See the Pain Beneath the Words

stephencoveyHave you ever gone to see a film with a friend, and come out to discover you have two completely different viewpoints about what you’ve just seen? Obviously, it’s not that you’ve seen two different movies, it’s that you and your friend are bringing two different perspectives to a shared experience. I think that’s clear when we’re in that context, but we seem to forget it’s the same with life.

We’re always bringing so much to the table. We have our life experiences, our histories, our opinions and feelings and things we’ve been taught, in addition to our current mood and circumstances. This is really helpful to remember when we find ourselves totally thrown by someone else’s behavior or different take on a situation. It’s also good to remember when we move through conflict with those we love.

So much of the time, we get caught up in the story, or our need to be right. If we’re not seeing eye to eye with a loved one, we might expend a lot of energy trying to convince them to see things our way. We might dig our heels in, or shake our head, or throw our hands in the air in our attempts to “win” a fight, but when we separate ourselves form those we love because being right is more important than being close, no one wins.

If, for example, your partner feels jealous, and you know in your heart there’s no need for that fear, you might become impatient or angry or indignant. Maybe you go for reassurance once or twice, but then you feel frustrated that you have to spend time and energy putting them at ease when you aren’t doing anything wrong. You could take that tack, but you could also stop and breathe and consider your partner’s life experiences. Maybe they’ve been betrayed in the past, more than once. Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m not talking about pathological jealousy, or controlling or violating behavior. I’m not suggesting it’s ever okay if the person you’re with is checking your email or your text messages, or showing up unannounced. That kind of behavior chokes the life, trust and health out of any relationship.

What I’m talking about is clear communication and compassion. When we love people, we love the whole person, with all their beauty and all their flaws and occasional absurdities, just as we hope they’ll also love us. We don’t reject the challenging parts. We don’t walk away when a person we love is in pain. One of the most loving things you can do for anyone is to try to understand their perspective, because underneath words and stories, there are always feelings. Sometimes in the middle of a charged exchange, it’s incredibly revealing to stop listening to the words, and just look at your loved one’s face. Maybe you’re going to see fear or anger, because when we love, we make ourselves vulnerable, and when we feel threatened, it’s human for us to want to protect what we love. Generally, if you can see the pain or fear beneath the words, it makes it so much easier to be kind and understanding. That’s what we all want, right? To be seen and understood, to feel that if we’ve given someone our heart, we can trust that they’ll take care of it, and that they won’t shame us or reject us for our insecurities. We all have some, after all.

The other thing that’s such a relief, and often comes with time and distance, is just the realization that so little is personal. People can only be where they are, and they can only use the tools they’ve got. We’ve all had our experiences and our life lessons, and most of us have learned at least a few things along the way that we’re going to have to unlearn. Like, maybe you learned that “everyone cheats”, or “everyone leaves”, because that’s what you saw growing up, and that’s what you’ve unconsciously sought out as an adult, in an effort to rewrite your story. Maybe it just hasn’t occurred to you yet, it isn’t that everyone cheats, it’s that all the people you’ve picked, cheat. Ugh. Not a very fun realization, but key for your healing and happiness. Anyway, my point is, if you love someone, and I don’t just mean romantically, part of your job is to help them unlearn anything that’s blocking their happiness. I mean, you don’t have to take that on, that’s advanced love, but the option is there for you to be that person.

If you can really make those closest to you feel safe to be fully themselves, and to know that you won’t walk away, you set the stage to be received in the same way. Not everyone is going to accept that invitation, but you don’t need everyone, just a handful of people is a blessing. You can always have at least one person who accepts you entirely, because you always have the power to do that for yourself, and it’s a relief, really. We all have our struggles, fears and pain. That doesn’t make us less lovable.

Sending you a huge hug, and a lot of 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.

You Betray Yourself Before You Betray Anyone Else

aesopYou are not your thoughts, and you are not your feelings. You are you; your thoughts and feelings come and go. Some of them are wonderful and inspiring, and hopefully you act on those. Some of them are untrue and unkind, and those are the ones best left to arise, peak, and subside. Witnessing your experience is always a powerful way to be in tune with how things are for you from moment to moment. Not every feeling deserves your energy. You don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes, nor must you act on every feeling you have.

Years ago, one of my closest girlfriends was dating a man who cheated on her while he was at an ashram, and said he was “honoring the truth of what he felt.” He said it was a deeply spiritual experience, and that he was a “mysterious and enigmatic being.” There’s nothing spiritual or particularly mysterious about that. Honoring the truth of your experience in that scenario means observing your attraction toward someone other than the person with whom you’re in a committed relationship, without acting on it. It’s either a normal, passing attraction borne of the fact that you’re a human being, a mammal, a person with desires and fantasies, or it’s an indication that you need to regroup with your partner. Regrouping might mean taking a compassionate but honest look at the state of your relationship. Maybe you’ve been taking it for granted, and both you and your partner need to direct your energy toward the space between you. If you don’t feed and water it, it’s going to starve and die, after all. Maybe it’s already dead, and there’s no hope for resuscitation, and it’s time to have that conversation. Maybe this other person really is someone with whom you’re going to have a long, meaningful, lasting relationship, but starting out with deceit and a lack of integrity doesn’t bode well for anyone.

Uncomfortable conversations are hard, but most people, given the choice, would opt for painful conversation over betrayal. Betrayal is awful, because it can only happen at the hands of those we trust, and nothing shakes your faith in your own judgement more, than the sting of having made yourself vulnerable only to realize that your heart was not so important to the person with whom you entrusted it, after all.

Having said all of that, none of us will act from our highest selves in every moment. Sometimes we screw up in a huge way, and learn a painful lesson. There are all kinds of betrayals, after all. The truth is, the only way to break someone else’s trust, is to break your faith in yourself, first. We all want to feel in our hearts that we’re good people. Not perfect, but that we’re doing our best to be kind, that we know how to be a good friend, that we understand right from wrong. When we behave in a way that goes against what we know to be right or okay, we’re letting ourselves down. We’re showing a lack of self-respect. It’s really hard to feel good about yourself when you know your actions would cause pain to someone else if they knew what you were doing. That includes unkind things you might say behind the back of someone you purport to love, or an inability to be happy for the success of someone you care about. When we’re in a petty, judgmental place, that’s always an outward expression of inner pain. Something within us feels unworthy, not good enough, less than, and instead of leaning into that and having compassion for ourselves, we point it outward, and put it on someone else, but that feels even worse. Nothing makes us want to shower more than the stink and weight of gossip and mean-spiritedness.

If you’re in a stinking ditch of your own creation, it’s really time to climb, claw, and drag yourself out. If you can’t feel good about yourself, everything else is going to erode. That’s your foundation. If you’ve made huge mistakes, own them. Apologize. I’m not talking about unburdening yourself of guilt, here, so you can feel better and someone else has to suffer. Sometimes things are better left unsaid. It really depends on the situation, but if you’ve done something for which you feel terrible, and an apology is in order, have at it. If it’s something you have to grapple with on your own, get some support. Figure out what went wrong. Maybe you acted out of desperation. Maybe you’ve been putting your own needs on the back burner for so long, you justified one reckless act. Maybe you’ll receive forgiveness, maybe you won’t, but eventually, when you’ve learned everything you can about why you didn’t show up the way you wanted to, or the way you’d like to moving forward, you really have to forgive yourself. We all make mistakes, it’s part of the gig of being human. If you were selfish, thoughtless, reckless with someone else’s heart, try to make amends, and do better moving forward. One of the things that gives us compassion and a forgiving nature with others, is our own ability to forgive ourselves for those times we made poor choices.

It’s not realistic or desirable to control every thought and feeling you have; in fact, anything you reject will push back four times harder. You don’t have to be horrified by your thoughts, you just want to observe them, and choose the ones that strengthen and nurture you, and take into account the feelings of those you love. Sometimes we behave poorly because we’ve refused to accept what’s true for us, and that’s like sitting on an active volcano. You can’t deny who you are, or the song in your heart. If the people around you have asked you to do that, they’re asking too much. You have to be you. The more you’re able to do that, the less likely it is you’ll act in ways you’ll regret, because your whole life will be directed by knowing who you are and what you need to be at peace. We really only get in trouble when we aren’t clear about that.

Sending you love, and a huge hug,

Ally Hamilton

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Trust Your Gut

hesseMany years ago, I met a guy in the practice room of the Ashtanga class I attended. My boyfriend at the time was also in the class, and this guy showed up one morning and joined the crew. After awhile, we all became friendly, and would sometimes have tea after practice. He was new to L.A., and didn’t know many people out here. He was trying to get his massage business off the ground. We would go on hikes, or try new restaurants together, or have him over for dinner. He’d come take my class, or my boyfriend’s, who was also a yoga teacher. Sometimes the two of them would go out for a beer. Anyway, after a few months this way, we considered him a friend.

One day, he asked if he could give us free massages. He was hoping we’d feel comfortable recommending him to students, private clients, and other yoga teachers, so of course we said yes. It’s a win-win, right? So I went over to his place where he had his table set up in his second bedroom. Dim lights, a fountain going, mellow music, everything you’d expect. I got on the table face-down while he was outside, talking to my then-boyfriend on the phone, giving him the code so he could let himself in when he arrived. He was planning on having his massage after mine. In came our friend, and started giving me this massage. I went in feeling totally relaxed, but after a few minutes, I started to feel really uncomfortable.

The way he was touching me did not feel professional or friendly, and I began to have this argument in my head. Was he touching me inappropriately? Was I wrong? Misreading? I mean, he wasn’t doing anything blatantly wrong. It’s not like his fingers were traveling to places they shouldn’t be; that would have been a no-brainer. It was the energy and the vibe. So I second-guessed myself. I thought, he can’t be touching me in a sexual way. There’s no way he’d do that. He’s our friend. He knows we’d never recommend him to anyone. I must be misinterpreting. Instead of relaxing, I was tensing up, and he was saying my name, and telling me to breathe, and to let go.

I tried to relax, but after a few more minutes, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Everything in my body was screaming that things were not right, and I grabbed the sheet and sat up abruptly, and he was clearly, visibly aroused. I told him to get out so I could get dressed. I told him the massage was over, and he said he was sorry, that he’d had feelings for me. To say I felt sick to my stomach is an understatement. I felt violated and angry and betrayed by a friend. I told him again to get out, which he did. I got dressed and told him I was leaving. He followed me outside, all the way to my car telling me he was sorry, that he shouldn’t have offered the massages, that then, this never would have happened.

Anyway, that was the end of the friendship. He stopped coming to class, and after awhile we heard he’d moved away, but the thing that stayed with me was the ten minutes I stayed on that table, fighting my intuition with my mind. I knew what I was feeling, I wasn’t wrong about it, but I didn’t want it to be true and I didn’t trust my gut. It’s not that it was such a horrendous experience; I’ve certainly been through worse, but it was a huge reminder to me that it’s always dangerous to fight what you know to be true. I really think we do this all over the place.

Maybe it happens in a work situation. We’re unhappy or unfulfilled, or maybe we’re even being mistreated, but we start to talk ourselves out of leaving because we need the money, or we need health insurance, or we have nothing else on the horizon. It can happen in romantic relationships. We know in our heart it isn’t right or it isn’t growing or we aren’t communicating in a healthy way, but we talk ourselves out of rocking the boat, because maybe we’ve invested a lot of time, or we’re thirty and think we should get married, or we want to have a baby, or we have children and can’t even fathom what life would look like if we spoke up. There are a lot of reasons we might try to fight the truth of our experience, and some of them are laudable. When other people are in the mix, like your children, for example, it’s understandable that you might think very carefully about what you’re doing and saying, and I think you want to do that in that case. That doesn’t mean you push down what’s true for you, though, it means you do everything in your power to communicate with clarity and compassion. Maybe you start with, “I’m in pain, and I need to talk to you about this.” You’ll never change anything or save anything by repressing or denying what you know to be real for you; that isn’t sustainable.

You might be terrified, and there’s no doubt it takes guts. Sometimes it takes planning, too. Maybe you need to embark on a serious job search before you give notice at your current job, because you need to be able to keep a roof over your head. Maybe you’ve let a personal situation erode to a point where you feel hopeless, but nothing is hopeless if two people are willing to work. One person can’t do it, but two have a shot. Honesty is everything, and by that, I don’t mean you have to share every single thing that’s ever crossed your mind, or every poor choice you’ve ever made. Some things are better left unsaid. What I’m talking about is clear communication about where you are and what you want and how you feel. Sometimes we allow fear to stop us from sharing those dark and unchartered places, but if you want to be known and loved for who you are, you cannot expect that to happen if you’re hiding or numbing out or running away. You have to trust your gut. You have to be willing to show yourself, and work with reality as it is. Then you see what you can do from there. Then, at least, you have a foundation to build upon. Without that, you’re lost.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

See and Be Seen

brenebFor most people there’s a struggle between wanting to be known, and being afraid of that very thing. We all want connection, it’s natural to us, but how far we go is up to us. How much we share or edit or hide or are willing to expose our most painful places, our most absurd doubts, our perceived, or very real weaknesses. The places where we might still suffer from shame or doubt. If I share this, will I still be loved? Wanted? Understood? Do I really want to be seen in all my allness?

I’m not just speaking romantically. I’m speaking about one person knowing you all the way, whether it’s your mother, or your best friend or your partner or your sibling or your ex. Is there anyone in your life with whom you feel totally and completely safe to bare your fear and be yourself? Your real self?

A lot of people say they want intimacy, but when push comes to shove, they back out. They get nervous or they run, or use humor as a defense mechanism, because, of course, if you really let someone in, you also give them the roadmap to hurt you if they ever choose to go that route. There are few things worse between people than that kind of betrayal of trust. If you were once close to someone, and they shared their real stuff with you, in my book that is off limits forever, no matter what. You do not go for someone’s jugular. We all know where that line is. Once you speak words that land like knives, you’ve crossed a line you can’t uncross.

I understand the fear, because most of us have been heartbroken, disappointed, discarded, or surprised by the hostility or indifference of someone at one time or another. You don’t have to be hurt too many times to start to build walls around your heart. How else to keep it safe? The thing is, walls keep out the joy, too. So now you’re safe but alone. No one knows you and no one sees you, not really. And that’s not the same as living.

Sometimes people have a perception that everyone else is having this great life with these amazing friends and great job and annoyingly perfect dog to top it all off, while they are just basically sucking at everything. The truth is, most of us are blessed if we have a small group of people who truly, deeply know us and love us, and I’ll tell you, that little group is enough. I wouldn’t forsake it for all the safety in the world, because the sh&t will hit the fan whether you try to make yourself safe, or you venture boldly into the world. Be particular and take your time, but when you meet those people with whom you feel safe to be yourself completely, do it. That’s the best stuff in life, being able to look into the eyes of someone you know without having to look away because there’s not enough truth between you to hold the gaze.

See and be seen, love and be loved,

Ally Hamilton

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Sing!

birdsingsongChoice involves loss, and for many people, paralysis at a crossroads is a desire to choose without losing. It’s not always easy to let go of ideas or feelings or questions or desires, and boldly pick a path. For most people there’s some fear, and a need to grapple with all the pros and cons of moving one way or another.

Commitment to anything—another person, a job, your life’s purpose, a move to a new city, a lease on a house, or a car, or a new way of being, also involves the decision to release other options, at least for a time. If you decide to commit to a romantic partner, you’re also deciding to forego explorations with anyone else. If you live in one place, you’re giving up the culture, geographical benefits, aesthetics, flavors, smells, rhythms, and personality of any other.

If you decide you have to start living your life in a different way, and you commit to that journey, you’re also saying goodbye to your old way of being, your coping mechanisms, your comfort zone, your dynamics with all the people who’ve known you forever. Choosing and changing aren’t easy because we can’t predict the future, and sometimes fear becomes overwhelming. What if we pick the wrong path? What if we commit our time and energy to something or someone, and learn down the line that it just doesn’t feel right? How will we recover, or shift gears, or handle the guilt of disappointing the people in our lives, or ourselves?

The thing is, you go with your gut, with all the information you have at hand, and with a willingness to give a thing everything you’ve got. If it turns out it’s not the right path, then you’ve learned a tremendous amount, and you change course again. It’s never too late until your final exhale, and most people don’t have it all figured out when they graduate from college. We start asking our kids at two, three, four years old what they want to be when they grow up, and we ingrain in them this pressure to know, but we’re always in process and the story is always unfolding, and if you can’t roll with it at least a little bit, you’re going to suffer.

You’ll never know if something is right unless you give it a go, and as human beings we are fallible and vulnerable and we each grapple with our own pain. Life isn’t linear, it’s everything all at once, and so are we. We’re confident and scared and happy and lonely and full of love and judgement and beauty and shame and joy and sometimes deep insecurity or self-loathing. At the very center, I really believe there’s love, and I don’t think we have much time to waste longing for a crystal ball. I think you’re better off choosing boldly, and trying with all your heart than you are agonizing and having the same conversation nine million times. Pick Paris, and if it doesn’t work out, give Positano a go. Pick Jack, and if that doesn’t work give Sally a go. Just pick something, and go for it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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Home

HOMEWe tend to think of “home” as the house or apartment where we grew up. And “family” as the people with whom we share a bloodline; those people who were in that house or apartment before we got there. Those people who were supposed to love us and protect us and nurture us. When it works out that way, it’s ideal and such a gift. But it doesn’t work out that way for so many people.

There are tons of variables. Trauma and abuse can be passed down from one generation to the next. If a person grew up in an unsafe environment, that’s what they know, and that feels like home. The pull to recreate that can be strong, especially when there hasn’t been an opportunity to heal. So sometimes home is a scary place, and family are the people you maneuver around as you try to stay safe. In a case like that, the longing for home, the desire to be loved and seen and heard can feel like some kind of mystery to be solved. Isn’t it funny how we can yearn for things we’ve never had, and miss people we’ve never met?

Anything unhealed within you wants your kind attention. We long for closure and resolution, but underneath that what we’re really wanting is peace. We want to know we’re worthy of love. There are those lucky people who’ve never had to question that, because love is all they’ve known. It’s not common, but it does happen. Someone who is raised knowing they’re treasured and cherished is likely to have an easier time with later heartbreaks. They still hurt, of course, but the person isn’t as likely to question whether there’s something at their very core which is unlovable. Something about them that makes it easy to leave, neglect or abuse. A person who is securely attached to his or her parents and siblings isn’t as likely to take rejection as proof that he or she is really disposable, after all. But a person who’s never felt loved, who struggles to trust and be vulnerable, can take a heartbreak as that final blow. As if it’s up to someone else to determine their worth.

Roughly one hundred trillion cells come together to make up a human being. They’ll never come together in that way again, and they never have before. That’s a miracle in my book. And we arrive here needing to be held and fed and clothed and rocked and soothed. We come here needing each other. We go out needing each other. In between, you can bet we need each other. I truly feel our purpose here is to love. To open, to grow, to heal, to learn, to strengthen and blossom and share whatever we’ve got with each other. To dig until we uncover that limitless well of love within us, so we can spread it as we move through our days. Home is inside you. It’s not a place, although you may feel attached to the house you grew up in if you were happy there. The bonds between family members can be strong, but that doesn’t always mean they’re healthy; sometimes you have to negotiate your boundaries. Sometimes you have to love people from afar in order to love yourself well. And sometimes you have to create a family of your own, with those people who’ve shown you what love looks like. Ultimately, you want to feel at home inside yourself. Comfortable in your own skin.

When life throws you a curve-ball, you want to know you can catch it. You want to have your own back. You want to know how to root for yourself. You want to be able to nurture and cherish your particular one hundred trillion cells. “Home” might be something you have to create out of your imagination, you may not have a frame of reference for it. But home is inside you. You can visit any time you like. Sending you love, Ally