The Person You Decide to Be

thepersonudecidetobeI’ve had two weddings, but only one marriage. My first wedding was to the guy who has the antique mirror and necklace; I should just call him Mirror Guy. I didn’t love him and I can’t tell you what I was doing with him because it feels like another lifetime and because I was in a fog, but I can say I was coming off of some of the darkest times of my life, and that I was very young and totally lost. I’d been in that damaging victim mentality for too many years, blaming other people for my poor choices and behavior, numbing out, denying, running. I wasn’t an awful person or anything, I’ve always been kind, I was just lost. You know the syndrome, right? I am this way because this happened, and then that happened, and then this other thing happened, so when you leave the room, I think you’re leaving for good and that’s why I’m not eating dinner. As if that makes sense. This thing that should have happened did not, so I have fear that no one will love me, and nothing good will happen, so I’m just going to sleepwalk, okay? Because I don’t know how to do the awake, I’m going to take responsibility for the way my life unfolds thing yet, so if you want to marry me, sure. Sounds good. Or something like that. And of course I thought I loved him or I wouldn’t have worn the Cinderella tulle dress and gotten myself to the beach club on time. But you can’t love if you’re sleeping. You can stick your arms out in the darkness and hope you run into something good. But you probably won’t. If you’re in darkness, you’re most likely going to fall in a ditch and break something. Like your heart. Or your ability to keep sleeping. Something will give, that’s for sure. Nor can you see that the person you’re about to marry is incapable of telling the truth or being honorable or kind, or of loving you in any capacity at all. I should have known because he told me he was separated when we started dating, but actually he wasn’t and it took two years to sort it out. And somehow I became fixated on that, and never realized I didn’t love him, and it would have been just fine if he’d stayed married to that other woman, thanks very much. And it’s not like there weren’t signs. I begged for signs. Do you realize if you’re asking for signs that’s a sign? I didn’t.

I have to share about the signs because it’s comical. I’m going to the store to try on dresses with my mom, and she has to wait in the car because I’m throwing up. I’m throwing up. Nauseated at the thought of buying a dress to marry the man who turned out to be Mirror Guy. And I can’t get the song, “You Don’t Know Me” out of my head for weeks. And the morning of the wedding it is sunny and gorgeous and I think, “At least that’s good.” Because we are getting married on a deck overlooking the water. In front of 250 people, most of whom I’ve never met. And at 4pm the sky turns black. I’m not exaggerating. Black, and pouring. Torrential rain so thick it sounded like someone was an inch over the roof of the minivan with a thousand power-hoses. Frogs dropping from the sky would not have surprised me. Oh, and the minivan. My wedding party left in the limo I was supposed to be in, because the makeup artist wanted to do me last so my makeup was fresh, but she ran so late, they had to take off, and I went to the beach club in the minivan with my parents and my little brother and his best friend. And because there was a weather alert with a red stripe across the bottom of every television telling everyone to get home and stay indoors, the traffic on the highway from the hotel to the beach club was nuts. Like a parking lot, people racing out of the city to make it to their homes. This is in New York, mind you. So my step-dad drove on the shoulder for six miles. So pretty much, on my way to getting married, hundreds of people gave me the finger. How many signs do you need before you turn the minivan around? That’s like a punchline, isn’t it? And when I got to the beach club my mom and I raced to the bridal room, and my best friend and bridesmaids shoved me into my dress, and someone handed me a glass of champagne because I said I thought I might pass out, and of course champagne is the answer when you feel faint and are about to make one of the worst decisions of your life. So I went down the aisle like a wind-up doll, done up like a princess, vacant eyes. Worse than that. Deer in the headlight eyes. As if I hadn’t said yes to all of it. As if it were just happening to me. And when they announced we were man and wife, there was a crack of thunder and lightning so loud everyone laughed nervously and I thought. Well. You can’t ask for more signs than that.

I say he didn’t love me and I know I didn’t love him, even though I believed I did and I believed he did in my sleepwalking state. But he didn’t want a wife, he wanted a mother. Someone to make dinner and read his screenplays and rewrite all the dialogue because people don’t speak like that. Who speaks like that? And hey, why don’t you leave your dog at the kennel this weekend, because actually, I don’t like dogs. And I need to go shoot this commercial, so drop everything and come, okay? Even though it’s in Canada and you’d rather stay home since I’ll be shooting all day and sitting around a set isn’t all that fun, and I don’t want you off exploring by yourself because you’re too young to be off on your own like that in a foreign country. Um. Canada? I think I can get around because I speak English. Also, it was never consummated. I’m not saying we hadn’t had sex before the wedding. I’m saying there wasn’t any after, and there wasn’t much before. Because he preferred porn to an actual human. But I didn’t know that then, so I was busy thinking there must be something wrong with me. Anyway, I had the thing annulled. I should say, I woke up, and had it annulled. And Mirror Guy is actually the perfect name, because that’s what happened. I looked in the mirror and thought, how, how did I land myself in this mess? How did I not stop, at any of those burning red flags, and turn myself around? Maybe it was compounded by the fact that the much older guy I dated had come before Mirror Guy, and by this point I was just wrecked. But I got the message. I got it hard and ugly and in the face. There was no one to blame but myself, because my mom wasn’t fond of him and said as much, and my dad and step-dad didn’t think much of him, either. All my fingers pointed back at myself, and I thought, I’d really better turn this sh&t around, now, or my life is going to be bleak and dark and very painful. No light. I’d been doing yoga for a couple of years at this point, and I believe that’s the light I used to find my way out of a nightmare of my own making. Without the mirror or necklace, but you know what? Such a small price to pay. Because in the years after that I started planting the seeds that sprouted into the life I have today. I look at my life now and I’m blown away. Two amazing, healthy, happy kids who adore their grandparents. Friends that know how to show up, a few of whom have been there through everything. A community of yogis locally and around the globe because the internet is pretty amazing. And all of you. You get to decide who you’re going to be, you really do. I’m not saying everyone has equal opportunities, or that the playing field is level. I’m simply saying you have the power to decide how you’re going to do your life, and what you decide makes all the difference in the world. I hope you decide to be your best self. To own your story. To refuse to let your past dictate your future. To get your hands filthy with your pain so it doesn’t control your life, because there’s no need for that. Your life can be so beautiful. Even with heartache and tragedy, there’s still so much beauty to be found if you open to it. Wishing that for you, if it hasn’t happened already. And sending 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

If You Have a Pulse, You Have a Chance

paulnewmanchanceJust a quick hit of love for you, today. Don’t ever give up on yourself. Not ever. Don’t give up on life, or love, or the possibility that you might forge a peaceful path for yourself. No matter how big a mess of things you might have made, no matter how incomprehensible a loss you’ve endured, no matter how confusing and lonely things may be right now, don’t give up. Life is going to bring everything.

We want the stuff that feels good–the love, the feelings of joy and delight and passion and excitement, and we resist the stuff that hurts; the pain, the confusion, shame, grief, loneliness, rage, guilt and doubt. But it’s all coming at us. Unless you’ve worked on it quite a lot, you’re probably going up and down with external conditions; happy when things are going the way you’d like, and depressed or angry or bitter when they’re not. Life is under no obligation to give us what we want, to unfold the way we expect it to, to cooperate with our plan.  And there’s no power in being a victim of circumstance. You have the tools you need to figure it out. To put it back together again.

Underneath all the fear and resistance is love. You might need some outside help. There are some losses that are so knifing, just getting out of bed is a feat. Just remembering to breathe in and breathe out. I get that. Compassion for yourself is the thing in those instances when your heart and spirit are crushed and you think there’s no way it could ever be okay again. And, listen. Some things will never be okay. Accepting that is the key to moving forward, even if everything in you wants to head back in time to the before of the thing. For awhile, just brushing your teeth and taking a shower is a big deal. Just getting dressed. And giving yourself time to feel all your feelings without rushing yourself to feel better.

But short of those losses, which are real and devastating and very difficult to comprehend, much of our suffering is coming from our thoughts. The ability to quiet the mind so you can get in touch with your intuition is so liberating. So you can tap that inner yes of yours. So you can live with your heart wide open. And have the courage to say no to the things that don’t feel right. The mind is like a washing machine, spinning around and around, recycling the same thoughts, loud and full of shoulds and can’ts and there’s no way I can do thats. It will keep spinning and spinning, and send you in circles or keep you paralyzed by fear, feeling overwhelmed by all the noise. It’s relentless if you don’t gain some mastery over it.

When do you lose yourself? When do you feel that feeling of being so immersed in something there are no thoughts? For me it’s yoga, but for you it might be something else. Hiking, or wind-surfing or skiing. Whatever it is, carve time out of your days for it, because those are the moments when your intuition rises.

Have you made mistakes? I’d be shocked if you hadn’t. I’ve made plenty, some big. Mistakes are part of the growth process. Some of the biggest growth I’ve experienced has come out of some of the worst choices I’ve made. Sometimes you have to screw it all up so you can put it back together the way that feels right. The way that opens your heart. Did you ever take something apart and realize you can’t put it back together? You have no idea how the parts fit and the directions are lost somewhere very safe you put them so you wouldn’t lose them? And you sit with pieces in your hands and think, how do I do this? How do I put this back together so it works? The answers are inside you. You may need someone to kindly hold up a mirror so you can find them. To reflect back at you your own darkness and your incredible light. So you can see yourself. So you can know yourself. So you can find your way. So you can sort through the pieces and let go of the ones that are blocking your ability to give and receive love. But it’s never over in this life until your final exhale. My feeling is, if you can do one thing, even one tiny thing like hold a door open for a stranger, your day was worthwhile. Because you contributed to a happier, kinder, more thoughtful, caring world. Start there if you need to. But don’t give up. Sending you love and wishing you peace, Ally

Throw Some Luggage Overboard!

losingsomeofthebaggageOne of my oldest girlfriends, I’ll call her Sue, is incredibly self-aware when it comes to identifying her “stuff”, and owning it when she doesn’t show up the way she’d like. She started going to therapy when she was thirteen years old due to her parents’ ugly divorce, and as she got older, for her own relationship issues. She had watched her parents tear each other down directly and indirectly, through her. Her mom said horrendous things about her dad, and her father said awful things about her mom. When they each remarried (which they both did, more than once), the bitterness was quadrupled. Her stepmothers made snide remarks about her mother, her mother couldn’t stand her father’s new wife, either time. Her father thought her first step-dad was not very bright, and her step-mom said he laughed like a woman. I witnessed a lot of this myself, as did all our friends, at sleepovers and afternoons at her mom’s or dad’s house, and once, sadly, during Sue’s sweet sixteen. Her dad got drunk and took the mic to toast Sue, but it somehow deteriorated into a tirade about Sue’s mom. Not so sweet, and Sue ended up in the bathroom, with a bottle of champagne that she downed, and then threw up all night. And so it went. In high school Sue struggled with an eating disorder, and I watched her turn herself inside out trying to be perfect. To control the little bit she could. She was smart as a whip, but sometimes she’d play dumb because she thought guys liked that. Her family has a lot of money, and Sue would often buy lunch for a whole group of us. Or more accurately, she’d pay for lunch with her American Express and her dad would pick up the tab. Because her parents believed throwing money at the situation would somehow make it okay. We went to college together as well, and as we grew up, a pattern emerged for Sue that was no surprise to any of us who’d watched her struggle over the years. She kept picking guys who ended up hurting her. Not the typical stories of ways men and women can misunderstand each other, or not show up all the way, but deep, “I just realized he’s been stealing money from me for months” kind of pain. The relationships were usually high-drama, and there were many times Sue showed up at my house unexpectedly, eyes puffy and red, sobbing in the middle of the night. Sue started drinking heavily, first a couple of nights a week, and then most nights. Eventually she cleaned that up. If you were to talk to Sue, you’d know within minutes you were speaking to an awake, aware person. She’s intelligent and funny and kind. She can tell you exactly why she’s done the things she’s done. She can give you the whole road-map to explain all her choices and all her behavior. But so far, it hasn’t helped her resist the pull of that ancient pain. Sue wants a happy ending. But she keeps trying to go back and carve one out of her past. As if she could rewrite history. As if she could change her parents into people who were mature enough and loving enough to put her first. To love her well. And time and again, Sue ends up crashing into the brick wall she keeps choosing, even though the crashing part sucks. A few years ago, I really worried for her. She’d hit such a low point I wasn’t sure she was going to be okay. I went back to New York to teach, and I saw Sue for the first time in many months. She was gaunt, and her nails were bitten down to the quick. Her eyes were dull, and so was her spirit. Through it all, Sue has always been a force. So I was really disturbed to see this lifeless person who looked like Sue sitting before me. She’d just had another painful breakup, and I could see this time she was taking it particularly hard. She started to relay all the details of what had happened. What she’d done. What he’d done. What she said, and why she felt the way she did. I listened as I had so many times before. And when she was done, I looked at her and said, “Sue, I love you. You’re an incredible person with such a beautiful heart. But you have to put the baggage down now, or it’s going to destroy you. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re as lovable as a person gets. Your parents did the best they could but their best kind of sucked. You have to stop letting this own you.” And Sue started sobbing, right there at the restaurant. People looked over at us, and Sue apologized to me for making a scene. I went to her side of the table and hugged her, and told her to go ahead a make a scene. Because sometimes you work your sh&t out on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at a Thai restaurant downtown. Sometimes you’re just sitting there sobbing with chopsticks in your hand deciding it is finally enough.

Carrying your old, painful stories around with you wherever you go is exhausting, back-breaking work. At a certain point, it simply drains the life out of you. Everybody has pain. Everybody. Some people have more than others, and some are better equipped to deal with the everything that life brings. The heartache and disappointment. The trauma and abuse. The neglect and loneliness. The confusion and shame. We’ve all experienced at least one of these, some people have seen all of that and so much more. I once met a girl at a workshop I taught, who told me she had to stay angry at her father so he’d pay for what he’d done to her. I asked her how that was making him pay, since she never spoke to him or saw him. I said I was pretty sure she was the one paying. Your past will shape you and inform the way you think about yourself and the world. If that way isn’t loving, you’re going to have to unlearn some stuff, which is, of course, harder than learning it the right way the first time. If you think people suck, for example, you’re going to have to unlearn that. If you think you suck, you’re going to have to unlearn that first. Have some compassion for yourself. Be kind. In some way or another, we’ve all been Sue, collapsed on the bathroom floor, throwing up our pain all night long. If you want to travel back to your past in a productive way, go back there and give yourself a hug. Re-parent yourself if you need to. But put some of the heavy stuff down. It does not have to own you. The destination that really counts is your journey to inner peace. You’re going to have to throw some bags overboard to get there. Wishing you strength and love, Ally

Run Like Hell

runmydearI’m going to state some things that may seem totally obvious when you read them in black and white, but which I think we tend to forget in our tender hearts. Unconscious people do unconscious things. Damaged people do damaged things. Unkind, hardened people are not suddenly going to be soft. People with rage are going to behave in violent ways. If someone is envious of you, they are not going to have your back. Selfish people will not suddenly think of you, and how you might feel in any given situation. And there are people who are so damaged, they actually want to drive the thorn in your side intentionally. Hurt people hurt people as the saying goes. People who behave in any of these ways are in pain themselves, and are living in a certain kind of prison. All kinds of abuse and trauma can lead to imprisonment like this. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” The sad fact is, help is only available to those who decide to help themselves. You can’t do it for someone else. You can’t save anyone except yourself.

Of course you can’t define a human being in a word, we are all complex beings and only to the degree that we examine our pain and our motivations will we be accountable for our actions and the kind of energy we’re spreading. The way we’re being in the world. A person coming from an angry place most of the time may be able to pull it together to do some great stuff on those days they’re able to rise above. What I’m talking about here is a baseline way of being. If someone is commonly thoughtless or cruel. If someone consistently behaves in ways that are hurtful. If someone is generally so wrapped up in their own experience it doesn’t even occur to them to think about the impact of their actions. People who hurt us the most are usually also suffering the most. And you can have compassion for them, and you can practice forgiveness. But you really don’t want to put yourself in their path if you can help it; you don’t want to keep paying the tab for someone else’s cruel or thoughtless acts. If a person stabs you in the back, don’t expect them to turn around and call an ambulance for you. We can look at any of this stuff and say it’s not personal, right? A scorpion will sting you because that’s the nature of a scorpion. You can also open your heart and your mind to the idea that a person can change and grow. Where they are now is not necessarily where they’re always going to be. And if someone hurts you, it’s the most liberating thing to wish them well. But you do that from a safe distance. The part that IS personal is how you choose to respond. You don’t stick around to see if they want to push the knife in more deeply.

I say this to you because if you’re kind and open and trusting, if you want to hope for the best from people, you may need to look at whether you’re sacrificing your own well-being in the process of loving someone who is not able or willing to love you well. Or participating in a set of circumstances that insults your soul. Your work is to heal your own heart so you can open to all the love within you, and give it away freely. If you keep hanging out with people who crush your heart, thinking tomorrow might be the day they realize what they’re doing, that’s kind of like “expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian”, as Dennis Wholey says. Forgive if you can, for your own sake, so you’re not held hostage or made sick in your soul by the actions of someone else. But set up your boundaries, and be prepared to get out your hammer and nails and shore up those walls when you need to. Because some people just won’t get it. Not in the time-frame you’d like, and maybe never. If it’s a person you must have in your life, like a family member, then you figure out what it is you need to maneuver as safely as possible through painful terrain. You set up the best possible circumstances you can to take care of yourself. But if it’s not a person you need to be dealing with, run like hell, my dear. Sending you love, Ally

Don’t Drive the Scorpion Ferry

notastatementaboutuThere’s an old tale I love about the Scorpion and the Frog. If you don’t know it, it goes something like this (although I’m taking some liberties): Once there was a scorpion on the bank of a stream. He called out to a frog, “Excuse me! Could you give me a ride across? I can’t swim!” And the frog said, “Dude, you’re a scorpion. I’m not giving you a ride. If you sting me, I’ll die.” And the scorpion said, “If I sting you, you’ll drown, and I’ll die, too.” This made sense to the frog, so he said, “All right, climb on.” Halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog. With his dying breath, the frog says, “Why have you done this to us?”, and the scorpion says, “Dude, I’m a f&cking scorpion!”

The way people treat you is a statement about where they are on their journey as an evolving human being. It’s also subject to change; a scorpion may not always be a scorpion. The main thing to grasp is that it’s not a reflection of anything lacking in you. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll remember the much-older man I dated when I was seventeen. He was seeing other women for the three years we were together, and although I could never prove it, I always felt it. (I confirmed my fears once). And at the time, I took it as a sign that I wasn’t enough. Not pretty enough or “something” enough to keep him interested solely in me. And I spent so much time over the course of those three years feeling awful about myself. I was hooked on this interaction, and convinced if I could just be enough for him, then I’d be happy. I didn’t realize that his inability to be faithful had nothing to do with me, or that a person who’s lying and sneaking around is ultimately having a painful relationship with him or herself. When you respect yourself and are making choices that are aligned with what’s true for you in a conscious and kind way, you’re not going to lie. And I think if you’re like most people, the tendency is to take those times we’ve been hurt, disappointed, neglected, betrayed, or even abused, personally. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. A person can only be where they are, working with whatever tools they’ve got. What IS about you, is what you do about it if someone isn’t treating you well. Sometimes we get caught up in relationships with lovers, family members, friends, or colleagues. Maybe things start out well, but over time the quality of the interaction deteriorates. Or circumstances change and you observe responses you wouldn’t have predicted. If you have a pattern of participating in relationships with people who treat you badly, then it is time to take a long, hard look at why. It’s about something. Identifying that something is the key to your freedom. Your deepest pain is your greatest teacher.

There are lots of frogs in the world, but there’s no other frog just like you. If you’ve been swimming in shark-infested waters too long, hiding in shadows and making yourself as small as possible out of fear, or some idea that you’re not lovable, or enough, or worthwhile, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to turn around and swim directly for the mouth of that shark. Otherwise you’ll never rest. You’ll keep running the Scorpion Ferry, becoming harder and less hopeful with each ride. Being a hopeless frog sucks. I know, because I was one. Letting yourself get swallowed whole by the shark of your fear is not a fun ride, but it won’t kill you, either. If you’re still hanging with my Moby Dick-Aesop’s Fables-Life of Pi metaphor, then you probably already understand the Willa Cather quote, “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” The Dark Night of the Soul is a storm. But it’s also an invitation to know yourself, truly and deeply. To heal and liberate yourself from your pain, so that the next time a scorpion calls to you from the bank of a stream, you’ll be like, “What up, Scorpion? You need to get your ride from a shark, my friend!” Sending you love, and the strength to swim toward your pain if you need to! You are enough. Amazingly enough. Ally

What Are You Doing?

The-difference-betweenThere’s no doubt that a train of thought will affect the way you feel. If you’re in a negative frame of mind, that’s going to create a set of circumstances within you. Some thoughts will affect your physical body–the way you’re holding yourself, the way you’re breathing, the degree to which your muscles are “holding on”, your jaw is clenching, or your brows are furrowing. Some thoughts will affect your ability to sleep or eat well, and some will have an effect on your emotional body, and lead to feelings of listlessness and hopelessness. But nothing is going to have a greater effect upon you than your own actions. At the end of the day, you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror while you’re brushing your teeth. You have to be able to live with yourself. And that’s not going to be easy if you’re acting in ways that are hurtful to you, or to other people.

Having said that, we are all going to hurt other people at some time or another. Sometimes two people grow in different directions, and there’s just no stopping the reality that someone is going to be crushed. Sometimes we’re young and we don’t know what we’re doing. Sometimes we’re selfish and immature, and don’t understand the ramifications of what we’re doing. I’m not talking about that, though. I’m talking about those actions we take even when we realize somewhere deep and real, we shouldn’t. Feelings can be powerful, but they’re just feelings. They come and go, like everything else. You don’t have to act on every feeling that comes over you. Sometimes pain is just brutal, relentless, exhausting, and it’s natural to want a break from it, an escape. But if you’re in pain, the pain is there to teach you something. I know that isn’t a pleasant reality, but it’s the truth. Again, I’m talking about the kind of pain we create for ourselves, not the kind life brings (although frequently we create pain for ourselves because we haven’t healed a wound from the kind of pain that life can bring). Avoiding it or trying to escape it will not make it go away. You can try drugs, or alcohol, or sex, or shopping, or eating or not eating. All you’re doing is prolonging the inevitable. There’s no permanent escape that’s appealing, there’s no lifelong distraction that is going to bring you peace. At a certain point you’re going to have to walk right into the center of your pain and sit your a$$ down. Your pain is your path to freedom. Avoiding it is a jail sentence you’re imposing upon yourself, with the key in your pocket and your mind full of can’t.

I don’t say this without compassion, because I certainly avoided dealing with my own stuff for many years, but it’s really self-indulgent to desist from dealing with your issues. It’s an act of ingratitude. We don’t think of it that way when we’re in the grip of fear, thinking our pain will destroy us; we think of it as survival. But that’s flawed thinking. That’s your real, actual work here–healing yourself, filling yourself with love and compassion and kindness and inspiration, so you can spread those things freely. I realize fear is a big factor. People often feel overwhelmed and defeated by their past, their past behavior, and the idea that they might be able to do anything about it. Not doing anything about it is the thing to fear. A lifetime of emptiness and loneliness and quiet desperation, or not so quiet rage is the thing to fear. A life where you want to numb yourself or distract yourself constantly is something to fear for sure. A life where no one can get close to you because then the real work has to start and you’ve chosen to bow out of that, is something that ought to make you feel a little sick to your stomach. When you refuse to plunge in, your soul gets sick. Soulsickness. Like seasickness, but it’s your heart that’s getting thrown against the rocks.

Your pain won’t defeat you. Not dealing with it will, though. The ability to sit with your feelings without reacting to them is a tool you need to develop if you want to know yourself. If you want to be close to other people. I’m talking about real intimacy, total nakedness with someone else. Trust. The ability to have an uncomfortable, deeply painful conversation with someone about how you feel before you act on your feelings, even if the conversation terrifies you.

“Developing the witness” is something we talk about in yoga and meditation. The idea that you can have your feelings without identifying with them so much. Finding the strength to pause and consider and explore a set of actions before you do anything. That’s freedom. That’s also where character develops and strengthens. In order to change your behavior, sometimes you need to change your thinking. Creating space between yourself and your thoughts, recognizing that you are not your thoughts, is step one.

It’s going to be very hard to love yourself if you aren’t living up to your potential. Because somewhere inside, you’ll know you’re not. You’ll know you’re sleepwalking. And treating yourself and other people carelessly. And you’ll also realize time is passing. You could be shining, that’s the essential thing. You could be so full of love and consciousness and kindness and yes, that it would spill out all over the place wherever you went. Please don’t deny yourself that kind of shining. You could love your life if you don’t, already. You could love yourself and everyone you encounter. You could say, “Okay, Life, let’s dance”. I really hope you do. Sending you love, as always. Ally Hamilton