The Re-Education of the Heart

Your past does not have to define your future, but sometimes, in order to overcome it, you’re going to have to work like hell. It’s not a level playing field; some people have come out of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Children growing up in an unsafe environment often become adults who find it hard to trust and to open. You can only know what you know, after all. If the people who were meant to love you, nurture you and protect you were not able to do that due to their own limitations or history of abuse, you’re going to have some serious healing to do.

The problem is, it’s very common to seek what we know, because it feels familiar, it feels like home. Frequently, people who’ve come out of abuse find themselves in relationships with people who abuse them, and this strengthens their ideas that they aren’t worthy of love, and that no one can be trusted. This must be love because it feels like home. I feel unsafe or unseen or unheard. I have to earn love by being perfect. I have to dance like a monkey to get approval. These are all learned ideas and behaviors, and if this was your experience during your formative years, you have a lot of unlearning to do. You have to crash your own hard drive and start over. It’s always harder to unlearn something than it is to have it explained to you correctly from the beginning.

Not everyone can explain love to you, though. You have to have received it to understand it. You have to have had at least one person whose face lit up when you toddled into a room. Someone who taught you about hugs that make you feel like nothing could ever be wrong. Someone who wanted nothing but for you to be happy. You need to have gotten at least a little of that from someone, anyone along the way to have a clue about what it is. People who grew up in violence don’t know a lot about those feelings. Survival becomes the thing. How do I maneuver around this situation and these people in order to be safe? How do I endure this abuse without hating them? A kid turns it inward. If my own mother or father can’t love me, it must be me. It’s not conceivable to a child that maybe their parents are limited in this way, that maybe they have their own healing to do and they simply don’t have the tools to love them well or protect them, let alone nurture them, cherish them, celebrate them. Trauma and abuse can be carried forward just like genes. I’m not saying it’s genetic. I’m saying this stuff gets carried forward in the heart, in the body, in the mind, and instead of breaking the cycle, a lot of people repeat it. They don’t mean to and they don’t want to, but they simply don’t know anything else. A feeling floods the nervous system and they act out; anyone in the way is going to suffer.

For children who were sometimes abused, and sometimes loved, it gets even more complicated, especially if there was no discernible pattern. A child who never knows what to expect, never knows if she’s going to be hugged and praised, or beaten and broken down, can never feel safe. Heading into young adulthood that way, which is challenging under the best of circumstances, sets the stage for romantic relationships that are unlikely to be healthy and loving, to say the least.

Anyway, I’m writing about all this because my inbox is flooded with messages from people who are trying to forge a new path, to find a new way; people who’ve been betrayed by those they thought they could trust. People who are afraid to open, even though they desperately want to, because what if they get hurt again? Or what if they’re loved for the first time? People who think maybe they should just give up and be alone. I think when you’re coming out of a history like this, you have to work it from the bottom up, and from the top down. You have to flood your system with new information. I’m talking about the combination of therapy and yoga, which I highly recommend if you’re coming out of abuse. You need someone you trust to help you deconstruct thoughts that weaken you, and may be so ingrained you don’t even realize you’re thinking them, and you need to get in your body and retrain your nervous system which is used to a perpetual state of fight or flight. How can you even know what peace feels like? Joy? Happiness? Rage? There’s no time to honor your own feelings in a war zone. You push that sh&t down so you can survive, so you can get through. You’re so on the lookout for other people’s feelings, for the feeling in the environment around you, it doesn’t occur to you to think about what you want, what you need, or how you feel. What language is that?

The thing is, there are tools. If you’re suffering and you want things to be different, you just start where you are. You get yourself some help. You take over the job of re-educating yourself. Human beings have an insanely awesome ability to heal, to forgive, and to love, they really do. If your heart is broken, there’s more room to let the light in. People who come out of abuse and heal, tend to be incredibly compassionate, and grateful for every good thing. Joy is like this unexpected gift that’s never taken for granted. If you need some help, try this or this 🙂

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

How to Find Happiness When You’re Feeling Lost

pemaThe first way to find happiness when you’re feeling lost, is to stop looking for it! When we’re feeling hurt, scared, anxious, heartbroken, abandoned, rejected, insecure, envious or threatened, the trick is not to avoid the uncomfortable, painful and challenging feelings, it’s to embrace them. I know this might seem counter-intuitive. You might ask yourself, “How will leaning into my pain help me find happiness?” I’m going to tell you.

The greatest state of dis-ease, and one of the largest contributors to our stress, is being in one place, wishing we were somewhere else, or feeling one thing, and wanting to feel something else. The more we contract from our experience, the more we suffer. There are all kinds of ways we try to contract–we might numb ourselves with drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, or throwing ourselves into relationships. We might try to run from our pain by keeping ourselves busy from dawn until dusk. We might try denial on for size. None of that works, though. The minute you decide to avoid your pain, you’ve made pain your CEO. Now it’s in control, and your actions are determined by it. Screw that! If you want to be ruled by love and not fear, you have to embrace reality as it is, even when it breaks your heart.

The truth is, heartbreak is part of life, so is sadness, longing, loss, and in some cases, betrayal, abandonment or abuse. The deck is full of everything. You can decide that there’s something personal about the hand you’ve been dealt, or you can get busy playing with the hand you’ve got; trying to get different cards doesn’t work. Wishing with all your might you had the Queen of Hearts when you’re staring at the Ace of Spades won’t change a thing, it will just create more anguish, frustration, and heartache within you.

Also, forget about fair. Devastating things happen to incredible people every single day. You can do everything “right”, and still there will be some suffering. When you allow yourself to feel however you feel–lost, anxious, depressed, confused, jealous, ashamed, and so on–you liberate yourself. The feelings arise, they peak, and they subside; no feeling goes on and on for the rest of your life. The more you push down the feelings, though, the more they persist because they want to be acknowledged. Feelings are alive, they’re energetic, and like any living thing, they just want to be seen and understood. They’re ways for us to know ourselves more deeply, and to grow in patience and compassion for ourselves and our process.

Also, there’s the mind-body connection. If you refuse to deal with your feelings, they don’t just pack up and move on, they show up in your tight shoulders or hips, clenched jaw, stress headache, chronic illness, upset stomach, insomnia, lethargy, and so on. It takes a lot of energy to deny your reality, and that comes at a great cost to your mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Happiness cannot enter a false construct. Happiness arises from living in alignment with what is true for you. So if you want to find happiness when you’re feeling lost, allow yourself to feel lost! It’s very freeing to allow yourself to be as you are, and happiness follows from that freedom.

Sending you love, and wishing you strength and peace,

 

Ally Hamilton

heartbroken-yoga

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

You Have to “Like” Yourself

You-cannot-save-peopleIf you’ve ever tried to save another person from his or her pain, then you already know it can’t be done. You cannot divorce a person from his past; whatever we’ve been through is going to shape us, and have an effect on the way we look at, and move through the world. If we come from a stable and loving background where we felt secure and celebrated, we’re probably going to have an easier time dealing with life’s difficult surprises, rejections and losses. But there are some things that are so knifing, it really doesn’t matter what your background was. You’re going to have to walk through the fire.

I think the large majority of people are going to struggle, and I say this because it’s rare for two healthy, happy people to come together out of love, and to remember to appreciate the gifts as they roll in every day. I’m not saying this doesn’t exist, I’m just saying I don’t believe it’s very common. They teach us about fractions in school, we spend time figuring out what happens if a train leaves Baltimore at 7:50am, traveling 40mph, and another leaves New York City at 8:20pm going 30mph, but we don’t learn about the human heart. We don’t have classes that teach us about healthy relationships, and how to be a good partner. Most people develop their skill set with on-the-job training, and that doesn’t always work out so well. If you didn’t have exposure to healthy, happy relationships growing up, if you don’t have a model for that, then you’re flying by the seat of your pants, and it’s likely you’ll have a bumpy ride.

The point is, if we come out of pain, dysfunction, confusion and instability, it’s probably going to take some time for us to find our center. And if we start having intimate relationships while we’re still totally in the dark about who we are, they aren’t likely to go well. If you were born into a situation with two people who didn’t know how to love each other well, and also didn’t do a bang-up job loving you well…welcome to the human race. I believe you’re in the majority.

On top of your own personal history, there’s the vulnerability inherent in this gig called being human. And not everyone deals with the uncertainty of this thing very well. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes explosions go off in the middle of our lives because we set them off, and other times, this happens because we lose someone unexpectedly, or we lose a job, or some other totally unforeseen thing happens. What defines us is how we deal with what we’re given. Sometimes people flail about or point fingers or develop constructs that support the idea that it isn’t their fault, whatever “it” may be. Sometimes people numb out, deny reality, or run like hell. Sometimes people are so self-destructive, you just can’t watch anymore.

The thing is, you can’t do the journey for anyone else. You can’t do it for your children or your parents or your siblings or your best friend. We all have to man up and woman up and and get serious about healing. You can’t be of any real good to anyone else if you’re miserable. You can’t blame your parents if you’re 40 and unhappy. I mean, you can, but it won’t get you anywhere you want to be.

What can you do if someone you love is hurting? You can offer your support and encouragement of course. You can learn to say less and listen more, and just be there with your love. You can reflect back to them the incredible beauty you see. You can try to find them resources so they can start to take ownership of their pain and their happiness. But you can’t fix it for them. It’s torturous to watch someone we love as they flail or doubt or fear or cling. When people have a hole they’re trying to fill, whether they try to fill it with fame or adoration or things or food or sex or they try to numb it out so the ache is less intense, there’s nothing much you can do except to tell them again and again, the only thing that fills that hole is love. And it isn’t love from other people, although that’s wonderful, it’s love from within. Sending you some right now, 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

Slow Your Roll

You-can-close-your-eyesSometimes we really get blindsided by someone, and nowhere is this more likely to occur than in the romantic realm. It’s so easy to get swept away in hormones and lust and romantic fantasies, and decide two, three, six weeks in that “This is it!”. It can happen with new friendships, too, of course, it’s just that our vision is less likely to be clouded by intense desire.

The thing is, most people can do the beginning of a relationship really well. I mean, hello? The first six weeks are fun and easy! The first three months can be pretty amazing. You really don’t know what you’re dealing with until the heat wears off a little bit and you can see straight again. Also, can we all acknowledge that it takes a long time to get to know someone well?

I mention all this, because so many people dive in full throttle, only to have their hearts smashed against a brick wall before they have time to call off the wedding in their minds. If you’re a romantic person and you’re of a certain age and you know you want a life partner and maybe a family, if that’s what you’re looking for, then that’s what you’re going to hope to find. And just as scientists might occasionally and inadvertently skew their experiments to get confirmation on their hypotheses, so do romantics see things that might not be there.

When you’ve been lonely for a long time, or if you’re suddenly back on the dating scene after years of longing for love, it’s hard to take things slowly. We want. We desire. We need. Most people long for connection and understanding. Most people want to be seen and cherished with all their beauty and all their flaws and all their absurdities and quirks. So if someone shows up who looks right and sounds right and says the right things, we might just be ready to start writing long-term scripts in our heads. But it’s always good to remember that attachment leads to suffering, so you want to take your time before you form an attachment to a person you barely know, or to a picture in your head of “how things should be”.

The thing is, you really don’t want to be reckless with your heart, your body, your time or your energy. Because all of these are gifts. Your particular spark is a gift. And these are not gifts you want to squander. You probably wouldn’t hand a stranger the keys to your house or your car, so why would you allow a stranger into your bed? I mean, maybe you wouldn’t, but I get plenty of emails from people who do. And listen. I am not judging. It’s your body and you can do whatever you like. I’m talking about emails from people who are longing for true partnership. If that’s what you want, I’d really take your time. Allow a person to show you who s/he is before you give them a tour of your whole farm, is all I’m saying. Make sure it’s a person who’s worthy of your hayride. Sloooow down your roll.

Because being heartbroken is no fun. Feeling rejected hurts, and might even tap old wounds, deep fears and doubts, and raw places that could use your kind attention. That can be good if you’re in need of healing. But if you put yourself through that too often, your heart will harden to protect itself, and you’ll become jaded. Cynical people are romantics who allowed themselves to be hurt too much. And the world needs people who are soft and open, not cold and hard. Be gentle with yourself. You’re the only you we get. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

That’s How the Light Gets In

leonardcohenI remember the morning my mom told me my dad didn’t live with us anymore. I was almost four, and we were sitting at the dining room table at breakfast, and she told me he was going to be living somewhere else, and that eventually I would visit him there. I went into their bedroom, and looked through all his drawers and closets. His denim shirts were gone, his sun lamp was gone, and so were the styrofoam heads that held his different wigs; he was an actor. When I saw he’d left his robe, I thought he’d have to come back, but I was wrong.


It had been a confusing time already. My beloved grandma had died the week before, and I’d been too young to visit in her hospital room that last day, which was probably good. I remember my grandma laughing, and hugging me, full of life. But suddenly it seemed people were disappearing, and not peripheral players, either. We’d seen my grandma almost every day of my life. She and my mom were really close. She and I were really close. It amazes me to think about the impact she’s had on my life, and to realize I didn’t even get four full years with her. Now my dad had gone to some unknown place, and I had no real sense of time. I don’t know how my mom got through that conversation with me without crying.

For years, I lived in fear of being left. I didn’t realize I was doing this, of course, but it’s obvious in the rear-view mirror. I tried to be a good girl. I thought if I got straight-A’s and looked right and behaved well, then maybe I’d be safe, and that followed me into my adulthood. I entered into relationships with people not thinking about what I wanted or needed, or even if I was having fun, but solely focused on how I could be perfect for them; how I could make myself indispensable. Un-leave-able.

I’m sharing this with you not because it’s a heartbreaking tale. I hear worse stories every day. Lots of people get divorced (not that it makes it easy on the children involved), lots of people lose their grandparents. The proximity in my case was unfortunate because it was like a bomb went off, or an earthquake shook the foundation of what I’d known, but my parents had been keeping up appearances because my grandma was sick that last year, and they didn’t want her to worry. I know someone who watched his father die at eight years old while they were playing. I know someone who’s dad left when she was seven and never looked back. I can’t even wrap my head around how you could leave your kid and never look back. And then there are stories of abuse and neglect and all kinds of things that would leave you on your knees. My point in sharing is that our pain does not just magically disappear. If we don’t examine it when we become conscious adults, it swims beneath the surface of everything we do, wreaking havoc on our lives, and life doesn’t have to be that way. We all want to heal. We all want to be happy. We wrote it into our Declaration of Independence, so there’s not much doubt that we value happiness. It’s just that the large majority of us will seek to heal in all the ways that make things worse.

Because we long to heal, we call into our lives those dynamics that reflect our deepest wounds. Most of the time, we don’t even know we’re doing that. If you’re afraid of being left, you probably have an excellent, uncanny, perverse knack for picking people who struggle to commit. This is no coincidence, because, presto! Now you have your chance to heal, right? All you have to do is get your partner to want to be with you, and that will be the balm for your original wound. Except it won’t, because if you pick people who struggle to commit, you set yourself up to be left again, thus confirming your deepest fear that you are the kind of person it’s easy to leave. Or worse, that you just aren’t worthy of love. You’re leave-able, not lovable.

There’s the hard, long road, and there’s the hard, short road. I’m not going to lie about that, those are the choices. I mean, those are the choices unless you happen to be one of the three people in the world who had idyllic childhoods, and even if you are, someone else has probably come along and broken your heart by now. Chances are, you probably have some issues, some stuff to work through like any other human, and it’s not a level playing field as I mentioned above, so what you’ll need to heal, and how long it will take and what tools you’ll use are all personal. Avoiding that work is a surefire way to prolong your pain and allow unconscious drives to rule your life. The longer you wait, the longer you suffer. There’s no reason your past has to screw up your present. You are not stuck in a time-warp.

It took me a long time and a lot of work to get right with myself, and it’s still a daily practice, but at this point, I’m in the maintenance part. Of course things come up that might tap an old wound, but the wounds have scar tissue, they aren’t raw and bleeding, and they aren’t unknown to me. They’re almost like old, familiar friends. Ah, fear of abandonment. I feel you. I see you. I tip my hat to you. But you don’t own me anymore.

If you’re an adult, and you’ve had enough time as an adult to recognize patterns in your life that aren’t serving you, I’d get on that. Tools that have worked for me are a daily yoga practice (and I mean all eight limbs), seated meditation, and therapy. If you want to try some yoga with me right now, you can go here.

I’ve also read some tremendously helpful books, and I’ve done quite a lot of journaling. There are so many tools available. It’s my personal belief that it isn’t a luxury to pursue healing modalities until you find a mix that works for you; I believe it’s your responsibility. You have this life. You have a body. You have time and energy. These things are all gifts. Then, there are your own, particular gifts that are born of your own experiences and perspective and ways of looking at the world. There’s only one of you. So if you don’t figure out how to set yourself free, you rob the world of gifts only you can bring to it. That would be a tremendous shame.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton