If you want to start working on that, I’m ready to help. Try this short guided meditation right now:

meditation

 

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,
Ally Hamilton

Life Doesn’t Happen On Paper

allypaperI get a lot of emails from people struggling with a relationship or a job that just doesn’t feel right anymore, and it seems the people who have the hardest time are the ones who feel like nothing is really “wrong”. When we’re being mistreated, it’s pretty clear; we know we’re going to have to make a move, and probably sooner than later, but when there isn’t a definable problem, and it’s just a feeling of restlessness or uncertainty, it can be hard to know what to do.

Here’s the thing: no one else can figure that out for you. We all have that inner voice, that inner knowing, our intuition. Sometimes it gets lost in the din of all our relentless thoughts. The mind is obsessive and redundant, and it will play over the same stuff endlessly, a spinning hamster-wheel of ideas, shoulds, fears, what-ifs and if-onlys. They say we have 50,000 thoughts a day (and who are “they” and how do they know?!), but I really wonder how many of them are the same thoughts. Probably a lot. All that white noise can make it very hard to hear the quiet voice that knows what you need. I really think most of the time we do know. We might not be ready to face or accept what we know, because if we do, it means change is coming, and sometimes we aren’t ready to wrap our heads around that just yet, but I think we know.

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between intuition, and our attachment to a particular outcome. Do we really feel this is the right move “in our gut”, or are we blinded by our need for things to go a certain way? The easiest way to tell which you’re dealing with is to identify the quality of the feelings that come up. If it’s your intuition, you might feel scared, or you might feel dread about what you have to do, but underneath that there will also be relief. Agonizing over decisions and choices can be brutal. Finally accepting what you need, even if you’re scared, ought to be comforting underneath it all. There’s a “rightness” about it. When it’s attachment to a particular outcome, the feeling underneath is more likely to be desperation or anxiety.

Sometimes we look for signs to tell us what to do. Allow me to say that looking for a sign IS a sign. If you’re so sad or scared or desperate that you’re asking for signs, it’s probably time to make some kind of change, even if it’s just with the way you’re communicating.

The thing is, listening to your intuition simplifies everything. When we’re going against what we know in our hearts to be true for us, we’re also betraying ourselves, and we’re swimming upstream–it’s exhausting. Of course you want to think about the way your actions will impact the people you hold dearest, but you can’t live your life in guilt, or feel pity for your partner, or try to nurture people when you’re totally depleted, and expect life to feel good. A relationship doesn’t thrive on martyrdom. Any healthy relationship is built on communication, trust, vulnerability and openness.

Sometimes it’s really hard to make a shift. A young man sent an email last year, and he was in a state of total desperation and confusion. His parents had put him through medical school. His dad had worked two jobs, and taken out a second mortgage to make it possible for his son to finish school. He was in his last year, and he realized he didn’t want to be a doctor. It had never been his dream. It was something his parents had wanted for him, with the best of intentions and a ton of love, but it was not what he wanted for himself. The guilt he felt was crushing, but you can’t live your life to satisfy other people, you really need to move in the direction that feeds your soul. What kind of doctor are you going to be if your heart isn’t in it? How well are you going to treat your patients? Sometimes your course of action won’t make sense to anyone. People in your life might call you nuts or any number of things, but your job is to be at peace, and to offer up your particular gifts, and to follow the pull of your heart. Believe me, I don’t say that without compassion for his parents. They thought he wanted what they wanted him to want. They didn’t realize the pressure he felt, or that it was their dream and not his.

Almost every time I’ve really made a mess of things, it was because I didn’t follow my intuition. I think there are always “red flags”, or that “sixth sense”, and sometimes we ignore those feelings because we’re so attached to another person, or an idea we have about how things should or could go, and so we move forward, anyway, even though we feel a little sick or unsettled inside. There’s no rug big enough to cover over your despair or heartbreak. You don’t want to sweep that stuff under anything, anyway. Life is too short for that. Find a way to get quiet, so there’s some space between the thoughts. Yoga and seated meditation are brilliant for that. You can practice with me right now, here. Then the feelings can arise between those thoughts and “shoulds” and, “can’ts”, and you can figure out which way to go.

Wishing that for you, and sending love,

Ally Hamilton

Rest in Your True Nature

Allyekarajkaparm-1Yoga is a process of coming home to yourself. It’s a science, an art, a philosophy of stripping away anything that isn’t part of your authentic self. So much of the time, we’ve gotten confused along the way. We’ve taken on other people’s beliefs or ideas or philosophies and accepted them as our own, without question. Hatred can be taught this way, so can compassion. If you were lucky, your first influences taught you that you were of value. That you had an impact on the world around you. That it mattered how you felt. If you were fortunate, you were also taught that being kind and thinking about how your actions affect other people and the world around you would help you to connect and thrive.

Sometimes we have a lot of unlearning to do, though. Maybe we were not so lucky, and we learned that only certain feelings were okay, and that we had to repress anything that made the people around us feel uncomfortable or inadequate, like our sadness or our anger or our loneliness. There are so many people who reach adulthood and have no clue how they really feel, because they cut themselves off from their own intuition years ago.

If you come out of an abusive background you can count on having to unlearn quite a lot. Growing up in an environment where you make yourself invisible or invaluable depending on the moment requires a total suppression of anything that has to do with what you really need or want in your heart.

So many people are on the run, owned by their painful feelings. Repressed rage turns into depression. It takes a Herculean effort to push down an active volcano. So much energy, in fact, there isn’t much left to do anything else. Thus the lethargy and hopelessness.

For some people, it’s easy to say yes when yes is in their hearts, and it’s not difficult to say no when the situation warrants, but other people have to work to figure out what a yes feels like. Those same people might have to learn to give themselves permission to say no. Feeling that your worth is determined by other people’s perceptions of you sets you up for a lifetime of powerlessness.

Anyway, my point is, there are so many differing ways people might need to come home to themselves, and all of the ways that work require determination and dedication. You have to find the discipline to show up for yourself, and to lean in when you’d rather take off. If you find that what you’ve been doing isn’t working, and by that I mean, if life is not feeling good to you, it’s time to try something new, because time waits for none of us.

There are eight “limbs” in yoga practice. The physical part, the “asana” is just one limb. It’s a very useful entry point for many of us in the west, because we value doing over being, and it takes time to undo that programming. When you connect to your breath (pranayama), you also connect to something that is happening right now, in this moment. You are present and aware. When you start to organize your body into a pose, when you focus on lengthening your spine, or relaxing your shoulders, you’re also giving the mind a focal point that’s happening in the now. So you use your body to quiet your mind. If you’re paying attention to your breath, or you feel your feet on the floor, you aren’t spinning anymore. You aren’t fretting over your past or freaking out about your future, you are present, and that’s beautiful because life isn’t happening in your past or future. When you create space between your thoughts, you also create space to connect to that most authentic part of yourself. You get to breathe in that space.

Your body is full of wisdom about who you are and what you need to be at peace. It knows where you’re holding on, resisting, or contracting from your experience. if you give it the chance and you set up a compassionate and kind inner environment, your body will give these things over, it will help you to let go of those ideas or beliefs that are weighing you down, and then you can fly. Wishing that for you, and sending you love.

Ally Hamilton

P.S. You can practice with me right now, here.

Happily Ever After…

stephenkingA lot of people do life like a movie. You know how it is when two characters come together, and then a conflict arises, and they separate, or they fight, or there’s a misunderstanding, and then some other event pushes the story forward and there’s a shift, and maybe the two people come back together and we have our “happy ending”, and then the credits roll? Like, they get married, and ride off into the proverbial sunset?

 

Really, in life, that’s the beginning of the story, not the end, but a lot of people think that way. If I just meet the right person, I’ll be happy. The end. If I just graduate from a good school and get a great job, I’ll be happy. The end. If I just buy a big house and have a few kids, I’ll be happy. The end. Did you ever see those National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, where the Griswolds head to Walley World, and have this insane journey to get there, only to find that it’s closed when they arrive? Or the one where they head to the Grand Canyon, and are so furious and frazzled and exhausted when they get there, they look for two seconds and go? This is pretty much what happens when we get so caught up in our destination, we forget to enjoy, or even take in, the experience of traveling and connecting and observing and being, and when we finally get to wherever it is we’ve been going, we don’t really know what to do.

 

The chapters are always unfolding. If you think the happy ending begins when you say “I do”, you’re forgetting that a relationship is a living, breathing, entity that needs to be fed or it will die. So many people get wedding fever, and then they experience marital depression the day after the big event. Or kids work like crazy to get into a good college, and are burnt out by the time they get there and end up partying for four years. Maybe the graduation day from said college is exuberant, the key-note speech is poignant, but the year after is like ice-water in the face. Often, the way we’ve envisioned something is not the way it turns out to be, and when reality fails to meet our expectations, we freeze, or we numb, or we panic or we internalize the experience. We think it must be just us flailing and floundering around, confused and surprised and, weirdly, unprepared, because college doesn’t really give us the tools for life, any more than dating prepares us for marriage, or pregnancy prepares us for that first year of motherhood. Most of the biggest, most dramatic changes in our lives require on the job training. We learn as we go, and there isn’t a lot of time to process our inexperience or fear or surprise.

 

Life is not waiting for any of us. It’s happening right here, right now, and we are in the flow, or we’re out of it, but the flow doesn’t stop and it doesn’t care if it’s meeting your expectations or mine. I think there are some life skills it would be smart for us to teach, like how to balance a check book. Just practical, necessary stuff. How to create a budget. How to be a good partner. How to listen, and how to communicate with kindness and compassion. How to recognize the voice of your intuition. How to nap with your baby when you have a newborn. How to ask for help when you need it. It would be great if these things were taught at home. The other night I took my kids to see “Into the Woods”. It turns the classic fairytales on their heads. They loved it, and I enjoyed it, except for the part where (spoiler alert!) Prince Charming cheats on Cinderella with the Baker’s Wife. And the Baker’s Wife, it should also be noted, cheats on the Baker, who happens to be caring for their newborn at the time. Anyway, I talked to my kids about this after the movie. I told them I wanted to be sure they understood it’s not cool or okay to be kissing other people when you have a husband or wife, girlfriend or boyfriend. They assured me that they knew this, and my daughter, who’s five, then said, “Don’t worry about it, Mommy. You can’t find a real prince in this world, anyway.”

Of course, she meant we don’t have royalty in our country, but I thought it was pretty hilarious, and I told her that, actually, you can find a real prince in this world, but you have to look carefully, and that people show you who they are by what they do. Anyway, I don’t get it right in every moment, or anything, but my point is, a lot of this stuff does have to happen at home. We can’t hope our kids’ teachers are going to take care of the difficult or awkward conversations, or that they’re going to teach our kids to be compassionate and kind and fully present. Many of them do. Many of our teachers are absolute godsends. I’m just saying, none of us can afford to shirk our responsibility when it comes to creating a generation of people who, hopefully, do it better than we have so far.

 

I really do feel there’s a shift happening. I think a tremendous number of people are recognizing the old formulas we were sold and taught just don’t pan out. They don’t lead to that happy ending. I think a lot of people are hip to the fact that nothing external brings long-term peace and fulfillment. We all have to work for that, we have to dig for it. But just in case anyone reading this is still thinking that happiness is something you chase, I figured I’d go ahead and turn that fairytale inside out. We are always in process. We are always changing, and so is everything around us. If you want a happy ending, you really have to figure out how to live each day well. Then the days will end well, and so will the weeks and months and years, and one day, hopefully one day way out ahead of us, the happy ending will come because life has been so full of love.

Wishing that for you,

Ally Hamilton

Life is a Limited-Time Offer

limitedtimeSometimes you fight and wait for something for so long, that by the time you get it, you don’t really want it anymore. This can happen in relationships, when one person wants more than the other, and it can happen in professional settings, too. There’s only so long we can go, accepting less than we want, or allowing ourselves to be taken for granted, before it wears us down.

Part of the burnout has to do with our disappointment in ourselves; the sick feeling in our gut when we know we haven’t shown up for ourselves the way we should. That’s really the thing to examine. We can get caught up in the details, in the linear story of what happened, and why we did what we did, who said what to whom, where things took a turn for the worse, but really, the details don’t matter that much. What matters is why we participated in the dimming of our own light. Maybe you let your boss take advantage of you for years, because at least it was a steady paycheck, and no other plan seemed feasible. Or maybe you stayed in a relationship because you were in love, thinking you could change the other party, but really, in your heart, you knew they didn’t love you all the way. So now maybe you “have them”, but not really, not in the way that matters. Or maybe your boss senses a shift in you, or picks up on the fact that you’re just going through the motions, maybe she realizes she should have treated you better, but the attempts at recognition fall incredibly short, or seem empty, meaningless.

The bottom line is that there’s a difference between working hard for something you want, and kidding yourself. If the job isn’t right, if it isn’t growing, if there’s no potential for you to learn or open or pursue your passion, it’s never going to feel good letting years go by like that. If the relationship isn’t growing, if you and your partner don’t really want the same things, what’s the point? Sometimes it’s tempting to trade in short-term comfort for long-term pain. Just let me feel okay for now, just let me have one more month where I work this way and deal with this mess, and then I’ll get out. Just let me have one more weekend where I don’t have to face the pain of this reality, just give me a little more time to find the strength to accept what I already know. The thing is, in a mix like that, the longer you stay, the weaker you get.

I think life is pretty short if you’re firing on all cylinders. If you’re following your heart, and allowing yourself to be guided by your intuition, if you’re pursuing those things that light you up, if you’re moving toward people who are also moving toward you, who are excited to be on the journey with you, if you’re loving your heart out, my sense is that life goes by very, very quickly, that there probably won’t be enough time to get all the love out, all the gratitude out, there won’t be enough time to give everything you want to give. On the flip side, if you aren’t allowing yourself to be guided by your gut, if you aren’t letting yourself be pulled by the force of those things that set your soul on fire, if you’re chasing after love, affection, approval or respect, if you’re stuck in rage, blame or shame, if you’re too afraid to say what you want, loudly and without fear, then life is probably going to feel pretty long and painful. I really think those are the options.

We’re given this body, and that’s a gift. We’re given this energy, this time, this particular spark, and those are all gifts, too. You have something to give that only you can, and if you don’t get busy doing it because you’re allowing your spark to become a flicker, you’re also robbing the world of a gift only you can bring, and you’re robbing yourself of the chance to figure out what that gift is. You won’t find it when you’re loathing yourself. I mean, you might be able to identify it, but in order to fly, you cannot be weighing yourself down with guilt or shame or fear about your integrity. You have to be unencumbered in order to fly, and only you can figure out what that means. Only you know the shape of things that will work for you. Don’t waste too much of your time and energy fooling yourself, because you’ll also be squandering your gifts. Time is passing. It doesn’t wait for any of us to get it together. We do, or we don’t, and time still passes.

Sending you love, and hoping you’ll fly soon if you aren’t already,

Ally Hamilton

Say Yes to Yourself

paulocDepending on your personality, the way you were raised, your response to confrontation, your possible tendency toward people-pleasing, your desire to be liked, and many other factors, you may have a difficult time saying no when you need to, or setting healthy boundaries when that becomes necessary.

You can’t be all things to all people; you will never make everyone happy all the time. Some people will not get you, or dig your vibe, or want to take a spin around the dance floor with you, and that is okay. Rejection never feels good, but it’s not ever your job to chase people down to convince them of your worth. If you suffer from low self-esteem, that’s something you really want to address, otherwise you will likely find yourself saying yes to things when you’d much rather say no. You may devalue your own needs and wants in an effort to be liked or loved or cherished, but that never works, because if you aren’t being yourself, you’ll know that. Maybe you’ll “fool” the other person, but you won’t fool yourself, so even if they think you’re just awesome, it won’t relieve your feelings of being unseen.

Some people would rather drown than ask for help, and others have a funny sense of entitlement, and no qualms about asking you to extend yourself on their behalf, even if they barely know you. You are not obligated to comply. Your time is precious and finite, and so is your energy. These are the most valuable gifts we’re given, and they’re also the most valuable ones we give away. Squandering those gifts is a real shame. In order to survive and thrive in this world, you have to be strong. You have to find the tools to heal any raw places within you that may need your kind attention, so that you aren’t driven by unconscious forces. You don’t want to be leading an “unexamined life”, because not knowing yourself is the loneliest thing there is. It’s not a luxury to take “you time”, it’s a necessity. Healing requires energy.

I remember the first time I flew, listening to the flight attendant directing grown-ups to secure their own oxygen masks before helping their children, and as a kid, this made me uneasy. As an adult, of course I get it. If you pass out, you can’t help anyone. If you deplete yourself and neglect yourself, you really can’t be surprised when life’s storms knock you down. Anything you starve is going to weaken, whether we’re talking about your houseplants, or your relationship with yourself.

Maybe you grew up in a house where your needs were not considered. Perhaps you’ve grown into an adult who believes it’s selfish to think about what you need to be happy, but it’s actually selfish to avoid that work, because if you’re miserable or lost or confused, you bring to the world around you much less of what you could be sharing. We each have a particular spark, and our job is to turn that spark into a flame, a fire, a passion of any kind for something. Your passion can be helping other people; that’s beautiful, but you’ll find that the best way to be of service is to clear anything that might be blocking your ability to shine. The more you care for yourself, the more you can give.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Spiritual Bypass

hemingwayThere’s a huge difference between focusing on the good in your life, and ignoring or denying difficult or painful issues. There seems to be a manic need from the spiritual community at large to be positive and light in every moment, which is alienating to so many people, because the truth is, life is not “all good.” Part of being at peace has to do with our ability to integrate all parts of ourselves, and all chapters of our story. Part of loving other people has to do with our willingness to accept the whole person, the gorgeous parts, the quirky ones, and the stuff that’s raw and tender. Integrating the painful parts is different from dwelling upon them or magnifying them. We all have our struggles and our fears. We go through periods of confusion or despair, or we suffer because we’ve become attached to a picture in our heads of how things should be. Leaning into those uncomfortable feelings is an act of compassion, and it’s also the gateway to liberation. Pushing things down requires enormous energy, and when we repress feelings, we inadvertently give them power. They’re going to come out in other ways.

Clinging to happiness is no different than clinging to anything else—it’s going to cause you to suffer. The minute you feel anything other than positive, you’ve become a disappointment to yourself; a failure. If you reject any feeling that can’t go in the “gratitude column”, you’re going to be at war with yourself, judging yourself for those feelings and thoughts you deem to be negative or ungrateful or petty or unkind. You’ll just compound your pain with shame. We’re all human, and none of us operates from our highest self in every moment. When we sit to meditate, we don’t deny thoughts when they arise, we observe them. “Ah, I’m thinking, judging, clinging, obsessing, daydreaming…let me return to my breath.” Denying your experience is a sure way to create inner dissonance, when the whole point of a spiritual practice is to know yourself, to accept yourself, to find peace, and to feel the connection between yourself, and everyone and everything around you; to find union. Denial won’t get you there, and neither will rejection.

Imagine if you were getting to know someone, and they told you they only wanted to hear the good stuff about you. How close could you get? Yes, we always want to stay focused on all the things we do have—our good health if we’ve got it, the amazing people in our lives, the fact that we have a place to call home, and food to eat, the gifts we’ve been given, like time, our ability to feel the sun on our faces and the breeze on our skin, or that we can see the leaves blowing in the wind with their million shades of green. Laughter of the people closest to us, and also, laughter of total strangers. There’s so much to take in, and so many ways in which we’re gifted, just because we woke up today. Unless, of course, you’re going through knifing loss, and today is a day when it’s hard to breathe. We have to allow space for that possibility, too, because someone out there is dealing with that right now, this very minute, and they aren’t thinking about leaves, or their good health, or sunlight on their face, they’re trying to understand how the earth is still spinning, and people are doing things like putting gas in their cars as if everything has not changed.

A spiritual practice ought to be there for you when times are tough. It takes strength and bravery to face life head-on, and it also requires acknowledgement of our inherent vulnerability. If you want to do life well, if you want to do love well, you’re going to have to get acquainted with the underside of things. You’re going to have to be strong enough to face the dark, and also to embrace the light. If you try to pretend they don’t both exist, you’re not living in reality.

Joy and despair are flip sides of the same coin. I’m not telling you to be grateful for despair when it comes, I’m just saying we wouldn’t recognize joy the way that we do if we’d never felt bereft. If we’d never felt rejected, misunderstood, unseen or dismissed, we wouldn’t appreciate the feeling and relief of being totally accepted. I can look back on all the experiences in my life, particularly the devastating ones, and recognize how they opened me and taught me things about myself, other people, and the world at large. They were not always things I wanted to learn. There are a couple of lessons I would really, truly give back, but we don’t get to choose. Sometimes your heart breaks wide open and you think, “I won’t make it through this.” That’s when you have to hope the people in your life show up for you. Kindness matters. Caring matters. Being there matters, in fact, it matters a lot. The most insightful, kind, compassionate people I know, the most open and sensitive and trustworthy people, happen to be the same people who’ve suffered and grieved and found a way to let their experiences soften them instead of harden them.

Don’t ever let anyone shame you for your feelings. Feelings are not facts, and they aren’t forever. They arise, they peak and they subside. Some feelings take longer than others to cycle through, and if we’re going through something particularly brutal, like the loss of an entire person, we’re going to move through all kinds of feelings, many times. None of them are comfortable or positive. Shock, grief, confusion, rage, panic—those feelings are real and appropriate when we’re going through tragedy. These experiences and feelings do not have to go in a file marked, “thank you for this”; you don’t have to be grateful for everything. Just feel what you need to feel, and trust that over time you’ll be able to breathe without reminding yourself to do that. And let your suffering matter, eventually. Grow from it, and see if you can use it to be there for other people. At least, in that way, some beauty arises from the ashes.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton