Your Intuition Doesn’t Need a List

quieterubecomemoreucanhearToward the end of the relationship with the guy who still has the antique mirror that reminds me of my Nanny, and the piece of jewelry that belonged to my mother’s great Aunt, I went to my best friend’s summer house on Cape Cod. It was January, and at that time of year, it’s a locals-only scene. There were virtually no stores open. I didn’t take my phone, but I did take my dog. I stopped on the way there and bought groceries for the week. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going except, of course, my friend whose house it was, and my mom. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I’d had the same conversation with everyone I trusted. I was talked out. I knew I had to leave this man, but I was struggling to accept what I knew. Which, I believe, we do a lot with those painful truths. When we start to feel them and acknowledge them, it’s as if they begin to take up residence in our lungs. Little by little, it becomes harder to breathe. Why can’t I breathe? I”m being smothered by my own truth, which I’ve been trying to deny. To avoid. So there I found myself, or more accurately, there I took myself and my dog and my groceries and a starter log because I had no idea how to build a fire, but I knew I’d want one. I took my books and my journal and my jeans and some warm sweaters. My down jacket and my gloves and my scarf and my crowded lungs and my broken heart, and my amazing gift of a dog. I didn’t know exactly why I was going, I just felt pulled to do it. And for a little over a week, I stayed in this big house by myself, feeling vulnerable because it was the setting for every horror movie you’ve ever seen. Young woman in a big house by herself in a deserted place with no phone service? But also feeling like I was exactly where I needed to be. And I walked on the freezing beach and ran into exactly no one. And I wrote in my journal and curled up by the fireplace to read my books. I talked to my dog who was the world’s best listener. About the situation I was in, and the choices I’d made to land myself in it. And I did not look away from my part in the whole thing. And by the end of the week I had reconciled what I knew to be true with what I knew I needed to do. And just like that, I could breathe again.

If you want to get in touch with your own truth, you’re going to have to quiet your mind. Which is LOUD unless you’ve worked on it. The mind is so full of shoulds and can’ts and there’s no way I could do thats. Of reasons and judgments and lists of why not. But your intuition has no list. It doesn’t need a list. Your heart wants to sing. Your intuition is the score. Without it, you are lost. Alone. Disconnected. The notes don’t carry, it’s like singing into the wind. You don’t have to leave your life to get quiet, although sometimes it’s very helpful. The first time I did a 10-day Vipassana (meditation) sit, I thought they’d have to pick me up in a rubber van. I thought I’d end up in slippers taking blue pills every four hours, with my friends saying, “I don’t know what happened. She used to teach yoga, and then she went on this silent retreat…” But by day four I was amazed. And by the end of the retreat I didn’t want to speak and I didn’t want to leave. We talk too much about absolutely nothing. I blathered on this morning about traveling on planes with kids in tow, and a couple of minutes in I thought, “Who cares? Is it really news that traveling with small children isn’t easy?” And I stopped talking. People talk about their weight and their cars and their breakouts and their plans to renovate their houses or their faces or whatever. But really, listening is the thing. And if you can’t listen to yourself, to that deepest truest voice within you, how will you ever step into your own light? It doesn’t matter how you quiet your mind. For me, that’s the heart of my yoga and meditation practice. But for you, it might be wind-surfing, or hiking or salsa dancing. The thing is to figure out what you need if you haven’t yet. Because that’s how you get connected to your (true)self. And that’s how you sing from your heart. So much love, Ally

Love and a Pair of Sandals

Love-one-another-butIf you follow this blog, you may remember the much older man I dated during college. When that all fell apart, it was awful, and it took me over a year to get back on my feet, closer to two, really. It would have been great if I’d taken some time to heal, but instead I ran head-long into another disaster. Rebounds rarely go well, but I hadn’t figured that out yet.

After finally ending the previous relationship with a man who’d been emotionally distant and unkind, inattentive and unfaithful, and ultimately, very cruel to me, I suppose a guy who was jealous and possessive, constantly in my face and in my space, seemed like a good call. I won’t recount the million examples I could, but it was so crazy that one night after we’d had dinner out, he grilled me all the way back to his house about the way I’d looked at the waiter, screaming at me as we walked north on Broadway. Apparently I had lust in my eyes when I ordered my soup.

This kind of outburst was so common, I started “watching myself.” I was a little less friendly and open (he told me I was naive when it came to men, and that my friendliness was being misinterpreted as flirtation), and I checked in with him by phone all day when we weren’t together. If I called ten minutes later than he expected, he was positive I was sleeping with every member of the New York Knicks. Nuts? For sure, but I certainly didn’t feel ignored. Anyway, this insanity continued, and I became less and less of myself, until one fateful weekend when we went to Lake George with my best friend and her then-boyfriend.

When they pulled up to his apartment to pick us up, they heard him screaming from their car from inside the building, which is saying something considering we were in New York City. I can’t tell you why he was screaming, but I’m sure it involved some other imagined transgression. By the time we got to the lake-house I was so tired, I wanted nothing more than to collapse in bed. Instead, as I unpacked, he noticed a pair of sandals he’d never seen before. “Where’d you get those sandals?” he asked. I told him I’d had them for awhile and couldn’t remember. He proceeded to ask me twenty-five questions about those sandals, with the wild look in his eyes I’d come to know so well, and I guess I’d just had it. “You know what? You’re right!! You figured it out. Some man came up to me on the street the other day, and told me he had to have me, but first, he was going to buy me a pair of sandals. Then I went home with him and we had wild sex all afternoon, and I kept the sandals on the whole time!!!” He stormed out. My friend came in to see if I was okay. “Wow,” she said, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this guy with the sandals.” And I started laughing and crying at the same time. By the time the weekend was over, so was the relationship.

This is an extreme example, of course, but in many relationships, people do some lesser degree of this dance. Frequently, the very traits that drew a person in become the same qualities they can no longer stand–gregariousness or shyness, confidence or insecurity, warmth and affection or aloofness. What was appealing or endearing when the hormones were raging, has become a source of annoyance or frustration or despair. This is different than the natural compromises that are part of the process of two complex people choosing to come together and create a relationship in the space between themselves. There’s a difference between give-and-take, and trying to change a person, or possess them. Love is not controlling or jealous. It doesn’t manipulate or force. Love is a celebration, and when it’s happening well, it’s the most liberating foundation there is. You love well with open eyes and hands, and with an open heart. It’s an acceptance and an honoring and a cherishing. It’s an expression of your deepest yes, and an extension of that yes to your partner. It’s wanting their yes to blossom also. And you simply cannot do that for someone else until you know how to do it for yourself. Two rooted flowers leaning in together and rising up toward the sun is a gorgeous thing to behold. Two weeds strangling each other, not so much. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Soul-Purging Truth

soulpurgingtruthLast time I was in New York, I had lunch with a couple of girlfriends I’ve known for years. They spend a lot of time together. I only see them when I’m in town, but we talk on the phone, over email, and on Facebook. One of them, I’ll call her Sue, had recently started seeing a guy she met on a dating site. It seemed like they had a lot in common, and we were happy for her. The last guy she dated stole money from her for months, and took off one day without a word. She (admittedly) has a history of dating men who end up hurting her one way or another, so we were hopeful this was going to be different. After we’d been catching up for awhile, she confessed that there was this “one thing” that was troubling her. “Oh boy, here we go”, said our other friend, whom I’ll call Bertie. I pinched Bertie’s arm because she needs behavioral therapy sometimes. “No, it’s no big deal,” said Sue, “he’s just really close to his mom.” When we asked what she meant by “really close”, she explained that his mom called him every night at 10pm. At which point he’d go in his room and close the door and not come out for at least an hour, usually two. Sue was not supposed to interrupt or come into the room, or make any loud noises. Bertie’s mouth fell open and she hit my arm and threw her hands in the air before putting her head in her hands. Sue’s eyes got wide. “Hmmm,” I said, “that’s kind of unfortunate timing. What’s with all the privacy/secrecy? Does he not want his mom to know he’s dating someone for some reason? And you’re just supposed to wait until he comes back out of the bedroom? Maybe this has just been their pattern all the years he’s been single, talking at night. Have you talked to him about it?” I was trying to get a fuller picture. But before Sue could answer, Bertie said, “I KNEW something was off about this guy!! That’s disgusting, okay, Sue?! He should talk to his mother during the day, not at night when the two of you should have some intimate time together. That’s just not normal. Something’s really off about this. And how many times do you have to get this lesson?? You have horrendous judgment when it comes to men!!!” Sue started crying. Bertie got angrier, said she was not, “up for another round of this”, and left in a huff.

Bertie loves Sue like a sister. I totally understood that’s what was motivating her outburst. Total frustration that someone she loves was probably heading for another brick wall (Sue is no longer dating the guy; she got out quickly and is relatively unscathed, and she and Bertie have made up). We’ve all been there. A person we care about deeply seems likely to get hurt, and we are powerless to stop it. It happens with family members, too. A couple of years after I graduated from college, a friend of the family said to me, “What are you doing with your life? You’ve graduated from Columbia University. When are you going to get it together?” And even though I knew she loved me, it stung, and it sunk me a little further into that darkness. When a person is struggling, cutting them down is not going to help.

It’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but we never know what another person’s journey is supposed to look like. Each of us has our lessons to learn, and sometimes we need the lesson over and over again to really get it. To be done with a certain way of being, or thinking, or treating ourselves. It’s hard to love someone who’s struggling without stepping in and trying to manage their path. Pick them up and say, “Go THAT way, COME ON!!! It’s so obvious!!!” But it’s inside work. You can ask for help if you’re in pain, and get yourself some support. But ultimately, we each have to do our own work to heal. If you love someone who’s struggling, patience is the lesson. Compassion. Understanding. We all struggle, we all have pain. If you love someone who’s bent on self-destruction, that’s a heartbreak. Sometimes it means you have to love the person from afar. But you can’t control anyone else’s journey, any more than you can control your own. You can work on the way you respond to the people in your life, and the circumstances that present themselves. You won’t always show up the way you want to, you won’t always make the healthy choice. And neither will anyone else. You may knowingly head for a brick wall, because maybe you need one last ride to be done with that chapter. If you have something to communicate to someone in pain, do your very best to be kind and clear. It’s not easy, this business of being human. Honest communication is always good, but screaming your viewpoint in frustration, not so much. Words are very powerful, and they can go right to the center of a person’s heart. And a person’s heart is precious. Just like yours. Sending you love, Ally

Don’t Drive the Scorpion Ferry

notastatementaboutuThere’s an old tale I love about the Scorpion and the Frog. If you don’t know it, it goes something like this (although I’m taking some liberties): Once there was a scorpion on the bank of a stream. He called out to a frog, “Excuse me! Could you give me a ride across? I can’t swim!” And the frog said, “Dude, you’re a scorpion. I’m not giving you a ride. If you sting me, I’ll die.” And the scorpion said, “If I sting you, you’ll drown, and I’ll die, too.” This made sense to the frog, so he said, “All right, climb on.” Halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog. With his dying breath, the frog says, “Why have you done this to us?”, and the scorpion says, “Dude, I’m a f&cking scorpion!”

The way people treat you is a statement about where they are on their journey as an evolving human being. It’s also subject to change; a scorpion may not always be a scorpion. The main thing to grasp is that it’s not a reflection of anything lacking in you. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll remember the much-older man I dated when I was seventeen. He was seeing other women for the three years we were together, and although I could never prove it, I always felt it. (I confirmed my fears once). And at the time, I took it as a sign that I wasn’t enough. Not pretty enough or “something” enough to keep him interested solely in me. And I spent so much time over the course of those three years feeling awful about myself. I was hooked on this interaction, and convinced if I could just be enough for him, then I’d be happy. I didn’t realize that his inability to be faithful had nothing to do with me, or that a person who’s lying and sneaking around is ultimately having a painful relationship with him or herself. When you respect yourself and are making choices that are aligned with what’s true for you in a conscious and kind way, you’re not going to lie. And I think if you’re like most people, the tendency is to take those times we’ve been hurt, disappointed, neglected, betrayed, or even abused, personally. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. A person can only be where they are, working with whatever tools they’ve got. What IS about you, is what you do about it if someone isn’t treating you well. Sometimes we get caught up in relationships with lovers, family members, friends, or colleagues. Maybe things start out well, but over time the quality of the interaction deteriorates. Or circumstances change and you observe responses you wouldn’t have predicted. If you have a pattern of participating in relationships with people who treat you badly, then it is time to take a long, hard look at why. It’s about something. Identifying that something is the key to your freedom. Your deepest pain is your greatest teacher.

There are lots of frogs in the world, but there’s no other frog just like you. If you’ve been swimming in shark-infested waters too long, hiding in shadows and making yourself as small as possible out of fear, or some idea that you’re not lovable, or enough, or worthwhile, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to turn around and swim directly for the mouth of that shark. Otherwise you’ll never rest. You’ll keep running the Scorpion Ferry, becoming harder and less hopeful with each ride. Being a hopeless frog sucks. I know, because I was one. Letting yourself get swallowed whole by the shark of your fear is not a fun ride, but it won’t kill you, either. If you’re still hanging with my Moby Dick-Aesop’s Fables-Life of Pi metaphor, then you probably already understand the Willa Cather quote, “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” The Dark Night of the Soul is a storm. But it’s also an invitation to know yourself, truly and deeply. To heal and liberate yourself from your pain, so that the next time a scorpion calls to you from the bank of a stream, you’ll be like, “What up, Scorpion? You need to get your ride from a shark, my friend!” Sending you love, and the strength to swim toward your pain if you need to! You are enough. Amazingly enough. Ally