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

intro-seated-meditation

See with Your Soul

 

deankoontzSensation is the language of the body, but we tend to be such talking heads, we’re often overlooking the most important conversation we could be having. The mind is full of “shoulds”, and it’s obsessive and redundant. It’s really hard to hear the quiet voice of your intuition with all that racket going on. This is one of the reasons it’s essential to find something you enjoy doing so much, you lose yourself in the flow. You quiet the storm that rages in the mind and become present and immersed and open. You lose yourself to find yourself.


Years ago, I dated a guy when I was coming off of a relationship that had been dark and draining, and had ended badly. The proverbial rebound. It was fun, at first, as those things tend to be, but pretty quickly, there were red flags. I’m sure if I’d allowed myself to tune in and receive those messages, I’d have realized it was a non-starter. I remember talking myself out of those gut feelings. I didn’t want to accept what I knew on a deep level. I wanted to have fun and just go with it. That’s how you find yourself in an aisle of Whole Foods, six months into your relationship, watching your boyfriend slip a piece of cheese into the pocket of his cargo pants. I’d known I was dealing with some darkness, but I hadn’t wanted to think it went as far as shoplifting, until I saw it with my own eyes. Game over, time for another breakup.

 

When we cut off communication with our intuition, when we refuse to pick up that call, it’s a matter of time before we crash into a brick wall. You don’t always know when you’re in danger, there are times you can be caught completely off guard. Betrayal falls under that heading. I mean, sometimes we have a feeling something is going on, but other times we’re totally blindsided. For the most part, though, if you’re having an ongoing conversation with your body, you’ll find it’s full of wisdom about what’s happening around you, how you are and what you need. It makes life a lot easier.

When I was thirteen, I headed into my ballet class one afternoon, entering after a man who’d walked in just ahead of me. I remember having a bad feeling. In fact, I sped up to pass him on the steep staircase, longing for the safety of the ballet studio, but as soon as I passed him, he grabbed me from behind, one hand over my mouth, the other between my legs. I knew before I knew. I just didn’t have the frame of reference for something like that. I didn’t trust myself. I doubted my sixth sense.

We don’t really think about emotion as sensation, but that’s what it is. When we say we’re sad, that isn’t an idea or a label, we’re talking about the way we feel in our bodies. We’re hurting. Maybe there’s an ache around the heart, or the chest feels tight, or we feel that lump in the throat. Maybe there’s a heaviness to everything. When we say we’re enraged, we’re talking about the feelings of our hearts racing, our jaws clenching, our fingers curling into fists, our blood pressure going up, our shoulders tightening. Next time you say you’re sad or angry or tired or cold or hungry or depressed, notice what’s happening in your body. Make sure what you’re saying is in sync with what you’re feeling. Because if you aren’t used to tuning in to what it is your body is telling you, there might be a huge disconnect between what you think, and how you feel. Are you hungry, or are you bored or lonely?

A lot of the time we agonize over what we want or don’t want. Sometimes we come to a crossroads and we struggle with which way to go. Maybe we find ourselves asking family and friends to tell us what to do, but I really think most of the time, we already have the answers, it’s just that sometimes we don’t like the answers we’re getting. We don’t always feel ready to accept what we know, because usually that means change is coming, and many people resist change, even though it’s futile.

If you’re talking to someone and you realize your shoulders are up around your ears and your arms and legs are crossed, you are not having an easy time communicating. Maybe you feel threatened or guilty or resentful or exposed or vulnerable or scared. Observing sensation gives you lots of clues about how you’re feeling, and while you might wonder why you’d need clues, I can tell you there are a lot of people who walk around having no idea what they want or need.

Sometimes this happens because we live in a culture where certain emotions make people uncomfortable. As a society, we don’t leave a lot of room for men to be scared or vulnerable, nor do we leave much space for women to be angry or assertive. We have names for men who express fear, and women who allow themselves to be angry, and those names are not nice, so a lot of people learn to edit themselves, and push down the feelings that seem to make other people uneasy. It happens in families, too. Maybe you were encouraged to express yourself, maybe you were taught that your feelings mattered and had an impact on the world around you, and maybe not. Perhaps the adults around you felt inadequate or guilty or put-upon if you expressed sadness, so you stopped doing that. It’s very possible to reach adulthood without having a clue about what you want or need, and without knowing how you feel.

The answers are always inside. Find a way to tune into your body. Yoga is the best thing I know (you can try some with me right now, here), but maybe for you it’s something else. Whatever gets you out of your head. Start to listen to those messages. Value them, they’re meaningful, and do your best to respond with compassion and awareness. The relationship you’re having with yourself is the foundation for all the other relationships in your life. Feed it well.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

The Gift of You

Dont-give-in-to-yourThere are many things that can scare us in this life, but sometimes the biggest fears we have are created in our own minds. Have you ever geared up to have a conversation with someone for weeks or months, or even years? And every time you turn it over in your head, you think you can’t. You can’t get the words out because the pain will be too much. Too much for you, or the other person. Maybe you play it out in your mind, looking for some way to become clear. What you’ll say, how you’ll say it, and what you hope they’ll say in response. Maybe you imagine the worst case scenarios, too. Meanwhile, you’re in a prison, time is going by, and your whole being is in agony. Pushing down the truth, whatever it is for you, is absolutely exhausting. Any painful conversation would be easier than the suffering we inflict upon ourselves when we just won’t face what we know in our hearts.

Shame is a strangler. There is no way you’re “supposed to be”; you can only be you, fully. The most beautiful, authentic version of yourself. Other people may have expectations and ways they like to think of you. If those expectations and ways go against the very grain of who you are, if it just isn’t working for you anymore, then the people closest to you will have to change their expectations. Or not. But you can’t deny the deepest longing of your soul. You can’t fight your truth and expect to win. You can make yourself sick trying, though. Sometimes we long to make changes but tell ourselves we can’t or shouldn’t. We run down the list of all the things that might go wrong, instead of all the things that might go right. We ask ourselves who we are to consider shining. The real question is, who are we to consider not shining?

Fear can be debilitating, but we’ll all feel it, it’s perfectly natural. The more you open to it, the less hold it has over you. If you can acknowledge you’re afraid, you’ll find that releases the grip and you can breathe again, there’s space again. This is not an easy gig, this business of being human. We’re vulnerable and underneath the surface of our lives exist questions we’ll never be able to answer with absolute certainty until we exhale for the final time. It’s understandable that we want to cling to our plans and visions of how things should be. Presumably that, at least, is something we can control. But it isn’t, and we can’t. We are all evolving all the time, circumstances are shifting and changing all around us, and the reality of that groundlessness can be difficult to absorb. So we make our plans, and we feel afraid when they aren’t panning out the way we’d hoped. Now we have nothing to hold onto.

There are people who cling to their pain because that’s all they’ve got. Without it, they have no clear sense of who they’d be, or how life might feel. Something we know is often more appealing than something we don’t, even if what we know, hurts. But life isn’t something to get through with our fists clenched and our eyes shut tightly. It isn’t something to be endured in quiet despair. It can be both of those things when we don’t face ourselves and embrace what’s true for us, though. It’s isolating and suffocating. The only person who can let you out of a prison you’ve created in your mind, is you.

You may have fear of disappointing people, of not being what someone else wants you to be. The worst betrayal, though, is the betrayal of yourself. People spend too much time and energy trying to be something other than what they are. As if what they are isn’t miraculous. When was the last time you ran into yourself at the grocery store, or on line at the movies, or at the park, or when you were traveling on the other side of the globe? You’ve never run into yourself anywhere, because you’ve never existed before, and you’ll never exist, exactly as you are, again. You have one shot in this life, in the body that you’re in, with the experiences you’ve had and the way you look at the world. One chance to sing your song and accept yourself and shine it out. It would be a shame if you let fear stop you. Feel it, and go there, anyway. Otherwise you rob the world of a gift it can never have any other way. You rob the world of the gift of you. Sending love. Ally

Worrying

Worry-does-not-emptyThis is the thing about the mind: If you don’t get a hold of it, it will head into the past or into the future, and pull you right out of the present moment. Worrying is nothing more than creating a state of anxiety about an event that may or may not come to pass. Worrying will not magically add money to your bank account, or have any effect whatsoever on any situation in your life, except that it will make you sick. Sick with tension. Being tense doesn’t help anything, either. It just makes it hard to eat or sleep. Sleep deprivation will also wear you down and make your thinking muddy. So why do we do it?

When we worry, it’s an attempt to control or predict a future outcome, or it’s an attempt to manage another person’s path. We run every awful scenario through our heads and rehearse our possible reactions. And in so doing, we both over-estimate and under-estimate our power. Of course if you love someone and they are in trouble, worrying about their well-being is natural, but it’s not going to help them. Using your energy to be a source of strength is a lot more helpful. Extending an ear, a shoulder, a hug, tangible support if you’re in a position, are all much more useful than your worry. And sometimes we can love people who are on a path to hurt themselves, and at a certain point, if they’re determined enough, there’s not much we can do but be there. We can’t save other people.
There are times we get ourselves completely worked up over a non-event, a non-issue. Obsession has a very similar set of side effects as worry. When we boil ourselves over a past event or a predicted outcome, although the event isn’t taking place in the present, it might as well be. Because when we fixate on something like a conversation that didn’t go the way we wanted it to, or one we’re anxious about having, we create a set of circumstances in the body that are not much different than they would be if this feared or unfortunate thing was happening right now. Or than they were when the past event happened. Your blood pressure doesn’t differentiate between an actual event or an imagined one if you get yourself worked up enough. Next time you’re “boiling yourself”, notice your shallow breath, your tensed shoulders, your clenched jaw, your furrowed brow. Your body is in a state of stress, and your mind has created it.

Sometimes logic helps. If you catch yourself spiraling, see if you can pull yourself out of it with a few questions: Is the way I’m thinking going to help in any way? Is it a productive way for me to think? Is it going to help me grow and open and learn something about myself? Am I in a state of resentment and blame? Is this a good use of my time and energy? If you come to the conclusion that no good will come from your train of thought, then you have to break out of the groove of it. Something physical usually helps a lot. For me it’s yoga, the movement and the breath, the awareness of sensation, the quieting of my mind, and the opening of my heart. But for some people it’s running, or wind-surfing, or gardening, or hiking. I do think moving your body and breathing deeply are key. If you can’t move your body because you’re stuck at work, then breathe deeply and consciously. If you can get out in nature, or even walk around the block, that is almost always soothing to the soul. Sometimes a dance party to the right song in your living room, or behind the wheel of your car is enough to shake the obsession off. But try to stop the tape and come back to now.

If you’re worrying or obsessing, put your hand over your heart so you can feel it beating, sit up as tall as you can, and take a really full inhale. Hold it in, and then let it all out. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Because you are so beautiful, and you have so much love within you, and that is available to you right now, in this moment. If you’re struggling to keep a roof over your head and food in your refrigerator, I fully get that asking you not to worry is not only unrealistic, it lacks compassion. And if you’re in that place, my heart really goes out to you. But short of that, I just thought I’d invite you back to now. Because we could hang out here together, recognizing that life brings all kinds of ups and downs, all kinds of joy and pain, all kinds of darkness and light, and worrying about any of it won’t change a thing. But being present for the ride is exhilarating. Wishing you a gorgeous day, everything that you need, and the knowledge that you are not alone. Sending love, as always, Ally Hamilton