3 Ways to Forgive Yourself and Stop Dwelling on the Past

glassofregretIf you’re human, (and I assume there are no zebras reading this post), then you can probably look in your rearview mirror and spot some choices you wish you could make over again, and differently. The truth is, most of us do the best we can as we go along, and that means most of us will probably fall short from time to time. Life does not unfold in a linear fashion, we do not get to hit the “pause button” until we’re ready, sometimes we think we’re ready for something only to find out we are wildly unprepared or had an unrealistic idea of what we were getting into in the first place. Also, sometimes we’re coming out of abuse or neglect, a dysfunctional family system, a crazy culture that expects us to edit out our difficult feelings, or we’ve developed coping mechanisms along the way that don’t serve our highest good at all. We may have stories we tell ourselves that are not true, ideas about other people that are based on our own misperceptions or lessons we learned that we have to unlearn, or a whole host of other difficulties that come along with being human. It’s an interesting and incredible gig, but no one would argue that it’s easy! You can lose a lot of time dwelling on the past, obsessing over decisions you cannot unmake, or feeling regret that won’t serve you or anyone else.

Here are three things you can do to lift the weight of regret from your shoulders, stop dwelling on the past, and free yourself of the burden of shame.

1. Embrace your fallibility and join the human race.

Welcome to the party, sport. We have all screwed up, some of us in big ways, some of us in smaller ways, but there is not a person on this planet over thirty who doesn’t have some questionable choices in his or her past. We learn as we go, and sometimes we hurt people because we are too young to know what we want, or too confused, or we wanted it then, but five years later we felt the soul being crushed out of us. If you feel badly about some of your past actions, please recognize this is because you have a kind, gentle heart. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t even be thinking about this stuff. If you have a warm and gentle heart, you are not an a$$hole, and that is fabulous. Please take a moment right now, place your hand over your heart, close your eyes, take a deep breath and say out loud in a firm voice, “I forgive myself for being human.”

TIP: If you’re at work, say it in a firm voice inside your head, but say it enough times that you feel it. If you exhale out some tears or other emotions, that’s great.

2. You are not Atlas.

Your work here does not involve carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. If other people won’t or can’t forgive you, that is on them, that’s a weight they’re choosing to carry, and an obstacle to their own freedom; at a certain point, you have to forgive yourself. Having said that, it never hurts to communicate clearly. If there’s something you feel you need to say to someone to make things right, go ahead and say it. Think carefully about your motivation, and how this might be for the other party. If you think you might disrupt someone’s life, or his or her tenuous grip on being okay, if you think the other person might still be healing from heartbreak, then it might be best to write a letter you never send.

TIP: It’s incredibly powerful to get things down on paper and out of your head, so don’t hesitate to put your thoughts in black and white. When you’re done, you can determine whether this is a missive that was just for you, or for you and them.

3. Be present.

It’s good and important work to know yourself, and that means it makes sense to examine the choices, decisions and behavior you regret, but you serve no one by marinating in that sad sauce. Once you’ve looked at your part in any story, owned what you can of it, apologized when necessary or appropriate, then there comes a time when you need to close the book on that story. Your life is not happening behind you, any more than it’s happening in front of you. The mind loves to hurtle back into the past, or careen forward into the future, but all that does is rob us of the present. Of course your memories and experiences are part of the fabric that makes you, you, and of course that makes them part of the tapestry that is your present, but how can you do a journey with your back to the road? That’s not a great way to navigate, or open to things as they are now, but it’s an excellent way to crash into feelings, things or people who are trying to get your attention in this moment.

Everything is in a constant state of flux, and if you keep looking back over your shoulder, you are trying to stop time and stop the current. Maybe your mistakes will help you travel through your present-day waters with more ease, strength and insight. Perhaps recognizing the bumps in the road will help you avoid repeating mistakes, so you can, at the very least, make better mistakes as you go. Your breath is an excellent anchor-point. When you become aware of your inhales and exhales, you’re directing your mind to focus on something that’s happening right here, right now. This is an excellent way to catch yourself when the mind wants to head in a downward spiral, when you notice obsessive thinking, or when you recognize you’ve already examined a situation to the degree that it’s productive.

“Svadhyaya” means “self-study”, and it’s one of the Niyamas. We want to understand ourselves and know what’s motivating our choices and actions, but we also want to embrace the reality that we’re continually evolving. Don’t allow yourself to continue to set your compass toward something behind you, because you’re failing to integrate your own metamorphosis. That’s not something you want to miss!

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

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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

Don’t Drown in the Ripples

They-always-say-timeSometimes the pain we inflict upon ourselves is worse than any other pain we face. I know so many people who grapple with self-loathing. Who feel shame and guilt and rage because they’ve made mistakes and don’t know how to make things right. An unforgiving internal dialogue is a painful and relentless prison, and sometimes it seems the key is somewhere lost, far, far away.

Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes we make huge ones, with lasting ripples that follow us way into our futures. The worse you feel about yourself, the harder it is to pull yourself out. You can drown in those ripples; did you know people can drown in two inches of water? We all have pain, and some people have more than others. It is in no way a level playing field. And some people are more resilient than others. Human beings are not robots, and life doesn’t follow a formula. Judgement about another person’s mistakes is nothing more than self-loathing turned outward. We never know what it is to walk in someone else’s shoes, and we don’t have the skinny on what other people need in order to learn and grow. Each of us has plenty of work to do keeping our own paths clean.

I know people who feel undeserving of love. Unlovable. I want to be clear. There are people who don’t make it easy, who are cruel or cold or uncaring. Do you know what it takes to get a human being to that place? I’m not talking about personality disorders, that’s a whole other topic. I’m talking about people who’ve given up on love, and have decided you can’t trust anyone, and no one cares, and life is brutal, and they will be, too. Usually the people who hurt us the most are the ones in the greatest pain. That doesn’t make it okay when you’re on the receiving end, but it helps to understand what’s motivating a person who has let you down, broken your heart, left you without any sense of closure or understanding.

The people I’m talking about feel unworthy of love because they can’t forgive themselves. If you’re coming out of pain, if you’re filled with despair, you’re going to spread it, that’s just how it works. When we aren’t loving ourselves, we tend not to take good care. Sometimes the pain is so great, the desire to numb out and make it go away is intense. When we’re in a fog we don’t think clearly. We can’t see straight. Fog might be a relief for awhile, but eventually that’s a prison, too. Life isn’t meant to be endured in a haze, it’s meant to be lived with an open heart and mind. How else to see the beauty? To receive the love? To have your breath taken away? To be overcome with gratitude just for the experience of being alive? A fog robs you of that. A haze blurs those edges, too.

At a certain point you have to forgive yourself. It’s never too late to start again. We all do it, every day, every moment. The whole thing is shifting all the time, nothing stays the same. If you were in pain and you caused pain as a result, you do your best to make it right. That’s all you can do. You show up, the best you can and you say you’re sorry, but if you aren’t forgiven, eventually you have to forgive yourself. Otherwise it’s a vicious cycle of hating yourself and needing the haze to blur the awful feeling of hating yourself. That’s prison.

You’re a human being on planet earth. Whatever time you have ahead of you, make it count. Turn things around. Remember your kind and beautiful heart. Did you mean to hurt anyone? Were you just lost? Turn your attention to any and every gift you’ve got. Your health if you have it. People in your life who love you and believe in you. People you love beyond words. A place to sleep at night and food to eat. The sunrise, or sunset, or rain on your face. The way the wind moves the leaves of the trees. You are not the same you you were ten years ago, ten days ago, ten minutes ago. And neither is anyone else. Everything is in a constant state of flux, including you. Move toward beauty. Open to love. Forgive yourself, forgive yourself, forgive yourself. Then start again. Sending you love. Ally