Do It Anyway

susan-jeffersSo much of the time, the thing that’s blocking us from being at peace, and from expanding and opening in all the ways we could, is our ability or willingness to trust, and release our hold on an idea, or a way of being, or a path that just doesn’t feel right anymore. For many people, fear of the unknown is so debilitating, they’d rather stay where they are and suffer; at least it’s a known entity, and there’s some kind of ground underneath their feet.

The truth is, life involves risk. We risk our hearts when we love people, whether we’re talking about our romantic interests, our children, our parents, or our best friends. The more invested we are, the more deeply we love, the more we know we would suffer were anything to happen to the relationship, and things do happen sometimes, as we all know. There are families that fall apart because there’s a refusal to back down, or compromise, or hear another person’s point of view. Sometimes we lose people due to an inability to accept and love people as they are, and sometimes we lose people in the most profound and painful way, but what would life be without love and connection? I wouldn’t be reckless with your heart, as it is tender, but I wouldn’t build walls around it, either.

Often, we have a picture in our heads of “how things should be”, and nothing else will satisfy us, but you know when things are flowing, and you know when they aren’t. There’s a huge difference between working your ass off in service to your dreams and your gifts, and refusing to accept reality as it is. For example, every relationship requires effort and nurturing and time and energy. If you want to love another person in a real and full way, you have to be willing to listen, to move through the storms with them, to choose them every day, and especially on the days when it would be easier to bolt, but that’s different from forcing something that doesn’t feel right anymore. You want to work on something that’s growing, that has potential. You don’t want to work on deluding yourself.

Life is not easy. I would argue that it’s gorgeous sometimes, and wildly interesting, but I don’t believe anyone would suggest it’s easy. Sometimes it breaks your heart with no warning on a normal Tuesday morning. We just never know, but one of the things that makes life a LOT easier is opening to things as they are, and following the call of your heart and the voice of your intuition. I just don’t think you can get too lost or too delayed on your path if you do that. We all hit speed bumps from time to time, or find ourselves in a ditch, but if you’re trusting and allowing more, and clinging less, it makes the journey so much more enjoyable. It’s like riding with the windows down and the wind in your hair, with no map and no destination, and good tunes playing, or the sound of the waves crashing. You know, the stuff you don’t want to miss. The stuff that makes you feel alive.

Sometimes a way of being is so ingrained, we just can’t fathom anything else. How can we leave or shift or change? What would we do? How would life look? How would our loved ones respond? Maybe you’re in a situation and you’re telling yourself it’s impossible to do anything else. Maybe you spend a lot of your time making lists in your head of all the reasons you’re stuck. Why don’t you try daydreaming for a little bit? Just drop all the reasons why not, and allow your mind to play with a different vision. Sometimes when someone is struggling with a pose in class, I’ll suggest that they see themselves doing it in their mind. This is not because I’m invested in their “getting the pose.” I’m invested in their vision of themselves, their belief in themselves, their perception of what might be possible. If you tell yourself you can’t, there’s no hope, because there’s no incentive to try. If you tell yourself, “Well, maybe…” you open up a world of possibilities. Sometimes you just have to go on faith. Sometimes you have to gather your strong center and take a chance with the understanding that you might fall on your face, and that that is okay. It’s never the falling down. It’s always the process of getting up. That’s the stuff that strengthens us and teaches us and helps us to grow.

The thing is, you cannot cling and fly simultaneously. Trusting your gut requires bravery, there’s no doubt about that, but you have to show up for yourself in this life. You have to be willing to act on your own behalf when necessary. There’s no way to predict the future, but you can screw up your present with a lot of fear. Allow life to surprise you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Spiritual Bypass

hemingwayThere’s a huge difference between focusing on the good in your life, and ignoring or denying difficult or painful issues. There seems to be a manic need from the spiritual community at large to be positive and light in every moment, which is alienating to so many people, because the truth is, life is not “all good.” Part of being at peace has to do with our ability to integrate all parts of ourselves, and all chapters of our story. Part of loving other people has to do with our willingness to accept the whole person, the gorgeous parts, the quirky ones, and the stuff that’s raw and tender. Integrating the painful parts is different from dwelling upon them or magnifying them. We all have our struggles and our fears. We go through periods of confusion or despair, or we suffer because we’ve become attached to a picture in our heads of how things should be. Leaning into those uncomfortable feelings is an act of compassion, and it’s also the gateway to liberation. Pushing things down requires enormous energy, and when we repress feelings, we inadvertently give them power. They’re going to come out in other ways.

Clinging to happiness is no different than clinging to anything else—it’s going to cause you to suffer. The minute you feel anything other than positive, you’ve become a disappointment to yourself; a failure. If you reject any feeling that can’t go in the “gratitude column”, you’re going to be at war with yourself, judging yourself for those feelings and thoughts you deem to be negative or ungrateful or petty or unkind. You’ll just compound your pain with shame. We’re all human, and none of us operates from our highest self in every moment. When we sit to meditate, we don’t deny thoughts when they arise, we observe them. “Ah, I’m thinking, judging, clinging, obsessing, daydreaming…let me return to my breath.” Denying your experience is a sure way to create inner dissonance, when the whole point of a spiritual practice is to know yourself, to accept yourself, to find peace, and to feel the connection between yourself, and everyone and everything around you; to find union. Denial won’t get you there, and neither will rejection.

Imagine if you were getting to know someone, and they told you they only wanted to hear the good stuff about you. How close could you get? Yes, we always want to stay focused on all the things we do have—our good health if we’ve got it, the amazing people in our lives, the fact that we have a place to call home, and food to eat, the gifts we’ve been given, like time, our ability to feel the sun on our faces and the breeze on our skin, or that we can see the leaves blowing in the wind with their million shades of green. Laughter of the people closest to us, and also, laughter of total strangers. There’s so much to take in, and so many ways in which we’re gifted, just because we woke up today. Unless, of course, you’re going through knifing loss, and today is a day when it’s hard to breathe. We have to allow space for that possibility, too, because someone out there is dealing with that right now, this very minute, and they aren’t thinking about leaves, or their good health, or sunlight on their face, they’re trying to understand how the earth is still spinning, and people are doing things like putting gas in their cars as if everything has not changed.

A spiritual practice ought to be there for you when times are tough. It takes strength and bravery to face life head-on, and it also requires acknowledgement of our inherent vulnerability. If you want to do life well, if you want to do love well, you’re going to have to get acquainted with the underside of things. You’re going to have to be strong enough to face the dark, and also to embrace the light. If you try to pretend they don’t both exist, you’re not living in reality.

Joy and despair are flip sides of the same coin. I’m not telling you to be grateful for despair when it comes, I’m just saying we wouldn’t recognize joy the way that we do if we’d never felt bereft. If we’d never felt rejected, misunderstood, unseen or dismissed, we wouldn’t appreciate the feeling and relief of being totally accepted. I can look back on all the experiences in my life, particularly the devastating ones, and recognize how they opened me and taught me things about myself, other people, and the world at large. They were not always things I wanted to learn. There are a couple of lessons I would really, truly give back, but we don’t get to choose. Sometimes your heart breaks wide open and you think, “I won’t make it through this.” That’s when you have to hope the people in your life show up for you. Kindness matters. Caring matters. Being there matters, in fact, it matters a lot. The most insightful, kind, compassionate people I know, the most open and sensitive and trustworthy people, happen to be the same people who’ve suffered and grieved and found a way to let their experiences soften them instead of harden them.

Don’t ever let anyone shame you for your feelings. Feelings are not facts, and they aren’t forever. They arise, they peak and they subside. Some feelings take longer than others to cycle through, and if we’re going through something particularly brutal, like the loss of an entire person, we’re going to move through all kinds of feelings, many times. None of them are comfortable or positive. Shock, grief, confusion, rage, panic—those feelings are real and appropriate when we’re going through tragedy. These experiences and feelings do not have to go in a file marked, “thank you for this”; you don’t have to be grateful for everything. Just feel what you need to feel, and trust that over time you’ll be able to breathe without reminding yourself to do that. And let your suffering matter, eventually. Grow from it, and see if you can use it to be there for other people. At least, in that way, some beauty arises from the ashes.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Give it Time

stripyourgearsSometimes our expectations of ourselves are so unrealistic. We have ideas about how we should feel, or where we should be at any given point in time, and if we aren’t meeting those markers, we feel disappointed in ourselves, or frustrated, or we wonder what’s wrong with us. This comes up a lot around grieving, mourning, and recovering from heartbreak of any kind. There’s no timer for this stuff; there’s no formula. It’s different for everyone, and dependent upon so many factors. But the last thing you need when you’re suffering, is to feel badly about yourself because you aren’t done suffering quickly enough.

Obviously it’s no fun to be pining or longing or missing people we cherish. Death is the most extreme version of this, of course. Grieving has no time limit. As Earl Grollman says, “The only cure for grief is to grieve.” No matter how much we understand we’ll all die eventually, it’s still almost incomprehensible when someone we love is ripped from us. It’s natural to want to hug the people we love, to hear their voices, their laughter, to hold their hands. The loss of a person is like the loss of a whole, beautiful world. There’s a shock to it, it seems impossible that the earth could keep spinning, and depending upon who’s been lost to you, and in what way they were taken, and at what point in your life and theirs, the impact may bring you to your knees. The only thing at a time like that, is to ask for help. Hopefully, you don’t even have to do that. Hopefully the people in your life know how to show up for you, at least some of them, so that you know you aren’t alone.

For many people, grief is difficult to witness, because it reminds them of their own mortality, the fragility of life, and the potential that they, too, could have to hold a sorrow so great. The people who are the most uncomfortable holding a space for your pain, are likely the same people who will tell you you “should be feeling better by now.” What they’re really saying is, “I’m having a hard time being around you when you’re in pain, and I’d like you to make it easier for me.” The thing is, when you’re mourning, your only job is to allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel, for as long as you need to feel it. Anyone who can’t honor that or understand it is probably not going to be one of your cronies when you’re ninety-five, sipping lemonade in your rocker, but you don’t need tons of close friends. You just need a few.

The same goes for the loss of any relationship. You have to factor in all kinds of things. How much time and energy you invested, how many memories, shared experiences, heartaches and growing pains you went through. If you had a family with this person, it gets exponentially more complicated, but even if we’re talking about someone you dated for a few months, having a broken heart never feels good. You just have to give yourself time. Examine what happened, especially if you’re disappointed with the way you showed up, but try not to obsess. Glean the information from the experience that’s going to help you grow, and make different choices the next time. If you’re recovering from a toxic relationship, understand your oldest, deepest wounds were probably in play, and that it’s very likely you could use some support. It might be a great time to find a good therapist, and do some deep and needed work toward healing, but don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t over your ex. Some days will be better than others, and these are just natural feelings. Don’t stalk their social media making yourself sick, and try not to invest too much of your time or energy wondering what they’re doing. Focus on your own healing. As Regina Brett says, you have to “give time, time.” You know that anything you resist, persists. Of course we don’t want to marinate in pain, but denying it or running from it or numbing it out just prolongs the inevitable. Eventually you have to face it, and the more you’re willing to acknowledge and work with your pain, the faster you’ll move through it.

Be kind to yourself. Gravitate toward people who don’t try to fix things or tell you how to feel, but are simply able to listen and to be there. Nurture yourself, and spend time doing those things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Volunteer if you have it in you. Try to move your body and sweat and breathe once a day. Weep. Feed yourself well, and I don’t just mean food—pay attention to what you’re watching, reading, telling yourself, and try to have patience. One day, you’ll wake up, and the weight and heaviness of your grief won’t come crashing down upon you as you blink your eyes open and remember where you are. In the meantime, have some compassion for yourself. Life is a constant lesson in impermanence and loss. There’s also incredible beauty and joy and love, but it isn’t easy.

Sending you a huge hug,

Ally Hamilton

Consider the Source

praiseSometimes what you don’t say is incredibly powerful. I’m all for speaking the truth, but there are times when taking the high road speaks volumes. This is particularly difficult when you come face-to-face with someone who doesn’t wish you well, or with whom you have a long and challenging history. We can get so caught up in what people think of us, as if they have the final say on who we are, but you are not here to convince anyone of anything, especially of your value as a human being; life is too short for that. You’re here to be you, to figure out what that means, to uncover your gifts and to share them. Your actions speak for themselves. You don’t have to throw a lot of hours and words at a thing to reiterate reality.

We’re all human, and we will all make mistakes. That’s how we learn and grow, and do it better the next time; no one is exempt from this. You truly want to grasp that there are a lot of people in pain walking around on this planet, and it’s understandable, it’s not like this is an easy gig. Life is a lesson in letting go and opening up. In learning to trust yourself, and in having faith that you’ll keep growing and evolving, and that if you listen to your heart, you’ll also keep moving in the right direction. It’s also a lesson in acceptance and impermanence. It’s beautiful in so many ways, but no one would argue that it’s easy.

Not everyone wants, or is able, to face the reality of who they are, what they want, or the inherent vulnerability that comes with being a human being on planet earth. People in pain spread pain. Mostly, it’s unintentional, it’s just that whatever we have on the inside, is what spills out of us. Most people are not setting out to hurt you, but if a person isn’t happy, if they haven’t healed, or figured out what lights them up, what inspires them, what gives their life meaning and purpose, I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in their opinions about how you’re doing on your own path. Pointing fingers is easy. Pointing fingers at ourselves in a compassionate but honest way, taking ownership of our own lives and our own happiness, is not so easy.

When I was a kid, my dad taught me the phrase, “consider the source”. It’s one of the best gifts he ever gave me. I’ve encountered so many people over the years, (and have certainly fallen prey to the tendency myself), who get caught up in worrying about someone’s poor opinion of them. Especially if it’s an ex, or a family member, or someone with whom they were once close. Not many things feel worse than the idea that someone we care about thinks badly of us, but a lot of the time (not all of the time), people are blaming and shaming in an attempt to avoid their own work. I’m not saying you don’t have accountability. Only you know if you were careless or reckless with someone else’s heart, and if you know you were, I hope you own that and ask for forgiveness. When someone gives you their heart, that’s an act of trust, and not something you want to take lightly, but if you know you’ve done your best to be kind and compassionate and patient and honest, then I wouldn’t spend time or energy trying to sell anyone on how awesome you really are. Sometimes people need to make you the villain so they can get over a situation. They have to weave a story out of the ruins that they can live with, and maybe it’s a story where you’re the bad guy. So be it. It’s really not your job to get inside someone else’s head and try to rewrite their story.

If a person has terrible things or wonderful things to say about you, remember it’s really not your business. Isn’t that funny? If you do your best to be kind and compassionate, to use your time to spread as much love as you can for as long as you can, you’ll leave a wake of love behind you, and you’ll create a sea of it out in front of you. That’s your business.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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Don’t Wait

When-someone-tells-me-noWaiting can be a particular kind of agony, whether we’re waiting for a call, an email response, the results of a test, a job interview, or a first date. But we never know what’s going to happen, even though we like to think we do. Tomorrow isn’t promised, and we can make all the plans we like, we can create our routines and try to make order out of chaos, but there’s no getting around that truth. And for many people there’s the impulse to run from it, but I think if you accept and embrace that you don’t know what’s coming, or how much time you’ve got, it can also inspire you. A little fire under your a$$ can be a great thing. That way you don’t get caught up in the idea that you can “waste” time, or “kill” time, because you know it’s precious.

Why do we agonize when we’re waiting for the phone to ring? Do we really think our happiness lies in the outcome? People will like us and dig us and understand us, and other people will not do any of those things. The news will be good, there won’t be any news, or the news will be bad. The real issue isn’t the news. It’s how you’re spending your time and energy. Waiting is probably not a great use of your time. Because it takes you out of the power seat, and I don’t mean power over other people, I mean the power you can exert over how you’re going to use the time you have. If you have a dream, if you have something to say, something to offer, you just keep going. There’s no need to wait. If you keep directing your energy toward spreading some love with every day you’ve got, I really believe that momentum will build on itself. Giving for the sake of giving is the reward. It happens as you’re doing it. If you’re giving to get, that’s another thing altogether.

Is it okay to want good things in your life? Love, companionship, affection, at least one person who sees you and knows you and cherishes you? Of course. But if a person isn’t running in your direction, and I mean this whether we’re talking about a romantic or a professional interest, keep going. They can catch up if it’s the right thing. Waiting feels like sh&t. Waiting for someone’s approval, acknowledgement, love, attention, respect. Screw that. If a person doesn’t have it to give, get going. Give it to yourself, and keep giving it to yourself, and don’t let anyone or anything cause you to doubt your ability to offer something only you can. There’s only one of you. In a world of seven billion people. You think you were put here to wait? I don’t.

And to be clear, I’m not talking about patience, which is something else. We all need patience in this world. Sometimes we have to be patient with ourselves, and our inclination to give someone else power over us. Maybe we have healing to do. Maybe we doubt whether we’re lovable at our very core. Maybe we have to be patient with someone we love. I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about hours, afternoons, days, weeks when most of your energy is spent waiting for something to happen, instead of living each beautiful day you’re given in awe and wonder and gratitude. Or in deep sadness if that’s where it’’s at. But not allowing your energy, your essence to be derailed while you obsess over what someone else might or might not do. How someone else might or might not reward you. How you might or might not be received and understood. What calamity might or might not befall you. That’s what I’m talking about. Life is too short for that, and you are too precious. Carry on, you. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Focus on the Days, Not the Decades

Waiting-is-painfulSomebody sent me an email today asking what I do when I don’t know what to do. She said she has big choices to make, but none of the options look good; no matter which way she turns, there’s suffering. Life is like that sometimes, and it’s just not easy when we come to those forks in the road.

Sometimes I like the saying, “When you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.” And of course, there’s the White Rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland”, with his famous line, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” When I don’t know what to do, meditation is always helpful. Getting quiet so you can hear the voice of your intuition is always a good plan.

When your decisions are mostly going to impact you, it’s a bit less daunting. You may make a regrettable decision, but sometimes that’s how we have to learn, so we can make different choices the next time. Or so we learn something about ourselves, or life, or other people, and we grow. Maybe there are growing pains, but anything that helps us to see ourselves more clearly is ultimately helpful. When your decisions impact other people, like your children, for example, it’s exponentially harder.

“Paralysis through analysis” springs to mind. We can’t nurture ourselves or anyone else when we’re stuck, and in fear. Fear is a perfectly natural feeling we’ll all experience, but it’s not a great motivator. I mean, sometimes we have to feel the flames scorching our ankles before we move, I’m just saying whenever possible, coming from love is always better than coming from fear.

None of us has a crystal ball. It’s not like we get to make both choices, living our parallel lives so we can see which way is better, and then circle back and decide. Also, we really have no clue what anyone else’s journey is supposed to look like. If you’re making choices that impact other people, you just have to do the best you can to weigh it all out.

Sitting at the fork in the road biting your nails and agonizing isn’t going to serve anyone. If you have to act, move in the direction that seems the most likely to be the least painful. That’s the very best you can do sometimes. Life doesn’t always unfold the way we expected or hoped. And you truly never know what may happen down the road. Maybe nothing makes sense right now, but later the pieces will all fit together.

It isn’t all light and positive. Some of it breaks your heart. Sometimes you have to make your best guess and feel your way along and see what happens. You do the best you can with the information you’ve got. And you try to move toward love. Something will happen, you can be sure of that. And maybe you can work on trusting yourself, and your ability to open to the vulnerability inherent in this experience of being human. You can always find beauty, joy, love and gratitude on any given day. Focus on your days and not the decades out in front of you. Try to unearth the gifts each day. The smile of someone you love, or someone you don’t even know. The sound of laughter from those closest to you. Hugs. The sun on your face. Your ability to uplift other people in small ways and large. Give everything you’ve got from your heart, because you’ll never run out of love. Move toward those things that inspire you and light you up. Piece together a bunch of those days, and you’ll be looking at a good life. Sending love and a hug to anyone who needs it. Ally Hamilton

We Need Space

Between-stimulus-andBecoming less reactive and more responsive is a huge part of the yoga practice. Learning to sit with intense sensation calmly can really be a life-changer. So many people move through the world as victims of circumstance. If things are going well, they’re happy. If things are not going as planned, they’re miserable. If someone says something or does something thoughtless, they’re sent into a tailspin. Life can, and probably will be an up-and-down experience if you don’t find a way to open to both those things that feel good, and those things that are disappointing, enraging, heartbreaking, or unexpected.

You cannot control what another person will do or say or want or need. You can’t control what life will put in your path. But you can choose the way you’ll respond to what it is you’re given. And there’s so much power in that. A lot of it has to do with creating space between an event, and your response to it. A reaction is generally coming out of our past. You’ll know you’re reacting if things feel charged and you feel out of control. A response is coming out of our present. Something is happening, and we’re responding to the thing itself, in present time, without dragging history into the mix. When we feel “triggered” and exceedingly vulnerable, the tendency is to act defensively. To fight for ourselves. But if a loved one has upset you inadvertently, wouldn’t it be nice to have the space to give them the benefit of the doubt? To pause and consider the source? To examine your own feelings and see what’s come up for you, before you lash out and say or do something you’ll regret? And if a stranger cuts you off on the freeway, do you really want to give them the power to raise your blood pressure? If your boss says something thoughtless, do you want to allow that to ruin your afternoon, robbing you of hours you can never have back again?

There’s a beautiful concept at the heart of Imago Therapy. The idea is that a relationship happens in the space between you and another person. Not just romantic relationships. The space between you and your children, your siblings, your parents, and friends and colleagues, and person who brings the mail to your house. The space between you and anyone else. And the idea is that you get to choose what you put into that space. You could decide to fill it with your frustrations, disappointments, anger, resentment, boredom. Or you could fill it with your kind attention, your love, compassion, patience and willingness to truly listen and see.

But in order to make choices we’ll feel good about, we have to create a little breathing room between what has happened, and what it is we’re going to do (or not do) about it. If you’re in a fight or flight state, there’s no choice, you’re fighting, or you’re fleeing. But if you have a practice where you breathe when you feel challenged, the breath creates the space. Your ability to notice sensations in your body as they’re occurring, for example, can be enough to slow you down, so that instead of hurling something hurtful at your partner, or yelling in frustration at your child, you turn your attention to your shortness of breath, your racing heart, the feeling of the blood rushing to your head. And maybe you even get to the place where you can speak out about this stuff as it’s happening. As in, “My heart is racing and I’m having a hard time breathing and my shoulders are up around my ears. My jaw is clenching and I’m making fists. This is probably not a good time for us to talk, I need a few minutes.” (If you’re talking to your kids, a simple, “I need a time out” will do ;)). And just like that, you have some space and time to observe what’s happening within you.

Maybe you’ll realize this present-day event is reminding you of something very old. Maybe it’s a theme in your life. It could be that something in the interaction made you feel disrespected or unseen or unheard. Maybe you’re reacting to something ancient, that’s been awoken in this moment. And perhaps the heat of your reaction is out of proportion to the event itself. Even the best people say or do thoughtless things sometimes. No one operates from their highest self in every moment. If someone truly loves you, they’re not going to hurt you intentionally. But when we feel disappointed or attacked, there can be a tendency to ascribe blame, or to assume intent. Space gives you the chance to recognize what’s happening within you.

It might not seem intuitive that twelve deep breaths in standing frog would set you up to breathe more deeply when you feel enraged, but it does translate. An intense sensation in your quadriceps is not so different from an intense sensation in your chest. Rage creates sensations all over the body, right? The shoulders tighten, the jaw clenches, the heart races, the blood boils. These are all sensations. If you have a mind and a nervous system trained to deal with this kind of experience calmly, you also have the power to stay centered. To be aware of yourself. To know yourself, and to be accountable for what’s happening within you, and what you decide to do about it. Sign up for a free trial on the website if you want to work on these things with me online. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton