Rest in Your True Nature

Allyekarajkaparm-1Yoga is a process of coming home to yourself. It’s a science, an art, a philosophy of stripping away anything that isn’t part of your authentic self. So much of the time, we’ve gotten confused along the way. We’ve taken on other people’s beliefs or ideas or philosophies and accepted them as our own, without question. Hatred can be taught this way, so can compassion. If you were lucky, your first influences taught you that you were of value. That you had an impact on the world around you. That it mattered how you felt. If you were fortunate, you were also taught that being kind and thinking about how your actions affect other people and the world around you would help you to connect and thrive.

Sometimes we have a lot of unlearning to do, though. Maybe we were not so lucky, and we learned that only certain feelings were okay, and that we had to repress anything that made the people around us feel uncomfortable or inadequate, like our sadness or our anger or our loneliness. There are so many people who reach adulthood and have no clue how they really feel, because they cut themselves off from their own intuition years ago.

If you come out of an abusive background you can count on having to unlearn quite a lot. Growing up in an environment where you make yourself invisible or invaluable depending on the moment requires a total suppression of anything that has to do with what you really need or want in your heart.

So many people are on the run, owned by their painful feelings. Repressed rage turns into depression. It takes a Herculean effort to push down an active volcano. So much energy, in fact, there isn’t much left to do anything else. Thus the lethargy and hopelessness.

For some people, it’s easy to say yes when yes is in their hearts, and it’s not difficult to say no when the situation warrants, but other people have to work to figure out what a yes feels like. Those same people might have to learn to give themselves permission to say no. Feeling that your worth is determined by other people’s perceptions of you sets you up for a lifetime of powerlessness.

Anyway, my point is, there are so many differing ways people might need to come home to themselves, and all of the ways that work require determination and dedication. You have to find the discipline to show up for yourself, and to lean in when you’d rather take off. If you find that what you’ve been doing isn’t working, and by that I mean, if life is not feeling good to you, it’s time to try something new, because time waits for none of us.

There are eight “limbs” in yoga practice. The physical part, the “asana” is just one limb. It’s a very useful entry point for many of us in the west, because we value doing over being, and it takes time to undo that programming. When you connect to your breath (pranayama), you also connect to something that is happening right now, in this moment. You are present and aware. When you start to organize your body into a pose, when you focus on lengthening your spine, or relaxing your shoulders, you’re also giving the mind a focal point that’s happening in the now. So you use your body to quiet your mind. If you’re paying attention to your breath, or you feel your feet on the floor, you aren’t spinning anymore. You aren’t fretting over your past or freaking out about your future, you are present, and that’s beautiful because life isn’t happening in your past or future. When you create space between your thoughts, you also create space to connect to that most authentic part of yourself. You get to breathe in that space.

Your body is full of wisdom about who you are and what you need to be at peace. It knows where you’re holding on, resisting, or contracting from your experience. if you give it the chance and you set up a compassionate and kind inner environment, your body will give these things over, it will help you to let go of those ideas or beliefs that are weighing you down, and then you can fly. Wishing that for you, and sending you love.

Ally Hamilton

P.S. You can practice with me right now, here.

Spiritual Bypass

hemingwayThere’s a huge difference between focusing on the good in your life, and ignoring or denying difficult or painful issues. There seems to be a manic need from the spiritual community at large to be positive and light in every moment, which is alienating to so many people, because the truth is, life is not “all good.” Part of being at peace has to do with our ability to integrate all parts of ourselves, and all chapters of our story. Part of loving other people has to do with our willingness to accept the whole person, the gorgeous parts, the quirky ones, and the stuff that’s raw and tender. Integrating the painful parts is different from dwelling upon them or magnifying them. We all have our struggles and our fears. We go through periods of confusion or despair, or we suffer because we’ve become attached to a picture in our heads of how things should be. Leaning into those uncomfortable feelings is an act of compassion, and it’s also the gateway to liberation. Pushing things down requires enormous energy, and when we repress feelings, we inadvertently give them power. They’re going to come out in other ways.

Clinging to happiness is no different than clinging to anything else—it’s going to cause you to suffer. The minute you feel anything other than positive, you’ve become a disappointment to yourself; a failure. If you reject any feeling that can’t go in the “gratitude column”, you’re going to be at war with yourself, judging yourself for those feelings and thoughts you deem to be negative or ungrateful or petty or unkind. You’ll just compound your pain with shame. We’re all human, and none of us operates from our highest self in every moment. When we sit to meditate, we don’t deny thoughts when they arise, we observe them. “Ah, I’m thinking, judging, clinging, obsessing, daydreaming…let me return to my breath.” Denying your experience is a sure way to create inner dissonance, when the whole point of a spiritual practice is to know yourself, to accept yourself, to find peace, and to feel the connection between yourself, and everyone and everything around you; to find union. Denial won’t get you there, and neither will rejection.

Imagine if you were getting to know someone, and they told you they only wanted to hear the good stuff about you. How close could you get? Yes, we always want to stay focused on all the things we do have—our good health if we’ve got it, the amazing people in our lives, the fact that we have a place to call home, and food to eat, the gifts we’ve been given, like time, our ability to feel the sun on our faces and the breeze on our skin, or that we can see the leaves blowing in the wind with their million shades of green. Laughter of the people closest to us, and also, laughter of total strangers. There’s so much to take in, and so many ways in which we’re gifted, just because we woke up today. Unless, of course, you’re going through knifing loss, and today is a day when it’s hard to breathe. We have to allow space for that possibility, too, because someone out there is dealing with that right now, this very minute, and they aren’t thinking about leaves, or their good health, or sunlight on their face, they’re trying to understand how the earth is still spinning, and people are doing things like putting gas in their cars as if everything has not changed.

A spiritual practice ought to be there for you when times are tough. It takes strength and bravery to face life head-on, and it also requires acknowledgement of our inherent vulnerability. If you want to do life well, if you want to do love well, you’re going to have to get acquainted with the underside of things. You’re going to have to be strong enough to face the dark, and also to embrace the light. If you try to pretend they don’t both exist, you’re not living in reality.

Joy and despair are flip sides of the same coin. I’m not telling you to be grateful for despair when it comes, I’m just saying we wouldn’t recognize joy the way that we do if we’d never felt bereft. If we’d never felt rejected, misunderstood, unseen or dismissed, we wouldn’t appreciate the feeling and relief of being totally accepted. I can look back on all the experiences in my life, particularly the devastating ones, and recognize how they opened me and taught me things about myself, other people, and the world at large. They were not always things I wanted to learn. There are a couple of lessons I would really, truly give back, but we don’t get to choose. Sometimes your heart breaks wide open and you think, “I won’t make it through this.” That’s when you have to hope the people in your life show up for you. Kindness matters. Caring matters. Being there matters, in fact, it matters a lot. The most insightful, kind, compassionate people I know, the most open and sensitive and trustworthy people, happen to be the same people who’ve suffered and grieved and found a way to let their experiences soften them instead of harden them.

Don’t ever let anyone shame you for your feelings. Feelings are not facts, and they aren’t forever. They arise, they peak and they subside. Some feelings take longer than others to cycle through, and if we’re going through something particularly brutal, like the loss of an entire person, we’re going to move through all kinds of feelings, many times. None of them are comfortable or positive. Shock, grief, confusion, rage, panic—those feelings are real and appropriate when we’re going through tragedy. These experiences and feelings do not have to go in a file marked, “thank you for this”; you don’t have to be grateful for everything. Just feel what you need to feel, and trust that over time you’ll be able to breathe without reminding yourself to do that. And let your suffering matter, eventually. Grow from it, and see if you can use it to be there for other people. At least, in that way, some beauty arises from the ashes.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Hungry for the Truth

mandyhaleAttachment leads to suffering. As human beings, we are going to be attached to our loved ones, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to avoid that. We’re going to be attached to wanting our families to be happy and healthy and living in a way that feels good and right to them. Connection and love and shared experiences are the best things in life. It’s just that when we allow ourselves to be attached, we also allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You can’t have one without the other, and the reality is, we are going to lose people we don’t know how to live without. Sometimes this happens because we’re in these bodies with their unknown expiration dates, and we just don’t know how much time we have with each other, and sometimes it happens because we grow apart from people with whom we were once so close, this eventuality seems impossible.

Few things cause us greater suffering than attachment to a picture we have in our heads of “how things should be”, or “how people should be”, or “how life should look.” That “should” is such a dangerous word. Sometimes we’ve attached our happiness to a particular outcome, and anything less, or anything else, just won’t do. So many people attach their happiness to externals. It’s the old, “I’ll-Be-Happy-When” formula. “I’ll be happy when I lose ten pounds, or have a different job, or a bigger house, or a faster car. I’ll be happy when I meet the ‘right’ person, or win the approval of my parents, or book that big gig…” It goes on and on, and I’ll tell you what. If that’s the formula you’re working with, happiness will always be just out of reach because it will never be enough. Anything outside of you will never equal your happiness. You plus the right person won’t do it. You plus the big house won’t do it, either. You minus the ten, fifteen, twenty pounds won’t get you there. It’s inside work.

I know this from my own personal experience. I tried the “me plus lots of external stuff” way for many years, and I exhausted myself. The funny thing is, while we’re out there in hot pursuit of that place called happy, inside it never feels right. We know, intuitively, it’s pointless, but we’re taught that this is the way, so many of us hang in there hoping, for many years. At a certain point, I stopped chasing happiness, and I got hungry for the truth. When I say “the truth”, I’m not talking about it like there’s one truth for everyone. I mean, I got hungry for my own truth, the truth of my own experience. Sometimes we think, “If only I could get this person to love me and see me and understand me and cherish me, then I’d be happy!!” And “this person” is not necessarily a romantic partner (although that’s often the case). It might be your mother or your father, or your mercurial Uncle Howard. Sometimes we start out with a parent who seems out of our reach and we repeat the pattern later in life by choosing partners who can’t or won’t commit to us. You can literally make yourself sick trying to be perfect for other people, trying to make yourself worthy, trying to dance like a monkey to earn love, trying to be something other than what you are just to get that thing you so desperately want—your happiness. But you’ll never be happy by trying to be something you are not. The alternative is to lean into the truth of whatever is real.

Maybe you have a parent who will never be able to love you in the way you long to be loved, perhaps they’re just not capable. You can receive that fact as a reflection of something lacking within you, but the much likelier reality is that it’s a deficit within them. People can only be where they are, and they can only use the tools they’ve got. If you’ve chosen a partner who can’t commit, you could interpret that data as an indication that there’s something about you that just isn’t good enough, or you could accept that perhaps this person has deep fears around intimacy, or maybe it’s just not where they’re at at this particular moment in time. Accepting reality as it is, without taking it personally, is such a huge relief. Getting hungry for the truth is a liberation. Setting yourself free of the idea that only one outcome can lead to your happiness opens you to a whole new world of possibilities. And yes, accepting that someone might not love you the way you love them, or might not want to commit to you is going to hurt, but it’s also going to allow you to breathe again, and to feel like your feet are planted solidly on the ground. It’s going to give you back your self-respect and your self-esteem, which you have to check at the bars of your prison cell when you make yourself unable to release your attachment to a happy ending that isn’t in the cards.

The other thing is, opening to reality as it is, gives you power and peace. You’re not busy telling yourself stories, or pretending things are other than what they are. You aren’t spending your time or energy pretending that you are other than what you are, and I have to say, that’s a pretty happy feeling. It puts you at ease. It allows you to release your grip, to stop your grasping and clinging. It relieves you of any notion that things are “happening to you.” It puts you back in the power seat. There’s no desire to force or manipulate or cajole. Why would you do any of that? You just allow things to flow, and trust that when they’re right, it’s clear, and if you have to force, it isn’t right. So much simpler, so much happier. I highly recommend it.

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

P.S. If this was helpful, you can buy Ally’s books here.

Love More, Judge Less

All-differences-in-thisOn Tuesday mornings I volunteer for an hour in my daughter’s Kindergarten class. It’s extremely fun. I love my daughter’s teacher. She’s very warm, but very firm, and she maintains standards in the room. The kids have to listen to each other. They have to keep their hands to themselves. They don’t have to agree with each other, but they have to be respectful. She’s really setting them up with great tools for life. Last week when I was there, one of the little girls was sitting at my table, and she crossed herself when an ambulance went by, and said something under her breath. I knew what she was doing, but she looked up at me with this little smile, and said, “I’m praying that everyone is okay.” She’s five. I told her that I do that, too, but I don’t use my hands. One of the other kids asked what she was doing with her hands, and she explained that she was asking God to take care of anyone who might be hurt. One of the kids asked what “God” was. I said it was a word that meant different things to different people, and that was a topic she could explore with her mom or dad, and we had a conversation about what it means to care about people, whether we know them or not. It was easily the best conversation of my week.

We get so caught up with labels and separation. We try to figure out who’s like us, and who’s different. We’re so prone to create an us and a them, but true spirituality doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t separate. It asks us to care about everyone, because we’re all part of the same family. I know it’s not easy, but if we start to expand that same idea to all living creatures, and the planet itself, we start to shift the way we’ve been moving through the world. Sometimes we learn things at home, like hatred. Hatred can be passed down from generation to generation, just like eye-color. When we’re little, our parents are god-like creatures, and it doesn’t occur to us to challenge what we’re being taught or told until we get old enough to realize we’re our own beings. We have our own minds and our own hearts and our own ability to discern and intuit and make sense of the world.

Hatred is a great divider, and it weakens its host. When we hate, we’re blind. In my opinion, it’s also unnatural to us. I spend a lot of time with little kids, not just because I have two of my own. I always have, because my little brother is eleven years younger than me. I’ve had a little person trailing around after me asking why questions for most of my life. We come into this world full of love and curiosity. We’re trusting and open, unless or until we have a reason not to be. Kids might ask guileless questions, like why someone has a different skin color, or why they observe different holidays, but it’s never with contempt. It’s with a genuine desire to understand, and kids do what we do, not what we say, as we well know. Maybe you don’t have kids, and maybe you don’t want them, but you were a child once, and it’s good to examine your beliefs about yourself, about other people, and about the world around you. Sometimes something we’ve learned is so ingrained, we don’t even question it. I get emails from people who were told they were mistakes. That they’d never amount to anything. That they were meant to be seen and not heard. That their parents wanted a boy, not a girl. That they’re a disappointment.

Also, you can preach compassion all day long, but if you’re hard on yourself, don’t think that will go unnoticed by your kids. We internalize everything. We’re energetic creatures, and we both emit and absorb energy wherever we go. If your mother was always dieting and scrunching up her face when she looked at herself in the mirror, even if she always told you you were beautiful, don’t be surprised if you have body-image issues. If you were taught that people who didn’t believe the same things your family believed were wrong or not to be trusted, you’re going to have some unlearning to do.

The outside might look different, and I mean this for all of us. We may be male or female, short or tall, thin or stocky, dark or light. We may believe in one god, many gods, or no god at all. We may believe in a continuation of consciousness, or we may believe we’re worm food when it all ends. We may be rich, or we may struggle to put food on the table. The bottom line is that we all deal with certain parameters. We have a finite amount of time in the body we’re in. We have the capacity to love people wildly, openly, with everything we’ve got. We have our attachments, our fears, our dreams, our heartbreaks, our nights when we cry ourselves to sleep, or wonder what we’re doing here, or flail about trying to find our place in the world. The more we look for the vulnerability behind the mask, the kid underneath the grown-up, the similarities instead of the differences, the kinder we become, and the world could really use that right about now.

Yes, there are some people who’ve closed their hearts and fed their hatred, and are so far off the grid, there’s not much hope for any kind of epiphany at this point, but that’s a tiny percentage of human beings on planet earth. The vast majority of people recognize that an us versus them mentality isn’t getting the job done. It isn’t creating a world that’s safe for us, or for our children, and it also doesn’t have to be this way.

Examine your thoughts, your words and your actions. Maybe you’re already operating from a place of love the vast majority of the time, but maybe you’re still struggling with this. Start with your own internal dialogue. Since there’s no (good) escape from the voice in your head, start to starve a loud inner critic if you have one. You don’t have to believe everything you think. Sometimes our thoughts about ourselves are so violent, so unforgiving, so relentless, it’s a wonder we can get out of bed in the morning, and if you’re that hard on yourself, I guarantee you’re hard on other people, too. Perhaps not as harsh as you are with yourself, but whatever we have within us is what we spread. Start there. It might seem like a small thing, but if everyone worked on creating a peaceful and loving world within themselves, the whole landscape around us would change. If you’re in the habit of saying things like, “I’m such an idiot” when you make a mistake, shift that thought to something like, “I’m human and I make mistakes sometimes, and that’s okay, and very normal. Let me take a deep breath and see what I can do.” Find a nickname for yourself that makes you smile, like, “Chief”, or, “Sport”, or “Tiger”, and whenever you feel that self-loathing come up, catch yourself, with an, “Okay, Sport, that didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but it’s no big deal.” What I’m trying to say is that you really want an inner voice that roots you on, not one that tears you down. May we all send good thoughts and love when we hear an ambulance go by. May we all care about each other more, and judge each other less. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings be happy.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Use Your Gifts Wisely

twainOur time and energy are our most precious gifts to give, and they’re also finite. Sometimes it’s really a practice in itself to direct your energy toward thoughts that strengthen you, rather than those that weaken you. It’s easy to get caught up, or snagged on someone else’s thoughtless comment or careless act, to become embroiled in other people’s dramas, or to allow yourself to spin over mistakes you’ve made. Rejection creates this scenario for many people, as does feeling disrespected, unseen, unheard, ignored, excluded, or harshly judged. We can lose hours, days, weeks obsessing over how other people feel about us, when our time would have been better spent getting right with ourselves.

Human beings are complex. We all have our interior worlds, our inner dialogues; in many ways, being human requires our ability to deal with solitude. Obviously, we can reach out. We can seek connection, love, joy, shared experiences. We can uncover our gifts and spread them in whatever ways are available to us. But if you aren’t happy on the inside, no person and no thing can fix that for you. Often, we’re so focused on the externals, we neglect to do the work that would really bring us peace and joy. So many people spend the large majority of their lives trying to prove that they’re here and they’re worthwhile by pointing to things outside themselves. A lot of people have their identities wrapped up in what they do and what they have. If your self-esteem is determined by factors outside your control, you can see how this leads to trouble.

It’s not what we have, it’s what we give, and it doesn’t have to be grandiose. You can change a person’s day by really taking them in, even just for a moment. You can smile at a stranger, hold open a door, allow someone to merge in traffic. These are small things, but they have a huge effect. When we move through the world and people are kind and considerate, it really fills us with a sense of hope and well-being, but having said that, if someone cuts us off in traffic, we don’t want to let that experience rob us of our own peace. There’s no need to let a stranger raise your blood pressure.

Sometimes we have to draw a line with someone. Maybe you have people in your life who struggle, and as a result they can be inconsiderate or self-absorbed or sometimes thoughtless. The truth is, we can all display these tendencies from time to time, and we probably will. Sometimes we have a day or a week, or many years when we feel victimized or angry or lost, and we lash out because we’re unhappy and we can’t figure out how to fix it. We point fingers and come up with our reasons, and make it about other people or circumstances, and as we flail and rage about, we unintentionally hurt those around us. Some people live their whole lives this way. You are certainly free to direct your time and energy toward making other people responsible for your lack of peace, but I don’t recommend it. No one is going to save you, but you. We each have to do our own work, and for most of us, that gives us plenty to do. Anne Lamott has this great phrase for those who suffer from, “Good Ideas for Other People’s Disease.” Isn’t that awesome? Aren’t we all great at figuring out what other people should do to get it together?

You can’t control people or circumstances, nor do you want to try. The more you let go and practice acceptance (which doesn’t mean you allow yourself to be disrespected or abused), the less you suffer. The more you seek to create steadiness and peace inside yourself, the better off you’ll handle the inevitable and ceaseless ups and downs of life. The more you direct your mind to the present moment, the more peace you’ll find. Breathing deeply feels good. Being awake and aware feels good. Being enraged or depressed or anxious for extended periods of time, obviously does not feel good. Are heartbreaking things going to happen? Yes. To some degree or another we’re all going to face loss, grief, confusion, shame, guilt, envy, jealousy, fear and rage. We’re all going to lose people. We’re all going to have to move and shift with changing circumstance, and sometimes we’ll be grieving, mourning, heartbroken and listless, and those feelings will be understandable and appropriate. This is when you hope you have a spiritual practice that’s going to be there for you, along with the people in your life whom you love. This is the dance. You can fight it. Of course we’d all like to be able to count on things, but the only thing we can truly count on is that everything is always changing.

Think carefully about where you’re sharing those gifts of time and energy. You’re not going to save other people, so I wouldn’t squander your resources there. That doesn’t mean you don’t try to find help or support for those in need, but it does mean you don’t try to manage someone else’s path; usually when we do that, it’s because we’re avoiding our own. Things that will surely bring you down—gossip, violent thoughts or actions, self-loathing, clinging to your anger. Things that will absolutely lift you up- remembering all the good that’s present in your life right now. Taking ownership of your story, and righting the ship if necessary. Doing the work to heal, and seeking out whatever tools you need to help you with that endeavor. Reaching out when you need help, and offering it when you’re in a position to give it. Trying to help those you love be their best selves by celebrating them and encouraging them when times are tough. Doing that for strangers, too. These are all great uses of your time and energy, and the beautiful thing is, the more you direct your energy toward helping others, the more you’ll feel meaning and purpose and fulfillment in your own life. Good for you, good for everyone else.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

How to Rise Up in the Face of Our Own Fragility

lovefragilityYesterday morning I woke up from a nightmare that I was on a plane with one of my best friends, and the plane suddenly started plummeting toward the ocean. Alarms were going off, things were falling from the overhead compartments, oxygen masks dangled in front of us, and people were screaming. My friend grabbed my arm, and I said, “We’re going to have a water landing.” Which is hilarious in retrospect, because if that isn’t a euphemism we’ve been taught, what is? All I could think of was my children. I woke up as the nose of the plane hit the water. Needless to say, it was not a great way to start the day.

There are all kinds of dream interpretations we could talk about with a scene like that, but honestly, I was just so happy to wake up and realize it wasn’t real, and that my kids were sleeping soundly, and that I wasn’t dead. The thing is, we get reminders all the time that we’re vulnerable. We have the seasons which teach us about birth and blossoming and withering and death, and birth again. Sometimes we’re reminded when we lose someone we don’t know how to live without, and sometimes we get smaller nudges when someone exits our life by choice or through necessity. If we pay attention, we realize the impermanence and ever-changing nature of our feelings. We see that everything is in flux, all the time.

We’re vulnerable because we don’t know day-to-day what will happen, even though we try to pin things down and make our plans. We simply have no idea what’s in store for us, or for our loved ones. Of course I hope we all live to be a sprightly 103 like my Great Aunt Tess, but we just don’t know, and that’s not an easy gig. In fact, it’s so uncomfortable, many people try not to think about it at all. A lot of us seem to accept that death is a reality, but not when it applies to us, or to those we treasure. That’s why there’s always such a shock, such a stopping of the spinning of the earth when we lose someone, even if we knew it was coming. It seems impossible that a whole life, a whole person, a whole world is just…gone. I think because of this, because being human is such a vulnerable gig, we ought to have some compassion for ourselves. We’re in huge mystery together, and we won’t really know what’s going on until our final exhale, and maybe that will be that, and maybe not. I believe in the continuation of consciousness myself, but you may believe we become worm food, and we just won’t know until we know. Or we don’t. I could go on like this for hours.

In light of this, we could be more forgiving with each other, too. Life is too short for grudges and lists of ways we’ve been wronged. It’s too short for score-keeping. It’s too short to cling to your rage like a shield. It’s too short to blame other people if you’re unhappy. It’s too short to leave important things unsaid or undone. And it’s too short to do anything but follow your intuition and your heart. Since we only have 103 years, let’s blaze through the world and give it everything we’ve got. Let’s sing those songs that are in our hearts. Let’s let people merge on the freeway. Let’s celebrate when something wonderful happens, and let’s be there for each other when we’re in pain.

Let’s not ever “waste” time, or “kill time,” because it’s so precious. Let’s look the vulnerability of this thing in the face, and throw our arms in the air, and let’s enjoy the ride. Let the not knowing inspire you to live every single day as if it were the last one, and hug your children too hard. If there’s someone in your life you love, tell them right now. Text them, call them, post it in your update, or tag them in this thread and tell them why you love them. Let’s make a little magic happen, shall we?

Wishing and sending you love.

~Ally Hamilton

Freedom

futurepastIt seemed like a a good day to write about freedom. When we haven’t done the work to heal, and by that I mean, get real with ourselves and seek help if we need it, we are owned by our pain. If we have doubts about whether we are truly lovable, worthwhile, special, unique…that doubt and fear will permeate everything. Following your heart takes enormous courage, and in order to be courageous, you have to believe in your ability to shine; to offer up something only you can. So many people are owned by the idea, “Who am I to chase my dreams?”, or, “Who am I to color outside the lines?”

If you doubt your worthiness to be loved, you’ll play that out by chasing people who seem on the fence about being with you. Rejection will be like a hook, because you’ll see your own doubt in yourself reflected back at you, and in your effort to heal, you’ll pursue, thinking if you can convince other people, maybe you’ll also convince yourself. But it doesn’t work that way, and this is what I mean about being a slave to your pain. Anything we repress, deny or run from, owns us. It might be unconscious, we might not even realize what’s driving us; people suffer without knowing why, it happens all the time. You will never be free from your past, or free from your rage or your fear or your grief until you allow these feelings to catch up with you, until you turn around and sit down and allow this stuff to wash over you. I realize that doesn’t sound like fun, but it’s a lot better than the alternative, because you might be deeply uncomfortable in the short-term, but you’ll be on the path to your own liberation. The other way, you’ll be on the run your whole life.

Knowing yourself is the most freeing thing there is, and not knowing yourself is the loneliest thing I know. When we aren’t sure what lights us up, what scares us, what excites and inspires us, or where we have healing to do, we’re left to flail around in the dark. When we don’t have a strong center, the chances that we’ll betray ourselves in important ways increase exponentially. If you want to be free, you have to take ownership of your life, and you may have to abandon your way of being if it isn’t working for you. When I say “your way of being”, I mean your way of being in the world. If life doesn’t feel good, whatever you’ve been doing so far isn’t working well. Maybe you’re owned by ideas like, “Everybody leaves”, or, “Everybody cheats”, or, “You can’t trust anyone.” How about, “Life isn’t fair”? Or, “I never get any breaks”, or, “No one likes me”? If any of that sounds familiar, I’d get busy breaking those chains, because that’s a prisoner’s mentality.

We can’t control or rewrite what has already happened, any more than we can predict the future. What we can do is lean into our pain and look unflinchingly, but with compassion, at how we’ve been managing ourselves. How we’ve been showing up for ourselves and the people we love. How willing we’ve been to reach out and ask for support when we need it. How much we’re trying to control, and how much we’re able to face reality as it is. To be curious about how things are, instead of being attached to a picture in our heads of how things should be.

The more able you are to work on the things you can control (the way you respond to whatever life puts in your path), and let go of the things you cannot (pretty much everything else), the more you’ll free yourself from suffering. Wishing that for you, and for all of us. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings be free.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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