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

Time for Something New?

doinggettingWe can never control what other people will do or say or want or need, nor can we control what life is going to put in our paths; our power lies in our ability to choose the way we respond to what it is we’re given. I get so many emails from people who tell me their relationships would be great, if only their partners would change some fundamental thing about themselves. You can’t make someone else change, or be happy, or kind or compassionate or patient, or in love with you. People are those things, or they are not. You might be able to inspire people to show up as the best version of themselves by showing them what that looks like yourself, but you can’t convince or bribe or manipulate a person toward growth.

If you have patterns of destruction in your life, at a certain point you’ll have to examine your own choices, right? Maybe this shows up for you in the realm of romantic relationships. Maybe you’re so jealous, you choke the life and fun out of every relationship you’ve been in, because you’ve been hurt and you’re scared. Being hurt and scared is totally fine; acting out on that stuff is a surefire way to destroy your chances for true intimacy. Maybe you sabotage yourself in the professional realm–fight hard for a job, and then show up late or under-prepared all the time. Maybe your relationship with your grown children is a source of pain. Perhaps you try to manage their journeys, walking over all their boundaries in the name of love and concern, and maybe they push back in anger.

We have all kinds of ways we get in our own way, lie to ourselves, or avoid saying the hard things; ways we cling, and shut our eyes tightly so we don’t have to face reality. Maybe we push people away because we believe we aren’t worthy of love.

If you aren’t happy with the way life looks and feels, with the quality of your relationships, or the way you’re moving through the world, it’s time to start something new. I say that like it’s easy, but it isn’t easy at all. Awareness would be the first step; just realizing you have this tendency, or belief, or way of being that isn’t serving you. If it’s deeply ingrained, you may need some help in uprooting it, and intentionally moving outside your comfort zone. If you normally check your partner’s email when you feel nervous or insecure, for example, this time you have that uncomfortable, painful conversation instead.

If your boss is driving you nuts (again), you start to work on non-reactivity. You train yourself to breathe consciously when you feel triggered, attacked or invisible. You look at places within you where you’re intolerant, with yourself or with others, places where you’re harsh or unforgiving and you try to identify what it is within you that could use your kind attention, and an opportunity to heal. Maybe you aren’t nurturing yourself well. Maybe you need to slow down, and find more effective ways of managing your stress and anxiety. If you tend to lash out in anger, perhaps it’s time to start a yoga practice, a breathing practice.

If you want the things around you to change, your best option is to work on the environment within you. When we pin our happiness on external events or other people, we rob ourselves of power. Blame is a joy-stealer. When we take responsibility for our lives, and make the choice to be accountable for the energy we’re spreading, when we do our best to keep those things, people, gifts for which we’re so grateful in the forefront instead of buried under a pile of “nothing is working out”, it’s amazing what happens around us. If you behave differently, people will respond differently. I’m not saying that’s going to solve everything, I’m just saying that’s your best hope for changing things around you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful you can find my books here <3

Grab Your Inner Tube

onlyinastormSometimes life brings a huge storm our way. We lose someone we cannot imagine living without. Or we’re fired from a job. Or our spouse walks out or has an affair. Our child is in pain. And sometimes we choose the storm. We walk into it head-on, knowing there’s a need to leave the familiar shore and head into unchartered waters. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, I really didn’t know anyone out here. I moved with a guy who also taught yoga and liked cheese a little too much, and when it all fell apart I ended up three thousand miles away from home, with a few people I called friends, whom I was really just getting to know. And, of course, I had my dog. The ex had a serious road rage problem, so for the six months we’d been out here, I’d tried to figure out some kind of reasonable solution. We had one car, and would often leave for our own Ashtanga practice at 6am, and head together to all the classes we were teaching the rest of the day. If I drove, he screamed at me to go faster, to take a different route, to cut this or that person off. If I took a right instead of a left he went ballistic. He became this insane person in the car, instead of the hilarious and kind-hearted person I knew, and it was jolting, because it would happen right after our yoga practice, or after a peaceful hike, or really, anytime we went anywhere. When he drove, it was generally a 90-miles per hour scene, involving the “traffic fingers” of many other drivers, blaring horns, and screeching stops. Neither scenario was appealing or safe, but I truly feared we’d have an accident if I drove while he raged, so he drove. And I would hope we’d get wherever we were going without a problem. Of course I spoke with him about it and he always promised to calm down, but never managed to pull it off. And then he was gone, and I had no idea where I lived. Like, I seriously had to start from the beginning and remind myself, that way leads to the mountains, and that way to the beach. I went on a dating detox because I was alarmed I’d missed the cheese problem, and some other stuff. I’ll explain the cheese thing in another post, lest you think I actually broke up with someone who liked Gouda too much. And I say that as a great friend of said ex. He still calls me every Thanksgiving because of a funny and crazy holiday we shared that involved his sister, my dog, and a pair of pajamas with bunnies on them. And we check in from time to time. Grab a bite when I’m in New York. But when it ended, I just felt bereft and confused, like the rug had been pulled out from under me by my own hand. Because I’d ignored my intuition. I felt pulled to retreat and regroup. And thus began what we call in yoga, my, “Dark Night of the Soul”.

It’s a storm you choose because your way of being in the world hasn’t been working out too well. Friendships, relationships and jobs that don’t feel authentic are left behind, but it happens in an emotional hailstorm. Because when you start to change your inner wiring, believe me, the system is going to revolt. The tendencies and patterns and coping mechanisms that have been keeping all that raw emotion at bay are going to rise up. They’re going to beckon. And if you have the strength and determination not to repeat a pattern you recognize gets you nowhere, not to numb out or run or deny, you’ll likely find yourself in a state of depression. Which is generally confusing when you know you’re moving in a healthy direction. ‘”Shouldn’t I be feeling better?” you’ll think in despair, “I’m doing everything right.” That’s the storm, and if you want to come back to yourself, that’s where you have to head. In many ways it would have been easier for me to move back to NYC where my family and friends were, or to throw myself into another relationship. Instead I meditated and practiced yoga and taught my classes and hiked with my dog and wept a lot. I felt lonely and allowed myself to open to that. I felt scared and heartbroken and sometimes I wondered why I didn’t just make it easier for myself. But somewhere I knew I needed the pain. I needed to finally lean into it and swim through it so it wouldn’t own me anymore. So I could come back to myself. It is a storm. Sometimes you get pulled under and are thrashed into the rocks and you can’t see the surface, and it is very dark indeed. But if you want to really know yourself, you have to embrace everything. You have to accept and integrate all parts of yourself. It’s not easy work, but when the sun emerges and you take a deep breath and know you’re home, the kind of home that’s with you wherever you may go, it’s so worth it. Sending you love, and an inner tube if you need one, 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