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

They Control You (Or They Don’t!)

theycontroluLast week I received an email from a colleague that really got me fired up. I wanted to laugh it off or shrug it off, but it got right under my skin. It was pedantic, arrogant and fairly offensive, and I have a strong feeling it’s not an email he would have sent to a male colleague. I could be wrong on that, of course; it’s possible he talks down to everyone, regardless of gender. Thankfully, I’ve been at this game called life long enough to realize it’s never smart to write back when you’re in a reactive state. Because believe me, the email I was writing in my head was fiery. I went about my day, teaching and picking up my kids from school, going to the dog park with our energetic, mouthy puppy, but every so often, in he crept, Mr. Let Me Tell You What Yoga Is. Let me enlighten you with my knowledge. And every time, I got pissed again, and started firing back in my head. Then I’d catch myself, and shake my head and laugh at the balls of this guy, and come back to laughing in earnest with my son and daughter, taking in the gorgeous day, feeling the breeze on my cheek. It’s always our choice whether we receive the insult or not, after all. I never did write back, nor will I, because some things simply don’t deserve the time and energy required to respond. You live your life and your truth with your heart wide open. You have nothing to prove to anyone. But I went through half a dozen drafts in my head, and I let him steal way too much of my day. My meditation teacher, S.N. Goenka, calls this ,”boiling yourself”. The event is over, but you re-live it in your head, and get yourself as worked up as if it were happening in the now.

It’s really hard to hold your center when you feel insulted, attacked, misunderstood, dismissed or otherwise pained by the comments or behavior of someone else, and that’s especially true if it’s a person you love. (Thankfully not the case in my scenario from last week :)). When loved ones are in pain, and their pain spills out all over our lives, it’s incredibly challenging to love them without being held hostage by their suffering. Life brings everything, and not all of it is easy. In fact, some of it will break your heart boldly and without warning on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or a gorgeous Tuesday morning. Life is under no obligation to give us what we want. Some people will face loss and pain that is incomprehensible; it’s not a level playing field. And not everyone handles the everything that life brings in a way that makes sense from outside the experience. Some pain is so knifing, people run from it. Try to numb it out. Push it down, avoid it at all costs. You cannot make a person ready to face their dragons. That’s inside work. When you love a person who’s in self-destruct mode, it’s the most challenging thing in the world to disengage if you must. But it’s an essential lesson in life–we cannot save other people, we each must save ourselves. Or not. You cannot manage another person’s path. You can’t take a person by the shoulders and shove them into the cave of their own despair, telling them to sit there and feel it all and let it wash over them ’til the heat of it is released. That’s a task they choose or they don’t. All you can do is manage your own path. Do your own healing, return to your own love and joy and inner yes. And if a person you love is flailing about it pain, you can do everything in your power to support them. But you do them no good if you get down in the mud and flail about with them. That’s not going to help them, but it is going to hurt you. Keep coming back to love. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself, and everyone in your life. Direct your energy. Sending you love, and wishing you love, 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