Life Does Not Suck (And Neither Do You)

thistooshallsuckDo you know people whose mantra is “life sucks” or “people suck” or “I suck”? Most of us have been that person at some time or another, even if only for a moment, but some people get stuck there. That perspective usually shows up after we’ve been knocked around by life for awhile. Had our hearts broken romantically, or in relation to a family member or friend, or in a professional situation. If all those things happen at once, it’s like a perfect storm of suckiness. And that can really effect a person’s outlook.

Sometimes I think of life in terms of “birth cycles” and “death cycles”. Birth cycles are times of incredible growth, creation, productivity and expansion, and although they usually involve lots of transition and can be uncomfortable, there’s the underlying feeling of excitement. Death cycles are times when things are stagnant, we feel stuck or trapped, nothing seems to be moving or opening, it’s hard to breathe or see the light, and the path is not clear. These are usually times when we are refusing to acknowledge that something is coming to an end, be it a relationship, a job, or a way of being in the world. Or we realize, but struggle to accept. Death cycles mark the journey from the moment we know something is over in our hearts and in our guts, to the moment when we accept it in our minds and start to map out a different route. Then we are on to another cycle of growth. Birth cycles feel better, but we are going to get both in this life, and riding the waves is part of the gig. Also, the degree to which we allow ourselves to open to despair is the same degree we will be able to open to joy. They’re flip sides of a coin; you need one to appreciate and understand the other. The pain is often the catalyst for action. When we try to avoid the pain, we disempower ourselves.

And this is not to say there isn’t overlap. There are certainly times when one facet of our life is going really well, and other parts, not so much. We have a great relationship, but professionally we feel stuck. Or we have our work life in order, we feel we’ve found our calling, life has meaning and we have purpose here, but romantically it’s a wash. I’m simply talking about those times for people when it all feels hopeless. It’s tough to maintain an optimistic attitude when nothing seems to be flowing. But allowing a perfect or sustained storm of suckiness to affect your overall outlook is dangerous business because it changes the way you walk through the world. A couple of years ago, I drove behind a car with the bumper sticker, “People Suck”, and I was so struck that someone wanted to drive around with that message. Like, what happens in someone’s life that makes them want to buy that and stick it on their car? Disappointment, betrayal, abuse? Heartbreak? Being neglected, left, ignored? All these things can happen to any of us. Not everyone is able to love well; some people are in incredible pain and it spills over onto the people around them. Maybe your parents weren’t able to love you well, and it set you off on a cycle of repeating that pattern in all your relationships, and now you think no one can love and no one can give, but really, it’s just no one you’re choosing. There are beautiful, loving, amazing people in the world who don’t suck at all. Not even a tiny little bit.

About a year ago I met a guy with a tattoo on the top of his hand that said, “Trust No Bitch”, and that also blew my mind. Can you imagine going on a first date with that guy? I mean, you’re done before you start, aren’t you? And if you aren’t, then I’d have to think there’s something going on with you, too. Like it seems like a fun project. You’ll be the one to change him. Or you’re not looking for anything where you have to trust, either. But at least he was “out there” with it. At least he was stating it loud and clear, “I don’t trust women and I’m angry”. A lot of times people have tattoos like that, but they’re on the heart, not the hand. It takes a long time to identify them. Nonetheless, they might as well be on the forehead. Because if you really feel that way, it’s going to affect the way you see the world and interact with everyone. If you think all guys cheat, and you walk into a relationship like that, it’s going to affect everything. How much you open. How willing you are to let yourself be seen and known and understood. How much you relax into it. If you think all women are liars and users, it’s going to permeate all your interactions with women, romantic or otherwise. If you think people suck, you’re going to take that with you to the grocery store, on the freeway, to the barista behind the counter. And we are energetic beings, and even if a person might not be able to articulate your “tattoo”, they’re going to feel it. And respond accordingly. If someone feels the energy from you of contempt, they’re probably not going to respond with love (unless they’re your yoga teacher ;)). And so wherever you go, you perpetuate the idea that people suck, or no one likes you. But that’s just your lens. If you think life sucks, that’s so all-encompassing it’s going to be hard to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes you really need to get your lens cleared.

You don’t suck, and people don’t suck, and life does not suck. You have pain, and other people have pain, and life can be full of pain sometimes. But if you’re breathing, there’s still time to turn it around. If you have pain and it’s overwhelming, you need to reach out and get yourself some help and some support. There’s not a thing in the world that’s wrong with that. If the people who were supposed to love you didn’t do a bang up job of it, then you learned some stuff you’re going to need to unlearn. It’s doable. If you’ve chosen to surround yourself with people who end up hurting you, once again, the answers are inside. Your pain is running the show, and you’re trying to solve it but you can’t do that until you identify it and sit with it. When you heal yourself and love yourself, you’re going to choose to surround yourself with people who are also able to love. And when you’re coming from love and surrounded by love, there’s no way you’re going to think life sucks. The answers are always inside. Tattoo love on your heart. Everything else flows from there. Sending you some right now. Ally

Sometimes Acceptance is All the Closure You’re Going to Get

knockeddowntostandupNo one ever asks life to knock them down. You’re not going to hear anyone say, “Things are pretty good. I hope life throws a huge monkey wrench into my world. Maybe my husband will suddenly announce he has a girlfriend and leave! Or I’ll lose my job. Or something I never could have seen coming will bring me to my knees and break my heart wide open.” We don’t ask for these things, but sometimes these are the kind of challenges we have to face. Or worse.

Not everything in life is positive, and there are some lessons no one will ever appreciate. You might grow or strengthen or reach new levels of compassion or insight, but there are some heartbreaks that are so knifing, no one would ever say, “Thank you for this.” As a result, you’ll never hear me say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I used to say stuff like that. And maybe everything does, or maybe it’s all random, but I think spiritual sound-bytes like that are an attempt to wrap life up into a neat little package, and I think they’re incredibly alienating to people who are devastated. When you cannot recognize your life, when everything falls apart and you have nothing but the shards of glass that used to be your home in a pile around you, and old photographs and a sweater that still smells like what was, you really don’t want to hear it’s happened for some reason that will make sense to you some day. Some things will never, ever make sense, and some things will never be okay. Recognizing that is the only way you can conceive of moving forward. Sometimes acceptance is all the closure you’re going to get.

When you find yourself in a state like this, move slowly and have compassion for yourself. If you know someone who’s been knocked down, show up and make them dinner. But don’t tell them how to grieve, or that it’s time to snap out of it. People mourn in their own way, whether it’s over the loss of a person, a relationship, a job or a way of being. There’s a huge difference between being there for someone and enabling self-destruction, so please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m simply saying when a person is trying to put the pieces of their life back together, they need love, not a whip. Because although no one would ask for everything to fall apart around them, when that happens there is the potential for something strong and beautiful and powerful to emerge. A new way of being, of seeing, of understanding. It takes time to birth those things, and it’s a very painful process. But when I look back at the most devastating things that have happened in my own life, I can recognize that I grew from them. That I would not be where I am now if I had not been where I was then. There are a couple of experiences I’d give back gladly. I’d say, “No thank you, not this. Not this.” But I can see how those moments opened me, and turned me into the kind of person who cares deeply when a stranger sends a message about a loss. A broken relationship. A dark time. And I can appreciate that. I can be grateful for that. Hopefully we can all care more about each other without having to personally suffer too much. Maybe I needed those times to open me. I wouldn’t want to be closed. I say this to you in case you’re going through one of those devastating times. I’d never ask you to be grateful, but I would say you have the choice to allow it to soften you and open you, or to close you and harden you. Opening feels a lot better. Sending you love and a hug. Ally

Don’t Give Up.

urgoing2want2giveupdontA few weeks ago, someone messaged me on the fan page and said he was going to end his life. I can’t really explain the panic I felt, especially because his message was a few hours old by the time I saw it. He shared some details of his last few years, and why he’d come to the conclusion that it just wasn’t worth it. He’d suffered some devastating losses, enough that it was understandable he felt hopeless and defeated. I wrote back immediately, and gave him the Suicide Prevention Hotline number (800-273-8255), and also contact information for three therapists I know and trust. I begged him to write back and let me know he’d received my message, and also told him there have been times in my life when I’ve felt like giving up, too. Not for many, many years, but I certainly entertained those thoughts at one time in my life. When things feel so dark you really can’t think of a reason to lift your head off your pillow, the thought, “What’s the point of it all?” is natural and understandable.

Yesterday, someone wrote in a thread, “Why can’t we talk about the miraculous sometimes, too?”, and then she wrote back and very sweetly rescinded her question, saying that it, “all leads back to joy”. But it’s a very legitimate question, and there are days when I just write from my heart and send out a hit of love. Or I hope I do. I write about the shadow emotions a lot because I feel in the spiritual community there’s so much focus on being positive and spreading the light. I think for so many people, this can be alienating. There is so much light. There’s a limitless well of love within each of us. But to uncover that well, there’s usually some digging required. And I think a lot of people feel alone in that digging, like there must be something wrong with them. And sometimes they give up. Numb out. Run, deny, try to push it all down. Or they become bitter and think other people must have it easier. And some people do have it easier. We don’t all go through the same experiences. There are some people who will suffer losses that are so knifing, so brutally painful you have to hope they’re going to be able to put one foot in front of the other. And that’s usually when some well-meaning positive person will come along and smugly assert that, “everything happens for a reason”. And forget that the foundation of a true spiritual practice, is hopefully compassion. There’s nothing comforting in telling a person who is trying to remember how to breathe in and breathe out, that their loss has happened for a reason. Or that they should focus on all the good things in their life. Or that one day they’ll understand why. Some things will never ever be okay. Some things will never make sense. There are some lessons that will never elicit gratitude. Growth, yes. If you get through it. Deeper understanding and insight and compassion? Yes. Gratitude? No. Not for some things.

It’s my belief a spiritual practice ought to be there for you whether you’re moving through beautiful, joyful, miraculous times in your life, or you’re going through blinding pain that makes you want to give up. I don’t worry about those of you feeling gratitude. I love you, but I’m not worried. I do want to reach out to those people in darkness and say, you’re not alone. And offer a hand. A blog post. A yoga class, a hug. An email. Whatever I’ve got. Because I really think that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to love each other, and support each other, and share and grow together. And I think that is pretty miraculous. When I look at my life today, it’s hard to imagine I ever wondered what “the point of it all” was, because it’s very clear to me now. The point of it is to love your heart out. To connect. There’s an insane amount of joy in all that. I’ve been emailing with the man who was feeling desperate a few weeks ago. He’s talking to someone and getting support in many areas. Sometimes we need help. It’s not easy, this business of being human. But it is pretty amazing. Sending you a ton of love. Ally

Grab Your Inner Tube

onlyinastormSometimes life brings a huge storm our way. We lose someone we cannot imagine living without. Or we’re fired from a job. Or our spouse walks out or has an affair. Our child is in pain. And sometimes we choose the storm. We walk into it head-on, knowing there’s a need to leave the familiar shore and head into unchartered waters. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, I really didn’t know anyone out here. I moved with a guy who also taught yoga and liked cheese a little too much, and when it all fell apart I ended up three thousand miles away from home, with a few people I called friends, whom I was really just getting to know. And, of course, I had my dog. The ex had a serious road rage problem, so for the six months we’d been out here, I’d tried to figure out some kind of reasonable solution. We had one car, and would often leave for our own Ashtanga practice at 6am, and head together to all the classes we were teaching the rest of the day. If I drove, he screamed at me to go faster, to take a different route, to cut this or that person off. If I took a right instead of a left he went ballistic. He became this insane person in the car, instead of the hilarious and kind-hearted person I knew, and it was jolting, because it would happen right after our yoga practice, or after a peaceful hike, or really, anytime we went anywhere. When he drove, it was generally a 90-miles per hour scene, involving the “traffic fingers” of many other drivers, blaring horns, and screeching stops. Neither scenario was appealing or safe, but I truly feared we’d have an accident if I drove while he raged, so he drove. And I would hope we’d get wherever we were going without a problem. Of course I spoke with him about it and he always promised to calm down, but never managed to pull it off. And then he was gone, and I had no idea where I lived. Like, I seriously had to start from the beginning and remind myself, that way leads to the mountains, and that way to the beach. I went on a dating detox because I was alarmed I’d missed the cheese problem, and some other stuff. I’ll explain the cheese thing in another post, lest you think I actually broke up with someone who liked Gouda too much. And I say that as a great friend of said ex. He still calls me every Thanksgiving because of a funny and crazy holiday we shared that involved his sister, my dog, and a pair of pajamas with bunnies on them. And we check in from time to time. Grab a bite when I’m in New York. But when it ended, I just felt bereft and confused, like the rug had been pulled out from under me by my own hand. Because I’d ignored my intuition. I felt pulled to retreat and regroup. And thus began what we call in yoga, my, “Dark Night of the Soul”.

It’s a storm you choose because your way of being in the world hasn’t been working out too well. Friendships, relationships and jobs that don’t feel authentic are left behind, but it happens in an emotional hailstorm. Because when you start to change your inner wiring, believe me, the system is going to revolt. The tendencies and patterns and coping mechanisms that have been keeping all that raw emotion at bay are going to rise up. They’re going to beckon. And if you have the strength and determination not to repeat a pattern you recognize gets you nowhere, not to numb out or run or deny, you’ll likely find yourself in a state of depression. Which is generally confusing when you know you’re moving in a healthy direction. ‘”Shouldn’t I be feeling better?” you’ll think in despair, “I’m doing everything right.” That’s the storm, and if you want to come back to yourself, that’s where you have to head. In many ways it would have been easier for me to move back to NYC where my family and friends were, or to throw myself into another relationship. Instead I meditated and practiced yoga and taught my classes and hiked with my dog and wept a lot. I felt lonely and allowed myself to open to that. I felt scared and heartbroken and sometimes I wondered why I didn’t just make it easier for myself. But somewhere I knew I needed the pain. I needed to finally lean into it and swim through it so it wouldn’t own me anymore. So I could come back to myself. It is a storm. Sometimes you get pulled under and are thrashed into the rocks and you can’t see the surface, and it is very dark indeed. But if you want to really know yourself, you have to embrace everything. You have to accept and integrate all parts of yourself. It’s not easy work, but when the sun emerges and you take a deep breath and know you’re home, the kind of home that’s with you wherever you may go, it’s so worth it. Sending you love, and an inner tube if you need one, Ally

Get Up!

Even-if-youre-on-theAwareness is the first step, but action is what’s needed if you want to see a shift happen. People often get stuck at the level of identification, meaning they can tell you in great detail why they are the way they are, but that’s as far as they’ll go. The past experiences explain and justify the current behavior. Except they don’t, because there’s always space for growth, and for free will.

Healing requires openness and honesty and a willingness to not look away, even when you must stare at the center of your deepest pain. It also demands vigilance, especially when you detect unhealthy patterns in your life. It means re-training yourself to feed a loving voice, and to starve any tendencies that make you feel less than, or unworthy of love. We are always in process. Knowing yourself well is a gift that makes it possible to “catch yourself” sooner, so you can make healthy decisions based on how things are, and not how they once were. To move forward with love and trust, even when the road is dark and slick and we’re traveling with no map. In order to proceed in a direction that’s going to lead to happiness and peace, you’ll have to avail yourself of some tools that give you the power to pause and breathe when you feel triggered. Yoga practice is excellent for that.

Healing also requires your creativity, and a willingness to let go of the chains that are holding you back. Sometimes we’ve been attached to a sad story for so long, we can’t imagine what would happen if we just released it. If we weren’t blaming other people or circumstances for our unhappiness, what would we do with our time, and how would we explain our lack of joy or purpose? These are tough questions to face, and getting support is a really good move if you’re in this position. The combination of yoga, seated meditation and therapy worked for me, but you may need other tools. That part is personal, and you’ll have to figure out what you need by trying different things, and staying with it until you find something that resonates with you. But that’s a much better use of your time than explaining that your current abandonment issues are based on a time, twenty years ago, when your dad left you and your mom. Identification is great, but you have to add excavation on top of that. Is it your mom’s and dad’s story, or is it your story now?

Giving up on yourself is a serious shame and an act of ingratitude. As heartbreaking as it can be sometimes, this life is a gift, and this experience of being human, vulnerable, awake, and changing is an opportunity to heal more than just ourselves. We come into this world with an insane amount of love inside of us, and I believe we are meant to uncover it, and spread it all over the place. The story of your life will keep unfolding, every day. There are the circumstances, and there’s the way you respond to them. In that way, you co-create the story. The pieces are always moving, the ground below us is always shifting, there are no promises or guarantees, and you don’t have forever. There are big questions that need to be lived, that you can never truly answer, but that you’ll have to grapple with if you want to be at peace. The key is to keep moving, keep growing, keep seeing and listening and exploring. To be willing to allow life, and your very own self, to surprise you. To recognize you’ll never have all the answers, in fact, you’ll have very few. Only a couple truly matter, anyway. How much are you going to love, and how much are you going to do what you can to heal yourself, and in so doing, the world around you? Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton