Choose the Lesson

shannonlalderRecently, a close friend of mine was left suddenly and without explanation by her husband of less than a year. They were having the normal struggles of any newly married couple, exacerbated by the fact that neither of them had lived with romantic partners before. Just the normal communication issues, and the push-pull we all go through when we’re shifting our perspective from “I” to “we”. They’d talked about going to counseling, and about making some other changes, too. He’d expressed a desire to move to another part of the country, and she’d been open to that. Throughout the relationship, right up until the day he took off, their text messages were loving, flirtatious and affectionate, their time together was mostly fun, and she had no reason to imagine he’d bail. One morning he got up, kissed her goodbye as they left the house to go to their respective jobs, and that was the last time she saw him.

When he didn’t show up for dinner, she texted, and he said he was out with friends and that he’d probably crash with one of his buddies. She asked him where he was, but he just said he was out having fun, and he’d see her in the morning. And then he didn’t show up in the morning, and she called and got his voicemail. When she texted, he said he’d be home later in the day, and that he was running errands. It turned out he’d gotten on a plane and flown across the country. She found out from his friend’s wife, when she called to see if he knew what was going on.

She flew across the country to see him and sit down face-to-face, but he refused, and his family told her to go away. He wouldn’t even respond to her texts, his mother texted to let her know he did not want to see her. She’d spent three years with him, she’d spent plenty of time with his parents and siblings, and not one of them would meet her for a tea, or even get on the phone. Her family and all her close friends, myself included, told her to come home. When there’s no communication, there’s also no hope. And when his family also shunned her, we all understood this was their modus operandi.

Two weeks later, he served her with divorce papers, citing irreconcilable differences. Then he proceeded to make demands about all the wedding gifts and furniture he wanted. She told me when she saw the list he sent with the movers, the nine-page list of things he wanted them to collect, it finally sank in. He cared about kitchen knives, but not her heart. He wanted the garbage can, but he didn’t want to know if she was okay, or how she was coping. He just didn’t care.

And so she was left in the dark, trying to figure out what had happened. Was the whole thing a sham? Had he ever loved her? Was the huge wedding he’d wanted just for show? Had he meant anything he’d said on their wedding day, or any day? She told me she felt like she was in the “Twilight Zone”, and that at any moment, Rod Serling would step out from behind a closet door, or from around a corner, and tell her she’d entered another dimension.

Life is like this sometimes. We’re going along, and BAM! A bomb goes off in the middle of our lives, and everything we thought we knew is just blown to pieces. Sometimes it happens because we’re abandoned, like my friend, and sometimes we lose people because they’re ripped from us too soon. Sometimes circumstances create the boom. Maybe we’re fired, or our house burns down, or we’re facing some other huge turn of events we could never have seen coming.

We’d never wish that on ourselves or anyone else, but it happens. And once you feel all the feelings around the experience—the shock, the grief, the confusion, the rage—you have a chance to begin again. Some things are so brutal, you have to accept you’re never going to be the same. Some things will never make sense, some things will never be explained, some things will rip your heart out of your chest and eat it with a fine chianti. So be it.

The question is, what are you going to grow out of those ashes? People and circumstances can hurt you, but they can’t defeat you unless you let them. You can’t rush through your feelings when you’re in turmoil; in fact, I’d say that’s the moment to use every bit of the support system you have in place, or to get busy creating one. That’s when you figure out who in your life is really going to be there for you. And that’s really good information to have, because then you know where to invest your time and energy, and with whom.

All you can ever do, is start where you are. We learn and grow from every experience, but we have to choose the lesson. My friend doesn’t want anyone to speak badly of her ex, and she isn’t fighting him for stuff or money. As she said to me, “The more he takes, the less he has.” How’s that for choosing the lesson?

There are confounding things that people do to each other sometimes. I get emails from people going through divorce with children, and one partner is using the kids as pawns against the other. Who do you think pays in that scenario? But again, those kids will grow up one day, and they’ll choose the lesson. There’s a lot of power in that, so if you’re in a situation that’s making you feel weak, try looking at it from that perspective. No one can take that away from you. Pick the lessons that strengthen you and open you. We have enough hard, closed people in the world. And when things happen that you don’t understand, do your very best to have compassion and recognize there’s probably more going on than you know. We can only know another person’s interior world to the extent that they allow us access. Many, many people have pain and they don’t know how to work with it so they lash out or they take off. Some people suffer from personality disorders that render them incapable of empathy. Some people have been taught that their feelings are the only ones that matter. Imagine how life must be for them. The more they take, the less they have. Sending you love, and wishing you peace and strength,

Ally Hamilton

Let Love do That

You-should-sit-inA big part of being at peace involves our ability to sit with discomfort. Not everything in life feels good, or is easy to deal with or comprehend. Sometimes we are the source of our greatest discomfort, and sometimes other people or the events around us give us an opportunity to lean into our fear, our rage, our guilt, grief or shame. It isn’t easy, but it’s how we learn and grow.

We all have our stuff, and even if you do the work to heal, to become intimately acquainted with the source of your pain, the things that trigger you, or the thoughts and tendencies that weaken you, it’s likely that you’ll have to grapple with them from time to time, because you’re human and this is no easy gig. But a lot of the time, we resist and contract against our own experience, especially if it’s messy, complicated, disappointing or uncomfortable. Maybe we’ve made a mess—said something or done something we wish we hadn’t in a moment of weakness or anger or confusion, or maybe we’ve been on the receiving end of poor treatment. Perhaps it’s circumstances that have us pushed to our edge; mostly, life does not unfold according to the vision we had in our heads of “how things should be”.

The source of addiction is this feeling that we can’t take it. We can’t withstand this temporary feeling, we have to do something, now. The best thing to do is have a seat and breathe. Because if you drink the feeling away, or pop a pill, or go shopping or hop in the sack with someone, that feeling will just arise again in the not too distant future. It won’t go away unless you face it down. Unless you examine the root of your discomfort, it will direct your life. And no feeling is forever. If you practice leaning into your painful feelings, you’ll find they arise, peak and subside like every other living thing.

The very best thing you can do when you feel “pushed up against it” is to breathe. Fighting reality will not change it. You don’t have to put everything in the thank you column, you don’t have to be grateful for every experience in your life. Some things are devastating and will never make sense. But you can always grow from your pain. You can use your suffering to become softer, more open, more empathetic. That’s so much better than resisting, denying, numbing out or running. The longer you do that, the longer your pain owns you. And you know what? I wouldn’t let pain own you, I’d let love do that. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton

You Can’t Control the Tides

smaraboliSometimes we’re trying to control things. It’s understandable; we’re on a spinning planet and we each have our unknown expiration dates, as do the people we love. We don’t know for sure what happens after this, so it’s a gig that makes us all inherently vulnerable, and some people have a very hard time with that. Most of us suffer great losses at some point or another, because the loss of someone we love is like the loss of a whole, gorgeous universe. It’s not hard to understand why you might want to put your mat down in the same place when you come to yoga, or why most of us thrive on some routine, some rhythm, something to count on.

Here are some other realities. We are in control of very little. We don’t control what life is going to put in our paths. We don’t control other people, nor should we try. We don’t control what anyone else is going to do, or say, or want, or need, or feel. All we can work on is the way we respond to what we’re given, and there’s tremendous power in that. Sometimes people do things that are incomprehensible. I know someone who was just abandoned in a cruel and heartless manner when it would have been just as easy to end things with dignity, and to honor the love that was there. But “just as easy” for who? For me? For you? I mean, from the outside, I can look at the situation and feel astounded. Why would someone do it like THAT? With no communication, respect, tenderness? But for me those things are obvious. And probably for you, too.

That’s where we get into so much trouble. We start to project what’s clear to us onto other people. Shouldn’t this be totally obvious to them, too? I’d argue that certain things are indisputable. You should treat people the way you’d want to be treated. You should treat other people’s children the way you’d want your child to be treated. The thing is, people can only have the tools they have, and they can only be where they are on their own journeys. Some people are so full of fear, they can’t imagine trusting and being kind and compassionate, because some part of them feels if they do that, they’re going to get screwed. I mean, you can’t project your world-view on anyone else, that’s my point. It’s easy to take things personally, especially when an intimate relationship comes to an end, and we’re left with no explanation or chance for closure, but honestly, if that’s the way your partner operates, then they aren’t ready for a real relationship with anyone. Relationships require a willingness to listen and understand, to communicate and to try; without that, there is no relationship. Someone who lacks those tools doesn’t lack them because of anything missing in you.

The very best thing any of us can do is work on inner steadiness; confidence in ourselves to hold and examine whatever life throws in our paths with strength and grace and breath and curiosity. This is how it is right now. Let me lean into it. Let me allow myself to feel whatever I need to feel, whether it’s rage, or grief or confusion or shock, or all of those things. Let me remember that how it is now, is not how it will always be. Let me understand if I missed something along the way, if I sailed by red flags because I didn’t want to accept what I knew in my gut. Let me understand if I often override my intuition, or I just got burned this time. Let me know myself. Let me honor and cherish myself. Let me learn and grow from this pain so I have that much more empathy to share when other people in my life suffer. Let me use the heartbreaks to soften and open, so I’m also ready to receive the love and the joy and the astounding beauty when it shows up. Life is full of everything. You have to be ready. Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

Swim with the Fishes

alextanSometimes what we think we know prevents us from seeing clearly. In “Making a Friend of the Unknown”, a talk by one of my favorite poets, David Whyte, he shares about how he studied marine zoology before he dedicated himself to writing full-time. He went to the Galapagos Islands, and got in the water with the fish, and he said he was very disappointed to discover the animals had not read the same books he had, and that they had “lives of their own.” Awesome, right?

Our ideas and opinions and frame of reference color all of our experiences. We like to think we have things figured out, we have certain people “pegged”. Did it ever occur to you that your mother has a libido, and this is one of the reasons you exist? I’m not suggesting you have to dwell on your mother’s sexual drive, I’m just saying, do you think of your mother as a complete woman, with a life and feelings and mysteries all her own, heartbreaks you may know nothing about, secret hopes, dreams, longings, or do you have her in this box labeled “mom”?

We make snap judgments all the time, and let’s get clear on this–judgements are not bad; the mind is a tool of judgement. You pull up to a red light and make a judgement to stop your car. It’s pre-judging that gets us into trouble, and yet we’re so used to categorizing everything. We’re taking in so much information all the time, but we’re also missing so much. Maybe we see someone with a yoga mat slung over her shoulder and we think, “She’s like me”, or we notice someone’s cool tattoo, or their smile, or the way they’re carrying themselves and we think, “confident”, “charismatic”. Do you know a lot of sociopaths have those characteristics? I’m just saying.

I’ve been teaching so long at this point, mostly the room is full of people I know, with new faces showing up all the time, and I love that. It’s rare for me to deal with a room full of people I don’t know, who don’t know me, unless I’m traveling to teach a workshop somewhere. Sometimes in those instances, I can feel the energy in the room. The withholding, the resistance, the pause before the judgement. “Am I going to like this? Am I going to be happy I chose to spend my afternoon this way? Am I going to sweat? Is it only going to be about whether I sweat?” The mind is constantly pulling us out of our experience so we can make decisions about the experience we’re having, but the minute you label how you’re feeling, you aren’t feeling it anymore, you’re thinking.

My mother today is not the mother of my childhood, and my father today is not the same father I grew up with; people change and things change but sometimes our ideas do not change along with them. I’m not the same teacher I was ten years ago, nor do I want to be. We’re always learning and growing, and hopefully we’re allowing life to open us and strengthen us so we have more to give, but we stunt that process when we place our ideas and opinions all over everything. It’s like a grid or a screen we can’t see through. We’ve decided things have to be one way, and we reject anything that doesn’t match our vision.

There was a time, years ago when I’d first moved to L.A., when I took over the classes of a very popular teacher at a very popular gym. For a few weeks, I had to deal with that resistant and withholding energy in the room, until everybody decided it was going to be okay, and I had made the grade, so to speak. Except for this one guy who always stood at the front of the room, rolling his eyes at me throughout class, or shaking his head, or sighing loudly. It was clear to me that he couldn’t stand me, but that he was there because the time slot worked for him, and he liked the workout. This went on for months, and though I wanted to speak with him about it, he always came right on time, and left right after.

One day I ran into him on the way to class, and I said hi. We spoke for a few minutes. He seemed shy, maybe a little aloof, but not like a person who despised me. Nonetheless, the eye-rolling and huffy breaths continued, as did the head shaking. Then, one day he asked if we could go for a hike, and it turned out he’d been shaking his head at himself. The things I was saying were hitting a nerve, and resonating with him, and he had been rolling his eyes because he couldn’t believe he hadn’t been dealing with his deep need to heal. So this whole time, I’d thought he couldn’t stand me, and it turned out he followed me all over L.A. to take class, even after I left the gym and moved to a studio in Santa Monica. He’s since moved away, but once in awhile he’ll surprise me and show up in class. He’s my oldest regular, this guy who couldn’t stand my guts.

The more you can drop what you think you know, and just open to things as they are, the less you’ll struggle. Moving through life and interacting with people with curiosity is such a great way to go. We aren’t here to peg people, or to compete with them. We’re here to see, to share, to learn, to understand, to grow, to celebrate, to cherish. Life isn’t about surviving, it’s about thriving and shifting and opening. A lot of the time, we get in our own way and become our own obstacles. Drop the stance, remove the blinders, try not to cling to a picture in your head of how things should be or how people should be. Don’t be so sure that you already know what someone will say. Do not assume you’ve gathered all there is to know about your partner, even if, and especially if, you’ve been together for years. Try not to make snap judgements about people based on one conversation, one interaction, no matter how wonderful or miserable. Get in the water and swim and observe all the animals having lives of their own.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

What We Do with What We’re Given

For-a-seed-to-achieveSometimes things happen that turn everything we thought we knew upside down and inside out. Recently, a woman wrote to me because she found out her husband had another family “on the side”. She and her husband have a son who’s five. She believed their son was her husband’s first child, but it turns out he has a daughter a year older. She told me she’d been impressed with her husband’s ability to change diapers and his ideas about breastfeeding, and just generally how comfortable he’d been when their son was an infant. She didn’t realize he’d been through it before. And when she approached him about wanting a second baby, he told her he really felt he was a “one-and-done” kind of guy, but it turns out he has another son, too. He had a second baby with the other woman.

You might wonder how he was able to pull this off for so many years, but he travels on business all the time, and she never thought to worry. She said she believed they were happy. That in their social circle, they were the couple everyone envied because they were still so romantic and seemingly in love with each other. College sweethearts, the whole nine. She found out because the other woman called her. She didn’t want to live in hiding anymore. She wanted to be able to have a normal life. She wanted to post pictures of her kids on Facebook, and go to school gatherings with the father of her children. I mean, it was only a matter of time before this whole thing exploded. The kids are getting older. He has three children calling him Daddy, in two different states.

Anyway, it’s a total mess. And clearly, this man needs some serious help. I don’t know enough about him, his background, his pain, his mental condition, and nine hundred other factors to even begin to comment on what could drive a person to wreak havoc on so many lives, including his own.

The wife is reeling. She’s trying to keep it together for the sake of her son. She told her husband to get out, and she called a lawyer. But it’s the emotional part that’s brutal. A lawyer can’t help you negotiate an earthquake that shakes the foundation of your life. That makes you search back and relive every moment that didn’t quite add up, to replay every conversation, to find the thread that began to unravel when you didn’t notice. In addition to a lawyer, she also called a therapist, her entire family, and her closest friends. She asked me to write about it. She needs support, and she’s reaching out, which is good.

Obviously, this is an extreme example, but most of us have experienced betrayal of some kind. Or we’ve been blindsided when something ended and we just did not see it coming. Or we thought we knew someone and it turns out we didn’t, not really. The hardest part in all of that is feeling like you cannot trust your own judgement. Do you remember that inane conversation about the color of that dress a few weeks ago? Was it black and blue or white and gold? What an extraordinary amount of time we wasted on that. But that’s what it’s like when something rocks the foundation of everything you believed you could count on. Was my marriage real? Was anything he said real? Was the love real? Was the family real? I’m looking at this and it looks purple, but is it? I mean, you just can’t trust anything anymore.

The key toward putting your world back together in times like those is just to take it one breath at a time, and to allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. Heartbroken. Enraged, Astounded. Depressed, scared. She told me she feels ashamed and humiliated, amongst many other emotions. We talked about the shame part. I told her there’s never any shame in loving all the way, and trusting and giving. There is a clear lack of self-respect when someone lies and betrays and sneaks around, and I told her those are things her soon-to-be ex-husband will have to grapple with, but she has nothing to feel ashamed about.

Humiliation is another thing, though. That word comes from the Latin “humus”, which means ground, soil, or earth. As if we’re being returned to the ground, to the dirt. And I’ve felt that way before myself. As much as we wouldn’t wish it on ourselves or anyone else, there’s something freeing about being returned to the earth. And about questioning everything. I’m definitely not suggesting this is some blessing in disguise, although clearly she’s been building her life with a person who has deep-rooted problems, I’m just saying once she allows herself the time and space to grieve and heal, she can start to build something new. She can begin again, from the ground up. And there’s no doubt this experience is going to make her grow and open and strengthen in ways she wouldn’t have without out. It always comes down to what we do with what we’re given.

Life is full of curve-balls, and many people are in unfathomable pain. There are also beautiful people in this world who would never, ever betray you, and there are experiences that take your breath away with the sheer force of their awesomeness. We never know what life has in store for us. It is humbling, but it’s also interesting and amazing. Whatever’s happening in your world, remember there’s only one you in the known universe. Only one. Feed your spark, and try to trust in your process. Leave room for life to show up with the joy, too. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Don’t Consent to Poor Treatment

eleanorrNot all friendships or romantic relationships will stand the test of time, and that is okay. Of course it hurts, but it’s just the way of things. People change, circumstances change, everything in the known universe is in constant motion. Sometimes we think something is “for life”, but it turns out not to be. Certain people are going to turn out to be “somebody that you used to know.” Yes, you can thank me for having that song stuck in your head for the next little while. But it’s really the truth.

Of course it doesn’t feel good when someone rejects us or ditches us or treats us with very little respect or concern. Especially if there’s a history of kindness and shared memories, of times when you really went out of your way to show up or to help, but if you are suddenly discarded, you’ll probably look back and realize you were dealing with a mostly one-way street. Someone who genuinely cares about you will not treat you carelessly, no matter how caught up he or she might be with other interests.

If someone is behaving in a disappointing way, that’s no reflection on you, it’s a reflection of where that person happens to be on her or his own path. You don’t have to take it to heart. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting or hurt, it just means you don’t have to take it as a sign that you’re easy to discard. There’s another great Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

Generally, you’re dealing with one of two things: either you have some part in the dissolution of what was once a beautiful bond, but the other party is unwilling or unable to communicate in a respectful way so you can understand a differing point of view, and apologize if the situation warrants that, or, you’re dealing with a person who truly doesn’t give a sh%t. And either way, it takes two to make a “thing go right”. There’s another song for you, you’re welcome.

If a person won’t tell you what’s up, don’t lose sleep over it. I mean, in order to own your end of a thing, a person has to be willing to tell you what the thing is, and if they won’t, it really has to go in your, “no time for this” folder. Because that’s okay in high school, but otherwise, not so much. If a person doesn’t care enough to communicate, why waste your precious time and energy on it?

The thing is, life is so short. All you can do is manage the way you show up, and pay attention to what you do. If you blow it, own it, apologize, and take some time for self-inquiry so you can learn and grow and do it better the next time. Try not to hurt people. If you’re the person doing the leaving, whether we’re talking about the end of a friendship or a romantic relationship, communication is always a good way to go. I mean, if you went on one date with someone and it wasn’t a match, I’m not saying you have to spend an hour talking about why that is, but don’t say you’ll call if you have no intention of calling, because that’s also only okay in high school, and not really even then. If someone is into you and it isn’t mutual, don’t leave them hanging in the wind. People are precious and the human heart is tender. Take care of your own, and be kind to others.

Sending you love, lovers,

Ally Hamilton

Compassion for the Compassionless

Do-not-give-yourHow do you have compassion for people who seem incapable of having any for you? How do you practice patience with people who are full of venom and rage? First of all, you have to make yourself safe. If this is a person who has to be in your life, like a family member you’re unwilling or unable to cut off, then boundaries are your priority. Once you’ve made yourself safe, then it’s a matter of figuring out how to communicate in a way that feels okay to you. That might mean email only, or it might mean that you never leave yourself vulnerable. For example, if you grew up with an abusive parent, maybe it means you stay at a hotel when you go home to visit (assuming you want to visit at all). You don’t put yourself in a vulnerable and powerless position. You protect your tender heart, and you put a high value on your own well-being, physically, mentally and emotionally.


I get a lot of emails from people who’ve been through an acrimonious divorce, and are unable to communicate with their exes in a healthy way. If you have children with someone, that’s such a heartbreak for everyone involved, but sometimes there’s no way around it. There are personality disorders that render people incapable of understanding how things are for anyone but themselves. There are people who cling to their rage because it’s the only shield they’ve got. There are people who truly revise history so it resembles something they can live with, where they get to be this wonderful person, and you get to be the villain. Again and again I’ll remind you, you cannot save anyone. You’re not going to “show someone the light” with your logic or your pleading or your version of history. Sometimes you’re dealing with narcissism or borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder or depression, sometimes you’re dealing with addiction. In any of those cases, trying to reason isn’t going to get you far.

The way to find compassion if you’re dealing with someone like this, is to understand they are in pain. Underneath all that rage and venom and instability, is a giant well of pain and anguish. And a lot of the time, people who are suffering this way truly believe their version of reality. There’s nothing you can do except hope they’re going to find relief at some point, and keep yourself at a safe distance in the meantime. Obviously you try to find help and support for people, but a person has to be ready to accept it, and then they have to be willing to work. That isn’t always the case. And let me just say that having compassion for someone does not mean you allow them to harm you, or you excuse their cruel or abusive behavior. It means you recognize the pain, you understand you cannot fix it for them, and you find a way to deal with them while you also honor your own tender heart.

A lot of the time, we try to make things black and white, but they rarely are. So much of life and human behavior exists in the grey area. We like to make people “good” or “bad”, but very few people are all one or the other. And sometimes we take things personally that have nothing to do with us. Sometimes you just represent something to someone. You’re a convenient target because you seem happy or together or responsible or inspiring, and this other person feels none of those things. There’s no need to engage or defend yourself when a person creates a fictional character and says that’s who you are. If you know who you are, and you feel comfortable with the way you’ve handled yourself, or maybe you’ve apologized for your end, there’s nothing more you need to do, except release yourself from the drama. Life is really too short for that. You can feel badly that someone is so stuck they have no recourse but to lash out, but you really don’t have the time to participate in unraveling the fiction. It’ll burn out eventually, anyway. There will be a new target, a new injustice.

As for strangers who do or say things you find totally incomprehensible, I’d say the same holds true. When people do things that are cruel or inhumane, you can bet they’re coming out of a very unhappy environment. Maybe they were abused, neglected, abandoned. There are so many stories out there that just break your heart. When I see someone doing something or saying something I find repugnant, I also remind myself that that cannot be a happy way to move through life, filled with rage. And I wonder what happened to that person as a child, what went wrong along the way. I wonder how he or she learned to hate, or learned to close down or lash out. And on my good days, I try to send some love. That’s all we can do, really. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton