Ask for What You Want!

A few years ago I was leading a weekend workshop and we were talking about clear communication. A woman in the group started talking about her mother-in-law and how she always needed to have this particular condiment when she would come for dinner. If the condiment wasn’t there, she would express her absolute disappointment and it would become the main topic of the night. The woman in the group said she had learned to be sure to have the condiment on hand, because it didn’t matter what else she might have done – it didn’t matter if she’d cooked dinner for twenty-five people, if she’d spent days cleaning the house in advance of the dinner, if she’d baked three different desserts –  if she failed to have this condiment, that was it. It should be noted that this item was not easy to come by, and only one store in the area consistently carried it, a store forty-five minutes away from the woman in the group, but only fifteen minutes away from her mother-in-law, and along the route she needed to travel to come to the house.

I don’t know if this was a power-play on her mother-in-law’s part, or some kind of sad test she conducted to see if her daughter-in-law really loved her enough to travel ninety-plus minutes to get said condiment, but I do know this is unreasonable. If you know you need something in order to be happy or at ease, it’s your responsibility to bring it. It’s okay to ask for what you want, and, in fact, I would highly encourage you to do that when we’re talking about emotional needs. It doesn’t mean you’ll always get what you’re asking for, but it makes it a lot easier on the people who love you. No one can be expected to read your mind, after all. But things like a condiment you have to have? That’s on you.

Ultimately, we are responsible for our own happiness. Of course the people closest to us can increase our happiness quotient. But my happiness is not something I put in anyone else’s basket, that’s mine to work out. If I know myself and know I might like to have some support in certain situations, I can share that with the people closest to me, and maybe they come through, and maybe they don’t. But if I don’t share it, I can’t get upset when they don’t figure it out on their own. If I don’t tell my kids to make their own beds, but then I stew as I’m making their beds myself, and shake my head and wonder why they don’t do it, that’s on me, not them. If it annoys me that I’m the one picking up glasses and plates from all over the house, or the only one to throw in a load of laundry, but I never say anything to my family because I want everything done my way, that’s on me, not them.

Life is short. We can make lists of things we aren’t getting, things people “should” do without being told, things we would never do, things people have said in the past that were hurtful, things we wish someone wouldn’t do, reasons we’re amazing and other people suck, reasons other people are amazing but we suck…you get the idea. There are all kinds of lists we can make, but a list of resentments isn’t the kind of list you want to have in your head! Be responsible for your own condiment needs and ask for what you want! You won’t always get it, but at least you’ll know you advocated for yourself!

Wayne Gretzky: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Proverb: Don’t ask, don’t get. Ask, sometimes get!

Sending you lots of love,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

If the posts are helpful, please find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here!

How to Free Yourself and Forgive

Not one of us makes it through this life (or even most days) without making mistakes, occasionally saying or doing something thoughtless, taking people and things for granted when they’re truly gifts in our lives, or showing up as our best selves in every moment. Hopefully in those instances when we are all-too-human, we catch ourselves quickly, apologize from the heart when needed, and try to make better and different mistakes moving forward. If we are fortunate and wise, we both receive and extend forgiveness as a necessary means to have real intimacy with people and get through this life with open and fulfilling relationships to celebrate. There’s no intimacy without communication and forgiveness. That is not what this post is about.

This post is about people who seemingly lack empathy about how their behavior might affect those around them. People who might have lied to you, betrayed you, disrespected you or abused you emotionally or physically with little to no understanding of why their actions upset you, and no tools to offer a meaningful apology. Maybe you have people like this in your life, people who stampede over your boundaries and look at you like you’re nuts when you get upset. You might even have people very close to you who were “supposed to” look out for you, nurture you and protect you, who “should have” cherished you and received you as the miracle you are, but were completely unable to do so. I put supposed to and should have in quotes because while we might have certain expectations based on societal norms, there’s no guarantee what we expect is going to sync with what someone is able to do. How do you forgive that, and what does it mean to try?

Forgiveness does not mean you have to decide that anything and everything someone may have done is okay, or even tolerable. It does not mean you have to pick up the phone and call the person. It definitely does not mean you have to have this person in your life. It simply means if you spend a lot of time looking back over your shoulder and blaming past events or other people for your current unhappiness, you are keeping these old events alive by dwelling on them, renting space in your head to someone who has hurt you. Where our attention goes, our energy flows. So it’s good to consider how much energy you’re spending on things that have already occurred and can’t be changed or rewritten.

If you have examined your past, your patterns, the things that have happened along the way that may have shaped your worldview and your feelings about other people, if you have gleaned all the information you can from a situation, then there’s no potential left there. There’s no kernel of anything that’s going to suddenly help you find your freedom from all of it. The truth is, we show up in people’s lives whenever we show up. Sometimes they’re ready to meet us with open hearts and lots of love, and sometimes they are deeply struggling or hurt, angry or bitter or totally unprepared to receive the love we’re offering. Re-read that if you need to, because you will notice none of that has a thing to do with you. It’s not about you, it’s about the other person. This is even true if we’re talking about our parents, and perhaps most especially true there. It is so hard not to take it personally if your own mother or father didn’t love you, for example, or didn’t love you in a way that felt like love to you. What could feel more personal than that? Of course it’s understandable to feel like there must be something broken in you if your own parents can’t love you, but there’s something broken in them, not you. Do you know how many people I’ve worked with over the years grappling with that? Me neither, because I’ve lost count.

When someone lies to you, they’re disrespecting themselves first. At that particular moment in time, they are dishonest people and they know that about themselves. It’s not a good feeling to know you are a liar, or that you’re breaking your commitments. Good people make really bad decisions sometimes out of desperation, or because they find themselves in a soul-crushing situation and can’t see a decent way out. It happens all day, every day. It’s easy to sit in judgement of other people and think you would never do what they’re doing, but the truth is, if you had that person’s life and her experiences, you’d be doing exactly what she’s doing.

Hopefully we can all let the little things roll off. We can be big enough to forgive people for thoughtless moments and loving enough to easily accept heartfelt apologies for small offenses. When we’re talking about the larger things – betrayal, emotional abuse or neglect over long periods of time, a basic lack of empathy or understanding or ability to consistently show up with respect and kindness – the essential thing is to recognize it isn’t personal. When someone cuts you off on the freeway, it isn’t about you, this is how they drive all day long, and they’re going to cut off a whole bunch of people after you. Same with the above. It isn’t personal when someone lacks the tools to recognize truly hurtful behavior, this is a reflection of something lacking in the other person, not you. It can’t be easy to go through life being unable to have real intimacy with anyone. If possible, forgive people who’ve let you down. You don’t have to invite them over for dinner, just clear out the space they’re taking up in your mind, and try to wish them some healing and peace if you can.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

If the posts are helpful, please find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here!

Stay in Your Own Lane

It is so easy and so human to get twisted up with this idea, but the more you can stay in your own lane, the better. Any time I find myself thinking I know what someone else ought to feel, say or do, I realize I’m avoiding my own work. I have yet to meet another human being who has their own stuff so dialed in, they’re in a position to start weighing in on anyone else’s behavior, choices or way of being.

But it’s so appealing, isn’t it? Don’t we love to think we have all the answers when we stand on the sidelines of someone else’s life? If only they would do this (insert your opinion here), everything would get better for them! A lot of the time, our tendency to want to manage another person’s path is coming out of love. We want to help someone avoid pain or steer around a pothole we can see in the road that they don’t seem to see coming. It’s natural to find it excruciating to watch someone we love suffer, but sometimes we all need to struggle in order to strengthen. I know there have been times in my own life during the gnarlier moments of my healing process when I knew full well I was getting on a train that was going to crash into a brick wall, but I didn’t have the strength yet to not get on the train. We learn the lessons when we’re ready, and not a moment sooner. No one else can do that work for us, and even if you drag someone off the train, the minute you turn your back, they’re gonna jump back on unless they are ready to choose a different road themselves. See also: you can’t save anyone. This is particularly tough to swallow if we’re talking about our children or our partners, but there are times when the most loving thing we can do is just be there to listen, to help pick up the pieces, to offer our hugs and our hearts and our belief in them.

Have you ever tried to manage someone’s reaction to something you desperately need to say or do for your own well-being, sanity, or ability to survive? Maybe you’ve swallowed your own feelings to avoid hurting someone else? That’s also not staying in your own lane. I have found that most people want to be dealing with the truth, even if it’s heartbreaking. Most people would choose dignity and respect over pity or avoidance. That doesn’t mean compassion and sensitivity aren’t key when you need to share something you know is painful or disappointing with someone you care for, but most people would rather have full-on love instead of half-measures. And everyone deserves full-on love.

When I find myself trying to manage another person’s path, I remind myself I don’t drive the big bus with the LIFE license plate, I drive a tiny little car with the Ally license plate. That’s the car I get to drive, and even then it isn’t easy. That alone is plenty of work, especially if I want to show up in the world with compassion, patience, empathy, understanding and a sense of humor. And I do want to do that! Even if I stay focused on that work, I still don’t control the road ahead of me. I still might find myself in a falling rock zone, or a sudden storm, I still might get blown off the road by a tornado I failed to see on the horizon, or I might get a flat or my AC might break on a really hot day. All I get to work on is how I respond to whatever happens. I get to check my oil, make sure my tires have enough air, clean my windshield, pick a speed that’s safe for me and other travelers on the road, use my turn signals, pay attention to the signs, use a map or find my own way…but I don’t control the rest (and neither do you).

Sending you lots of love on the windy road,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

If the posts are helpful you can find my books here, or you can come practice the art of opening to everything (yoga) with me here!

The Danger of Spiritual Sound Bites

One of my least favorite things is the spiritual sound bite – that little saying with a bow on top that sounds deep and meaningful, but is really just something we say in the face of great loss or heartache that might actually make things worse, like “everything happens for a reason” or “you choose everything that happens to you” or “when the universe takes something away it’s making room for something better.”

The truth is, heart-shattering things happen to beautiful, kind, incredible people every single day. Spiritual sound bites make me twitch because while they may be stated or posted with the intention of helping, they’re going to alienate people who are truly suffering, and possibly compound their pain. Imagine a grieving parent seeing a post that says “everything happens for a reason” or “you choose what happens to you.” Even if you believe those statements to be true, it must be clear how painful it would be to read something like that when a whole person has been ripped from your life and it’s the very last thing you would ever want or choose.

It’s my passionate belief that a worthwhile spiritual practice ought to be there for you when the ground falls out from beneath your feet. That’s the point of practice. It’s not to make everything okay. Everything will not always be okay, and that isn’t because there’s some master plan “the universe” has for your life or mine. There are 7.5 billion of us here on planet earth, and we’re talking about one solar system in a vast universe. You think “the universe” has time to be concerned with the weather on my wedding day or yours? Or that if something incomprehensible happens it will make sense one day?

A meaningful practice will give you some kind of ground to fall down on and grieve. It will give you a place to rest when you’re done shaking your fists at the sky. After a while, it will be the foundation you walk on when you start putting one foot in front of the other and are ready to feel the sun on your face again. But it won’t make everything okay, it will just offer you the soil to grow beauty from your pain and rise from the ashes like a phoenix, or from the mud like a lotus flower.

Please don’t let spiritual sound bites get you down or make you feel like you’re failing in your practice. Sometimes the only work is to allow your heart to break fully and to keep breathing. That’s as spiritual as it gets.

Sending you so much love,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

If the posts are helpful, please find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here!

 

Gaslit? Grab Your Fire Extinguisher!

We all make mistakes and say or do things that are thoughtless or careless sometimes. No one shows up as the best version of themselves in every situation on every single day. Hopefully, if you are a grown-up, you know how to give a grown-up apology. A grown-up apology is when you say you’re sorry without any other bells or whistles. It isn’t “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I see what you’re saying, but you did X, Y or Z.” It’s a simple, “I hear you. I understand why you feel the way you do and I am so sorry I blew it. I will think about what happened and why I did what I did or said what I said so I make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.” Something along those lines qualifies as a grown-up apology and it’s really good to know how to give one of those because we’re all human. Whether you’re forgiven or not is not up to you, you can only do your end of the equation. People who aren’t willing or able to accept a grownup apology may realize that’s a bad policy when they’re the ones looking for forgiveness, so do your best to give people time.

There are some people who will never apologize, though, and maybe you know people like that. Gaslighting is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, and it comes from a George Cukor film, “Gaslight” with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer – it’s a story about a husband who methodically causes his wife to question her own sanity by telling her the gaslight in their home isn’t dimming when clearly it is. Small things that add up over time and make her wonder if she can trust herself. This is what it feels like when you’re being gaslit. A person behaves in a way that is widely accepted as hurtful or thoughtless, and when you express that you feel hurt or disregarded, they treat you as though you are the crazy one.

If you’ve been in this situation, then you know that it is, indeed, crazy-making. I once expressed my anger and sadness to a friend who’d been very careless and thoughtless, and her response was that she no longer felt safe with me because I’d been so critical of her. What kind of friendship is possible if you express your legitimate and understandable disappointment and are told the other person now feels unsafe? That’s classic manipulation and gaslighting, and it shuts down any possibility for understanding, forgiveness, healing, trust or intimacy.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, the number one thing you can trust is what you have seen with your own eyes and heard with your own ears. If a person is regularly thoughtless, self-absorbed, careless with you, and unable to apologize, you can trust this isn’t a person who is capable of being in a healthy relationship. That hurts and it’s sad, but it’s true and it’s also okay. There are a lot of people like this in the world. It’s very easy to say I’m wonderful. I’m amazing, I’m the best person you’ll ever meet. But if I behave in ways that call that into question, if I’m cruel or rude or a giant blowhard, it’s easy to see that my words and my actions don’t gel, and you can trust that and decide I’m not someone you want in your life. Try not to get twisted. Sometimes we really want to make excuses for people because we love them or are attached to a particular outcome, but it never works when you pretend things are not as they are.

One of the tenets of the yoga practice is vidya, clear-seeing. We’re trying to remove the gunk that prevents us from seeing clearly. That “gunk” might be caused by years of build-up. Maybe we’re used to being treated with little regard, or we’ve come to believe that we’re broken in some deep and essential way. We may have decided that “everyone leaves” or “everyone cheats” or “you can’t trust anyone” because one person left or cheated or wasn’t trustworthy. That would be gunk that’s blocking our ability to see clearly. Maybe we’re coming out of a family where everyone is pretending things are perfect when really, there’s big trouble brewing. Sometimes people you love demand that you love them on their terms, and their terms might be that you accept they are never wrong. There are a lot of different ways we can grow to not trust in our ability to see clearly, to trust our gut, our own eyes and ears. If it looks like a snake and acts like a snake, it’s a snake. Trust that. As the incredible Maya Angelou always said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here.

Get Off the Hamster Wheel of Not-Enoughness

When you’re part of a culture that is always sending you messages that you aren’t good enough, and teaches you to base your feelings of self-worth on how you measure up compared to other people, it’s really easy to feel like you suck. The truth is, there are about 7.5 billion people on the planet, but there’s only one of you. There never has been and there never will be another you, isn’t that incredible? Your worth has nothing to do with how you’re stacking up compared to the person ahead of you or behind you, whether you’re in a socially-distanced line or you’re looking at your social media feed. Your worth is not the number in your bank account or the number on your scale or your breast-size or waist-size or bicep-size. It isn’t in an arm balance or inversion, it isn’t in how many “followers” you have, it isn’t in your hair or the beer you drink or don’t drink, it isn’t in your car or your job or your partner. Your worth is intrinsic to you. You are here and you are unique and you have something to offer this world only you can. That’s amazing to me. You might need to get out of your own way, or heal on a deep level, you might need to stop believing old stories that keep you stuck, but your worth is never at issue.

One of the best ways to start coming from a place of abundance instead of lack and the fear that there isn’t enough for you, or that someone else has or could steal your place in the sun, is to focus on what you DO have, what is flowing, the gifts that might be easy to take for granted but are actually huge. I opened my eyes this morning and I get to be here another day with the people I love. That’s huge, that’s everything. I HAVE people I love deeply, who amaze me with their kindness, intelligence, insight, humor, enthusiasm, passion, steadfastness and resilience and I am loved in a deep way by a few people who really know me, see me and understand me, and that’s the luckiest thing I know. These are three gigantic things I could easily overlook if I allowed myself to get caught up in the hamster wheel of not-enoughness, but the antidote for that is a gratitude practice, a daily effort to remember. And this has helped me through some very dark days and tough times, and it doesn’t mean we don’t feel despair, fear, frustration, rage and every other feeling under the sun, it just means we take some time each day to appreciate the things we do have. It makes the painful days a bit less so and the beautiful days that much more piercing.

Sending you lots of love,

Ally Hamilton

What’s one thing that’s lighting you up right now? I’d love to know!

Daily Effort

This is a simple reminder to myself and anyone else who might need it: When you are looking to make real and lasting change, it’s the effort you put in each day that makes the difference over time.

In my own life, whenever it has become clear to me there’s work to be done, I want to go all-in, full speed ahead. This is true for me regardless of the goal in mind. It is natural and human to want to get to the finish line quickly, but I have found most of the meaningful things in life are achieved over time, and through dedicated, daily work. If something is important to me, I’m going to prioritize it. There are only so many hours in the day, and we each have only so much energy, so it comes down to choices. If this is important to me, how much time can I carve out for it each day? How important is it and how much do I care?

One of the best ways to get clear on this is to make a list. You can call it anything you like, but for my purposes right now, I’ll call it the Things That Are Most Important to Me Right Now list. Here’s mine:

The health and happiness of my little family.

The health and happiness of those closest to me.

The health and happiness of all people in this world.

The health, happiness and equality of BIPOC in this world because it has become heartbreakingly obvious to me those are the people who need our attention, support and lasting commitment to change.

Finishing my next book.

Relaunching the website.

Being available to the yoga community we have that spans the globe.

This is a lot of things, right? Under each of the priorities on my list are unwritten action items. A list doesn’t do much if there isn’t any action behind it. If I care about the health and happiness of my little family, that means I have to be a present mom and wife. I have to show up for my people and be engaged and care about what matters to each of them and carve out time that is just for them. I have to prioritize and say no to some things so I can say yes to the three people most important to me. If I want to be sure each of them knows how much I love them, I have to show them every single day. Words aren’t enough. Conversations, laughter, hugs, meals together, board games, cuddles, trust, tears, it’s a whole bunch of ingredients that go into a happy family. And my own self-care has to be part of the action I take, or everything else falls apart.

If I care about my close friends, I have to make time to connect. That’s even more challenging under the current social distancing, mask-wearing guidelines. It requires creativity and scheduling and FaceTiming and texting and checking in. These are intense times for everyone, and letting people know you care is not as easy as meeting a friend for coffee or walking on the beach these days, so it requires thought and extra effort.

If yoga practice is about facing reality as it is, then there’s a lot to take in right now. It feels like the world is on fire, upside down, inside out, and spinning on a painful axis at the moment. To not acknowledge that would be to bury my head in the sand, and the whole point of practice is to not bury my head, but rather to open my heart, eyes, mind, hands. To look around and to look within. To figure out my own place in everything, both how small I am but also how powerful I am. To see where I’ve been participating in a system that is unjust. To see where I’ve benefitted from it knowingly or unknowingly. To figure out how to do better and be better. To educate myself in all the ways I do have a voice and can use it. To take the time to re-teach myself history, because a lot of it went un-taught. To re-teach myself about democracy and the importance of an engaged, impassioned electorate, especially at the local level. All of this takes time and effort, it isn’t something I can do in a day, a week, a month. It has to become part of my daily practice, just like rolling out my mat. I am committed to doing something every single day to be a part of the change I want to see, whether that’s sending an email or making a phone call or donating to an organization doing good work or educating myself about an elected official or the policies of my local police department or signing a petition, reading a book, taking an anti-racism course, watching a documentary, having conversations with my family or anything else that helps me learn and grow. It also involves the willingness to make mistakes, to not know, to get it wrong, to think about things from other perspectives, to not get entrenched or defensive. It’s humbling and uncomfortable and that is okay. We do yoga so we can open to discomfort and uncertainty.

If I care about finishing my book, I have to make the time to write. If I care about our yoga community, I have to show up. It all follows the same formula. If I care about something I have to make time for it.

Nothing important, meaningful and beautiful in my life happened overnight. If I hadn’t spent years on my mat opening to places where I needed to heal, to consider, to lean in, to release, to understand, to have compassion…there’s no way I would have been ready for my my children or ready to receive all the love in my life. I wouldn’t have been ready when I met my husband. It’s the things we do each day, the commitments we make, the choices we make, the things we prioritize that lead to lasting change, so whatever it is that’s important to you, that’s the stuff that has to go on your list and those are the things, people, and core values you have to make time for each day.

I’ll end with this – yesterday I was on Instagram and I was scrolling along and up popped an add for a reusable, strapless push-up bra and there were over 1,200 comments under it. Women asking if it really worked and if it was good for big boobs and wondering if anyone else had ordered and blahblahblah and I hid the ad as irrelevant because what could be more irrelevant right now (or ever)? Please tell me you see through this. There are always messages that will keep you distracted and pull you away from everything beautiful about yourself – that will ask you to focus on your boobs and your appearance so you don’t have time to think about how much power you have and how much you could be helping. There are a lot of things I don’t know, but I DO know this – your value does not reside in your boobs or your bank account, your biceps or your car or your next vacation or your big house or your skinny jeans, putting your ankle behind your head, or pressing to handstand – your value resides in your ability to love, to care, to have empathy and to act on all of that. That’s where your value lies. It’s a gift to be here on this strange, spinning planet during these confusing and overwhelming times. It’s a gift to be here because we have an opportunity each day to try to offer something beautiful. If there are about 7 billion people on this planet, but only one you, doesn’t that mean you have a particular spark? Something to offer the world that only you can? I think that’s what it means. So I’ll ask you:

What’s on your list? And what are you doing today to make sure it’s clear those people and values are the ones that matter most to you?

The world is not being gentle with us right now, and maybe that’s a good thing. Nonetheless, I hope you’re being gentle with yourself as you face what’s in front of you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

If you enjoy the blog, please check out my books here and my yoga classes here.