How to Stop, Embrace the Moment, and Keep Going

alameddineYesterday as I was driving along Arizona Avenue, something caught my eye. There was a huge, furry spider with red markings that suddenly dropped from behind the window visor, and appeared in the compartment just next to my steering wheel, where you can place your wallet, phone and so on. It was empty but for this sudden tenant. Now, I grew up in New York City, and I freely admit, I’m a little petrified of spiders, have no idea which ones are poisonous, and am especially wary of ones with “fur”, my love for Charlotte’s Web notwithstanding. I know that spiders are amazing, I just don’t particularly want them in my house or car. I remembered that red markings were part of the black widow description, though I felt fairly certain black widows were shiny and not hairy. Nonetheless, I had a mini adrenaline rush, noticed there were cars behind and in front of me, put my blinker on, and moved to the side of the road where I decided it was okay to block a driveway for a moment if it meant saving my life. Yes, you can laugh.

I jumped out of my car and stood staring at this arachnid, wondering how to get it from my car to the street. There were two guys working on the building where I’d pulled up, and I called out to them and asked for help. I told them there was a huge spider in my car. They looked a little bewildered and started walking over, but then I thought, “Really? Do I really need help with this?” I took a look at the passenger seat, grabbed a postcard that was sitting there, and managed to flick the spider onto the card, and then gently fling it onto a bush. Neither of us died, so I consider that a success.

When I got back in my car, I realized this is the second time in a matter of weeks that I’ve dealt with big spiders, as a black furry one with a white back crawled across my desk not long ago. My kids were home, and I instructed them NOT TO MOVE while I caught it in a jar, and took it outside. No one died that time, either. My friend Jessica, who knows all about spiders, had a good laugh at my expense, though, so I also consider that a success. I have this story I tell myself, that if I were married, my husband would be dealing with the big bugs, and he’d also be there to help me unload groceries from the car. I don’t have pity parties for myself very much, but for some reason, those are the two experiences that make me feel sad that there isn’t a man in my life. So yesterday I thought, “those are some really dumb stories you’re carrying around, and maybe it’s time to check them.”

The truth is, many of my married girlfriends have told me that they deal with the big bugs and the groceries, too. Of course, there are other fabulous reasons to have a partner, so don’t get me wrong, I’m just trying to point out that sometimes we tell ourselves things that aren’t true, or that are weakening, or that might have been true at one point, but aren’t anymore.

Here’s another example: a couple of days a go, I taught a benefit class for Breast Cancer Awareness month (ladies, check your boobies!), and you never know who’s going to show up when you teach at these big events. Usually, you’ll see people you’ve known for years, and experienced yogis, along with people who’ve never done yoga before but have come out for a cause. So I’m teaching, and I look up and see this woman front and center, and she’s in Warrior 1, but she’s scrolling on her phone. Lower body in Warrior 1, upper body focused on the device, standing up on her mat. I see a few people around her looking on incredulously, and one woman made eye contact with me. My first reaction was, “Whoa. That is so rude!” I mean, I’ve seen people with their phones next to their mats, surreptitiously checking it in down dog, but this was a new one on me.

Then I looked at the woman, and she just looked sweet, and I thought, “She has no idea that that’s rude, that isn’t where she’s coming from.” Now look, I’m no saint, I’ve just been practicing yoga for twenty-five years, and the good news is, it helps you catch yourself quickly. If you feel triggered, for example, a long, consistent practice teaches you to perk up and pay attention, instead of lashing out and doing or saying something you might regret. It also reminds you that most things are not personal. She wasn’t being rude to me, her behavior had nothing to do with me. So I waited until everyone was in down dog, and went over to her and whispered, “Are you a doctor?” She looked at me in utter confusion and said no. I said, “Okay, I was just wondering if you were ‘on call’ or something, or if you’re dealing with an emergency. Otherwise, why don’t you put your phone away for a little bit so you can have some you time!” And she smiled at me and said, “Oh, okay!”, and put her phone away. After class, she came and thanked me and hugged me. Total win-win.

The thing is, a breathing practice is enormously helpful for this whole “being human” thing, because being human is not always so easy or straightforward. We’re always filtering information from the world around us through our own particular (and sometimes foggy) lenses, and we’re always dealing with our inner worlds as well, which are often full of ideas and thoughts and stories that are specious and worth examining. There’s nothing quite like developing a sense of humor about yourself, and all your occasional absurdities, and celebrating your humanness without embarrassment. Then you can shake your head, and get back to the business of opening to all the beauty around you.

Wishing that for you, and sending you love!

Ally Hamilton

breathing-practie

Let Love do That

You-should-sit-inA big part of being at peace involves our ability to sit with discomfort. Not everything in life feels good, or is easy to deal with or comprehend. Sometimes we are the source of our greatest discomfort, and sometimes other people or the events around us give us an opportunity to lean into our fear, our rage, our guilt, grief or shame. It isn’t easy, but it’s how we learn and grow.

We all have our stuff, and even if you do the work to heal, to become intimately acquainted with the source of your pain, the things that trigger you, or the thoughts and tendencies that weaken you, it’s likely that you’ll have to grapple with them from time to time, because you’re human and this is no easy gig. But a lot of the time, we resist and contract against our own experience, especially if it’s messy, complicated, disappointing or uncomfortable. Maybe we’ve made a mess—said something or done something we wish we hadn’t in a moment of weakness or anger or confusion, or maybe we’ve been on the receiving end of poor treatment. Perhaps it’s circumstances that have us pushed to our edge; mostly, life does not unfold according to the vision we had in our heads of “how things should be”.

The source of addiction is this feeling that we can’t take it. We can’t withstand this temporary feeling, we have to do something, now. The best thing to do is have a seat and breathe. Because if you drink the feeling away, or pop a pill, or go shopping or hop in the sack with someone, that feeling will just arise again in the not too distant future. It won’t go away unless you face it down. Unless you examine the root of your discomfort, it will direct your life. And no feeling is forever. If you practice leaning into your painful feelings, you’ll find they arise, peak and subside like every other living thing.

The very best thing you can do when you feel “pushed up against it” is to breathe. Fighting reality will not change it. You don’t have to put everything in the thank you column, you don’t have to be grateful for every experience in your life. Some things are devastating and will never make sense. But you can always grow from your pain. You can use your suffering to become softer, more open, more empathetic. That’s so much better than resisting, denying, numbing out or running. The longer you do that, the longer your pain owns you. And you know what? I wouldn’t let pain own you, I’d let love do that. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton

Speak Out

kuhnClear communication is so important when we’re looking for understanding, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes people don’t say what they feel out of fear that the truth will hurt, that there will be repercussions for themselves or others, or because they know if they say this particular thing, the ground underneath them is sure to shift. We resist change, but it’s the only thing we can count on, and it’s the only chance we have for connection when we’re feeling misunderstood, disrespected, or unheard. Of course, when you’re sharing something with someone, you want to express yourself with as much compassion as you can muster. Hopefully, when you go to share something with someone you love, you do that because you’re hoping to be closer, you’re hoping to be seen. 

In-person communication is always the best bet when you’re expressing something that’s emotional, sensitive in nature, or has a “charge” to it. So much can get lost in translation with emails and texts. If you can’t meet face-to-face, a phone call is your next best bet; at least you can hear the person’s voice, you can hear the tone, or their voice cracking, you can hear the frustration, and the pain underneath it. Words on a screen are impersonal, people get reckless with their fingertips; they write things they’d never say. A text is not a place to break up with someone, or to express rage or despair about anything, and neither is an email. If you’re frustrated or angry, go ahead and write it down if you need to get clear about the storm that’s raging in your mind, but don’t hit “send” until you’re in a calm state of mind. Words are powerful. Once you put them out there, you can’t take them back, and some things are so hurtful, they may be forgiven, but it’s unlikely they’ll be forgotten. This is true personally and globally–part of the pain so many people are in right now is a result of words that have been spoken and cannot be forgotten.

Manipulation is no way to go about getting what you want. If you want something, or you need something, ask for it. You may not get it, but take the mystery and agony out of things for yourself, and the people in your life. No one can read your mind, or mine. Being passive aggressive is also not a fabulous communication style. Expecting people to try to figure out what’s wrong or what you need makes it harder on everyone. If you’re angry, disappointed, scared, sad, hurt or confused, try saying that out loud.

When we’re angry, it’s almost always just a cover for our pain, or intense feeling of vulnerability. If we’re defensive, it’s because we feel attacked, even if that’s just our perception. Many people cannot receive anything but positive feedback. If you offer any kind of constructive input, that, too, might be received as an attack. Sometimes this happens with personality disorders like narcissism. Sometimes it happens because a person grew up in an abusive household, and an admission of error was met with incredible pain and punishment. You really don’t know what someone is dealing with unless they tell you, but you can work on the way you express yourself. You can work toward clear, truthful, compassionate communication. That’s really all you can do. As with everything, you can never control what someone else does.

There’s no hope for our personal relationships if we can’t speak clearly, and there’s no hope for healing rifts and divides with people we may not know, unless we can call it out when we see things that are not okay. Sometimes we have to speak up on behalf of someone else, and sometimes we need to act on our own behalf, but having no voice for either is no way to go through life.

Sometimes we keep quiet because we don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations, or we think we already know what the other person will say. Let me say this: If you have a long history with someone, and you know that sane, satisfying communication isn’t possible, then don’t bark up that tree. A lot of people are struggling with family members and close friends right now, who may have wildly different ideas about what we need in this world at the moment. It’s very painful when your entire ideology or life philosophy is rejected or ridiculed by those closest to you. Having said that, anyone who refuses to make an effort to understand your point of view is a person who is also struggling to understand what it means to love. Ridicule and disrespect have no place in that arena. You don’t have to agree with the people close to you all the time, but there needs to be some effort to grasp, to understand. Accept people where they are and how they are, or don’t have them in your life, or have them in your life, but create boundaries. In general, though, if you struggle with being assertive, work on it. Most people will really appreciate your honesty, if you’re kind; being truthful and mean is crappy, it’s not funny or brave or strong or tough. It’s crappy. So there’s that.

Maybe you grew up and no one ever asked you how you felt, or what you needed or wanted. Perhaps you’re still trying to figure that out. Maybe it doesn’t occur to you that how you feel is important and worth sharing. Maybe you feel invisible, or believe your worth lies in what you can do for other people. Those are all lies. Maybe you think it’s better for you to be in pain, and silent, than it is for you to express yourself, and disappoint someone else. What kind of relationship can possibly result? There’s no intimacy without honesty. Find your truth, and then find your voice. It really matters. If you struggle to say what’s real for you, get some help with it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Loosen Your Grip

Peace-cannot-be-achievedSometimes we’re convinced our way is the only way. Life presents big questions, and most of us will have to grapple with them at some time or another if we want to be at peace. Some people are born into families where beliefs are passed down, but even in those cases, most people approach near adulthood, and want to examine their own feelings and ideas about things.

Of course, none of us will have concrete answers about most of this stuff until we exhale for the final time. But the need to organize this world so that it makes sense, so that there’s some stability and some order, can be profound. So many people want a formula. If I’m a good person, only good things will happen to me. If someone does something hurtful, they’ll pay. But life doesn’t tend to unfold in this linear, logical way.

The thing is, when we grasp our ideas and opinions, we also close ourselves off to other ways of thinking about things, and we can draw proverbial lines in the sand between ourselves and other people. At the foundation of every religion, for example, there’s love. There’s a moral code of conduct. Don’t kill. Don’t Lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t gossip. Be responsible with your sexual energy. Know yourself. Most of us wouldn’t argue with any of that. Fighting happens when we cling and insist we know what the answers are, and anyone who disagrees with us, anyone who’s come up with different answers, is wrong. Fear is at the heart of “us versus them”. Fear motivates a need to be right. And many people experience someone else’s different idea as a rejection of their own.

For me, I accept help and love from any source. If it’s comforting and it makes sense to me, I could not care less about labels. Is it Jewish love? Christian love? Muslim love? Buddhist love? If it’s love, it’s good by me. We get so crazy with our labels. Labels cause friction, and friction leads to combustion. Is there female air and male air? Black air and white air? How ‘bout we all just breathe together?

Yes, sometimes hatred is taught, and that’s very very sad. Racism begins at home, as does compassion. Of course we can always un-learn and relearn if we were taught that all people were not created equal. But obviously you’re starting off with an advantage if you understand that beautiful people and damaged people alike, come in all colors, shapes and sizes. The reality is, we’re one family on one planet. We’d get a lot further with love and respect than we do with insistence and violence.

Why do people feel threatened if someone makes a choice that’s different than their own? Maybe it creates doubt within them about what they’re doing, and what the point of it all is. Existential pain hits most of us at some time or another. What if we’re blowing it? What if we missed the memo about what we’re doing here? What if we die without having lived from our hearts? So, yes, people can get pretty frightened when they perceive a different idea as an attack upon what they think. A person who’s worked hard to organize the world in a way that makes sense to her or himself might very well feel the need to cling to those answers.

But the more we realize we’re with each other and not against each other, the more everything flows. If we understand we have these finite resources to share, we might be more mindful about our choices and habits. Peace is a choice. Walking a peaceful path takes guts and bravery. Loosening your grip on your own ideas can be scary, but if you have faith in yourself, there’s no need to grasp so tightly. if you have faith in the answers you’ve worked out, you can loosen your grip, and hear the hearts and minds of other people. This is how we open to each other, and it crosses every area of our lives.

When you have the choice between being right and being kind, always choose kindness. Think about your gravestone if it helps: “Here lies a person who was always right.” or, “Here lies a person who loved and listened and opened and learned. Who embraced and explored and examined.”

Sending you love, and wishing you peace. Ally Hamilton

Define Your Terms

Happiness-is-when-whatI’m a big believer in “defining your terms”, especially when it comes to loving relationships. And by that, I don’t necessarily mean romantic ones, but rather any relationship that demands your vulnerability. If you love someone, you’re vulnerable; there’s a chance you could be hurt. Either because we all have these bodies with unknown expiration dates, or because people grow and change, and not always in a way that merges. This happens romantically, to be sure, but it also happens in familial situations, and with close friends. Sometimes we have ideas in our heads about how things should be, or how people should be, or how a relationship should look and feel. That “should” can really bite us in the a$$. But sometimes we get hurt simply because we’re using the same words to describe different things.

My idea of what it means when I say, “I love you” to someone may not resemble your meaning. Does that seem crazy? Does it seem obvious to you what it means when you say those words? To some people it means, “I love you when you do what I want you to do.” Or, “I love you when you want what I think you should want.” It can be conditional, or about control and manipulation. For others, it’s a statement of possession, “I love you and now I own you.” My point is, it’s not so simple. And sometimes what we think we mean, and what we actually mean are not in sync. Looking at yourself honestly, examining your patterns, and being truthful about what’s happening within you are essential if you want to be close to other people.

Your experiences and frame of reference and ideas about things shape the way you move through the world, the way you interact with people, and the way you define your terms. If the love you’ve known or have come to understand involves unflinching acceptance of those closest to you, you may assume your loved ones will respond in kind. And they may, or they may not. It depends on their own history and their own outlook. So many misunderstandings are the result of poor communication, assumptions and projections.

Someone does something, or does not do something, and we assume this must mean what it would if we did or did not do this same thing. And that’s just not a fair assumption. You’ll never know where someone’s coming from unless you ask them with ears that are willing to hear, and a heart that’s willing to understand and accept what’s real for them (that doesn’t mean you have to agree). Sometimes people ask questions but they only want to hear one answer, and it doesn’t really matter what the other person says or does. With enough desire, obsession and reworking, the answer will be twisted and expanded or pared down or shoved under a rug, so the “right answer” will emerge. We kid ourselves, in other words. This can happen when we fall in love, or when we have a friendship we can’t bear to lose, or when a family member is moving in a direction that scares us. Sometimes we just don’t want to accept the truth of a thing, so we intentionally reject any definition that challenges our own.

Knowing yourself is the key to knowing other people. Because in order to know yourself, you have to integrate all parts of your being–the stuff that’s pretty, that you’d gladly share in a status update, and the stuff that isn’t so pretty, that you’d be embarrassed to share. If you can accept yourself without being rigid or unforgiving, you’ll be able to do the same for others. And you won’t be scared to explain what you mean when you say, “I love you.” Or to show it. Fear is responsible for so much that goes unsaid and undone. But what’s to fear? If you speak honestly and from your heart, you either will, or will not be embraced. But what’s the point of living a lie? Knowing yourself is liberating to you, and to those closest to you. Defining your terms honestly, without trying to shove your ideas down someone’s throat is a beautiful gift.

I get so many emails from people who don’t bother to talk because they “already know what the other person will say.” Or from people who are in despair because their partner isn’t loving them the way they want to be loved. If only their partner would change, all would be well. But we have no control over what other people will do, or say, or want. And we never know what life will put in our path. The only true power we have is to express ourselves calmly and with compassion, to face reality as it is, and to choose the way we respond to what we’ve been given. If you’ve been deeply hurt, betrayed, neglected or abused, you really want to examine what you expect from the world, and the other people in it. Define your terms for those you want to bring close to your heart. We’re part of a mystery, but you want to take the mystery out of it when it comes to your ability to say what you mean, and to share your deepest desires. The rest of it will unfold. Sending you love. Ally Hamilton