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.

Our Collective Undoing

Uncertainty is the name of the game in life. This whole business of being human – arriving on a spinning planet in a vast galaxy with no idea how long we’ll have here, no clue how long anyone else will have, no idea what happens after this – none of these are easy parameters to deal with and integrate. We don’t know what kind of sudden loss we might face on a “normal” Wednesday or whether we’ll wake up in the morning. We don’t know if the person we adore will continue to adore us, we don’t know if our children will be okay when we drop them off at school (back when we used to do that), we don’t know if we’ll realize our dreams, no matter how hard we work. It’s a wonder any of us get out of bed in the morning and keep showing up, but that’s the very thing about human beings, we are a wonder.

In the face of all that vulnerability, we do get up. We brush our teeth and get dressed (pajamas count at this point) and we start the day. In “normal” times we might make a pot of coffee and start tackling our to-do list whether it’s written or not. Pack lunches for the kids, check! Get them up and make them breakfast, check! Drive to school in the nick of time, check! If it’s Monday, maybe we head to the grocery store after school drop-off and buy groceries for the week. Maybe Monday nights we go to yoga and put our mat in the same spot we like. The point is, we have our routines, our plans, our checklists, our habits, our schedule, our deadlines, our expectations and off we go. These are the things that help us forget our vulnerability, because in “normal” times and on most days, things go (mostly) the way we expect. Things go according to our plans, dammit, and this helps us feel okay on a spinning planet in a vast universe where we don’t know what the hell is going on.

In the last several weeks, all the things we count on to forget our vulnerability have been taken away from us. You can’t go to the grocery store unless you’re ready to suit up, mask up, glove up and wait on line six feet away from the nearest other person just to get in the store ten people at a time, and all of that reminds you of your intense vulnerability, so there went any comfort from your grocery routine. Maybe ordering online is better for now, you think. You can’t go on your hike because the trails are closed and you can’t go to the beach, either. You will survive this, these are small sacrifices you understand you have to make to care for the vulnerable members of your community, and yet these things help you with your mental wellness, but you’ll figure it out. You can’t meet your friend for coffee and a walk because you can’t see friends right now and there’s nowhere to have coffee and walking is really like some weird game of keep-away with strangers that is no fun at all. Hugs with anyone outside your house are not possible and if there’s no one in your house with you, there go hugs for awhile and here comes a lesson in skin hunger. Basically, what you have right now, what you get to acknowledge and roll around in and possibly avoid marinating in for a bit with a Netflix binge or three, is your vulnerability and the intense recognition of the fact that you are not driving the bus and you never, ever were.

If you make plans and your plans happen, that is called good fortune. If you have a checklist and it’s reasonable and realistic and your day goes the way you hoped it would, that is called hard work and good fortune. If you love someone and they love you back and this goes on for days and days and weeks and months and years, that is called enormous good fortune, it is called two people choosing each other again and again day after day, it is called hallelujah, and even then, one of you will be left at some point. There is no way through this life without loss and suffering, not a single one of us escapes it. There is no such thing as a “normal” day or the luxury of “wasting time” – the only sure thing we have is a lack of surety.

We all know this on some level. It’s tough to swallow, acknowledge and honor every day, but it’s real and it’s true and you can count on it and you know this in your heart of hearts and in your gut. You know this. All the plans and routines and regimens won’t change it. You can be totally ripped and gluten-free, you can do burpees or run miles or do nine hundred chaturangas a day (not recommended) and still, you can’t escape it. All the lists and deadlines in the world won’t stop it. What is different about the last several weeks, what makes this time unprecedented and unchartered as everyone has said and said and said again is that we are all going through this intense realization at the same time. Usually we experience this individually. We lose someone we love, and for us it’s like the world has stopped spinning and an entire universe has disappeared and it doesn’t seem possible people are out in the world having a good day. Our world has stopped. For a time our perspective changes and we remember how fragile we are and how fragile life is and how thin is the membrane between being here alive and being out in the ethers. We understand it for a time, but that is not easy to hold onto because it hurts, it’s painful, it makes us feel small and powerless and not in control. So eventually we “get back to living” and we make plans and lists and find a routine and a new footing and this person is still gone and sometimes the grief knocks us off our feet in the middle of a plan or a deadline and we remember again, but we get back up.

What’s different about this experience is that we have had a collective undoing, a group lesson in vulnerability and not being in control and it’s painful and it hurts and grieving and mourning make sense and there are no normal days and that is always true. There are angry people out there screaming about their rights being violated, but that anger is just the emotion on top of the pain and the rights they’re speaking of are gifts they can’t access to feel better and to feel in control. Some people deal with their vulnerability better than others. Some people try to suit up against it and armor themselves against the world, but that never helps in the long run. Your heart is meant to be broken again and again so it can keep softening and opening and you can know more and care more and have more compassion and understanding, awareness and patience and love for yourself and others. Does this mean we shouldn’t make plans or assume we’ll see our children at pick-up or pursue our dreams or try to meet our deadlines? Of course not. We are wonders after all and we should never give up on ourselves or each other or on life’s ability to surprise us with joy and adventure we never imagined. But somewhere in there, we ought to keep remembering, this is a gift, this is a gift, this is a gift.

May we all remember.

Sending you so much love and the hope that you are being gentle with yourself,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

 

If the posts are helpful you can find my books here my yoga classes and courses here and live meditations and group support here.

Where You Find Your Shoulds You’ll Find Your Shame

You know about “shoulding” on yourself, right? When that nasty inner critic pipes up and says you should be further along than you are professionally or you should be married by now or you should make better choices with romantic partners or you should lose that ten pounds or you should be able to do it all and still look like a million bucks or you should be able to work and be an amazing parent, partner, friend, or you should not have said that stupid thing or lost your patience or made that horrible decision, and if anyone knew they’d also know how unworthy you are of love, friendship, anyone’s high esteem or affection.

That’s the problem with shame. It’s a liar, because the truth is we all have things we wish we could go back and do differently, we all have things we don’t share, even with our closest people, we all struggle with feeling like it’s just us. Shame makes you feel like a fraud, like you’re bad and not worthy, and because of that you have to push down your worst choices and biggest mistakes. Shame separates us from each other.

No one gets through life without making mistakes, no one feels good about every choice s/he has made. It’s okay, it’s called being human. Stop shoulding yourself and start working on forgiving yourself so you can offer up that particular spark of yours to the world. Life is too short for anything else.

If the world isn’t being gentle with you, I hope you’re being gentle with yourself. 
Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton