Everything is Happening

everythingI’m not an “everything happens for a reason” yogi. I believe we can grow and open from each experience, I’m just not one to say that there’s a divine plan, and every challenge in front of you is there for the evolution of your soul. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it isn’t. Of course it’s a nice idea. It’s comforting to think we get more than one ticket to this carnival, more than one chance to get things right, more than one lifetime to love the people we love. I hope that’s the case, but no one knows for sure how this works. We have our ideas, we figure out what makes sense to us, individually. We’re all in this mystery together. We’ll find out for sure when we exhale for the final time. And because we cannot know, I don’t feel it’s comforting to tell anyone who’s going through pain, grief, or serious life stress, that it’s all happening for a reason that will make sense someday. Like the single mom of two who was just fired from her job, and receives no support from her ex. That would lack compassion, and compound her frustration.

I can look back on my life and say that everything I’ve been through has led me to this moment, and that I’m very grateful to be here. There are a few lessons I would happily give back, a couple of things I’d really rather not know, but we don’t get to choose. I’m thankful for almost everything that’s happened, because those experiences, even the more devastating ones, taught me so much.

I think when we go through life feeling like everything is happening for a reason, we start to feel victimized when we’re faced with obstacles. If this is happening according to some plan, then there’s intent behind it, right? So the thought process becomes something like, “I’m getting fired and having to figure out how to feed my children with no support for some unknown but important reason, and I must deserve this or need it.” That outlook intensifies the pain. It feels like this personal assault where you’ve now become the beleaguered victim, and the truth is, I don’t think that stance is going to help you. “Why me?” is not a useful question. Nor would it be useful to tell a grieving mother or father that their child has died for a reason that will make sense someday. F&ck that. Seriously. Some things will never, ever, ever make sense. Some things will never be okay. Some things you will just carry with you. Yes, there’s beauty in having loved so deeply. Some people never love like that, but you don’t have to put everything in the “thank you” column.

So, I’d really try to take that idea out of the equation when you’re faced with pain. Instead, I would just focus on what you can learn and how you can grow. Maybe you’re going to discover reserves of strength and resourcefulness you didn’t know you had. Maybe you’re going to realize there are people in your life who are going to show up for you, and make sure you don’t end up on the street. One way or another, you’re going to rise to the occasion because you have to, and you’ll have that much more confidence and less fear moving forward. That’s “reason” enough to face our path head on. We don’t get to choose what’s put in front of us, but we get to decide how we’re going to respond.

Awful things happen to beautiful people all the time. If there’s a pattern in your life, definitely look at it. For example, if you keep choosing partners who can’t commit, or end up breaking your heart in other ways, it’s time to ask yourself what that pattern is trying to show you or teach you about yourself. That’s different than feeling like these things are happening to you. That gives you some power, right? Why am I drawn to situations that crush my soul? How can I re-frame things for myself so I’m no longer attracted to people who require the dimming of my light?

Is everything happening for a reason? I don’t know. I look around at certain things and just can’t imagine why, what the reason could be. It doesn’t really matter. They’re happening, right? The question is, what we’re going to do about them. One thing I can say with certainty is that the human heart is resilient. It wants to heal and open. We are all a lot stronger than we realize. And most of us, given the choice, are going to choose to live, even when it’s hard. To rise up, to push through, to dig down, to figure it out. If you’re going through pain, hang in there. Ask for help. Trust yourself. And know that whether it’s happening according to some big plan, or it isn’t, you’re going to strengthen and open either way.

Sending you love and a huge hug,

Ally Hamilton

Finding Peace in the Storm

allylifecolorSometimes there’s an intense desire to be anywhere but where we find ourselves, especially if we find ourselves in the middle of a truly challenging situation. Life will offer each of us no shortage of opportunities to practice patience, grace, awareness, strength, compassion and clear-seeing. The only question is only what we’ll do with the opportunities. Of course, there are some opportunities we’d rather not have, some lessons we’d rather not learn, but we don’t get to choose. In yogic philosophy, “dvesha” is defined as “aversion”, and it’s one of the “kleshas”, or five poisons that cloud the mind and lead to suffering. When we resist the reality of our current situation, we will surely suffer.

Case in point: recently I was contacted by a young man who’s sister was diagnosed with cancer. He and his mom have been with her every step of the way. It’s just the three of them. There have been ups and downs, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, and all the pain that comes along with the disease, and the battle against it, but he’s been showing up for his sister and his mother as best he can. Now, his mother has been diagnosed with cancer, too, and he wrote to me because he’s terrified of losing the only family he has, and he’s upset with himself for being scared when he knows he, “needs to be strong for them”. The truth is, it is terrifying to think you could lose the two people you hold dearest, and that it could happen all at once, and to deny that it’s scary and enough to make a person feel completely vulnerable and powerless, is to compound the pain. Now, not only are you scared and humbled and at a total loss, you’re also disappointed in yourself for feeling those things.

Sometimes we underestimate ourselves. You can be scared and brave at the same time. You can be scared and strong at the same time. You don’t have to reject one thing to be another.

Let’s make it less life-and-death for a moment. You can be in a committed relationship, you can be totally in love, and still feel passing attraction for other people. You can be happy, and still wonder how it would be if you were single and free. It’s what you do with your feelings that defines you. It’s how much energy you feed them, how much time you allow them, how seriously you take them. Human beings are complex, and life is wildly interesting, but it’s not easy. It’s understandable that we want to categorize things, clean them up, put them in neat boxes with clear labels, but so much of what we experience happens in the grey areas.

If you’re scared out of your wits, and the voice inside your head is yelling at you to be strong, that’s brutal. Now, you don’t even have a safe haven within yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. We’d do ourselves and each other an enormous favor if we could hold a space to feel many conflicting things at once, so that we could calmly take a look at what’s real. Facing reality as it is takes bravery, there’s no doubt about that, and sometimes reality is tough to bear, but trying to “buck up” and muscle your way through the parts that break your heart will just make the experience that much harder.

One of the greatest gifts of a regular yoga practice is that you learn to quiet the storm that rages in the mind. Seated meditation offers us a chance to create space between our thoughts, and also to identify with them less strongly. We all have crazy, strange, fleeting thoughts and feelings. Ideally, you get to a place where you choose the thoughts that strengthen you. You decide what to feed, but self-acceptance is key, it’s essential if you want to be at peace. You don’t have to feel shame about your passing feelings. If you notice a pattern, or you observe that you’re always heading in a direction that’s going to bring you down, of course you perk up and pay attention. You examine why you’re heading down a path that will bring you pain, so you can crawl out of that groove and pick a road with potential for healing. Short of habitual thinking that’s weakening you, go easy on yourself. It’s your actions that define you.

Sending you love, as always,

Ally Hamilton

You Have to Choose It

failurepickfordWe all have our stuff; ways we’ve been hurt or disappointed, longing that’s gone unmet, grieving we’ve had to do. We also have our histories, our patterns, those dynamics we grew up with that shape (but needn’t define), who we are. The more work we do to know ourselves, the easier life becomes. Otherwise we’re being pulled by unconscious drives, and are along for a bumpy, painful and confusing ride.

Having said that, consciousness is not the final destination. You might know yourself well. You might recognize your tendencies and know exactly what’s driving you. You might understand and embrace in your heart what’s true for you, what scares you, what excites you and inspires you. That’s all amazing, and what we work toward, because that way we can be accountable to ourselves and to everyone else. But in large part, happiness is a choice, and it can take enormous willpower to choose it.

Don’t get me wrong, here, because there are heartbreaking, stressful, lonely times in life when it would be unrealistic to think or expect that you could simply choose to be happy. When we lose people we love, for example, it’s appropriate and healthy to grieve. When we’re under enormous pressure to keep a roof over our heads, it lacks compassion for someone to suggest to us that we should just choose to be happy. I’m not talking about those times.

I’m talking about the day-to-day rhythm when we can easily allow the mind to get snagged on what isn’t going well, on what we don’t have that others seem to, on everything that hasn’t happened yet. You can look up “negativity bias” if you like, because we’re naturally inclined to be on the alert for any potential dangers. This is a life skill we don’t need the way we used to, but old habits die hard. Since we don’t have to worry about saber tooth tigers chasing us down for dinner, we might dwell on paying the mortgage, or our inability to feel like life is flowing the way we wish it would, and lose sight of all we do have, like our health, the ability to put our hands over our hearts and breathe in deeply and breathe out fully, which feels great (try it if you don’t believe me), the sun shining in a particular way, or the laugh of someone we love so much, the way their nose crinkles when they smile.

The other thing is, just knowing we have unhealthy tendencies in some areas is not always enough to stop us from playing them out, even though we know they lead to a head-on collision with a brick wall. This, once again, is where willpower and vigilance come in. If, for example, you have a history of dating people who are unavailable in some way, and you’ve come to understand that pursuing people like that leads to your own heartbreak, you may still feel pulled to head in that direction should the opportunity present itself, even if you’ve worked on bringing this pattern to the surface, even if you’re extremely self-aware. This little (or big) pull may always be there; it’s what you do, or don’t do about it that matters. Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen, and this goes for your habits, too. Don’t feed your pathology. If you meet someone at work and you start having a coffee here and there, and you find out along the way that they live with someone, but you’ve already developed a little crush, I would say get the f&ck out of Dodge, and do it now, no more coffees, no more flirting, just shut the thing down. If you meet someone and they’re in all kinds of pain, and you can tell they just really need to be loved, and you feel like you’re the one who can love them the way no one else has ever been able to love them before, if you tell yourself you’re the missing link, and your love can heal them and save them, even though you’ve done this in the past and you know it’s futile, I would say, get the f&ck out of Dodge, and do it now.

It’s not okay to be reckless with your heart. If you are, you’ll find your heart will harden eventually, and out of your mouth will come words like, “You can’t trust anyone”, or “People suck”, and neither of those things are true. Also, you’ll prevent yourself from diving in all the way when things are good, because some part of you will still be pulled toward those things that bring you pain. As I’m writing this, it’s 12:45am, and a woman is walking by my house on her cellphone, crying loudly between bursts of words. I don’t know who’s on the other end of the phone, but it’s clear she doesn’t feel heard because she’s raising her voice, and she’s sobbing about why it always has to be this way, why this person has to keep hurting her. The real question is why she’s choosing to participate. Because I really think life is too short to spend the wee hours of a morning that way. People can’t “keep hurting us” unless we give them the power to do that (I’m not talking about things that may have happened when you were a child. Children are powerless in abusive situations, and some adults feel that way, as well. If you fall into that category, you need to reach out for help).

Feeling pulled in an unhealthy direction is fine. Acknowledging that it’s happening is good, especially when we do that with people we can trust. Bringing our darkness into the light takes the power away from it. But feelings aren’t facts, and we don’t have to act on every feeling we have. In fact, there are a lot of feelings we’d do best to observe, because all feelings have one thing in common: they arise, they peak, and they subside. No feeling lasts forever. Once again, I’ll suggest to you that yoga is an excellent way of training yourself to sit with uncomfortable feelings, calmly. Holding Warrior II when your quad is burring, and sweat is dripping down your face, teaches your mind and your nervous system to breathe through sensation. That’s all a feeling is—it’s a sensation. If you need help with this, or want to try practicing with me online, you can sign up for a free trial here. Sending you love, and reminding you to starve your pathology. Your heart will thank you for it.

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here.

Love Does Not Insult Your Heart

nevergetwhatudeserveifudontletgoI’ve had emails from half a dozen people over the last few days who are struggling to end relationships they know are not healthy. Knowing what you need to do and doing what you need to do are two different things. One requires awareness, the other demands awareness and action. And we are not always ready or able to act on our own behalf. I have a guy I’m talking to who’s suffering because his wife wants an open marriage and he does not, and she’s not willing to try therapy or talk to him about it any further, she’s already dating other men. And he’s sick to his stomach but they have two almost-teenage daughters and he feels paralyzed. He says he’s still in love with her, and even though he’s physically ill when she’s out late, he can’t imagine a life without her. He thinks she knows him like no one else, and he’ll never find that again. And he doesn’t want to leave his kids. But one of the girls is old enough to know something is off, and she’s asking questions. Last week she and her mother had an argument, and she slapped her mother in the face, and her mom slapped back. And they both retreated to their rooms and cried. The younger daughter is having problems at school for the first time, and has dropped several pounds. There’s a lot of pain in the house, and everyone is feeling it, and everyone is suffering.

At the same time I’ve been exchanging emails with a woman whose boyfriend is very unkind to her. He belittles her privately and publicly, and has told her he can’t bring her home to meet his family because she’s not “of their ilk.” He tells her she doesn’t dress well, and she needs to lose weight, and he corrects her pronunciation of certain words, even though English is her second language and she speaks three others. He sneers if she orders at a restaurant and the person taking the order asks her to repeat herself, and when she tried to surprise him at work one night with dinner because he was on a deadline, he pretended not to know her in front of a group of his colleagues.

Sometimes we get hooked on a person’s potential, or the way they may have been at one time, but aren’t any longer. Abuse of any kind is never okay, and it isn’t love. Usually this stuff is insidious. A relationship begins, and the hormones are raging and you’re positive this is the person you’ve been waiting for your whole life. Maybe it is, or maybe it’s smoke and mirrors; the truth is, it will take some time to tell, and sometimes more than you think. But at no time and under no circumstances do you want to allow another person to make you feel less than. Not enough. Who wants to be vulnerable with a person who’s hurting them? If someone else can make you feel you aren’t measuring up, it’s only because something in you agrees with that, believes it to be true. That’s the thing you need to solve. Our guy in the open marriage he’d like to close again is struggling because he loves his wife. Or maybe he loves the way she used to be. He wants to excuse it because he was her first and she now feels she missed out on a whole chapter of her life. They have years of history and beautiful memories, and good times and tough times, and two amazing daughters. But this chapter they’re in is a mess. It’s a mess of clinging and longing and desire and pain. You cannot nurture yourself or anyone else when your heart is being crushed and you’re participating in the crushing. That’s simply not good for anyone.

Figuring out how to remove yourself from a heartbreaking and/or abusive situation is not always easy. If you’re hooked on the dynamic because you’re trying to heal some very old pain, it’s essential that you figure out what that original wound is about. That’s the key to your freedom. Knowing yourself, opening to what’s real for you, sitting with your pain when you need to, and releasing the heat of it so it doesn’t rule your life. So it doesn’t spill all over your present and your future. Sometimes we all need help with this stuff. Finding the strength to act when you barely have the energy to get out of bed is not easy. When we push feelings down, it’s exhausting. Better to let it all up and out, and get help grounding yourself if you need it. Find someone who can help you remember your power and your beauty, and before long you’ll put one foot in front of the other and find a way out of where you are and into something that doesn’t insult your heart. Sending you love and strength. Ally

Put the Power in Your Heart

not2needapprovalThe thing is, at a certain point, you’re simply going to have to approve yourself. And the easiest way to do that is to follow your heart and do your very best not to hurt other people. You won’t always succeed on either count. Sometimes fear or care-taking or doubt paralyze us, and even though the heart is crying out for action, we simply aren’t able to follow through in that moment, or during that time in our lives. Just because you know what you need to do, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it. You’re ready when you’re ready, and not a moment sooner. Recognizing the path is a start, it’s a beginning, so try not to kick yourself if you aren’t ready to start walking just yet. Sometimes we need help to get unstuck. We need someone to kindly hold up a mirror and remind us of our power. And no one does their best in every moment. We can all be selfish or thoughtless or confused or in pain, and when we make decisions or act out in those states, it’s probably not going to go very well. Forgive yourself for being human, and forgive others. We all blow it sometimes. But as much as possible, I think being accountable is the thing. Knowing yourself, and recognizing when you’re spiraling or clinging or running or denying is so essential. Because when you can see it and own it, you take the power away from the feeling, and put it back in your own heart and your own hands. Maybe you have to sit on your hands to avoid acting out on a passing feeling. It can be incredibly uncomfortable and draining to face down your dragons. But you know what’s worse? Letting them run your life. A feeling is not a fact, and not all feelings demand or deserve your action.

I say this to you because if you’re aware of yourself and determined to be responsible about the energy you’re spreading as much as you can, to be conscious about your actions and your choices and do your very best to ensure you aren’t being careless with someone else’s heart, or aren’t inadvertently spilling your pain all over someone else’s path, then you can accept that you won’t always please everyone. Sometimes your choices cause another person to face their own, and that’s not always easy. It’s one thing if you’re ready to look at your stuff, and it’s another when it smacks you in the face when you aren’t expecting it. That stings and it’s not easy to deal with, and sometimes you’ll want to run or start rewriting history in your head. But you can’t undo the past, and if you behaved in a way that caused someone else pain, you were almost undoubtedly in a lot, yourself. And maybe it’s very old pain that’s been chasing you down for years. Have compassion for yourself and for other people because it’s not easy to be on either side of the equation. It takes a lot of courage to follow your heart and to look at your stuff and to move slowly and steadily toward love. And it’s brutal to have to face the consequences of your actions and to realize that even though you may be forgiven, ultimately you’re going to have to forgive yourself. Pain will take you hostage if you let it. Someone else’s pain can do that as well. But you aren’t here to be imprisoned. You’re here to be free. You’re here to love. When your stuff comes up, and it will, trust that you have the strength to look at it and sit with it without letting it own you. Let love own you. I’m not talking about romantic love, although that’s a beautiful expression of the love I mean. I’m talking about opening your heart to that great love that you possess, that limitless well that’s within you, and allowing that to rule your life and your actions and your choices. Really. If you’re going to give yourself to anything, give yourself to love. Sending you some right now. Ally

Sometimes Acceptance is All the Closure You’re Going to Get

knockeddowntostandupNo one ever asks life to knock them down. You’re not going to hear anyone say, “Things are pretty good. I hope life throws a huge monkey wrench into my world. Maybe my husband will suddenly announce he has a girlfriend and leave! Or I’ll lose my job. Or something I never could have seen coming will bring me to my knees and break my heart wide open.” We don’t ask for these things, but sometimes these are the kind of challenges we have to face. Or worse.

Not everything in life is positive, and there are some lessons no one will ever appreciate. You might grow or strengthen or reach new levels of compassion or insight, but there are some heartbreaks that are so knifing, no one would ever say, “Thank you for this.” As a result, you’ll never hear me say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I used to say stuff like that. And maybe everything does, or maybe it’s all random, but I think spiritual sound-bytes like that are an attempt to wrap life up into a neat little package, and I think they’re incredibly alienating to people who are devastated. When you cannot recognize your life, when everything falls apart and you have nothing but the shards of glass that used to be your home in a pile around you, and old photographs and a sweater that still smells like what was, you really don’t want to hear it’s happened for some reason that will make sense to you some day. Some things will never, ever make sense, and some things will never be okay. Recognizing that is the only way you can conceive of moving forward. Sometimes acceptance is all the closure you’re going to get.

When you find yourself in a state like this, move slowly and have compassion for yourself. If you know someone who’s been knocked down, show up and make them dinner. But don’t tell them how to grieve, or that it’s time to snap out of it. People mourn in their own way, whether it’s over the loss of a person, a relationship, a job or a way of being. There’s a huge difference between being there for someone and enabling self-destruction, so please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m simply saying when a person is trying to put the pieces of their life back together, they need love, not a whip. Because although no one would ask for everything to fall apart around them, when that happens there is the potential for something strong and beautiful and powerful to emerge. A new way of being, of seeing, of understanding. It takes time to birth those things, and it’s a very painful process. But when I look back at the most devastating things that have happened in my own life, I can recognize that I grew from them. That I would not be where I am now if I had not been where I was then. There are a couple of experiences I’d give back gladly. I’d say, “No thank you, not this. Not this.” But I can see how those moments opened me, and turned me into the kind of person who cares deeply when a stranger sends a message about a loss. A broken relationship. A dark time. And I can appreciate that. I can be grateful for that. Hopefully we can all care more about each other without having to personally suffer too much. Maybe I needed those times to open me. I wouldn’t want to be closed. I say this to you in case you’re going through one of those devastating times. I’d never ask you to be grateful, but I would say you have the choice to allow it to soften you and open you, or to close you and harden you. Opening feels a lot better. Sending you love and a hug. Ally

You Can and You Will When You’re Ready

iknowicanOkay, people, here it is. If someone is breaking your heart and treating you badly, eventually, you are going to have to walk away. It sucks and it’s brutal, and sometimes it feels like the absolute hardest thing in the world to do, but you have to dig deep and get it done. Love will not require that you allow yourself to be abused, mistreated, betrayed, disrespected or demeaned. Apologies do not make up for that. Yes, there is no doubt when a person treats you badly it’s because they’re in pain, and they are not loving themselves well, either. And you can have all the love and understanding and compassion and forgiveness in the world when you’re in love with someone who hurts you. But you can’t stay. Because eventually there will be nothing left of you.

I wouldn’t say this to you so strongly if I hadn’t been there myself, and more than once. I fully understand relationships like these can be intoxicating and consuming, and that the passion doesn’t wear off. You want to know why it doesn’t wear off? Because you’re addicted to the interaction. You’re hooked on trying to change the person and get yourself that happy ending. And since you can never satisfy that desire, you’re never done. It never slows down or cools off to that place where you can love your heart out and also live your life. Where it’s still hot, but sustainable. Instead, you’re in that crazy, can’t get enough phase way past the point of hormones and those first few months. You have heart dis-ease. You wait for that fix, for that completion, for that resolution and understanding and appreciation, but you’ll never get it from this particular source. You. WIll. Not. Get. It.

What you will get is pain and suffering. You may think to yourself, “This is the love of my life. It must be because I’m so consumed. I’d do anything for this person, give anything, be anything. No matter what they do, I still love them.” You may love them. You may see them clearly, with all their pain and all their wounds and all their potential. But if a person abuses you, leaves you without explanation, cheats on you and comes back with an “I’m sorry, I love you”, they don’t understand what that really means. They might conceptually, but practically speaking, behaviorally speaking, they do not. Because let me explain this if it’s unclear to you. Someone who understands how to love is not going to go behind your back when you’re in a monogamous relationship, and sleep with someone else, or say or do things that are cruel and bring you to your knees. That is not loving. And if you hold on because you see someone’s potential and you have this beautiful vision of how it could be, if only…you are really setting yourself up for heartache that”s going to grow larger and larger. Because the longer you stay, the more your partner will believe you’ll always stay. No matter what they do or say, no matter how bad it gets. And somewhere inside, they’ll direct some rage at you for that. Some contempt. Because they don’t love themselves yet, and they’ll think you’re weak because you do love them. They’ll know that you’re hooked. And they’ll push you to your breaking point. You’ll be along for a very heartbreaking ride, and you won’t even help them that way, if that’s what you’re after. You won’t change them or save them. You won’t change your own past, either. You won’t get your happy ending. And you won’t give yourself an opportunity to heal. Because whatever it is that’s got you hooked, that has you so convinced it’s them, is almost definitely something out of your distant past. Examine the interaction, and see if there’s something deeply familiar about it. That’s the real source of your addiction. That’s the place in you crying out for attention and love. But you won’t get it this way.

How do you leave? I wish I could say something great to you. Give you a path. The truth is, you will not leave a moment before you’re ready to, not a second before you open your mouth, and right from the center of your heart, the word, “Enough” comes pouring out. When that happens, and even before that happens, get yourself some help. Find some support. You don’t need people yelling at you to leave. You already know you have to do that. Find someone who will help you figure out why you feel so badly about yourself you’d participate in your own crushing. Find someone who can help you remember you’re strong and innately lovable and capable of taking hold of your life. If you leave, there’s a possibility that will be the catalyst for real change and growth for your partner. And that also might not happen. But the longer you stay, the longer you prolong your suffering and allow your light to be dimmed. Having said that, be kind to yourself while you muster the strength to go. Because it isn’t easy to break an addiction, it isn’t easy to walk away from people we love, and it isn’t easy to recognize the source of our healing lies somewhere else. Sending you a hug. Ally