Mirror, Mirror

iwantutolikemeWhen I was thirteen I had a ballet teacher who was incredibly hard on me. He’d shame me in class and never offer a kind word, no matter how hard I worked. One day as I stood on my toes and twirled and twirled, he yelled out, “You could walk into any company, Hamilton, and they’d take one look at your body and hire you. But as soon as they saw you dance, they’d fire you!’ I remember the feeling of shame, and the heat that rose up and stained my cheeks as I kept twirling and trying. Tears escaping the corners of my eyes, heart crushed. I danced that day with a fire raging inside me, until he finally asked if I was okay. Which shocked me, and made me wonder at my rage. Years later, after I’d stopped dancing, I ran into him on Broadway. He called out to me. He seemed much older, but his gait was unmistakable, and he was very kind. He asked me how I was, how my little brother was, and where I was dancing. When I told him I quit, he was stunned. He said he’d always thought I’d been special, that’s why he was so hard on me. The fact that he was so hard on me was one of the reasons I’d quit. I didn’t want to be in a shaming environment, hating myself, working for the approval of someone who never gave it.

If you’re a certain kind of person (caretakers and people-pleasers, take note), and you sense someone doesn’t approve of you, the disapproval is a hook. Once you’re on the line, you can dance like a clown, but you’ll never get the affirmation you seek. Unless you affirm yourself. I’ve had people roll up their mats and leave my yoga class, I’ve had people write nasty posts about this blog. Not everyone is going to like me, or you. The main thing is being able to look yourself in the eye at the end of the day when you’re brushing your teeth in front of the mirror. Being true to yourself and true to your heart, and not allowing anyone or any circumstance to crush it, at least not for long. If you live your life trying to please everyone else, you’re going to be miserable. You’ll be coming from a place of neediness and desperation. There’s no power in that, and you can never make everyone happy. I’d argue you can never make anyone happy. People are happy or they aren’t. That’s inside work. But if you’re living in alignment with what’s true for you, if you’re honoring your intuition and following the pull of that yes, you really can’t go wrong. That yes is your connection to your purpose and your gifts. Your gifts are yours to share. If you’re coming from that place, you’re coming from love. People who are angry or bitter may not like that. It’s hard to be coming from a place of pain. Wish them love, but follow your heart, so when you see those stickers on your mirror at the end of the day, it’s a no-brainer. Sending you so much love, Ally

Don’t Drive the Scorpion Ferry

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

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

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

Are You in a Cage?

bytheoceanposterWhen I was 26 years old, I stopped into a pet store one day to buy dog food for a friend’s dog, and I saw this tiny, sickly puppy in the corner of an enormous cage. His brown, pink-rimmed eyes were huge in his tiny head, and he was shaking uncontrollably. And although I’d never seen it in a dog before, he had a runny nose. He was one of the most pitiful creatures I’d ever seen, and of course I fell in love on the spot. On the front of the cage there was a sign. They’d originally been asking $2500 for him, but then he’d been slashed to $2000. Then $1500, $1000. By the time I got there, they were asking $500. They sent him out the door with me for $250. Two days later I had him at the vet, who told me to take him back to the pet store. He had bacterial pneumonia, and the vet didn’t even want him in the office, because it’s highly contagious. I begged him even though he was adamant. Said I’d already fallen in love with my dog, and taking him back to the place that had neglected him wasn’t even an option. I think I even appealed to whatever it was within him that had inspired him to be a vet in the first place. I know I cried. He put my dog on intravenous antibiotics in the basement, in a cage between cardboard boxes full of puppy pads, and dog food, and Frontline. There was a leaky pipe nearby, and it was pretty dark down there. I know because I visited my dog every day for hours, for the 10 days he was there. The vet told me not to get my hopes up because he was almost definitely a lost cause, but I brought my dog home on the tenth day, and he was my best friend for the next ten years, until he died suddenly one morning, two weeks before I had my son.

Pretty frequently I get emails from people who are in the corner of a huge cage, shaking with a runny nose. Not literally, of course, because that would be weird. But metaphorically. Sometimes the cage is a relationship, or a job, or a way of thinking about themselves or the world. Whatever it is, they’re in there, shaking, as their light dims. Their belief in themselves dwindling like the price on the front of my dog’s cage. Sometimes the person says nothing is really wrong. The job is not bad. The partner is loving and kind. The way of thinking is what they were taught, and how they’ve always been. They think they must be crazy. But. There’s something inside them that’s saying no. No, life should not feel like a cage.

All kinds of things keep people shaking uncontrollably as their light dims. Fear. Guilt. Shame. Sometimes it feels like people are asking permission. Is it okay for me to go to the basement with the leaky pipe (because healing is lonely, dark, painful work) and heal what needs to be healed so I can get out of this cage and live a life where I get to breathe, and it doesn’t feel like there’s this huge weight on my chest, smothering my heart? And I mean, of course it is. If you don’t leave the cage, you die. Maybe not literally, but your spark dies, and you may as well be dead at that point. But, other people will be hurt. Yes, that sucks. That’s brutal, and it would be a beautiful thing if we could all live our truths and never cause anyone else pain. Except, I’ll tell you, I’ve learned and grown the most from the painful times in my life. We can never ever know what another person’s journey is supposed to look like. We can only manage our own, kindly, honestly, and with compassion. And if you don’t follow the road marked My Truth, your heart breaks and you lose the will to do much of anything.

No one will ever thank you for your pity. No one deserves to be loved half-way, or even most of the way. Including you. The road marked My Truth is hardly ever well-paved and well-lit. You have to cut through the brush with no map, and the only thing you can really carry with you is belief in yourself. You won’t be stuck in the basement forever. But you do have to get out of the cage. Sending you love and a huge hug, Ally

Sit! Stay.

The-most-common-wayYesterday someone asked me to talk about boundaries. For some of us, learning how to create, protect, and sometimes defend a healthy boundary is a lesson that is difficult to learn and involves lots of trial and error. But if you want to be full of love, you’re going to have to figure out how to take care of yourself. And if you’re a peacemaker, a people-pleaser, or some combination of both, you’re really going to need to work your a$$ off. Because the word, “No” probably doesn’t come easily.

I talk about compassion quite a lot. I believe it’s an undervalued, under-exercised feeling that could go a long way toward healing on a personal and a global level, and it’s totally natural to us. In many ways, we are taught to repress our compassion, to be tough, to go for the jugular in this dog-eat-dog, “survival of the fittest” world. Please don’t get me started on the total lie at the center of this premise (dogs don’t eat each other, hello?), or the “boundaries” topic will go right out the window. Recognizing your own humanity, and that of everyone you encounter, understanding we are all human, and will all make mistakes, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes are all beautiful ways to become more responsive and less reactive. More understanding, and less judgmental. More loving and less angry. Compassion gives us the space to see it’s not about us. A person can only be where they are.

And these things are important to realize especially when someone spills their humanness all over your life; when a person whose own damage or unconsciousness or rage or darkness or fear causes you pain. When you forgive people who have hurt you in some way, you unhook yourself from their journey. You take back your power. But if you continue to participate in a relationship that brings you heartache and pain, you really have to look at why. Sometimes the why has to do with some deep-rooted feeling that you are not enough. That somewhere deep within you, you’re just not lovable. If that speaks to you, I really wish I could crawl through your laptop and give you a hug. Because we are all worthy of love. And you are the only you who has ever, or will ever, walk this earth. Just by your existence alone, you are unique and beautiful, and you matter. You have a song to sing. So if you doubt any of that, you’re going to need to figure out why, and get busy doing the work of healing.

Sometimes you’re dealing with a family member, and cutting them out of your life is not desirable. This is where boundaries come into play. How can I love myself, and also love this other person without sacrificing my heart, my well-being, my self-respect, and my sense that how I feel, matters? If you’ve learned to value and prioritize other people’s needs and desires ahead of your own, if you’ve made your happiness dependent upon the happiness of another person or many people, you better get the gloves and the hoe, because this is going to be back-breaking, sweat-in-your-eyes kind of work. I’m not talking about the normal sacrifices and compromises we make willingly and happily for those we love, in a healthy give-and-take relationship. I’m talking about being held hostage by someone else’s instability, mental illness, addiction, or rage. In that case, you’re going to have to dig to the root, and these are the kind of roots that are deep. You’ve been soaking in some very stinky, toxic fertilizer, and it’s time to re-pot yourself in the dirt of “I Am.” Because you are.

You are here to shine, and sometimes that will mean you have to erect a fence around your trunk so the dogs stop peeing on you. Yes. I said that. The dogs are not bad. They’re just being dogs, and doing what dogs do. Dogs are awesome. But they’ll keep peeing on you if you let them. So sometimes you’re going to have to build that fence, and kindly let them know they have to relieve themselves somewhere else, but you will be here to offer shade if they need it from time to time. If you change your rules, the dogs will catch on eventually. I didn’t start this paragraph with the intention of writing about trees, fertilizer, or dogs, but there you have it.

Sometimes the people who hurt us the most are also the ones who matter most to us. That’s a rough combination, and my heart goes out to you if you find yourself in that situation. I know parents whose kids are struggling with drug addiction. How do you maintain any boundaries there, when every cell in your body is set up to take care of your children? To sacrifice on their behalf without thinking twice about it, without thinking at all? But a lack of boundaries in those heart-breaking situations never helps. Enabling and loving are two separate things. How you feel and what you need, matters. It is okay to say, “That is not okay for me.” You can feel compassion for all the people in your life, and all people, period. But if someone is hurting you and you’re letting them, that’s not compassion, that’s an affront to your very being. Your number one job is to protect the expansion of your heart. So you can give love freely, fully, and with abandon. So you can set yourself on fire with the burning of your inner yes, and you can shine as brightly as possible in every direction. In some instances where there’s a history of pain, you can still feel compassion, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on it, especially if doing so will damage your ability to take good care of your heart. A feeling is a feeling. You don’t have to act on every feeling you have, but you do have to take care of yourself. Sometimes love has to say no. Sometimes it has to say, I love you too much to allow you to damage yourself by treating me this way. And I love myself too much, too. Love is truthful. And love gets a hammer and nails when necessary, and builds that fence. Sending you a ton of love right now, and a shovel if you need one. Ally Hamilton

Falling

Sometimes-when-thingsWhen you’re in the midst of things that are falling apart, whether they be jobs or relationships or a way of being, this is a tough concept to embrace, but things fall apart so they can fall together in a different way. That doesn’t mean “everything is happening for a reason”, it just means that this is the nature of all living things–people, emotions, situations, and the leaves on the trees around us. Everything is always in flux. If a relationship ends and your heart is broken, of course you’re going to grieve and examine what happened, and depending upon circumstances, you may have a lot of healing to do. Those times when I’ve felt desperate, or paralyzed by fear, or heartbroken because I couldn’t see a path in front of me and realized I’d have to cut through the brush and create one, have also been the times when I’ve learned the most about myself and have grown in ways I never would have otherwise. That doesn’t mean you have to put everything in a box marked “thank you”, it just means we always have the choice to create beauty out of our pain.

Sometimes the thing that’s “falling apart” is you. In yoga philosophy and practice, you might come upon the concept of “The Dark Night of the Soul”, which is not a yogic concept, but rather a poem (and later a treatise about the poem) written by the Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross. In the poem, he narrates the journey of the soul from its bodily home to its union with God. In the yogic context, we have something called “isvara pranidhana”, which has a few different translations: devotion to the divine, devotion to the Ultimate Reality, devotion to your True Self.

It’s basically that time that comes when the old way of being in the world isn’t working anymore, and the new way of being isn’t clear yet. The old way may include relationships, jobs, coping mechanisms, the way you see yourself…anything that feels inauthentic, that just doesn’t “fit right” anymore, that will now have to go. It’s an extremely uncomfortable, lonely, painful, and scary process…and it takes a lot longer than a night. For me I’d say it took about five years. Any spiritual path (and there are many), will hopefully lead you to your own truth, your own peace, your realization of the incredible and limitless well of love within you. But in order to get there, you’re probably going to have to sail away from the shores you know, and head out to sea for awhile, waiting for your internal compass to kick in.Knowingly plunging yourself into darkness doesn’t usually sound appealing to people unless they’ve tried everything else first.

I’d feel comfortable saying that if the path you’re on isn’t making you a more compassionate person, it’s probably not the right path. Because ultimately, we are all so much the same. All grappling with life’s big questions: What’s the meaning of it all? What am I doing here? What happens when I die? We all breathe the same air, all live off (and on) the same planet, all love our children, all have fears and doubts and hopes and dreams and places within ourselves that need healing. So whatever you believe, I hope it opens you so that when you meet people, you really see them. And so that you realize that although they may be smiling at you, last night they could have cried into their pillow until they finally fell asleep. Because maybe everything is falling apart for them right now. It’s not easy, this business of being human. Things do fall apart. We will never know for sure if our answers to those big questions are right. And one day we will die. For me personally, I feel I’ve grappled with those questions and come up with answers that feel right to me. But you may answer those same questions with completely different answers, and you know, you may be right. We’re all just doing our best here.The only thing I’ve come up with that I believe in my heart is universal, is that we are made of energy, and that energy is love. Anything else is taught and learned. When things fall apart, whether it’s your way of being that isn’t working anymore, or it’s a relationship or a job, and you just can’t envision how things will possibly work out, see if you can open your hands and your heart and your mind instead of clenching your fists. We cannot control circumstances. We cannot control what other people will think, or do, or say. We cannot manage anyone else’s journey. But we can manage our own path, and we can keep heading toward healing and love.

What I want most in this world is for my children to be happy. I want them to live in a peaceful world. I want you and your children to be happy. I truly believe we are all family. Your children are related to my children, even if you live on the other side of the world. The only way I know to a peaceful world, is one person at a time. One person at a time taking the journey inward and doing the work to heal. One person at a time being willing to let things fall apart if they need to so that something strong and beautiful can emerge. If your house is peaceful, if you model loving behavior for your children, if you teach them what it means to be compassionate by being compassionate, they will do as you do. And if you don’t, they will also do as you do. That’s how we change the world, I’m pretty sure of that. I believe almost everyone is capable of healing. I realize our culture encourages sleepwalking but I don’t underestimate the power of a growing number of people who are awake. Engaged. On fire. When things fall apart, the desire to go to sleep, to numb out is understandable. But I’d rather be awake and in pain than asleep. And I’d rather be awake for all the incredible joy, too. Aware of all the gifts. Open to all the love. I’d rather accept that everything is always changing, and that one day I’m going to die. I hope it’s a long long time from now. But however long I’ve got, I want to use every minute to spread love. I won’t succeed. I’m a human being. I’ll get angry, or discouraged or tired or cranky or depressed sometimes. But I’ll do my best. And I know you will, too. And I hope we all live long enough to see the impact of a bunch of loving people doing their best and coming together. Wouldn’t that be freaking awesome? Sending you so much love, and a very big hug if things are falling apart for you right now, Ally Hamilton