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

If You Have a Pulse, You Have a Chance

paulnewmanchanceJust a quick hit of love for you, today. Don’t ever give up on yourself. Not ever. Don’t give up on life, or love, or the possibility that you might forge a peaceful path for yourself. No matter how big a mess of things you might have made, no matter how incomprehensible a loss you’ve endured, no matter how confusing and lonely things may be right now, don’t give up. Life is going to bring everything.

We want the stuff that feels good–the love, the feelings of joy and delight and passion and excitement, and we resist the stuff that hurts; the pain, the confusion, shame, grief, loneliness, rage, guilt and doubt. But it’s all coming at us. Unless you’ve worked on it quite a lot, you’re probably going up and down with external conditions; happy when things are going the way you’d like, and depressed or angry or bitter when they’re not. Life is under no obligation to give us what we want, to unfold the way we expect it to, to cooperate with our plan.  And there’s no power in being a victim of circumstance. You have the tools you need to figure it out. To put it back together again.

Underneath all the fear and resistance is love. You might need some outside help. There are some losses that are so knifing, just getting out of bed is a feat. Just remembering to breathe in and breathe out. I get that. Compassion for yourself is the thing in those instances when your heart and spirit are crushed and you think there’s no way it could ever be okay again. And, listen. Some things will never be okay. Accepting that is the key to moving forward, even if everything in you wants to head back in time to the before of the thing. For awhile, just brushing your teeth and taking a shower is a big deal. Just getting dressed. And giving yourself time to feel all your feelings without rushing yourself to feel better.

But short of those losses, which are real and devastating and very difficult to comprehend, much of our suffering is coming from our thoughts. The ability to quiet the mind so you can get in touch with your intuition is so liberating. So you can tap that inner yes of yours. So you can live with your heart wide open. And have the courage to say no to the things that don’t feel right. The mind is like a washing machine, spinning around and around, recycling the same thoughts, loud and full of shoulds and can’ts and there’s no way I can do thats. It will keep spinning and spinning, and send you in circles or keep you paralyzed by fear, feeling overwhelmed by all the noise. It’s relentless if you don’t gain some mastery over it.

When do you lose yourself? When do you feel that feeling of being so immersed in something there are no thoughts? For me it’s yoga, but for you it might be something else. Hiking, or wind-surfing or skiing. Whatever it is, carve time out of your days for it, because those are the moments when your intuition rises.

Have you made mistakes? I’d be shocked if you hadn’t. I’ve made plenty, some big. Mistakes are part of the growth process. Some of the biggest growth I’ve experienced has come out of some of the worst choices I’ve made. Sometimes you have to screw it all up so you can put it back together the way that feels right. The way that opens your heart. Did you ever take something apart and realize you can’t put it back together? You have no idea how the parts fit and the directions are lost somewhere very safe you put them so you wouldn’t lose them? And you sit with pieces in your hands and think, how do I do this? How do I put this back together so it works? The answers are inside you. You may need someone to kindly hold up a mirror so you can find them. To reflect back at you your own darkness and your incredible light. So you can see yourself. So you can know yourself. So you can find your way. So you can sort through the pieces and let go of the ones that are blocking your ability to give and receive love. But it’s never over in this life until your final exhale. My feeling is, if you can do one thing, even one tiny thing like hold a door open for a stranger, your day was worthwhile. Because you contributed to a happier, kinder, more thoughtful, caring world. Start there if you need to. But don’t give up. Sending you love and wishing you peace, Ally

Your Intuition Doesn’t Need a List

quieterubecomemoreucanhearToward the end of the relationship with the guy who still has the antique mirror that reminds me of my Nanny, and the piece of jewelry that belonged to my mother’s great Aunt, I went to my best friend’s summer house on Cape Cod. It was January, and at that time of year, it’s a locals-only scene. There were virtually no stores open. I didn’t take my phone, but I did take my dog. I stopped on the way there and bought groceries for the week. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going except, of course, my friend whose house it was, and my mom. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I’d had the same conversation with everyone I trusted. I was talked out. I knew I had to leave this man, but I was struggling to accept what I knew. Which, I believe, we do a lot with those painful truths. When we start to feel them and acknowledge them, it’s as if they begin to take up residence in our lungs. Little by little, it becomes harder to breathe. Why can’t I breathe? I”m being smothered by my own truth, which I’ve been trying to deny. To avoid. So there I found myself, or more accurately, there I took myself and my dog and my groceries and a starter log because I had no idea how to build a fire, but I knew I’d want one. I took my books and my journal and my jeans and some warm sweaters. My down jacket and my gloves and my scarf and my crowded lungs and my broken heart, and my amazing gift of a dog. I didn’t know exactly why I was going, I just felt pulled to do it. And for a little over a week, I stayed in this big house by myself, feeling vulnerable because it was the setting for every horror movie you’ve ever seen. Young woman in a big house by herself in a deserted place with no phone service? But also feeling like I was exactly where I needed to be. And I walked on the freezing beach and ran into exactly no one. And I wrote in my journal and curled up by the fireplace to read my books. I talked to my dog who was the world’s best listener. About the situation I was in, and the choices I’d made to land myself in it. And I did not look away from my part in the whole thing. And by the end of the week I had reconciled what I knew to be true with what I knew I needed to do. And just like that, I could breathe again.

If you want to get in touch with your own truth, you’re going to have to quiet your mind. Which is LOUD unless you’ve worked on it. The mind is so full of shoulds and can’ts and there’s no way I could do thats. Of reasons and judgments and lists of why not. But your intuition has no list. It doesn’t need a list. Your heart wants to sing. Your intuition is the score. Without it, you are lost. Alone. Disconnected. The notes don’t carry, it’s like singing into the wind. You don’t have to leave your life to get quiet, although sometimes it’s very helpful. The first time I did a 10-day Vipassana (meditation) sit, I thought they’d have to pick me up in a rubber van. I thought I’d end up in slippers taking blue pills every four hours, with my friends saying, “I don’t know what happened. She used to teach yoga, and then she went on this silent retreat…” But by day four I was amazed. And by the end of the retreat I didn’t want to speak and I didn’t want to leave. We talk too much about absolutely nothing. I blathered on this morning about traveling on planes with kids in tow, and a couple of minutes in I thought, “Who cares? Is it really news that traveling with small children isn’t easy?” And I stopped talking. People talk about their weight and their cars and their breakouts and their plans to renovate their houses or their faces or whatever. But really, listening is the thing. And if you can’t listen to yourself, to that deepest truest voice within you, how will you ever step into your own light? It doesn’t matter how you quiet your mind. For me, that’s the heart of my yoga and meditation practice. But for you, it might be wind-surfing, or hiking or salsa dancing. The thing is to figure out what you need if you haven’t yet. Because that’s how you get connected to your (true)self. And that’s how you sing from your heart. So much love, Ally

They Control You (Or They Don’t!)

theycontroluLast week I received an email from a colleague that really got me fired up. I wanted to laugh it off or shrug it off, but it got right under my skin. It was pedantic, arrogant and fairly offensive, and I have a strong feeling it’s not an email he would have sent to a male colleague. I could be wrong on that, of course; it’s possible he talks down to everyone, regardless of gender. Thankfully, I’ve been at this game called life long enough to realize it’s never smart to write back when you’re in a reactive state. Because believe me, the email I was writing in my head was fiery. I went about my day, teaching and picking up my kids from school, going to the dog park with our energetic, mouthy puppy, but every so often, in he crept, Mr. Let Me Tell You What Yoga Is. Let me enlighten you with my knowledge. And every time, I got pissed again, and started firing back in my head. Then I’d catch myself, and shake my head and laugh at the balls of this guy, and come back to laughing in earnest with my son and daughter, taking in the gorgeous day, feeling the breeze on my cheek. It’s always our choice whether we receive the insult or not, after all. I never did write back, nor will I, because some things simply don’t deserve the time and energy required to respond. You live your life and your truth with your heart wide open. You have nothing to prove to anyone. But I went through half a dozen drafts in my head, and I let him steal way too much of my day. My meditation teacher, S.N. Goenka, calls this ,”boiling yourself”. The event is over, but you re-live it in your head, and get yourself as worked up as if it were happening in the now.

It’s really hard to hold your center when you feel insulted, attacked, misunderstood, dismissed or otherwise pained by the comments or behavior of someone else, and that’s especially true if it’s a person you love. (Thankfully not the case in my scenario from last week :)). When loved ones are in pain, and their pain spills out all over our lives, it’s incredibly challenging to love them without being held hostage by their suffering. Life brings everything, and not all of it is easy. In fact, some of it will break your heart boldly and without warning on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or a gorgeous Tuesday morning. Life is under no obligation to give us what we want. Some people will face loss and pain that is incomprehensible; it’s not a level playing field. And not everyone handles the everything that life brings in a way that makes sense from outside the experience. Some pain is so knifing, people run from it. Try to numb it out. Push it down, avoid it at all costs. You cannot make a person ready to face their dragons. That’s inside work. When you love a person who’s in self-destruct mode, it’s the most challenging thing in the world to disengage if you must. But it’s an essential lesson in life–we cannot save other people, we each must save ourselves. Or not. You cannot manage another person’s path. You can’t take a person by the shoulders and shove them into the cave of their own despair, telling them to sit there and feel it all and let it wash over them ’til the heat of it is released. That’s a task they choose or they don’t. All you can do is manage your own path. Do your own healing, return to your own love and joy and inner yes. And if a person you love is flailing about it pain, you can do everything in your power to support them. But you do them no good if you get down in the mud and flail about with them. That’s not going to help them, but it is going to hurt you. Keep coming back to love. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself, and everyone in your life. Direct your energy. Sending you love, and wishing you love, Ally

Get Up!

Even-if-youre-on-theAwareness is the first step, but action is what’s needed if you want to see a shift happen. People often get stuck at the level of identification, meaning they can tell you in great detail why they are the way they are, but that’s as far as they’ll go. The past experiences explain and justify the current behavior. Except they don’t, because there’s always space for growth, and for free will.

Healing requires openness and honesty and a willingness to not look away, even when you must stare at the center of your deepest pain. It also demands vigilance, especially when you detect unhealthy patterns in your life. It means re-training yourself to feed a loving voice, and to starve any tendencies that make you feel less than, or unworthy of love. We are always in process. Knowing yourself well is a gift that makes it possible to “catch yourself” sooner, so you can make healthy decisions based on how things are, and not how they once were. To move forward with love and trust, even when the road is dark and slick and we’re traveling with no map. In order to proceed in a direction that’s going to lead to happiness and peace, you’ll have to avail yourself of some tools that give you the power to pause and breathe when you feel triggered. Yoga practice is excellent for that.

Healing also requires your creativity, and a willingness to let go of the chains that are holding you back. Sometimes we’ve been attached to a sad story for so long, we can’t imagine what would happen if we just released it. If we weren’t blaming other people or circumstances for our unhappiness, what would we do with our time, and how would we explain our lack of joy or purpose? These are tough questions to face, and getting support is a really good move if you’re in this position. The combination of yoga, seated meditation and therapy worked for me, but you may need other tools. That part is personal, and you’ll have to figure out what you need by trying different things, and staying with it until you find something that resonates with you. But that’s a much better use of your time than explaining that your current abandonment issues are based on a time, twenty years ago, when your dad left you and your mom. Identification is great, but you have to add excavation on top of that. Is it your mom’s and dad’s story, or is it your story now?

Giving up on yourself is a serious shame and an act of ingratitude. As heartbreaking as it can be sometimes, this life is a gift, and this experience of being human, vulnerable, awake, and changing is an opportunity to heal more than just ourselves. We come into this world with an insane amount of love inside of us, and I believe we are meant to uncover it, and spread it all over the place. The story of your life will keep unfolding, every day. There are the circumstances, and there’s the way you respond to them. In that way, you co-create the story. The pieces are always moving, the ground below us is always shifting, there are no promises or guarantees, and you don’t have forever. There are big questions that need to be lived, that you can never truly answer, but that you’ll have to grapple with if you want to be at peace. The key is to keep moving, keep growing, keep seeing and listening and exploring. To be willing to allow life, and your very own self, to surprise you. To recognize you’ll never have all the answers, in fact, you’ll have very few. Only a couple truly matter, anyway. How much are you going to love, and how much are you going to do what you can to heal yourself, and in so doing, the world around you? Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton