That’s How the Light Gets In

leonardcohenI remember the morning my mom told me my dad didn’t live with us anymore. I was almost four, and we were sitting at the dining room table at breakfast, and she told me he was going to be living somewhere else, and that eventually I would visit him there. I went into their bedroom, and looked through all his drawers and closets. His denim shirts were gone, his sun lamp was gone, and so were the styrofoam heads that held his different wigs; he was an actor. When I saw he’d left his robe, I thought he’d have to come back, but I was wrong.


It had been a confusing time already. My beloved grandma had died the week before, and I’d been too young to visit in her hospital room that last day, which was probably good. I remember my grandma laughing, and hugging me, full of life. But suddenly it seemed people were disappearing, and not peripheral players, either. We’d seen my grandma almost every day of my life. She and my mom were really close. She and I were really close. It amazes me to think about the impact she’s had on my life, and to realize I didn’t even get four full years with her. Now my dad had gone to some unknown place, and I had no real sense of time. I don’t know how my mom got through that conversation with me without crying.

For years, I lived in fear of being left. I didn’t realize I was doing this, of course, but it’s obvious in the rear-view mirror. I tried to be a good girl. I thought if I got straight-A’s and looked right and behaved well, then maybe I’d be safe, and that followed me into my adulthood. I entered into relationships with people not thinking about what I wanted or needed, or even if I was having fun, but solely focused on how I could be perfect for them; how I could make myself indispensable. Un-leave-able.

I’m sharing this with you not because it’s a heartbreaking tale. I hear worse stories every day. Lots of people get divorced (not that it makes it easy on the children involved), lots of people lose their grandparents. The proximity in my case was unfortunate because it was like a bomb went off, or an earthquake shook the foundation of what I’d known, but my parents had been keeping up appearances because my grandma was sick that last year, and they didn’t want her to worry. I know someone who watched his father die at eight years old while they were playing. I know someone who’s dad left when she was seven and never looked back. I can’t even wrap my head around how you could leave your kid and never look back. And then there are stories of abuse and neglect and all kinds of things that would leave you on your knees. My point in sharing is that our pain does not just magically disappear. If we don’t examine it when we become conscious adults, it swims beneath the surface of everything we do, wreaking havoc on our lives, and life doesn’t have to be that way. We all want to heal. We all want to be happy. We wrote it into our Declaration of Independence, so there’s not much doubt that we value happiness. It’s just that the large majority of us will seek to heal in all the ways that make things worse.

Because we long to heal, we call into our lives those dynamics that reflect our deepest wounds. Most of the time, we don’t even know we’re doing that. If you’re afraid of being left, you probably have an excellent, uncanny, perverse knack for picking people who struggle to commit. This is no coincidence, because, presto! Now you have your chance to heal, right? All you have to do is get your partner to want to be with you, and that will be the balm for your original wound. Except it won’t, because if you pick people who struggle to commit, you set yourself up to be left again, thus confirming your deepest fear that you are the kind of person it’s easy to leave. Or worse, that you just aren’t worthy of love. You’re leave-able, not lovable.

There’s the hard, long road, and there’s the hard, short road. I’m not going to lie about that, those are the choices. I mean, those are the choices unless you happen to be one of the three people in the world who had idyllic childhoods, and even if you are, someone else has probably come along and broken your heart by now. Chances are, you probably have some issues, some stuff to work through like any other human, and it’s not a level playing field as I mentioned above, so what you’ll need to heal, and how long it will take and what tools you’ll use are all personal. Avoiding that work is a surefire way to prolong your pain and allow unconscious drives to rule your life. The longer you wait, the longer you suffer. There’s no reason your past has to screw up your present. You are not stuck in a time-warp.

It took me a long time and a lot of work to get right with myself, and it’s still a daily practice, but at this point, I’m in the maintenance part. Of course things come up that might tap an old wound, but the wounds have scar tissue, they aren’t raw and bleeding, and they aren’t unknown to me. They’re almost like old, familiar friends. Ah, fear of abandonment. I feel you. I see you. I tip my hat to you. But you don’t own me anymore.

If you’re an adult, and you’ve had enough time as an adult to recognize patterns in your life that aren’t serving you, I’d get on that. Tools that have worked for me are a daily yoga practice (and I mean all eight limbs), seated meditation, and therapy. If you want to try some yoga with me right now, you can go here.

I’ve also read some tremendously helpful books, and I’ve done quite a lot of journaling. There are so many tools available. It’s my personal belief that it isn’t a luxury to pursue healing modalities until you find a mix that works for you; I believe it’s your responsibility. You have this life. You have a body. You have time and energy. These things are all gifts. Then, there are your own, particular gifts that are born of your own experiences and perspective and ways of looking at the world. There’s only one of you. So if you don’t figure out how to set yourself free, you rob the world of gifts only you can bring to it. That would be a tremendous shame.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

See with Your Soul

 

deankoontzSensation is the language of the body, but we tend to be such talking heads, we’re often overlooking the most important conversation we could be having. The mind is full of “shoulds”, and it’s obsessive and redundant. It’s really hard to hear the quiet voice of your intuition with all that racket going on. This is one of the reasons it’s essential to find something you enjoy doing so much, you lose yourself in the flow. You quiet the storm that rages in the mind and become present and immersed and open. You lose yourself to find yourself.


Years ago, I dated a guy when I was coming off of a relationship that had been dark and draining, and had ended badly. The proverbial rebound. It was fun, at first, as those things tend to be, but pretty quickly, there were red flags. I’m sure if I’d allowed myself to tune in and receive those messages, I’d have realized it was a non-starter. I remember talking myself out of those gut feelings. I didn’t want to accept what I knew on a deep level. I wanted to have fun and just go with it. That’s how you find yourself in an aisle of Whole Foods, six months into your relationship, watching your boyfriend slip a piece of cheese into the pocket of his cargo pants. I’d known I was dealing with some darkness, but I hadn’t wanted to think it went as far as shoplifting, until I saw it with my own eyes. Game over, time for another breakup.

 

When we cut off communication with our intuition, when we refuse to pick up that call, it’s a matter of time before we crash into a brick wall. You don’t always know when you’re in danger, there are times you can be caught completely off guard. Betrayal falls under that heading. I mean, sometimes we have a feeling something is going on, but other times we’re totally blindsided. For the most part, though, if you’re having an ongoing conversation with your body, you’ll find it’s full of wisdom about what’s happening around you, how you are and what you need. It makes life a lot easier.

When I was thirteen, I headed into my ballet class one afternoon, entering after a man who’d walked in just ahead of me. I remember having a bad feeling. In fact, I sped up to pass him on the steep staircase, longing for the safety of the ballet studio, but as soon as I passed him, he grabbed me from behind, one hand over my mouth, the other between my legs. I knew before I knew. I just didn’t have the frame of reference for something like that. I didn’t trust myself. I doubted my sixth sense.

We don’t really think about emotion as sensation, but that’s what it is. When we say we’re sad, that isn’t an idea or a label, we’re talking about the way we feel in our bodies. We’re hurting. Maybe there’s an ache around the heart, or the chest feels tight, or we feel that lump in the throat. Maybe there’s a heaviness to everything. When we say we’re enraged, we’re talking about the feelings of our hearts racing, our jaws clenching, our fingers curling into fists, our blood pressure going up, our shoulders tightening. Next time you say you’re sad or angry or tired or cold or hungry or depressed, notice what’s happening in your body. Make sure what you’re saying is in sync with what you’re feeling. Because if you aren’t used to tuning in to what it is your body is telling you, there might be a huge disconnect between what you think, and how you feel. Are you hungry, or are you bored or lonely?

A lot of the time we agonize over what we want or don’t want. Sometimes we come to a crossroads and we struggle with which way to go. Maybe we find ourselves asking family and friends to tell us what to do, but I really think most of the time, we already have the answers, it’s just that sometimes we don’t like the answers we’re getting. We don’t always feel ready to accept what we know, because usually that means change is coming, and many people resist change, even though it’s futile.

If you’re talking to someone and you realize your shoulders are up around your ears and your arms and legs are crossed, you are not having an easy time communicating. Maybe you feel threatened or guilty or resentful or exposed or vulnerable or scared. Observing sensation gives you lots of clues about how you’re feeling, and while you might wonder why you’d need clues, I can tell you there are a lot of people who walk around having no idea what they want or need.

Sometimes this happens because we live in a culture where certain emotions make people uncomfortable. As a society, we don’t leave a lot of room for men to be scared or vulnerable, nor do we leave much space for women to be angry or assertive. We have names for men who express fear, and women who allow themselves to be angry, and those names are not nice, so a lot of people learn to edit themselves, and push down the feelings that seem to make other people uneasy. It happens in families, too. Maybe you were encouraged to express yourself, maybe you were taught that your feelings mattered and had an impact on the world around you, and maybe not. Perhaps the adults around you felt inadequate or guilty or put-upon if you expressed sadness, so you stopped doing that. It’s very possible to reach adulthood without having a clue about what you want or need, and without knowing how you feel.

The answers are always inside. Find a way to tune into your body. Yoga is the best thing I know (you can try some with me right now, here), but maybe for you it’s something else. Whatever gets you out of your head. Start to listen to those messages. Value them, they’re meaningful, and do your best to respond with compassion and awareness. The relationship you’re having with yourself is the foundation for all the other relationships in your life. Feed it well.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Rest in Your True Nature

Allyekarajkaparm-1Yoga is a process of coming home to yourself. It’s a science, an art, a philosophy of stripping away anything that isn’t part of your authentic self. So much of the time, we’ve gotten confused along the way. We’ve taken on other people’s beliefs or ideas or philosophies and accepted them as our own, without question. Hatred can be taught this way, so can compassion. If you were lucky, your first influences taught you that you were of value. That you had an impact on the world around you. That it mattered how you felt. If you were fortunate, you were also taught that being kind and thinking about how your actions affect other people and the world around you would help you to connect and thrive.

Sometimes we have a lot of unlearning to do, though. Maybe we were not so lucky, and we learned that only certain feelings were okay, and that we had to repress anything that made the people around us feel uncomfortable or inadequate, like our sadness or our anger or our loneliness. There are so many people who reach adulthood and have no clue how they really feel, because they cut themselves off from their own intuition years ago.

If you come out of an abusive background you can count on having to unlearn quite a lot. Growing up in an environment where you make yourself invisible or invaluable depending on the moment requires a total suppression of anything that has to do with what you really need or want in your heart.

So many people are on the run, owned by their painful feelings. Repressed rage turns into depression. It takes a Herculean effort to push down an active volcano. So much energy, in fact, there isn’t much left to do anything else. Thus the lethargy and hopelessness.

For some people, it’s easy to say yes when yes is in their hearts, and it’s not difficult to say no when the situation warrants, but other people have to work to figure out what a yes feels like. Those same people might have to learn to give themselves permission to say no. Feeling that your worth is determined by other people’s perceptions of you sets you up for a lifetime of powerlessness.

Anyway, my point is, there are so many differing ways people might need to come home to themselves, and all of the ways that work require determination and dedication. You have to find the discipline to show up for yourself, and to lean in when you’d rather take off. If you find that what you’ve been doing isn’t working, and by that I mean, if life is not feeling good to you, it’s time to try something new, because time waits for none of us.

There are eight “limbs” in yoga practice. The physical part, the “asana” is just one limb. It’s a very useful entry point for many of us in the west, because we value doing over being, and it takes time to undo that programming. When you connect to your breath (pranayama), you also connect to something that is happening right now, in this moment. You are present and aware. When you start to organize your body into a pose, when you focus on lengthening your spine, or relaxing your shoulders, you’re also giving the mind a focal point that’s happening in the now. So you use your body to quiet your mind. If you’re paying attention to your breath, or you feel your feet on the floor, you aren’t spinning anymore. You aren’t fretting over your past or freaking out about your future, you are present, and that’s beautiful because life isn’t happening in your past or future. When you create space between your thoughts, you also create space to connect to that most authentic part of yourself. You get to breathe in that space.

Your body is full of wisdom about who you are and what you need to be at peace. It knows where you’re holding on, resisting, or contracting from your experience. if you give it the chance and you set up a compassionate and kind inner environment, your body will give these things over, it will help you to let go of those ideas or beliefs that are weighing you down, and then you can fly. Wishing that for you, and sending you love.

Ally Hamilton

P.S. You can practice with me right now, here.

Hungry for the Truth

mandyhaleAttachment leads to suffering. As human beings, we are going to be attached to our loved ones, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to avoid that. We’re going to be attached to wanting our families to be happy and healthy and living in a way that feels good and right to them. Connection and love and shared experiences are the best things in life. It’s just that when we allow ourselves to be attached, we also allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You can’t have one without the other, and the reality is, we are going to lose people we don’t know how to live without. Sometimes this happens because we’re in these bodies with their unknown expiration dates, and we just don’t know how much time we have with each other, and sometimes it happens because we grow apart from people with whom we were once so close, this eventuality seems impossible.

Few things cause us greater suffering than attachment to a picture we have in our heads of “how things should be”, or “how people should be”, or “how life should look.” That “should” is such a dangerous word. Sometimes we’ve attached our happiness to a particular outcome, and anything less, or anything else, just won’t do. So many people attach their happiness to externals. It’s the old, “I’ll-Be-Happy-When” formula. “I’ll be happy when I lose ten pounds, or have a different job, or a bigger house, or a faster car. I’ll be happy when I meet the ‘right’ person, or win the approval of my parents, or book that big gig…” It goes on and on, and I’ll tell you what. If that’s the formula you’re working with, happiness will always be just out of reach because it will never be enough. Anything outside of you will never equal your happiness. You plus the right person won’t do it. You plus the big house won’t do it, either. You minus the ten, fifteen, twenty pounds won’t get you there. It’s inside work.

I know this from my own personal experience. I tried the “me plus lots of external stuff” way for many years, and I exhausted myself. The funny thing is, while we’re out there in hot pursuit of that place called happy, inside it never feels right. We know, intuitively, it’s pointless, but we’re taught that this is the way, so many of us hang in there hoping, for many years. At a certain point, I stopped chasing happiness, and I got hungry for the truth. When I say “the truth”, I’m not talking about it like there’s one truth for everyone. I mean, I got hungry for my own truth, the truth of my own experience. Sometimes we think, “If only I could get this person to love me and see me and understand me and cherish me, then I’d be happy!!” And “this person” is not necessarily a romantic partner (although that’s often the case). It might be your mother or your father, or your mercurial Uncle Howard. Sometimes we start out with a parent who seems out of our reach and we repeat the pattern later in life by choosing partners who can’t or won’t commit to us. You can literally make yourself sick trying to be perfect for other people, trying to make yourself worthy, trying to dance like a monkey to earn love, trying to be something other than what you are just to get that thing you so desperately want—your happiness. But you’ll never be happy by trying to be something you are not. The alternative is to lean into the truth of whatever is real.

Maybe you have a parent who will never be able to love you in the way you long to be loved, perhaps they’re just not capable. You can receive that fact as a reflection of something lacking within you, but the much likelier reality is that it’s a deficit within them. People can only be where they are, and they can only use the tools they’ve got. If you’ve chosen a partner who can’t commit, you could interpret that data as an indication that there’s something about you that just isn’t good enough, or you could accept that perhaps this person has deep fears around intimacy, or maybe it’s just not where they’re at at this particular moment in time. Accepting reality as it is, without taking it personally, is such a huge relief. Getting hungry for the truth is a liberation. Setting yourself free of the idea that only one outcome can lead to your happiness opens you to a whole new world of possibilities. And yes, accepting that someone might not love you the way you love them, or might not want to commit to you is going to hurt, but it’s also going to allow you to breathe again, and to feel like your feet are planted solidly on the ground. It’s going to give you back your self-respect and your self-esteem, which you have to check at the bars of your prison cell when you make yourself unable to release your attachment to a happy ending that isn’t in the cards.

The other thing is, opening to reality as it is, gives you power and peace. You’re not busy telling yourself stories, or pretending things are other than what they are. You aren’t spending your time or energy pretending that you are other than what you are, and I have to say, that’s a pretty happy feeling. It puts you at ease. It allows you to release your grip, to stop your grasping and clinging. It relieves you of any notion that things are “happening to you.” It puts you back in the power seat. There’s no desire to force or manipulate or cajole. Why would you do any of that? You just allow things to flow, and trust that when they’re right, it’s clear, and if you have to force, it isn’t right. So much simpler, so much happier. I highly recommend it.

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

P.S. If this was helpful, you can buy Ally’s books here.

Stop the Cycle

oprahSometimes we get into a pattern with someone that just isn’t serving our highest good, or theirs. This happens a lot with toxic relationships. Usually, something in the dynamic is harkening back to old wounds for both parties. We’re driven to heal, but we often go about it in all the wrong ways.

Unacknowledged pain swims below the surface of everything we do, and until we bring this stuff into the light, we’ll keep calling it into our lives in unconscious ways. You know when you feel very triggered by someone? There’s an excellent chance they’re hitting a painful nerve. The thing is, when we attract people into our spheres so we can play out an ancient drama, we also attract people who are going to be very unlikely to help us rewrite the script.

If your dad left when you were four and you have abandonment issues you haven’t dealt with, it’s likely you’re going to be attracted to men or women who can’t commit. That way, your fear of being left is now in play, and you can go about the business of trying to claim your prize and procure your happy ending by getting your partner to be “yours”, but a person who has trouble committing is going to run like hell from that scenario. It could be they grew up feeling smothered by one parent or the other, so they’re both attracted and repelled by your neediness. We want to overcome those feelings and situations we couldn’t master as children, and our attachment styles play a big role in how we go about trying to do that.

Anyway, the point is, you won’t heal this way, you’ll just relive that old pain, and throw salt in a wound you’ve never addressed. You’ll take your partner’s inability to commit to you (or whatever issue it is you keep replaying), as a sign that you are in fact, unlovable, or easy to leave, or invisible, or whatever it is you fear the most, when the truth is, they have their own story and their own wounds. A person with fear of commitment fears all commitment. It’s what you represent, it isn’t you they’re rejecting, but that doesn’t matter, because if your heart is broken, it’s broken.

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and heartache if you simply face your pain. If you notice you keep repeating patterns in your life with family members, friends, partners, colleagues and strangers, it’s time to get some help. Identifying your issues is half the battle; you don’t want to stop there. You want to be able to rewire the system, and put a time-stamp on those things from your past that are still haunting you today. If you had a parent who overpowered you or made love a conditional thing, you don’t have to be afraid of intimacy for the rest of your life. You can work with your fear. You can meet it head on. You can be aware of it without acting on it, but it takes work, and you’ll almost definitely need support.

I highly recommend the combination of yoga and therapy. Therapy to me is the “top-down” part. You identify your issues and get really clear about your tendencies, weak spots, and potential pitfalls. Yoga is the “bottom-up” part. You get in your body and you breathe. Whatever your tendencies are, believe me they’ll follow you onto your mat. Yoga is confrontational by nature. You’ll get to deal with your habitual responses to challenge, frustration, and intense, uncomfortable sensation. Intense emotions create intense sensations—deal with this in on your mat, and you’ll be able to deal with it in your life. Over time, when you feel triggered, you’ll be able to breathe through those feelings without acting on them—running out the door, or lashing out, or saying or doing things you’ll later regret. Now you’re not stuck in the identification phase, you’re actually taking ownership of your issues, and refusing to let your past ruin your present and future. If you have a loud inner critic, you’ll become aware of that, and in so doing, you’ll give yourself the power to starve it. You’ll get to rewire your system from the ground up. Does it take dedication and determination? Yes. Is it easy? No. But you know what’s a lot harder? Not doing it and replaying your pain like you’re in a real-life version of “Groundhog’s Day.” Great movie, but no way to move through life.

Break the cycle and create something new for yourself that feels good. I’d trade short-term pain and discomfort for a lifetime of suffering any day of the week. I’d love to meet you in your living room and see if I can help you with this.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

Lean Into It

maclarenSometimes it’s really hard to just “be where we are” because where we are is deeply uncomfortable. Maybe we’re grappling with envy, despair, rage, grief, heartbreak, rejection or feelings of being powerless. Maybe we’re frustrated because we’re making self-destructive choices, and even though we’re conscious of it, we can’t stop ourselves. Maybe we’ve screwed up and need to apologize, but instead we’re digging our heels in. This business of being human isn’t easy, and it isn’t always pretty. But when we try to skip over where we are and rush to something that feels better by running, denying, numbing, or trying to avoid, we simply prolong our pain, and miss a chance to know ourselves more deeply. We’re also less likely to be accountable for the energy we’re spreading.

Learning to witness your experience without judging it, is one of the huge gifts of a consistent yoga and/or seated meditation practice . Maybe you’re on your mat and you feel tight and tired. Maybe you’re confronted with a pose that’s challenging for you, and you decide to take a water break, instead. Maybe you go to sit, and your mind is racing and spinning, so you make a phone call or get on your computer. What we resist, persists. When we avoid, we also miss not just a chance to know ourselves, but also to know someone else. We all long to be loved for who we are and how we are, with all our beauty and all our flaws. A lot of people struggle to do that for themselves, let alone other people. Learning to lean into those uncomfortable feelings and experiences without grasping or recoiling or contracting, takes the power away from the feeling, and gives it back to us. Feelings arise and they peak and they subside. Feelings are not facts, and no feeling is forever, as the saying goes. How we feel now is not how we will always feel, and that includes the great feelings, too. That euphoria and all-consuming heat of new love would be exhausting if it never leveled out into something sustainable day-to-day. Not that you shouldn’t enjoy every second if that’s where you are, and not that you don’t want to stoke the flame every day to keep the fire burning, but that’s a choice; that’s different than being consumed.

The more we open to reality as it is, the less we suffer, and the less we create suffering. The more we accept other people as they are, and where they are, the less we create suffering for ourselves, and for them. No one wants to be a disappointment to themselves, or anyone else, but when we refuse to embrace a person as they are, we set them up to fail. I’m not saying that we don’t all have work to do, and places where we can heal more or understand more, or open more. I’m just saying when a person makes it clear to us where they are and how they feel, either through communication or through their actions, it’s not loving to try to superimpose what we want on top of that, even if we’re motivated by our feelings of love. Instead, our job in that moment is to lean into the rawness of accepting that how we feel is not how they feel. What we want is not what they want. Dancing like a monkey to try to be perfect for someone else, selling yourself, running, chasing, cajoling or manipulating, convincing yourself or them that you can settle for less than what you really want in your heart—all of these are ways we might attempt to deny or avoid the painful reality in front of us.

You will never find peace when you ignore the truth, that much I can guarantee. Of course we want what we want. Are we going to get everything we want? Is every longing going to be met? No. Is life going to unfold exactly like the picture in your head? Probably not. So how do we maintain our center, our feelings of “okayness” under these conditions? We tell ourselves this is how things are right now, for us, or for the people in our lives. We remember that everything is always in a state of flux, including ourselves, those closest to us, and perfect strangers. We remember that we never know what life has in store for us, and that perhaps it will be better than anything we could have imagined. We use our suffering to grow and open more, to become more sensitive, more empathetic, more tolerant, more patient, more forgiving, because we understand we are not alone in this experience. We all cry ourselves to sleep sometimes, or think we’ve made a total mess of everything, or have to face the fact that we haven’t been treating ourselves or others well. Shame, blame and rage will keep you stuck; they’re not a good foundation for growth. Feel your feelings so you can release the heat of them, and move onto whatever is coming next with an open heart, an open mind, and open hands.

Give yourself the gift of getting quiet, so you can hear the voice of your intuition. If it isn’t yoga or meditation for you, then find something—windsurfing, hiking, salsa dancing, something that gets you out of your head, and into your body, and into the flow and the realm of sensation and intuition. I used to long to be happy, but now I’m hungry for the truth, because somewhere along the way I realized that’s the key to peace. You won’t find it in events, milestones, or other people. You’ll find it within yourself when you get hungry for what’s true, and by that I mean, what’s true for you, and what’s true for other people. It makes life so much simpler.

Wishing that for you, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

The Voice Inside Your Head

negativecommitteeYesterday afternoon my son, who’s seven, was practicing the guitar. He’s been taking lessons for less than a year, but he’s doing really well. I love to listen to him play, it brings tears to my eyes. This week, his teacher told him to stop whenever he makes a mistake, and “loop back.” This is a new way of working; in the past, if he made a mistake he’d keep going. Anyway, he was having an “off day.” He couldn’t make his fingers move as quickly as he wanted to, and he couldn’t make the notes sound the way he wanted them to sound. After about twenty minutes, he came out of his room frustrated and in tears, and told me he was “never going to get it.”

So I went in and sat down with him, and asked him to breathe a little before he started again. I also talked to him about the voice inside his head. I asked him if he was aware of that voice, and he looked at me like I’d discovered some huge secret of his. He asked how I knew he had a voice inside his head, and I told him we all do. I told him about a ballet teacher I had when I was thirteen. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. He’d berate me in front of the whole room of dancers with scathing remarks. I felt the burn of shame so many times as I spun and spun on my toes in that room with him. In the years I studied with him, he only “broke” me once. There was an afternoon when a tear slid down my cheek, and even though I wiped it as I danced, he saw. It was the only time he asked me if I was okay. Years later, after I’d quit, I ran into him on Broadway. He asked me where I was dancing, and I told him I wasn’t. He was shocked. He said he’d always been especially hard on me because I had what it took. I told him for me, personally, hearing that then would have made all the difference in the world. I didn’t need “tough love” and I didn’t need shaming. Someone who believed in me would have worked wonders.

The thing is, we often internalize those voices we hear growing up. If we’re told we’re loved and cherished, if we’re made to feel that we have an impact on the people and the world around us, we’re likely to have a pretty kind and forgiving inner voice. If our effort is acknowledged, we learn to appreciate our process, instead of getting hung up on the results, but if we’re met with constant criticism, if we get the message that we never measure up, we’re very likely to develop a loud and relentless inner critic. My son’s guitar teacher is an incredible guy. Kind, loving, patient, encouraging, and tough in all the right ways. He’s bringing out the best in my son. Anyway, I explained to my boy that an inner voice that roots you on is a huge help as you move through life. Shame is a poor teaching tool, and it’s a horrible constant companion. Telling yourself you’re having a tough moment is a lot kinder than saying you’ll never get it, and it’s a lot more accurate.

I get lots of emails from people who are in pain, and so many of them are incredibly hard on themselves. We all make mistakes. We all have pain, and we all struggle. None of us acts from our highest self in every moment, or in every situation. Sometimes we have healing to do in a certain area, and maybe we’ve been avoiding that work, and then it springs up and bites us in the ass, this raw place within us that’s crying for our kind attention. Sometimes we make a mess of things out of sheer confusion and desperation. Beating yourself up isn’t going to serve anyone, and it isn’t going to aid you in your growth process. It really isn’t. Telling yourself you’re a terrible person who screwed up and made your own bed which you now deserve to lie in isn’t going to help you get to the source of what caused you to move in the direction you did in the first place. It’s okay. You’re human. Just start where you are and examine what happened with a compassionate eye. You’re not a terrible person who deserves to suffer. You didn’t set out to hurt anyone. If you were that kind of person, you wouldn’t torture yourself about it. You see what I mean? If you feel badly, it’s because you have a kind heart. Maybe you made some really poor choices. So be it. Get to work figuring out why you weren’t respecting yourself. Or why you didn’t speak up and say that you were feeling unseen or unheard or unloved.

Life is short and amazing, or long and painful. I’m pretty sure those are the options. And I think the key difference is how you’re talking to yourself. If the world within you is loving, it makes it so much easier to move through the world around you. I can say for myself, I worked this out on my yoga mat. I took that loud, shaming voice and I starved it. I stopped believing in it. I stopped giving it power or credibility, and I fed a loving, kind, patient, compassionate voice. I still worked my ass off, but I did it with a smile on my face, because it feels good to be in a healthy conversation with yourself.

Wishing that for you so much, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton