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

Definition Matters

Most of us have been through heartbreak, loss, disappointment and pain. It’s very unlikely everything has turned out the way you thought it would or wish it had. Some people deal with more heartbreak and loss than others.

Regardless of what you’ve been through, you do yourself no favors if you define yourself as a victim of your experiences. You are a survivor. The minute you shift your mindset in that way, you gain some power over how you’re going to rise up in the face of whatever has happened. You start to focus on your resilience instead of your rage. If you can’t change the situation, if you can’t go back and rewrite history, then the best thing you can do is shift the way you’re thinking about it.

I don’t say this lightly, there are some losses in life that are so gutting, rage is an appropriate response. You just don’t want to get stuck on the mountain of your rage shaking your fist at the sky or pointing your finger at other people. There’s no power in that. At a certain point you want to hike off that mountain and find a path where you can move forward, one step at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time. The world awaits you but it does not wait for you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

 

Trust.

You always hear that trust is the foundation of any loving relationship, and you hear that for a reason – it’s true. I have never understood that more than I do at this point in my life. The question is how and whom do we trust in the face of constant uncertainty? Anytime we love anyone – a parent, child, partner, best friend or treasured family member (including our pets), we become enormously vulnerable, and we are asked to trust in the face of that. The fact is, none of us knows how long we have. The one thing we can count on in this life is change. Some change is wonderful – a new job or relationship that feels right, a move when we need more space, a different environment – and some change hurts like hell: the end of a relationship when we hoped for a different outcome, the loss of a job we needed, the end of a friendship we thought would last forever, or the biggest loss – the loss we endure when someone we love is taken from us due to age, or a million other heartbreaking reasons. There is no such thing as deep love without vulnerability. So how do we trust our hearts to anyone?

There are other ways we get hurt when we love, of course, short of sickness, and the random events that can rip loved ones away from us. People can betray you or let you down every way under the sun. This isn’t personal. You meet people on the road where and how they are, and they have the tools and self-knowledge they have. This includes our parents. They are happy or unhappy, kind or unkind, giving or not giving, thoughtful or thoughtless, interested or distracted, curious or self-absorbed. They might also be struggling with their own difficulties – addictions, personality disorders, a lack of empathy, attachment to stories that keep them angry or in a victim mentality. People seek help when they struggle, or they make everyone else wrong. The path is full of all kinds of travelers.

I’ve encountered so many people as I’ve moved through this world, as have you. Connection is a force that drives most of us. We want to love, to understand and feel understood, to laugh, to hug, to touch, to feel not alone. Sometimes the people we reach out to cannot do anything but hurt us. This has to do with our history, what we grew up with, what we’re used to, what feels familiar to us. Sometimes the home we came out of is scary and unpredictable, a place where we didn’t feel particularly safe or loved. If that resonates with you, you might find you seek out friendships and relationships with people who also give you reason to feel unsafe and unloved. We tend to seek what we know until we know better.

I used to be attracted to people who were not available to me, and this includes friendships and romantic partners. I used to chase love, bend over backwards to make people happy (not yet understanding you cannot make another person happy), try harder if someone was unkind to me, take it as a sign that there was something broken in me if someone rejected me, doubt my worth and value unless I was doing something for someone. I used to try to save people, excuse poor behavior with compassion for what had driven someone to behave that way in the first place, work both sides of the equation for people who could never be wrong and never apologize, and accept treatment far below the treatment I would want anyone whom I love to accept. I do not do any of that anymore.

Over the years I have come to understand in a more profound way that trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship. This includes self-trust. In order to feel at ease in your own skin, you have to feel like you are ready and able to act on your own behalf, to stand up for yourself when needed, to put an end to abusive treatment, to teach people how to treat you with respect and consideration by showing them what you will tolerate and what you will not tolerate. I do not need the people in my life to be perfect, I am certainly not perfect myself, but the standards of what I will and won’t accept from the people closest to me have changed over time, and you may find this is true for you as well. I want people in my life I can trust to have my back, who are going to be kind and considerate, loyal and honest, and whom I can trust to treat me with care, because those are the same things I offer as a friend, partner and parent, and I want nothing less for myself. I want to have people in my life who know how to apologize instead of deny, deflect or make up stories, the same way I have learned how to own my mistakes and examine my behavior when I don’t show up the way I wish I had so I can do it differently next time.

Sometimes this means the dynamic between you and certain people in your life will have to change, or the relationship will no longer be sustainable. It’s sad when this happens, but it’s also okay. Loss and change are part of the human experience and we’re in training for them all the time.

I am in a season of abundance in my own life. For the first time, I am in a relationship with a man I trust completely. The fact that I have not been able to do this before has a lot to do with my own history, with things I learned as I grew up and relationships I was drawn to that confirmed my wrong belief that you can’t trust anyone. That’s a story I carried around for many years, and it’s a story I learned to release because it isn’t true and it wasn’t serving me. If that’s your hypothesis, you will keep drawing people into your life who help you prove your case. If you set out to conduct a different experiment, to see if perhaps there are trustworthy people in the world who know how to show up for you and be good and sweet to you, guess what happens? When you know someone loves you and would never hurt you, when you are cherished and seen and adored, you can relax and be yourself in ways you’ll never be able to in a relationship where trust is not the foundation. Think about the standards you have for the people in your life and the way you’re teaching people to treat you. Teach people to treat you well, your precious heart deserves that.

Sending lots of love,

Ally Hamilton

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

It’s Not You

You can’t change other people, save them or make them see the light. If you’re like me, you might have to test that statement a million times before you get it, but that’s a fact. People change and grow in their own time in their own way and if they want to, just like you, just like me. If you’re talking about self-destructive patterns and/or addictions, that holds doubly true. If a person makes choices that continually lead her to pain, presumably she will get to a point where she says “enough!’ and decide to figure out what’s driving her, but that isn’t something you can do for anyone else. People get there in their own time, or they don’t. When you love people who hurt themselves it’s brutal. When you love people who hurt you that is also very difficult, but there’s room to shift an interaction like that.

There’s an idea in Imago Therapy that our relationship does not happen inside me or you, it happens in the space between us. Our relationship is a third thing, a co-creation. I am responsible for what I put into the space between us, as are you. If I continually put my rage, blame, bitterness, disappointment and frustration into that space, it would be odd for me to think there would be a positive outcome. If I put my patience, compassion and kindness into that space, I still cannot count on a positive outcome, but at least I’m doing what I can on my side to contribute energy that is loving. When two people are thoughtful and mindful about the space between them, the co-creation, you’re looking at a beautiful relationship that’s likely to grow and evolve and serve as a constant source of inspiration.

Sometimes things are out of balance, though. If you find yourself in a relationship where you’re always trying to be aware of what you’re contributing and the other person is careless, that isn’t going to feel good for long. You cannot do both sides of the equation when it comes to relationships. If a person has shown you time and again that he either cannot or will not treat you with kindness, consideration and respect, then there comes a time when you have to question why you’re participating in that interaction, and whether it’s worth it. Your beautiful heart can only take so much battering.

If you find you are often chasing people who end up hurting you or you realize you’ve been in unhealthy relationships with people for years, it might be time to consider whether you have some doubt about your self-worth. Maya Angelou has that amazing quote, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” There were many times in my life when I didn’t believe a person the 300th time. Sometimes we want to see the best in someone, or we love their potential, or we keep waiting for them to see the light and love us well. Sometimes we have a feeling in our hearts that we are broken, and we find ourselves playing out an old drama hoping for a different outcome. You can trust history and you can trust your intuition. People who can only hurt you don’t belong in your life. If they’re people you must deal with, then solid boundaries are your best bet.

Some relationships end because you grow and evolve and the other person remains the same or grows in a different direction. Sometimes we’re willing to accept certain kinds of treatment when we’re at one stage in our lives, but then twenty years later that same treatment is just not okay for us anymore. It’s sad when a longterm relationship comes to an end, and confusing if a person is acting the way they always have and you are seemingly suddenly not okay with it, but not everything gets wrapped up in a bow in this life. It’s always good to try to communicate with clarity and compassion, but sometimes a person will just trod over your words no matter what you say. Some things are messy or complicated and you have to find a way to be at peace with a lack of closure. The thing is, life is pretty short; your time and energy are finite. There just isn’t enough to spend on relationships that have no real hope of improving. Much better to use that energy focusing on why you have any doubt about your worth, when that doubt arose, and how to believe a better story.

The things we tell ourselves are powerful. Even if you were mistreated as a child, you can start to tell yourself the story of how you overcame that, how you are resilient and strong and committed to your own well-being. That’s a good, empowering and true story that will help you flip the script and start to act on your own behalf to protect and nurture your wonderful heart. Sounds pretty good, right?

 

Sending you lots of love,

Ally Hamilton

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

 

It’s Not All Good and That’s Okay

The more you repress your feelings the harder they have to work to rise to the surface. “What you resist persists.” People make themselves sick this way. Some feelings are incredibly uncomfortable – ugly even – but to reject something you’re feeling is to deny yourself an opportunity to go deeper – to uncover what’s underneath a fleeting feeling of rage or shame, insecurity, fear, envy, doubt, loneliness or guilt. If something is bothering you, disappointing you, breaking your heart, making you anxious, or keeping you up at night, then by all means it’s going to affect you and it’s worth exploring and examining.

I think there’s a lot of pressure in the spiritual community to stay positive, to be grateful in every moment. This is wildly unrealistic, and beyond that it creates a lot of pain for people who are already suffering. A person who loses their child, for example, will never, ever, ever feel grateful for that, appreciate the lesson, want to hear that they should focus on all the good things in their life, that there’s a plan, that everything happens for a reason, that this is happening for them and not to them, or that it may not make sense now but it will someday. It will never make sense, okay?

This is the kind of sound-byte spirituality that alienates people whether they’ve suffered an incomprehensible loss like I’ve mentioned, or they’re going through a breakup, dealing with a debilitating health issue, suffering from stress at work, or grappling with the suffering of someone they love. There’s no compassion in making a person feel guilty for not feeling grateful in those moments. Now the person feels awful, and their pain is compounded with the feeling that they’re also failing in their spiritual practice.

Maybe gratitude will come later in the form of recognizing they’ve grown in empathy because of their experience, or can now be a beacon for someone else going through incredible loss, but don’t ask someone to race to gratitude and skip over feelings of grief, rage, or incomprehension. When I look back on most of the incredibly painful experiences in my life, I am very grateful because that’s when the most growth happened, but there are a couple of lessons I’d love not to have learned. I say that with the acceptance that everything may be happening for a reason, or everything may just be happening, and with the understanding that none of us will truly know until we exhale for the last time. People who think they know and want to force their opinions down your throat are clinging harder than anyone else. I have my feelings about this. I don’t personally believe this is all there is and then we’re worm food. I don’t know if we turn into star dust, or simply live on in the hearts and memories of those we leave behind, but I believe something essentially us lives on. You may feel differently, and I respect your beliefs. We all have to work it out and answer these big questions on our own, in a way that resonates with us. When my son was six, he came home from school one day and said, “Jack says God doesn’t like Buddha because Buddha thinks he’s the real God,” and he looked at me with confusion. This “us versus them” stuff starts at six. Where do you think Jack is getting that from?

Until we have our answers, we are here. That much we know. We’re here, and as far as I can tell, the best use of our time is to spread love. To explore this state of being alive. To know ourselves, and to open to this life as it is, with all its mystery and heartache, confusion and loneliness, chaos and longing, and incredible, gorgeous, pierces-you-right-in-the-center-of-your-heart joy. To accept that sometimes we’ll be full of yes, feeling open and grateful and full of light, and other times the light will go out for awhile and we’ll walk around blindly with our arms out in front of us bumping into walls, falling off cliffs, landing in ditches. Let it all affect you. Open up to all of it, even the uncomfortable stuff, and grow. Know yourself. That’s how you can be of service, and if you want your life to have meaning, that’s the best path I know. Figure out what your gifts are and share them. Connect. Love. Fall to your knees and wail when you need to. Be real. People cannot connect with a false-positive. With someone who screams about Shri all day long. Sometimes the path is full of unbelievable sunlight that feels like it’s pouring right out of your own heart, and other times hail hits you in your face, hard. It’s called life, and it’s pretty amazing, but it’s not all positive.

Sending you so much love,

Ally Hamilton

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

This Is Everything

I had a really hard time getting pregnant with my son and tried everything. Literally. Acupuncture, peeing on sticks, boiling “tea” that stunk up the house and even allowing a giant Maori healer to “rolf” my uterus (from the outside, haha. Even at the height of my insanity I wasn’t that crazy :)). I couldn’t figure out a way to practice non-attachment at the time, I just found myself intensely missing a person I hadn’t even met, a person who existed only in my mind and in my heart. Eventually (after a year of needles, tea, sticks, tears and said rolfing session, I went to a fertility doctor who discovered my estrogen levels were a little low, and presto, the bigger kid in this picture started materializing. If you had told me during that year to try to relax and trust that the exact right human was going to show up at the exact right time, I wouldn’t have believed you or been able to do that. I really thought I had to keep “doing things” to “make it happen”, and maybe I did. Maybe he would not have shown up if I hadn’t tried everything known to woman to get there, or maybe he would have, or maybe everything was required. I don’t have any regrets because that kid seems to me to be the only kid who could ever have been my son (my sun), and that girl with him? She showed up with no help from tea or needles or giant Maori.

When I got divorced I was devastated and heartbroken. When there are children in the picture I don’t think it can be any other way. It was not the vision I’d had or wanted, but it became clear to me that it was the only path forward where there could be love and nurturing for everyone involved. It was not easy and it has not been easy. Letting go of the picture of How Things Should Be or how you want things to be for yourself and your children is so hard, and trying to trust that a new path will emerge is also really hard. I credit my yoga practice for any strength and grace I was able to muster through all of that heartache, and I know for sure that’s the thing that kept me sane and strong and able to be a good mama to these small people who have little protection in the world unless we, as parents, figure out how to move through our grief, rage, disappointment, bitterness and all the other feelings that come up (especially when they involve the other most important person in our children’s lives, namely, their other parent), without allowing it to spill over onto them. That is also hard, and for me, again, I credit having been a child of divorce and knowing what that’s like, my yoga practice, therapy (highly recommend) and great, supportive, strong and understanding friends to help me through.

I’ve been a single mom for eight years. A few years ago after I’d been trying to navigate the post-divorce, how-do-you-date-when-you-have-children jungle, I thought, “Well, maybe giant romantic love is just not going to happen for me.” It was sort of surprising and disappointing because I’ve always been a huge romantic, but I thought, “Well, that might just not be in the cards for me, and that’s okay. I have these amazing children and work I love and my life is beautiful and fulfilling and full of all kinds of love. I can be okay this way.” And I did my best to let go of that picture of romantic love, too.

Two-and-a-half years ago I met a man at a bar (feel free to laugh) and he said all of these interesting and funny things and four hours went by in a snap and we didn’t even eat. Last Friday night he proposed to me and I said yes because I am not dumb. We had talked about the idea of getting married a couple of months ago, and even that was a shock to both of us. Neither of us thought we’d get married again. I thought living with someone was as far as I’d go. When you fall in love hard, though, this is what can happen. Your vision changes again. We checked in with our kids about the idea, I talked to my two, he talked to his three. We didn’t want to go forward unless there were thumbs up all around. If someone had said to me years ago, “try to trust that there’s a 6’3″ Englishman out there who’s going to show up in your life with his giant heart and huge brain, his kindness, loyalty, affection and wicked sense of humor and turn all of your ideas about what’s going to happen in your life right on their head,” I would have laughed. If someone had said, “There couldn’t have been anyone else for you but him,” I would have laughed again. I might have even rolled my eyes. I’m sharing this because I know how hard it is to trust. To take your sticky hands off the steering wheel and let things unfold and emerge and allow people to show up and show you who they are, and to allow yourself to be heartbroken when the path takes a turn you didn’t want or expect, but also to allow yourself a tiny sliver of awareness and hope that maybe life has something in store for you you cannot even imagine.

I’ve had an insane week. An amazing Valentine’s Day, an incredible birthday. My heart is so full. Have you seen baby goats dancing around? Google that if not, that’s how I feel. Take care of your precious heart. Let it break when it breaks, but let the breaking open you. Sending you so much love and some trust if you can muster it!

 

Ally Hamilton

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