When to Hold On, and When to Let Go

Some-people-believeSometimes it’s so hard to know when to hold on, and when to let go. This comes up in all kinds of relationships. Often, we’re dealing with people who simply do not know how to love. Maybe there’s a history of abuse, and they’re continuing the cycle of what was done to them. Maybe there are personality disorders, and we’re dealing with people who don’t feel empathy, and are incapable of communicating in a compassionate way. There are people who go up and down…sometimes they’re rational, and other times there’s no logic at all, no possibility for understanding. Those are often the most challenging cases, because we get lulled when things are good, and blindsided when the tides turn. The thing is, after you’ve been through a few cycles with someone, you have to stop allowing yourself to think things are going to be okay every time they have a good week. Your heart is tender, and it can only take so much battering. Also, you are the steward of your own ship, and if you keep sailing into tsunamis, you can’t expect things to go well. There are also cases when we’re dealing with betrayal, and it’s hard to know if we should try to open again, or cut our losses and move on. Sometimes we’ve just grown in different directions and need something else, maybe something we’ve never known before. Like belief in ourselves.

Here’s the thing. If someone has a history of treating you badly, you have to distance yourself. I mean, if it’s not a relationship you want to end completely, then boundaries are your only option. I’m talking about familial relationships here. Most people do not want to cut ties with their parents, siblings, or exes when there are children involved. I really consider that a last resort. There’s a deep pain when we have to walk away from people who were meant to love us, and didn’t or couldn’t. There are cases when ending the relationship and cutting off ties is the only option, so I want to acknowledge that, but short of instances of abuse, boundaries will usually get the job done. We can love people who have a hard time being consistent, while still loving ourselves.

If your parent or parents have never been there for you, if you’ve had a fear-based relationship and doubted your value to them, I do think you need to step away. Sometimes that’s incredibly difficult. If you rely on your parents financially, or you come from a culture where you don’t leave home until you get married, it’s not as easy as just moving out and starting your own life. Obviously, it’s very hard to heal and to create boundaries when you’re living under the same roof with people who’ve let you down in all the important ways. You can recognize that perhaps your parents are repeating what was done to them, but that does not lessen the impact on your own gorgeous heart. It’s beautiful if you can see that it isn’t about you, or anything lacking within you. It takes strength and insight to understand that some people, even your parents, might not have the tools to love you well, and that it isn’t a reflection on you. You’re lovable. You’re made of love and you’re full of love, and if your own parents can’t see that and receive that and embrace that and nurture that, that is very sad for them, and a heartbreak for you all. That doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t have love in your own life. I would say removing yourself from the situation is ideal, but if you aren’t in a place where you can do that yet, protect your heart in all the ways you can. Nurture yourself, be kind to yourself. Mother yourself.

If we’re talking about romantic relationships, betrayal is a tough one, and I also think it’s a case-by-case situation. Let me say that if you are unhappy in the context of your committed relationship, bringing another party into the mix is a very bad idea. If there are children in the picture, you’re putting your whole family on the line. You’re also making troubled waters murkier. If you’re at the point where you’d even consider going outside your relationship, it’s time to grab your partner and head to therapy, because the answers to the problems do not reside in a third party. That isn’t going to fix things, it’s going to confuse them further. Maybe you and your partner have gotten off track. Maybe you’ve dropped the thread. Maybe you’re so convinced you know everything there is to know about one another, you don’t even pay attention anymore. Perhaps you’re out of balance. Maybe there are little ones in the picture, and you haven’t figured out how to nurture them, keep a roof over your heads, and still find time for romance. Maybe you’re full of rage or resentment, or a list of ways your partner isn’t showing up for you. Maybe you’ve shut down. The things is, relationships need our time and attention. Human beings thrive on love and connection and communication.

Sometimes people blow it. They get desperate. They feel lonely or unseen or unheard, or they feel unwanted in every way, and they act. Maybe they’ve felt rejected or disrespected, and someone at work is making them feel amazing, like everything they say and do is brilliant. Like they’re hot and desirable and hilarious. You know how it goes. A flirtation starts to build and then there’s emailing or texting and the next thing you know, something has happened. I mean, you can’t play with fire like that and expect to walk away unharmed. When there are other people in the mix, like your family, that hurt has deep and far-reaching consequences, and now, instead of focusing on the problems that existed between you and your partner, the number one priority will be fixing what you’ve done, if your partner is even open to allowing you to try. You’re going to have to be patient, and understand you broke their trust. You’re going to have to be transparent, and also compassionate. Basically, you’ve just created a bigger mess for yourself, and you’re likely to feel resentful, because all the other issues are going to take a backseat to your making things right, which might not be possible. Having said that, people can recover from betrayal. It takes two people who are willing to fight for the relationship. If there are kids in the mix, I hope you try. If it’s a pattern, and there’s a history of cheating, you’re probably not in a good situation, but if it’s a one-time thing, and you can recognize that both parties contributed to the deterioration of the relationship prior to the betrayal, you can come out stronger on the other side.

Sometimes there are no kids in the picture, but there’s a long partnership. People sometimes write in and ask if it’s okay to leave someone just because they feel pulled to do so. Usually, these are people who are very used to putting other people’s feelings, needs and wants ahead of their own. I don’t believe anyone would thank you for staying in a situation out of pity or guilt. We all deserve more than that, don’t you think? It’s never easy knowing what to do when our heart is in the mix, and other people are involved. I do think people tend to walk away from their families too easily these days. I think it’s heartbreaking when parents and children don’t speak, when brothers and sisters aren’t in contact, when people walk away from the families they’ve started without giving it everything they’ve got, first. I also think life is short and precious, and that we don’t have time to waste. If you know a thing is dead, release yourself, and the other party. If you’re holding on to something toxic, by all means let go, or get yourself help doing that if you need it. Love is worth fighting for, and sometimes that means we hold on, and sometimes it means we let go. Trust your instincts.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

Untie the Knot in Your Heart

We-all-have-an-old-knotThe holidays can be a beautiful time of year filled with family, friends, laughter, and a little more time to relax and enjoy, but they can also be a time of loneliness and longing, of regret and despair, and of too much time on our hands to dwell on the “what if’s” and “if only’s”. You can make yourself sick with that stuff.

A lot of people suffer from the holiday blues. If you’ve recently lost a loved one, they’re particularly painful. The grief is compounded by the intense longing to share more time with the person we wish we could hug, when it seems everyone else gets to be with family and friends. Basically, the holidays magnify everything. If you’re happy right now, that happiness is multiplied in the sharing of the experience. If you’re in pain, the pain feels even larger, and more defeating and overwhelming.

Sometimes we’re derailed by our expectations and “shoulds”. We have ideas about how things should be, how life should be, how people should be, and how we should feel. And sometimes our expectations are not realistic. Remind yourself that no feeling is forever, and that you don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. And also, short of grieving the loss of someone due to death, or heartbreak of any kind, try to be disciplined. Again, this does not apply to people who are grieving, because I’m a firm believer that you have to allow yourself to feel your feelings and lean into reality as it is. But short of those knifing losses, be disciplined with your mind. Don’t allow yourself to spiral down, or feed a sad story, or contract against your experience. Open to it, acknowledge your pain or envy or longing, but don’t feed it or wallow in it, because it will become hard to breathe.

If you notice that you’re doing a number on yourself, pick your mind up and choose some thoughts that will strengthen you. Maybe this holiday season will be tough, but who knows what 2015 has in store? I’ve certainly lived through some challenging and lonely holidays. It’s not easy, but then they’re over and life moves forward, and the truth is, you really never know what’s around the bend. Your world could be turned upside down in good ways or difficult ones, on any given day, and with no warning. That’s how life is.

Maybe today is challenging, but tomorrow, anything could happen. You might have an idea that lights you up and inspires you and sends you down a road you’d never have imagined taking. Maybe you’ll meet someone, and you won’t even recognize the way your life looks six months from now. I’m not necessarily talking about romance. I’m just saying, leave room to heal. Leave space to be surprised and amazed. If this holiday season is rough, and you have it in you, find a way to uplift someone else. That will definitely lift your spirits. And do take some time to focus on what you do have, right now. When we feed gratitude, we remember the gifts in our life, and how many things are going right, and that sets us up to come from a place of abundance, rather than fear or neediness. We really can take so much for granted. It’s a gift to wake up, even if you’re in the midst of despair. Just having this experience of being human is a gift. Having a healthy body, a place to call home, food in your fridge, people you love beyond words, who also love you and see you and cherish you. These are the most important gifts in life. Just the potential for connection is huge.

Hang in there if you’re having a tough time. You’re not alone. Sending you love, and extra hugs, Ally Hamilton

Celebrate the Light

We-all-walk-in-the-darkWe like to label things and keep them neat and clearly defined, but most of life takes place in the grey areas. We really wouldn’t know despair if we’d never felt joy. We wouldn’t appreciate loyalty if we hadn’t been stabbed in the back. We wouldn’t receive the gifts of being seen and understood unless we’d felt invisible and discarded at some point. We wouldn’t celebrate the light if we hadn’t wandered so long in the darkness. But sometimes we want to make our experiences, or other people, all one way, or another. All good. All bad.

You can feel a person’s actions or choices leave a lot to be desired, but still allow for the possibility of remorse and evolution. We’re always in process, and most of us learn the hard lessons by screwing things up. Usually, how it is around us is a reflection of how it is within us, so if we’re rigid or unforgiving or harsh or judgmental, it’s likely we’re all of those things with ourselves, first. And that isn’t a fun way to live. Constant abuse and torment from the inside is a prison. But I think a lot of people live this way. Don’t you hear people say things casually and often, like, “I’m such an idiot! I can’t believe I did that!”, or, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I just can’t get it together.” If we said those things to other people under similar circumstances, we, and they, would probably be horrified. Imagine if a close friend made a minor mistake, like taking a left instead of a right, and you called her an idiot, and wondered aloud at how she could have been so dumb. Not super nice, and she probably wouldn’t want you driving shotgun very often. Imagine if your bestie was going though a tough chapter and you said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you and why you just can’t seem to get your sh&t together.” No more bestie for you! Why we might believe it’s okay to talk to ourselves this way is a mystery worth solving. Feeding a loving inner voice is a gift you give to yourself, and everyone you encounter.

The point is, none of us is perfect. We are such solitary creatures in many ways, and we’re all complex and loaded with history and triggers and unconscious drives unless we work to bring this stuff into the light. We all have our “default settings”, or the potential to play an old tape before we realize what’s happening. I’m not saying we shouldn’t get to work, or do our very best to avail ourselves of any and all healing modalities until we figure out what we need to get right with ourselves. I’m just saying we’re always going to be in process, and our growth will be aided by self-compassion, or hindered by self-loathing and shame. Also, the more we can be accepting of ourselves, the more we can do that for others.

Today is the winter solstice. It marks the return of the light. The sun is at its weakest now, but it will grow stronger and stronger until the summer solstice. We’re invited to come home to ourselves, to feed that spark within us until it becomes a flame, a blaze that burns away anything that is inauthentic, untrue, or not working for us. It’s an invitation to shed ways of being, thoughts, ideas and habits that are weakening us instead of strengthening us. I’m not talking about New Year’s Resolutions, I’m talking about getting real with ourselves. It’s a good time to set realistic goals and objectives that are concrete and attainable, not to make a list of things that will ultimately feed our guilt and feelings of disgust and disappointment. That’s no way to stoke your fire.

Begin on the inside. It’s never too late to begin again. Make the world within you a safe space. Feed kindness, and if you’re going to crave something, crave the truth. You’ll make yourself nuts if you try to chase happiness, but if you get really clear about what is true for you, and what is true for the people closest to you, life gets a lot easier, and you’ll find you can show up for yourself and other people in a way that feels good. Shine the light on anything that might be blocking you from living life out loud. And feed that light until you’re lit up from the inside. The world needs more of that. Sending you love, and Happy Solstice! Ally Hamilton

The Weight of Regret

disciplineregretHere’s the thing: it feels awful when we aren’t treating ourselves well, or we’re allowing ourselves to be treated badly by someone else, and it also feels terrible when we’re treating other people poorly. The number one thing you need in order to be at peace, is the feeling that you’re a good, kind person who’s doing your best. If you know that about yourself, it sets you up to be forgiving when you make mistakes, and it also creates a foundation for you to be forgiving of others. It’s hard for love to exist without the safety of knowing perfection is not expected. It’s not easy to make ourselves vulnerable, or to be completely honest if we fear that the result might be the withdrawal of love.

There are some things that are really not okay, and I’ll spell out a few of them. If you know someone is in love with you, and you don’t feel the same, it’s not okay to accept their gifts, and when I say gifts, I mean literal, physical or material gifts, including jewelry, expensive dinners, new hiking boots you really want, or any number of other goods and services, but I also mean it’s not okay to accept the gifts of their time and energy and tender heart if you don’t feel in your gut that this is the person for you. Sometimes we care about people, we enjoy their company, we have a good time when we hang out, we’re attracted, but there’s just that certain something that is not there. If you allow that to go on for too long, you are literally stealing time away from a person who may not be strong enough to leave you. Time they could be spending getting over you and moving on, and possibly finding someone who could and would love them all the way. Everyone deserves to be loved like that. Everyone deserves to be cherished. It’s so hard to walk away from people when we’re in love, or we’re “hooked in”. If you’re the stronger party, putting an end to it and sticking with that is a gift you can give, even though it won’t be readily or happily accepted, but the other party’s well-being and your own integrity hang in the balance.

It’s hard to gift someone their freedom when it means you lose your comfort, because of course it feels great when someone is in love with us. Being adored and cared for and thought of is wonderful, but it kind of stinks if you’re accepting that without feeling it in kind. Further, if you know that’s what you’re doing, you’re not going to feel good about yourself. Shame, self-loathing and regret weigh us down. Most of us have had times when we weren’t feeling good about ourselves, and we let someone treat us poorly because we were desperate for love, or a happy ending. Often, that’s really what we’re doing when we’re stuck in a painful cycle with someone; we’re trying to rewrite ancient history, which cannot be done.

It takes discipline to do the right thing, and to stick with it, for yourself, or someone else. It takes a commitment to feeling good about yourself, whether you’re the person taking advantage of someone’s love, or you’re the person giving when you know in your gut you should be walking out the door. Kidding yourself is a terrible business. The number one relationship in your life is always the one you’re having with yourself. That’s the foundation for all the other relationships. I would protect that relationship fiercely. Allowing yourself to participate in situations that make you doubt your integrity, your kindness and your compassion is a sure way to damage your ability to feel good when you look in the mirror at the end of the day, or lay your head down to sleep at night. Don’t let too much time go by like that.

Sending you love out there,

Ally Hamilton

Life is a Limited-Time Offer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ally Hamilton

Bridging the Gap

In-the-End-we-willHave you ever had the occasion to look at people’s online dating profiles? Does everyone like long walks on the beach and cozy nights at home? Does everyone enjoy cooking and watching football and traveling and trying new things, like salsa dancing? Is everyone kind and affectionate and romantic and full of fun? Does everyone like to stay up late, lingering over a delicious meal, gazing into the eyes of that special someone, whiling the night away asking those deep, penetrating questions?

Actions always tell the tale, whether we’re talking about the microcosm or the macrocosm. Words are easy. A person can say they’re loving and loyal and caring, but if their deeds don’t back that up, it’s just smoke and mirrors. The same thing holds true for organizations, communities, governments, countries. We can say this is the land of the free, we can pledge justice and liberty for all, but if our actions don’t support that, it’s just words.

If we really want to be at peace, individually, or in the context of a relationship, there cannot be a huge gap between how we’re presenting ourselves, and how we’re actually living. This comes up in all areas of life. When we meet people, we’re often meeting their ambassadors. Ask anyone who’s tried online dating, or any kind of dating. Most people are not going to show up at a first meeting and say, “Here are all my weaknesses. Here’s a list of all the poor choices I’ve made, all my fearful tendencies, all the ways I’ve hurt people in the past.” I’m not suggesting any of us should do that, but if you sit down with someone and present yourself as a person who’s available for love, when the truth is that you’re available for casual sex, that kind of sucks. It’s misleading, and if we spout lies to get what we want, that’s called manipulation.

The way to bridge the gap, if there is one, is to get honest with ourselves. To ask ourselves what it is we really want, not what we think we should want, not what other people want us to want, but just, at the core, what we actually want. It’s a relief to know that about yourself, and it’s a gift you can give to everyone in your life. Clear communication, the ability to set boundaries when you need to, your willingness to act on your own behalf—all these are essential tools if you want to be happy, and known. Usually we really want that—we want to feel at least someone is seeing us and getting us and cherishing us. It’s natural to want connection and love in your life. There’s no way to get there if you’re hiding parts of yourself you find unacceptable, because you’ll know they’re there. Sometimes, it’s hard to open, to allow ourselves to be seen, because we aren’t ready to face how we are now. We aren’t ready to take a compassionate but piercing look at those raw places within us that could use some healing. It’s not easy work. Sometimes we’re rejecting something about ourselves that’s painful to face. We’re pushing it down, we’re pretending it doesn’t exist, we’re looking away. Nothing gets better like that. Ignoring our problems, or distracting ourselves, or numbing out, or running away is a road-map to the continuation of the pain. The pain is owning us at that point. We are a slave to our pain when it runs the show.

Really, reaching out is the way to create a path toward healing. If you cannot do it on your own (and most of us can’t), you have to ask for help, support, ideas, a different map. Sometimes we have to get loud, sometimes we need a safe space to cry, to let it out, to be afraid and vulnerable, to lay out those places that aren’t so pretty without fearing that we’ll be shamed or ridiculed, attacked or shunned. When we’re talking about solving our individual problems, therapy is often a great way to go. Yoga can be enormously helpful if you’re longing to come home to yourself. Seated meditation is powerful if you want to recognize that you are not your thoughts, that you do not have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes, that feelings are not facts, and they are not forever, either. That perhaps, some of your thoughts do not even belong to you. Some of them were handed down from past generations. Some of the things you’ve learned along the way may be totally untrue.

Here are some lies you may have learned: “you are not lovable, you are not worthy of love, you are broken in some unfixable and essential way, you have no business rocking the boat, you have nothing special to offer, you are better or more important than some people, you cannot trust anyone, everyone leaves, everyone cheats, if people have different beliefs than you, they’re wrong, bad, or to be feared.” Those are just some examples of lies you may have learned that you’ll have to unlearn at some point if you want to be happy. A big part of being at peace in this life is based on how well you’re able to play nicely with others. If you think kindness is not the way, you’re lost. In my mind, the truth is that we are one huge family living on a spinning planet. We may speak different languages, we may look different, we may have different beliefs, but we are all connected. If one of us is suffering, we’re all suffering. If one of us is being violated, we’re all being violated. If one of us needs help, the rest of us are naturally supposed to help. If we want to be at peace individually, or as a family, as a community, as a country, we need each other. We need to help each other understand. We need to drop our defenses and our opinions and our clutching to our ideas and ideals, and deal with what is.

This week, I was talking to an acquaintance about my feelings around the death of Eric Garner, and the bigger problems underneath his death, and I was feeling pretty down. This person looked at me and said, “You’re a yoga teacher. Where’s the positive energy?” That is not yoga, okay? I just want to be very clear about that. Yoga is a practice that’s based on facing reality as it is, and working with the truth of a thing. We do not turn away from the hard parts, we move into the center of them and we ask how we can shift, how we can move toward love, and we don’t stop asking until we figure it out, and some of that process hurts like hell, but it’s the way toward peace. It’s the same for the whole as it is for the individual. Silence won’t get us there. Fear of getting this wrong is a poor excuse to do and say nothing. We have to get it right together, and for that to happen we cannot look away, we cannot be silent, we cannot leave a huge part of our family to try to fix injustice on their own. That isn’t yoga, folks. I would love to hear from all of you. Sending you love and wishing you a peaceful heart. May we lift each other up, and not tear each other down,

Ally Hamilton

Time is a Gift

tomrobbinsBecause our time and energy are finite assets, it’s really essential that we’re careful about where we invest them. It’s so easy to get caught up in other people’s dramas, or to allow the mind to get snagged on some thoughtless or unkind thing someone said or did. We can lose hours, days or years dwelling on choices we’d like to do over, differently, or sad tales we tell ourselves about why we are the way we are, or why life is unfolding the way it is.

We can find ourselves trying to chase down love, approval or acceptance, we can allow the sting of rejection to overwhelm us, we can spend time trying to defend ourselves against lies, but it’s time we’ll never have back again. Life will bring us enough ups and downs; we really don’t need to create suffering for ourselves, but so many of us do. I am not someone who believes that there are no tragic events, or that it’s just the way we’re thinking about an event that makes it unbearable. In my view, there are things that can happen sometimes that bring you to your knees and make you doubt everything you thought you knew about heartbreak and pain and the ability to go on. Those same events remind us that there isn’t any time to waste, and that the best use of our energy is to love the people in our lives with everything we’ve got, and to follow our dreams and believe in ourselves. Life isn’t going to hand you five or ten years to be pissed at your parents or your ex or all the people you’ve ever worked for, to boil yourself and keep your rage alive by feeding it, to point your finger in blame, and then hand you back that time one day when you realize what a gift it is just to open your eyes in the morning.

People who want to be angry and bitter deserve compassion, surely, but not a lot of your time and energy. I’m not talking about people who are trying to heal or take ownership of their lives, or make big shifts. I’m talking about people who are unwilling to loosen their grip on their angry story. I had an acquaintance like this. I’d see her at different functions every five years or so, and it was always the same. She’d find a way to corner me, and tell me her tale of why she was the hero of her family and her workplace, the generous but unappreciated benefactor, the one who always got the short end of the stick. Usually she’d be quite drunk, and the more she drank, the more angry and self-righteous she became. For quite some time, I’d listen to her, even though it was exhausting. I thought maybe she just needed someone to hold a space for her to unload the pain. I really didn’t care about the details of her stories, the list of wrongs, the way this person or that person had failed her or betrayed her, but sometimes I’d try to offer up a different viewpoint, and then she’d attack me, too. You can’t help a person who’s armored themselves in bitterness. I don’t make myself available to people who don’t want to let the love in. It’s a choice.

Let me be clear: we do not get to choose what life will put in our paths. We get beautiful lessons in life, and we get brutal ones, too, and that is not a choice. Unthinkable tragedy could befall any of us. People sometimes ask, “Why me?”, but why any of us? There’s no way to predict what any of us will have to endure, and if you go through a knifing loss, I hope you don’t compound your pain by feeling that you ought to be able to get over it faster, or with fewer racking sobs or relentless tears. The more we’re present in each moment, the more we allow the feelings to wash over us and through us, the more we’re honoring our experience. Loving someone so intensely that the loss of them makes it hard to breathe, loving someone that way is a gift and an honor. The loss of the ability to express that love through hugs or phone calls or shared experiences is so painful. If it’s a sudden and unexpected loss, of course that has its own particular difficulties.

My point is, death and loss put things into sharp perspective for us. If you’re worrying about the five pounds you’ve gained, for example, perhaps that’s not the best use of your time. Hugging someone you love would feel so much better. If you’re obsessing over a call or email you haven’t gotten, maybe there’s a better use of your energy. Maybe you could do something nurturing for yourself or someone else instead. If you’re getting caught up in what other people think of you, remember it’s none of your business. When the big losses or heartaches come, you take the time to breathe, to be kind to yourself, to reach out for help if you need it. Short of those tragedies, don’t be your own obstacle by dwelling on the unimportant crap. Pick your mind up, and bring it back to right now. Choose better thoughts. Make better mistakes moving forward. Forgive yourself, and forgive other people, as much as you can. Holding grudges and carrying heavy stories around will weigh you down, and that of course, makes it harder to fly. I really wouldn’t waste too much time.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton