See with Your Soul

 

deankoontzSensation is the language of the body, but we tend to be such talking heads, we’re often overlooking the most important conversation we could be having. The mind is full of “shoulds”, and it’s obsessive and redundant. It’s really hard to hear the quiet voice of your intuition with all that racket going on. This is one of the reasons it’s essential to find something you enjoy doing so much, you lose yourself in the flow. You quiet the storm that rages in the mind and become present and immersed and open. You lose yourself to find yourself.


Years ago, I dated a guy when I was coming off of a relationship that had been dark and draining, and had ended badly. The proverbial rebound. It was fun, at first, as those things tend to be, but pretty quickly, there were red flags. I’m sure if I’d allowed myself to tune in and receive those messages, I’d have realized it was a non-starter. I remember talking myself out of those gut feelings. I didn’t want to accept what I knew on a deep level. I wanted to have fun and just go with it. That’s how you find yourself in an aisle of Whole Foods, six months into your relationship, watching your boyfriend slip a piece of cheese into the pocket of his cargo pants. I’d known I was dealing with some darkness, but I hadn’t wanted to think it went as far as shoplifting, until I saw it with my own eyes. Game over, time for another breakup.

 

When we cut off communication with our intuition, when we refuse to pick up that call, it’s a matter of time before we crash into a brick wall. You don’t always know when you’re in danger, there are times you can be caught completely off guard. Betrayal falls under that heading. I mean, sometimes we have a feeling something is going on, but other times we’re totally blindsided. For the most part, though, if you’re having an ongoing conversation with your body, you’ll find it’s full of wisdom about what’s happening around you, how you are and what you need. It makes life a lot easier.

When I was thirteen, I headed into my ballet class one afternoon, entering after a man who’d walked in just ahead of me. I remember having a bad feeling. In fact, I sped up to pass him on the steep staircase, longing for the safety of the ballet studio, but as soon as I passed him, he grabbed me from behind, one hand over my mouth, the other between my legs. I knew before I knew. I just didn’t have the frame of reference for something like that. I didn’t trust myself. I doubted my sixth sense.

We don’t really think about emotion as sensation, but that’s what it is. When we say we’re sad, that isn’t an idea or a label, we’re talking about the way we feel in our bodies. We’re hurting. Maybe there’s an ache around the heart, or the chest feels tight, or we feel that lump in the throat. Maybe there’s a heaviness to everything. When we say we’re enraged, we’re talking about the feelings of our hearts racing, our jaws clenching, our fingers curling into fists, our blood pressure going up, our shoulders tightening. Next time you say you’re sad or angry or tired or cold or hungry or depressed, notice what’s happening in your body. Make sure what you’re saying is in sync with what you’re feeling. Because if you aren’t used to tuning in to what it is your body is telling you, there might be a huge disconnect between what you think, and how you feel. Are you hungry, or are you bored or lonely?

A lot of the time we agonize over what we want or don’t want. Sometimes we come to a crossroads and we struggle with which way to go. Maybe we find ourselves asking family and friends to tell us what to do, but I really think most of the time, we already have the answers, it’s just that sometimes we don’t like the answers we’re getting. We don’t always feel ready to accept what we know, because usually that means change is coming, and many people resist change, even though it’s futile.

If you’re talking to someone and you realize your shoulders are up around your ears and your arms and legs are crossed, you are not having an easy time communicating. Maybe you feel threatened or guilty or resentful or exposed or vulnerable or scared. Observing sensation gives you lots of clues about how you’re feeling, and while you might wonder why you’d need clues, I can tell you there are a lot of people who walk around having no idea what they want or need.

Sometimes this happens because we live in a culture where certain emotions make people uncomfortable. As a society, we don’t leave a lot of room for men to be scared or vulnerable, nor do we leave much space for women to be angry or assertive. We have names for men who express fear, and women who allow themselves to be angry, and those names are not nice, so a lot of people learn to edit themselves, and push down the feelings that seem to make other people uneasy. It happens in families, too. Maybe you were encouraged to express yourself, maybe you were taught that your feelings mattered and had an impact on the world around you, and maybe not. Perhaps the adults around you felt inadequate or guilty or put-upon if you expressed sadness, so you stopped doing that. It’s very possible to reach adulthood without having a clue about what you want or need, and without knowing how you feel.

The answers are always inside. Find a way to tune into your body. Yoga is the best thing I know (you can try some with me right now, here), but maybe for you it’s something else. Whatever gets you out of your head. Start to listen to those messages. Value them, they’re meaningful, and do your best to respond with compassion and awareness. The relationship you’re having with yourself is the foundation for all the other relationships in your life. Feed it well.

Sending you love,

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.

Hungry for the Truth

mandyhaleAttachment leads to suffering. As human beings, we are going to be attached to our loved ones, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to avoid that. We’re going to be attached to wanting our families to be happy and healthy and living in a way that feels good and right to them. Connection and love and shared experiences are the best things in life. It’s just that when we allow ourselves to be attached, we also allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You can’t have one without the other, and the reality is, we are going to lose people we don’t know how to live without. Sometimes this happens because we’re in these bodies with their unknown expiration dates, and we just don’t know how much time we have with each other, and sometimes it happens because we grow apart from people with whom we were once so close, this eventuality seems impossible.

Few things cause us greater suffering than attachment to a picture we have in our heads of “how things should be”, or “how people should be”, or “how life should look.” That “should” is such a dangerous word. Sometimes we’ve attached our happiness to a particular outcome, and anything less, or anything else, just won’t do. So many people attach their happiness to externals. It’s the old, “I’ll-Be-Happy-When” formula. “I’ll be happy when I lose ten pounds, or have a different job, or a bigger house, or a faster car. I’ll be happy when I meet the ‘right’ person, or win the approval of my parents, or book that big gig…” It goes on and on, and I’ll tell you what. If that’s the formula you’re working with, happiness will always be just out of reach because it will never be enough. Anything outside of you will never equal your happiness. You plus the right person won’t do it. You plus the big house won’t do it, either. You minus the ten, fifteen, twenty pounds won’t get you there. It’s inside work.

I know this from my own personal experience. I tried the “me plus lots of external stuff” way for many years, and I exhausted myself. The funny thing is, while we’re out there in hot pursuit of that place called happy, inside it never feels right. We know, intuitively, it’s pointless, but we’re taught that this is the way, so many of us hang in there hoping, for many years. At a certain point, I stopped chasing happiness, and I got hungry for the truth. When I say “the truth”, I’m not talking about it like there’s one truth for everyone. I mean, I got hungry for my own truth, the truth of my own experience. Sometimes we think, “If only I could get this person to love me and see me and understand me and cherish me, then I’d be happy!!” And “this person” is not necessarily a romantic partner (although that’s often the case). It might be your mother or your father, or your mercurial Uncle Howard. Sometimes we start out with a parent who seems out of our reach and we repeat the pattern later in life by choosing partners who can’t or won’t commit to us. You can literally make yourself sick trying to be perfect for other people, trying to make yourself worthy, trying to dance like a monkey to earn love, trying to be something other than what you are just to get that thing you so desperately want—your happiness. But you’ll never be happy by trying to be something you are not. The alternative is to lean into the truth of whatever is real.

Maybe you have a parent who will never be able to love you in the way you long to be loved, perhaps they’re just not capable. You can receive that fact as a reflection of something lacking within you, but the much likelier reality is that it’s a deficit within them. People can only be where they are, and they can only use the tools they’ve got. If you’ve chosen a partner who can’t commit, you could interpret that data as an indication that there’s something about you that just isn’t good enough, or you could accept that perhaps this person has deep fears around intimacy, or maybe it’s just not where they’re at at this particular moment in time. Accepting reality as it is, without taking it personally, is such a huge relief. Getting hungry for the truth is a liberation. Setting yourself free of the idea that only one outcome can lead to your happiness opens you to a whole new world of possibilities. And yes, accepting that someone might not love you the way you love them, or might not want to commit to you is going to hurt, but it’s also going to allow you to breathe again, and to feel like your feet are planted solidly on the ground. It’s going to give you back your self-respect and your self-esteem, which you have to check at the bars of your prison cell when you make yourself unable to release your attachment to a happy ending that isn’t in the cards.

The other thing is, opening to reality as it is, gives you power and peace. You’re not busy telling yourself stories, or pretending things are other than what they are. You aren’t spending your time or energy pretending that you are other than what you are, and I have to say, that’s a pretty happy feeling. It puts you at ease. It allows you to release your grip, to stop your grasping and clinging. It relieves you of any notion that things are “happening to you.” It puts you back in the power seat. There’s no desire to force or manipulate or cajole. Why would you do any of that? You just allow things to flow, and trust that when they’re right, it’s clear, and if you have to force, it isn’t right. So much simpler, so much happier. I highly recommend it.

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

P.S. If this was helpful, you can buy Ally’s books here.

Meditation or Electric Shock Therapy?

pemaskyDid you know there are a significant number of people who’d rather give themselves electric shocks than sit quietly in a room with nothing but their own thoughts for just 6-15 minutes? So reported Kate Murphy in Sunday’s New York Times, with her excellent article, “No Time to Think”. In an article she cites from Science Magazine, researchers were amazed with results from several different studies involving 700 people, “In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.” You can read the full, fascinating report here. Apparently, participants were interviewed before the experiment, and all said they’d pay not to be electrically shocked, but when push came to shove, 65% of the men, and 15% of the women ended up opting for self-administered shocks as opposed to just a few minutes of sitting with their feelings.

Researchers theorized that the difficulty for people arose because their thoughts tended to be negative. That does seem to be our default setting, that “negativity bias”. Back in the days when we were living in caves, this was probably a key factor to our survival. We needed to worry about things like being eaten by saber-tooth tigers. We needed to be on the alert for danger, we needed to be thinking ahead about all the things that could befall us. And even though most of us don’t have to worry about being eaten for lunch at this point, we’ve replaced those primal worries with other pressing anxieties and stresses of the day. So given the opportunity to sit quietly, without distractions, without our mobile devices, without anyone calling or texting or emailing, chances are, our minds will start to lean into those fears which are often hiding just below the surface. Maybe we worry about what we’re doing with our lives, or we feel anxious about the state of our relationships with those closest to us, or we start thinking about financial pressures. Maybe we feel lonely, or bored, or deeply unfulfilled. Maybe we’re enraged, but we keep ourselves busy enough that we don’t have to feel that often. There are all kinds of uncomfortable feelings we humans experience—shame, doubt, guilt, envy, jealousy, despair, grief—just to name a few, and no one would invite these feelings into his or her living room for tea. Nonetheless, we’ll be visited by all of these perfectly natural, human emotions form time to time. And if we distract ourselves, or numb ourselves or busy ourselves so we don’t have to face those feelings, we also lose an opportunity to know ourselves, and to grow.

We have such fear about being with what is. Maybe we think if we stop and breathe and get quiet, we’ll remember that we have a finite amount of time here, and so does everyone else, even those we treasure beyond words. Maybe we’re scared that old pain will rise to the surface and overwhelm us. But this is the stuff that keeps us miserable and suffering. The denial, the avoidance. If we refuse to look at our issues, our problems, or pain, then all of that remains bubbling below everything we do and say. Living your life on the run is no way to do things. Not knowing yourself is the loneliest thing there is. Getting quiet and allowing your feelings to arise, peak and subside, is a beautiful lesson in impermanence. No feeling is forever if you acknowledge it. If you repress it, it’ll just keep coming after you. And if you develop a practice of sitting quietly and observing your breath, your thoughts and your feelings, you’ll find such relief. You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. You have the ability to step back from all that white noise and take a good look and listen to your internal dialogue. You’ll find, if you haven’t already, that “you do not have to believe everything you think”. You’ll find that everything is in a constant state of flux, including you. You’ll find that you have the power to choose one thought over another, and that this power will give you your life back. To the extent that you’re able to face your pain and work with it, you’ll be able to set yourself free. Otherwise that stuff owns you. It rules your world, and there’s just no need for that.

It is true that the rules of this game are not easy to swallow. If we’re lucky, we get 80, 90, maybe 100 years, as do all the people we love, if they are also lucky. That’s not a lot of time. But it’s enough time to have a blast. It’s enough time to live with your heart wide open, and to love the people in your life with everything you’ve got. It’s enough time to take in the insane beauty that’s around you if you look up from your phone now and then. Now AND then. Yes, some of it is devastating. We’ll all be heartbroken from time to time. Some of us will endure knifing losses. But there’s also joy. There’s also the laughter of those people you adore. There’s holding hands. There are hugs. There’s the ocean and the sun on your face, and the wind in the leaves of the trees. There are moments that take your breath away and fill your heart with yes. You really can’t have one without the other. If you numb out the pain, you numb out the joy. And that’s a great way to miss what could have been 100 incredible, interesting, meaningful years. Don’t let it happen.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Lean Into It

maclarenSometimes it’s really hard to just “be where we are” because where we are is deeply uncomfortable. Maybe we’re grappling with envy, despair, rage, grief, heartbreak, rejection or feelings of being powerless. Maybe we’re frustrated because we’re making self-destructive choices, and even though we’re conscious of it, we can’t stop ourselves. Maybe we’ve screwed up and need to apologize, but instead we’re digging our heels in. This business of being human isn’t easy, and it isn’t always pretty. But when we try to skip over where we are and rush to something that feels better by running, denying, numbing, or trying to avoid, we simply prolong our pain, and miss a chance to know ourselves more deeply. We’re also less likely to be accountable for the energy we’re spreading.

Learning to witness your experience without judging it, is one of the huge gifts of a consistent yoga and/or seated meditation practice . Maybe you’re on your mat and you feel tight and tired. Maybe you’re confronted with a pose that’s challenging for you, and you decide to take a water break, instead. Maybe you go to sit, and your mind is racing and spinning, so you make a phone call or get on your computer. What we resist, persists. When we avoid, we also miss not just a chance to know ourselves, but also to know someone else. We all long to be loved for who we are and how we are, with all our beauty and all our flaws. A lot of people struggle to do that for themselves, let alone other people. Learning to lean into those uncomfortable feelings and experiences without grasping or recoiling or contracting, takes the power away from the feeling, and gives it back to us. Feelings arise and they peak and they subside. Feelings are not facts, and no feeling is forever, as the saying goes. How we feel now is not how we will always feel, and that includes the great feelings, too. That euphoria and all-consuming heat of new love would be exhausting if it never leveled out into something sustainable day-to-day. Not that you shouldn’t enjoy every second if that’s where you are, and not that you don’t want to stoke the flame every day to keep the fire burning, but that’s a choice; that’s different than being consumed.

The more we open to reality as it is, the less we suffer, and the less we create suffering. The more we accept other people as they are, and where they are, the less we create suffering for ourselves, and for them. No one wants to be a disappointment to themselves, or anyone else, but when we refuse to embrace a person as they are, we set them up to fail. I’m not saying that we don’t all have work to do, and places where we can heal more or understand more, or open more. I’m just saying when a person makes it clear to us where they are and how they feel, either through communication or through their actions, it’s not loving to try to superimpose what we want on top of that, even if we’re motivated by our feelings of love. Instead, our job in that moment is to lean into the rawness of accepting that how we feel is not how they feel. What we want is not what they want. Dancing like a monkey to try to be perfect for someone else, selling yourself, running, chasing, cajoling or manipulating, convincing yourself or them that you can settle for less than what you really want in your heart—all of these are ways we might attempt to deny or avoid the painful reality in front of us.

You will never find peace when you ignore the truth, that much I can guarantee. Of course we want what we want. Are we going to get everything we want? Is every longing going to be met? No. Is life going to unfold exactly like the picture in your head? Probably not. So how do we maintain our center, our feelings of “okayness” under these conditions? We tell ourselves this is how things are right now, for us, or for the people in our lives. We remember that everything is always in a state of flux, including ourselves, those closest to us, and perfect strangers. We remember that we never know what life has in store for us, and that perhaps it will be better than anything we could have imagined. We use our suffering to grow and open more, to become more sensitive, more empathetic, more tolerant, more patient, more forgiving, because we understand we are not alone in this experience. We all cry ourselves to sleep sometimes, or think we’ve made a total mess of everything, or have to face the fact that we haven’t been treating ourselves or others well. Shame, blame and rage will keep you stuck; they’re not a good foundation for growth. Feel your feelings so you can release the heat of them, and move onto whatever is coming next with an open heart, an open mind, and open hands.

Give yourself the gift of getting quiet, so you can hear the voice of your intuition. If it isn’t yoga or meditation for you, then find something—windsurfing, hiking, salsa dancing, something that gets you out of your head, and into your body, and into the flow and the realm of sensation and intuition. I used to long to be happy, but now I’m hungry for the truth, because somewhere along the way I realized that’s the key to peace. You won’t find it in events, milestones, or other people. You’ll find it within yourself when you get hungry for what’s true, and by that I mean, what’s true for you, and what’s true for other people. It makes life so much simpler.

Wishing that for you, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

The Voice Inside Your Head

negativecommitteeYesterday afternoon my son, who’s seven, was practicing the guitar. He’s been taking lessons for less than a year, but he’s doing really well. I love to listen to him play, it brings tears to my eyes. This week, his teacher told him to stop whenever he makes a mistake, and “loop back.” This is a new way of working; in the past, if he made a mistake he’d keep going. Anyway, he was having an “off day.” He couldn’t make his fingers move as quickly as he wanted to, and he couldn’t make the notes sound the way he wanted them to sound. After about twenty minutes, he came out of his room frustrated and in tears, and told me he was “never going to get it.”

So I went in and sat down with him, and asked him to breathe a little before he started again. I also talked to him about the voice inside his head. I asked him if he was aware of that voice, and he looked at me like I’d discovered some huge secret of his. He asked how I knew he had a voice inside his head, and I told him we all do. I told him about a ballet teacher I had when I was thirteen. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. He’d berate me in front of the whole room of dancers with scathing remarks. I felt the burn of shame so many times as I spun and spun on my toes in that room with him. In the years I studied with him, he only “broke” me once. There was an afternoon when a tear slid down my cheek, and even though I wiped it as I danced, he saw. It was the only time he asked me if I was okay. Years later, after I’d quit, I ran into him on Broadway. He asked me where I was dancing, and I told him I wasn’t. He was shocked. He said he’d always been especially hard on me because I had what it took. I told him for me, personally, hearing that then would have made all the difference in the world. I didn’t need “tough love” and I didn’t need shaming. Someone who believed in me would have worked wonders.

The thing is, we often internalize those voices we hear growing up. If we’re told we’re loved and cherished, if we’re made to feel that we have an impact on the people and the world around us, we’re likely to have a pretty kind and forgiving inner voice. If our effort is acknowledged, we learn to appreciate our process, instead of getting hung up on the results, but if we’re met with constant criticism, if we get the message that we never measure up, we’re very likely to develop a loud and relentless inner critic. My son’s guitar teacher is an incredible guy. Kind, loving, patient, encouraging, and tough in all the right ways. He’s bringing out the best in my son. Anyway, I explained to my boy that an inner voice that roots you on is a huge help as you move through life. Shame is a poor teaching tool, and it’s a horrible constant companion. Telling yourself you’re having a tough moment is a lot kinder than saying you’ll never get it, and it’s a lot more accurate.

I get lots of emails from people who are in pain, and so many of them are incredibly hard on themselves. We all make mistakes. We all have pain, and we all struggle. None of us acts from our highest self in every moment, or in every situation. Sometimes we have healing to do in a certain area, and maybe we’ve been avoiding that work, and then it springs up and bites us in the ass, this raw place within us that’s crying for our kind attention. Sometimes we make a mess of things out of sheer confusion and desperation. Beating yourself up isn’t going to serve anyone, and it isn’t going to aid you in your growth process. It really isn’t. Telling yourself you’re a terrible person who screwed up and made your own bed which you now deserve to lie in isn’t going to help you get to the source of what caused you to move in the direction you did in the first place. It’s okay. You’re human. Just start where you are and examine what happened with a compassionate eye. You’re not a terrible person who deserves to suffer. You didn’t set out to hurt anyone. If you were that kind of person, you wouldn’t torture yourself about it. You see what I mean? If you feel badly, it’s because you have a kind heart. Maybe you made some really poor choices. So be it. Get to work figuring out why you weren’t respecting yourself. Or why you didn’t speak up and say that you were feeling unseen or unheard or unloved.

Life is short and amazing, or long and painful. I’m pretty sure those are the options. And I think the key difference is how you’re talking to yourself. If the world within you is loving, it makes it so much easier to move through the world around you. I can say for myself, I worked this out on my yoga mat. I took that loud, shaming voice and I starved it. I stopped believing in it. I stopped giving it power or credibility, and I fed a loving, kind, patient, compassionate voice. I still worked my ass off, but I did it with a smile on my face, because it feels good to be in a healthy conversation with yourself.

Wishing that for you so much, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton