The Re-Education of the Heart

Your past does not have to define your future, but sometimes, in order to overcome it, you’re going to have to work like hell. It’s not a level playing field; some people have come out of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Children growing up in an unsafe environment often become adults who find it hard to trust and to open. You can only know what you know, after all. If the people who were meant to love you, nurture you and protect you were not able to do that due to their own limitations or history of abuse, you’re going to have some serious healing to do.

The problem is, it’s very common to seek what we know, because it feels familiar, it feels like home. Frequently, people who’ve come out of abuse find themselves in relationships with people who abuse them, and this strengthens their ideas that they aren’t worthy of love, and that no one can be trusted. This must be love because it feels like home. I feel unsafe or unseen or unheard. I have to earn love by being perfect. I have to dance like a monkey to get approval. These are all learned ideas and behaviors, and if this was your experience during your formative years, you have a lot of unlearning to do. You have to crash your own hard drive and start over. It’s always harder to unlearn something than it is to have it explained to you correctly from the beginning.

Not everyone can explain love to you, though. You have to have received it to understand it. You have to have had at least one person whose face lit up when you toddled into a room. Someone who taught you about hugs that make you feel like nothing could ever be wrong. Someone who wanted nothing but for you to be happy. You need to have gotten at least a little of that from someone, anyone along the way to have a clue about what it is. People who grew up in violence don’t know a lot about those feelings. Survival becomes the thing. How do I maneuver around this situation and these people in order to be safe? How do I endure this abuse without hating them? A kid turns it inward. If my own mother or father can’t love me, it must be me. It’s not conceivable to a child that maybe their parents are limited in this way, that maybe they have their own healing to do and they simply don’t have the tools to love them well or protect them, let alone nurture them, cherish them, celebrate them. Trauma and abuse can be carried forward just like genes. I’m not saying it’s genetic. I’m saying this stuff gets carried forward in the heart, in the body, in the mind, and instead of breaking the cycle, a lot of people repeat it. They don’t mean to and they don’t want to, but they simply don’t know anything else. A feeling floods the nervous system and they act out; anyone in the way is going to suffer.

For children who were sometimes abused, and sometimes loved, it gets even more complicated, especially if there was no discernible pattern. A child who never knows what to expect, never knows if she’s going to be hugged and praised, or beaten and broken down, can never feel safe. Heading into young adulthood that way, which is challenging under the best of circumstances, sets the stage for romantic relationships that are unlikely to be healthy and loving, to say the least.

Anyway, I’m writing about all this because my inbox is flooded with messages from people who are trying to forge a new path, to find a new way; people who’ve been betrayed by those they thought they could trust. People who are afraid to open, even though they desperately want to, because what if they get hurt again? Or what if they’re loved for the first time? People who think maybe they should just give up and be alone. I think when you’re coming out of a history like this, you have to work it from the bottom up, and from the top down. You have to flood your system with new information. I’m talking about the combination of therapy and yoga, which I highly recommend if you’re coming out of abuse. You need someone you trust to help you deconstruct thoughts that weaken you, and may be so ingrained you don’t even realize you’re thinking them, and you need to get in your body and retrain your nervous system which is used to a perpetual state of fight or flight. How can you even know what peace feels like? Joy? Happiness? Rage? There’s no time to honor your own feelings in a war zone. You push that sh&t down so you can survive, so you can get through. You’re so on the lookout for other people’s feelings, for the feeling in the environment around you, it doesn’t occur to you to think about what you want, what you need, or how you feel. What language is that?

The thing is, there are tools. If you’re suffering and you want things to be different, you just start where you are. You get yourself some help. You take over the job of re-educating yourself. Human beings have an insanely awesome ability to heal, to forgive, and to love, they really do. If your heart is broken, there’s more room to let the light in. People who come out of abuse and heal, tend to be incredibly compassionate, and grateful for every good thing. Joy is like this unexpected gift that’s never taken for granted. If you need some help, try this or this 🙂

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

3 Ways to Forgive Yourself and Stop Dwelling on the Past

glassofregretIf 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,

Ally Hamilton

intro-seated-meditation

Petty Things That Matter Not

I-have-found-that-if-youThe real question in life is how do I show up with love? We can get caught up in details and heartbreak and clinging to our pictures of “how things should be”; we can make lists of ways we’ve been wronged and file them away in the space at the front of our hearts. We can pound the earth and shake our fists at the sky and ask why people won’t feel the way we want them to feel, or do the things we want them to do. We can tell ourselves stories about what has happened to us, and why we are the way we are. We can feed the tendencies and ideas that weaken us and make us feel less than, easily abandoned, victimized. Or we can get busy, and make better choices.

Life is as it is, and people are as they are, and it is not personal. There is no boogeyman out to get you, or me, there is no monster under the bed, there is no saber-toothed tiger coming after you, not today, not tomorrow. People may have hurt you, in fact, I can almost guarantee you have been hurt, heartbroken, betrayed, disappointed, and I say, welcome to the human experience. None of us gets a road map, and most of us screw things up from time to time. Maybe your parents didn’t love you well, and even that is not personal, although it feels personal. But parents are people and people have the tools they have, and they are where they are, and maybe you showed up at an inconvenient time, before your parents were grown enough to show up well. So be it.

When we get caught up in fear and anger, we block ourselves from love, joy and gratitude. You can’t just block out the challenging stuff–if you build walls, it all gets stuck outside, and then you’re left to wonder why you feel alienated and alone. Sadness is part of life. We love, we lose–we grow or we shrink in response. Loss is part of life, nature is teaching us this very thing every minute. The tide comes in, the tide goes out, you cannot stop it. The sun sets, and it rises again. People are born, and you love them with your whole heart, and one day you will die, and I will die, and eventually they will also die, but while we are all here, the thing is to love, wholly and completely. That is the only thing. Accruing money and stuff won’t stop the world from spinning or time from ticking. Covering your gray hair and denying your wrinkles with creams and god knows what else won’t stop you from aging. Celebrate your life, even if it looks nothing like you thought it would or wanted it to; try to make peace with the shape of things. There is always something to mourn and there is always something to celebrate, so do both. Feel the piercing sadness when it arises, and open to the joy when it overwhelms you. If you stop denying the shadow emotions, you will find there’s much more light than you might think. This isn’t Cloak and Daggers.

If you’re going to collect something, collect moments. If you’re feeling alone right now, surround yourself with art, with humanity. There’s so much of that available, so much to show you and assure you, you are not alone. Find the art that soothes your soul, and immerse yourself in it. Create art yourself, and don’t question it. Do that with your days, with your words, with your feelings. Maybe do it with your hands, your voice, your fingertips, whatever you’ve got. If you were an entire universe, and I believe you are, your heart would be the sun, so trust that. Your intuition would be like the oceans, flowing, rising, ebbing, sometimes calm, sometimes thrashing. Wonderful, swim with that. Your dreams, your hopes would be the stars in the sky, sometimes shooting brilliantly through the galaxy, sometimes already gone, like some of the stars you see when you look up at the sky.

The point is, don’t wait, and don’t allow yourself to become distracted with petty things that matter not. Life is precious, you are precious, and you have the blink of an eye to get that, and to shine. Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton

Ride the Waves

You-cant-stop-the-wavesFew things are more difficult than watching someone we love grapple with pain we cannot fix. Of course we want the people we hold dearest to be happy and at peace, just as we want those things for ourselves; that’s natural. But loss, grief and pain are built into the experience of being human. We’re all on loan, here, and we’re always changing. Sometimes we’ll be in the throes of our own confusion and anguish, and sometimes we’ll feel powerless as we watch someone else struggle with the reality of being human.

The most loving, well-intentioned parents will say things like, “Don’t be sad,” or, “Don’t be angry,” but sadness and anger are normal, healthy, human emotions, and they don’t need to be pushed away. In fact, the more we try to deny the challenging feelings, the longer they persist, because we can’t fight a truth that is living inside our own bodies. If your heart is broken, there’s no use pretending otherwise. I know a woman who lost her mother a few years ago, and the pain is still acute, every day. Some of her friends have suggested she should be moving on by now, and many have distanced themselves from her. This is not an uncommon story; often, people feel uncomfortable around another person’s grief because it reminds them of their own mortality, and the fragility of this life.

The more we long to be somewhere other than where we are, the more we strain to feel differently than we do, the more we suffer and create dis-ease for ourselves. You feel how you feel, and it won’t all be pretty. In order to deny your vulnerability, you also have to deny your joy; an armored heart can’t pick and choose. You are not obligated to do things in a neat and orderly way, and you are not on anyone else’s timetable. If someone in your life requires that you show up smiling and happy, then the potential for true intimacy and genuine friendship is not there.

Sometimes, pressure to be “over” something, whether it’s the loss of a person, a relationship, a time in your life, or an event that’s transpired, is not coming from the outside, it’s coming from within us. Happiness is not a spot on a map where you land and plant your flag, it’s a process and it requires patience and a willingness to embrace all of your feelings as they arise. No one is ecstatic all the time. A great day will also include some challenging moments, just as a great life will include painful chapters. We all get frustrated with ourselves from time to time, but an aggressive or unforgiving inner atmosphere will not help your grieving process. Cultivating compassion for yourself and others is essential if you want to walk peacefully through this world. Granting patience to yourself, other people, and the situations in your life creates an expansive environment where healing is likely to occur. No one can heal in a vise grip. None of us relax because someone yells at us to relax, just as none of us heal because we’re pressured to do so. Allow yourself to be where you are, and avail yourself of the tools that exist that make it easier to ride the waves of grief when they arise. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

What We Do with What We’re Given

For-a-seed-to-achieveSometimes things happen that turn everything we thought we knew upside down and inside out. Recently, a woman wrote to me because she found out her husband had another family “on the side”. She and her husband have a son who’s five. She believed their son was her husband’s first child, but it turns out he has a daughter a year older. She told me she’d been impressed with her husband’s ability to change diapers and his ideas about breastfeeding, and just generally how comfortable he’d been when their son was an infant. She didn’t realize he’d been through it before. And when she approached him about wanting a second baby, he told her he really felt he was a “one-and-done” kind of guy, but it turns out he has another son, too. He had a second baby with the other woman.

You might wonder how he was able to pull this off for so many years, but he travels on business all the time, and she never thought to worry. She said she believed they were happy. That in their social circle, they were the couple everyone envied because they were still so romantic and seemingly in love with each other. College sweethearts, the whole nine. She found out because the other woman called her. She didn’t want to live in hiding anymore. She wanted to be able to have a normal life. She wanted to post pictures of her kids on Facebook, and go to school gatherings with the father of her children. I mean, it was only a matter of time before this whole thing exploded. The kids are getting older. He has three children calling him Daddy, in two different states.

Anyway, it’s a total mess. And clearly, this man needs some serious help. I don’t know enough about him, his background, his pain, his mental condition, and nine hundred other factors to even begin to comment on what could drive a person to wreak havoc on so many lives, including his own.

The wife is reeling. She’s trying to keep it together for the sake of her son. She told her husband to get out, and she called a lawyer. But it’s the emotional part that’s brutal. A lawyer can’t help you negotiate an earthquake that shakes the foundation of your life. That makes you search back and relive every moment that didn’t quite add up, to replay every conversation, to find the thread that began to unravel when you didn’t notice. In addition to a lawyer, she also called a therapist, her entire family, and her closest friends. She asked me to write about it. She needs support, and she’s reaching out, which is good.

Obviously, this is an extreme example, but most of us have experienced betrayal of some kind. Or we’ve been blindsided when something ended and we just did not see it coming. Or we thought we knew someone and it turns out we didn’t, not really. The hardest part in all of that is feeling like you cannot trust your own judgement. Do you remember that inane conversation about the color of that dress a few weeks ago? Was it black and blue or white and gold? What an extraordinary amount of time we wasted on that. But that’s what it’s like when something rocks the foundation of everything you believed you could count on. Was my marriage real? Was anything he said real? Was the love real? Was the family real? I’m looking at this and it looks purple, but is it? I mean, you just can’t trust anything anymore.

The key toward putting your world back together in times like those is just to take it one breath at a time, and to allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. Heartbroken. Enraged, Astounded. Depressed, scared. She told me she feels ashamed and humiliated, amongst many other emotions. We talked about the shame part. I told her there’s never any shame in loving all the way, and trusting and giving. There is a clear lack of self-respect when someone lies and betrays and sneaks around, and I told her those are things her soon-to-be ex-husband will have to grapple with, but she has nothing to feel ashamed about.

Humiliation is another thing, though. That word comes from the Latin “humus”, which means ground, soil, or earth. As if we’re being returned to the ground, to the dirt. And I’ve felt that way before myself. As much as we wouldn’t wish it on ourselves or anyone else, there’s something freeing about being returned to the earth. And about questioning everything. I’m definitely not suggesting this is some blessing in disguise, although clearly she’s been building her life with a person who has deep-rooted problems, I’m just saying once she allows herself the time and space to grieve and heal, she can start to build something new. She can begin again, from the ground up. And there’s no doubt this experience is going to make her grow and open and strengthen in ways she wouldn’t have without out. It always comes down to what we do with what we’re given.

Life is full of curve-balls, and many people are in unfathomable pain. There are also beautiful people in this world who would never, ever betray you, and there are experiences that take your breath away with the sheer force of their awesomeness. We never know what life has in store for us. It is humbling, but it’s also interesting and amazing. Whatever’s happening in your world, remember there’s only one you in the known universe. Only one. Feed your spark, and try to trust in your process. Leave room for life to show up with the joy, too. 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

Your Five-Year Plan

steinbeckThere’s no way to accept and embrace reality without recognizing our own vulnerability. If we’re lucky, we get seventy, eighty, ninety, maybe one hundred years to offer up whatever we’ve got. The first order of business, once we’re grown, is to make peace with our past. I’ve met maybe three people who had idyllic childhoods, so barring them, most of us are going to have some healing to do. And of course, I jest. Even if your childhood was wonderful, we all have pain, insecurities, doubts, fears and struggles. It’s part of the nature of being human, and of being part of a mystery much larger than any one of us. Yet, we have to face the journey in our own way, and we have to develop our own tools.

We like to make things linear, but my sense is really that time folds in on itself, and also expands out, simultaneously. I can go back to any vivid moment of my life at any time. I can be three, on my grandmother’s soft and cozy lap, I can feel her fingertips tracing my face, and I can smell the mix of powder and perfume and love, just by closing my eyes. I can be fourteen, in the living room of the boy I adored, being kissed for the first time with sunlight streaming through the window, my heart pounding, every sense on fire. I can be sixteen, walking away from the boy I loved, who sat on a bench and watched me leave, sobbing as I went, because he said he had to go away. I can see the blurry trees through my tears, the statue of Balto in Central Park, I can feel the biting cold on my face, on my fingers, in my heart. I can be at the funeral of my cousin’s little boy, with that impossibly tiny coffin, and I can still see the way my cousin’s hand flew to his mouth when our eyes met. Just like that, I’m there, and I’m crying. I can be with that same cousin when I was five years old, and he and his brother threw me in a pool in Bermuda, much to my delight, even though my thumb was broken and I had a cast up to my upper arm. I can see that same cousin, with his head thrown back, laughing, before, way before the coffin and the loss and the grief. I can be at the emergency veterinarian’s hospital with my dog, and doctors I’d never met before, holding his head and watching the light go out of his eyes as I thanked him and tried to wrap my head around the fact that he was here, and then he wasn’t, ten years of history, ten years of being my best friend, holding the ceramic paw print they gave me as I walked out the door, about to give birth to my son, joyous and bereft all at once. I can be in the delivery room with my son, a week later, terrified, wondering if we were going to make it, and I can be in the delivery room with my daughter, too, although the births were two and a half years apart. I can also be right here, right now, with both kids asleep, a different dog curled up on the floor, people walking by on the street outside. If you can’t acknowledge the vulnerability of this thing, I think you’re going to be in some trouble.

A few years ago, I went to a meeting, and someone asked me what my five year plan was, and I didn’t mean to, but I laughed, loudly. I might have accidentally snorted. When I look back on the last five years of my life, almost none of it has gone according to any plan I had. You heal. You make peace with your past. You use your wounds as entryways to understanding and insight and compassion. You figure out what lights you up, what it is, you, in particular, have to offer, and you get busy figuring out how best to do that. Hopefully at some point you realize that it’s what you give, and not what you have, that’s going to define your life. You follow your passion and you share your gifts, and you keep your heart open. You evolve as everything around you evolves, and you keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s the plan as far as I know.

I’m not saying you have to burn your vision board, or that you shouldn’t have goals. Living intentionally is the way to go. Thinking about where you’re going to spend your time and energy makes sense. It’s not like those are infinite gifts, after all, and you don’t want to squander them, but I wouldn’t get too attached to a picture in your head of “how things should be”, or how people should be, or how life should look, because reality is not obligated to bend to your will, and it probably won’t. If you want to pin something on a board, I’d make two columns. Under the first, “Things I Can Control”, under the second, you guessed it, “Things I Cannot Control”. There’s only one thing that goes under the first list, and here it is: “I can control the way I respond to what I’m given (if I work on it a lot).” Under the second list, go ahead and put everything else, including, “other people (and there are some sub-topics here, like what other people will want, or do, or say, or need), circumstances, the weather, when and if I’m going to meet someone amazing (here’s an asterisk for you— *YOU are someone amazing), how long I have here, how long anyone else has here, timing, and whether I’ll get the “breaks” I need.” There are a lot of other things that can go on that second list, that was just off the top of my head.

Here are some things I know for sure: When I’m coming from a loving, open, generous place, life feels pretty awesome, and when I’m in fear, when I’m anxious or worrying or feeling resentful or bitter, or I’m blaming someone else, life feels pretty crappy. When I focus on what I can give, it reminds me that I’m coming from a place of abundance, and that makes me feel really grateful, and when I focus on what I don’t have, or what I’m not getting, that makes me feel like I don’t have enough, and other people have more, and that, in turn, makes me feel that I ought to grasp whatever I’ve got which makes me feel small and petty and like I’m coming from a place of lack, which feels bad. Also, when I focus on the days instead of the years, that feels manageable. When I think about what I can do today to support my own healing if I need it (that has to come first), or what I can do to possibly uplift someone else, I’m on track to have a meaningful and fulfilling day. If I can string a bunch of those days together, I’m having a meaningful and fulfilling life. If I start to future trip and worry about what could happen or what someone else might or might not do, if I start imagining different scenarios, then it all feels overwhelming. What can you do in service to your dreams and the dreams of those you love, today? What can you do to strengthen and nurture yourself, and everyone you encounter, today? I think those are useful questions.

Grateful, as ever, to be in conversation with you all, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton