Let Go and Look

johnlubbockWe’re always bringing so much to the table. We all have our histories, our life experiences, our ideas, our frames of reference. Everything that happens outside of us is filtered through what we know, and what we think we know. So what is really happening? Is our perception different from reality? Can two people participate in a conversation and walk away with totally different feelings about what happened? I think we all know the answer to that question.

Yogis call clear-seeing “vidya”. It means we can differentiate between what is permanent and what is impermanent. “Avidya” is the state of ignorance about ourselves, other people, and the world around us; it’s like a sleep-walking state. The practice of yoga, and by that, I mean all eight limbs, is about wiping the lenses clean, and waking ourselves up. Examining those frames of reference we have, and seeing if they’re distorted. Letting go of our attachment to “how things should be” and allowing them to unfold as they are without fighting or clinging or denying, because there isn’t any power in that. We’re never going to control other people, nor do we want to try. We’re not going to control outcomes, or the weather, either, but we can work on facing reality as it is, and responding with bravery, honesty, compassion, awareness, patience and acceptance. We can also pick our battles this way. There are things, people, and causes we need to fight for, and times when acceptance is not the way. Discernment, “viveka”, is the thing.

We save ourselves and the people closest to us a tremendous amount of pain when we get hungry for the truth. And by that, I don’t mean there’s one truth for everyone, I mean what is true for you? What is true for the people closest to you? What is true about the situations you’re in, the dynamics between you and other people? Are there places where you’re hiding from yourself, things you don’t want to see, or feel you cannot accept? Do you have deeply ingrained ideas about yourself or other people that are weighing you down, and preventing you from opening to love, joy and gratitude? Like, “I’m not good enough”, or, “I’m unlovable or broken”, or, “You can’t trust anyone”?

Also, are you taking things and other people for granted? Are there people in your life you think you know “like the back of your hand”? When’s the last time you looked at the back of your hand, by the way? Everything alive is changing all the time. If you think you have someone pegged, even your partner of thirty years, you’re in trouble. When we stop looking, we miss so much, and we don’t leave space for life to surprise us, either. When we think we know, when our cup is full, there’s no room to learn, and if we aren’t learning, we’re dying. As much as possible, wipe the slate clean, and try to move through the world with curiosity. Life is full of extraordinary gifts, and you don’t want to miss them.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Let the Heartbreaks Soften You


keatsSometimes people do things that are incomprehensible. I once knew a man who was married to one woman, while starting a family with another, two towns away. I mean, you have to know it’s only a matter of time before that explodes everywhere, right? I was once betrayed by someone I believed was a friend, someone I’d tried to help, in a way that left me in tears for weeks, trying to make sense of it. I had another friend years ago who screwed me over for a job. The thing is, it takes a really long time to know another person. Sometimes you believe you do, and then something happens and you realize you didn’t know the person at all, not really.

Sometimes this happens because we project and assume. We project our own ideas of what it means to be a friend onto the other party, without stopping to wonder whether they have the same definition. Or we project our ideas about who we think someone is, or want them to be, without allowing them the time and space to show us through their actions. Or we assume how things are for us, is how they are for other people. We imagine everyone is working with our frame of reference, and what’s obvious to us will be to them. There are all kinds of ways we can get burned.

Transitions are never easy. Even though we long for stability, we resist the one stable thing we can count on: everything is in a constant state of flux. Fear is usually at the root of our resistance to change. The devil we know is better than the one we don’t, or something like that. That very thinking keeps us stuck in situations that crush the light out of us. If everything is always changing, if people and feelings and circumstances are always in motion, it means we can never know what will happen next, and for many people that’s a scary thought, so they try to pin down the things they can. People don’t like to be pinned down, though, or taken for granted or expected to always be the same. That isn’t a fair, reasonable or rational expectation.

What we can hope for from our close family members, partners, and loved ones, is communication. Few things are worse than transition without conversation. I know a woman whose fiancé left her three months before their wedding and never looked back, never explained himself, never said a word. He just took off while she was on a business trip, and left a note that said “Sorry.” That’s it, one word, and she was left to piece together what had happened on her own. It’s cowardly to bail without explanation, and it’s also disrespectful to the tender heart of the person left in the dark. Life is hard enough when we do have answers. Maybe we’ve grown apart, or what we wanted five years ago doesn’t feel right today. You have to be where you are. You can’t force love and you can’t force life, and you cannot control what other people are going to do, or say or want or need, but you can handle yourself with integrity and have compassion for people, and think about the way you’d like to be treated. Y’know, just common human decency.

Even when we aren’t treated with respect, we’re still getting an answer, right? If someone won’t talk to you, they’re actually speaking volumes about their own limitations. Some of the most important conversations happen without words. Could words soften the blow? Undoubtedly, but you can’t manage another person’s path, and people can only have the tools they have. What you can do is recognize something very essential: if a person treats you poorly, that’s a reflection of where she is on her journey, it’s not a reflection of anything lacking within you, and then you can go about the business of healing. Your first task is going to be opening up your gorgeous heart once more. Try not to let the heartbreaks harden you. Recognize that people in pain spread pain, and that it can be no other way, and try to wish them well. In the meantime, let your own light shine.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Everything is Happening

everythingI’m not an “everything happens for a reason” yogi. I believe we can grow and open from each experience, I’m just not one to say that there’s a divine plan, and every challenge in front of you is there for the evolution of your soul. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it isn’t. Of course it’s a nice idea. It’s comforting to think we get more than one ticket to this carnival, more than one chance to get things right, more than one lifetime to love the people we love. I hope that’s the case, but no one knows for sure how this works. We have our ideas, we figure out what makes sense to us, individually. We’re all in this mystery together. We’ll find out for sure when we exhale for the final time. And because we cannot know, I don’t feel it’s comforting to tell anyone who’s going through pain, grief, or serious life stress, that it’s all happening for a reason that will make sense someday. Like the single mom of two who was just fired from her job, and receives no support from her ex. That would lack compassion, and compound her frustration.

I can look back on my life and say that everything I’ve been through has led me to this moment, and that I’m very grateful to be here. There are a few lessons I would happily give back, a couple of things I’d really rather not know, but we don’t get to choose. I’m thankful for almost everything that’s happened, because those experiences, even the more devastating ones, taught me so much.

I think when we go through life feeling like everything is happening for a reason, we start to feel victimized when we’re faced with obstacles. If this is happening according to some plan, then there’s intent behind it, right? So the thought process becomes something like, “I’m getting fired and having to figure out how to feed my children with no support for some unknown but important reason, and I must deserve this or need it.” That outlook intensifies the pain. It feels like this personal assault where you’ve now become the beleaguered victim, and the truth is, I don’t think that stance is going to help you. “Why me?” is not a useful question. Nor would it be useful to tell a grieving mother or father that their child has died for a reason that will make sense someday. F&ck that. Seriously. Some things will never, ever, ever make sense. Some things will never be okay. Some things you will just carry with you. Yes, there’s beauty in having loved so deeply. Some people never love like that, but you don’t have to put everything in the “thank you” column.

So, I’d really try to take that idea out of the equation when you’re faced with pain. Instead, I would just focus on what you can learn and how you can grow. Maybe you’re going to discover reserves of strength and resourcefulness you didn’t know you had. Maybe you’re going to realize there are people in your life who are going to show up for you, and make sure you don’t end up on the street. One way or another, you’re going to rise to the occasion because you have to, and you’ll have that much more confidence and less fear moving forward. That’s “reason” enough to face our path head on. We don’t get to choose what’s put in front of us, but we get to decide how we’re going to respond.

Awful things happen to beautiful people all the time. If there’s a pattern in your life, definitely look at it. For example, if you keep choosing partners who can’t commit, or end up breaking your heart in other ways, it’s time to ask yourself what that pattern is trying to show you or teach you about yourself. That’s different than feeling like these things are happening to you. That gives you some power, right? Why am I drawn to situations that crush my soul? How can I re-frame things for myself so I’m no longer attracted to people who require the dimming of my light?

Is everything happening for a reason? I don’t know. I look around at certain things and just can’t imagine why, what the reason could be. It doesn’t really matter. They’re happening, right? The question is, what we’re going to do about them. One thing I can say with certainty is that the human heart is resilient. It wants to heal and open. We are all a lot stronger than we realize. And most of us, given the choice, are going to choose to live, even when it’s hard. To rise up, to push through, to dig down, to figure it out. If you’re going through pain, hang in there. Ask for help. Trust yourself. And know that whether it’s happening according to some big plan, or it isn’t, you’re going to strengthen and open either way.

Sending you love and a huge hug,

Ally Hamilton

Happy New Year!

Ive-learned-that-youAs we close out the year today and set ourselves up to begin again tomorrow, it’s a good time to think about what you might release that isn’t serving you. It could be an attachment to a certain outcome that just isn’t going to happen. This can be difficult or even heartbreaking to relinquish, but sometimes we’re gripping so much, we’re using up a lot of energy that would better be spent opening and trusting and allowing. As always, we cannot control circumstances, or other people, or what anyone else will want or say or do or need. We can simply work on the way we respond to what we’re given, and on the way we’re showing up, without looking away, or pretending that things are different. That doesn’t serve anyone. Maybe it’s a way of being that’s creating obstacles for you; a particular stance, or lens you’re looking through that’s coloring everything you do and say as you move through the world. Maybe it’s the way you’re thinking of yourself, or the way you’re treating yourself, or it could be a habit that’s weakening you or taking you prisoner. It’s possible that you’re holding up your rage and blame as a shield, and it’s also possible you’re pushing your anger down. There are all kinds of ways we can sabotage ourselves.

The thing is, life doesn’t wait for any of us to get it together. We do or we don’t, and either way, the clock strikes midnight tonight, and a new year begins. This is a gift, regardless of what’s happening in your life, because as long as you’re alive, there’s potential. There’s potential for joy, for peace, for love, for laughter, for the feel of the sun on your face. There’s the possibility of love so deep and mind-blowing, it will take the breath right out of your lungs, and fill your whole being with gratitude. There’s the chance that you could help someone, in big ways or small. There’s the chance that you’ll do the work to know, accept, honor and celebrate yourself, so you can uncover your gifts and share them with everything you’ve got. There’s the prospect that you could create something gorgeous and unexpected and needed, like incredible love within you, and love all around you.

If things aren’t unfolding the way you’d hoped or wanted or envisioned, I’d get really concrete about your goals and objectives. I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions because they tend to be vague, and they usually address symptoms rather than root issues. “This year I’m going to lose ten pounds” might sound concrete, but it’s not meaningful. Are you having an adversarial relationship with your body? Do you struggle with your body image? What’s your relationship with food? Are you in a constant state of deprivation, with occasional binging because you feel so starved? Are you carrying an extra ten pounds around, or are you buying into some insane vision of thinness? Do you eat when you feel afraid, lonely, angry or bored? If you don’t get at the underlying issue, the “resolution” will be out of reach, and anything you write down on a piece of paper will probably lead to feelings of disappointment, shame and self-loathing. No one needs to start the year with a list like that.

Most New Year’s Resolutions fall under that umbrella. “This year I’ll meet someone.” Why do you want to meet someone? Are you feeling good about yourself, and longing for connection and the chance to share the love you’ve cultivated? In that case, a better objective would be, “This year I’m going to take a cooking class, or sign up for salsa dancing, or play golf on Saturday mornings, or fill-in-the-blank with something you love to do.” Because if you get out there and do the things you love, you’ll meet other people who also love those things, and you’ll connect on a deep level, whether we’re talking about friendship, or something romantic. If you want to meet someone because you feel desperate since all your friends are getting married, or you feel empty inside, or you think someone else is going to complete you, you’re in trouble, and you’re setting yourself up for heartache. We always have to get at the “why” of things. Why do we want what we want? What’s driving us? We have to know ourselves, and that’s another reason I love yoga so much. It’s a process of coming to terms with who you are, and figuring out how to integrate everything. Everything you’ve been through, everything you want, everything that’s true for you. If you’re in pain, make it a priority to explore healing modalities. Make an appointment with a therapist. Find your local yoga studio and try a class. Book a massage. Go for a hike. Listen to music that feeds your soul. Connect with yourself.

My point is, try to get very clear about what’s blocking you or holding you back, and then avail yourself of the tools you need to start healing. We’re always in process, but sometimes people avoid their pain and run from that kind of work because they think they’ll be overwhelmed. The reality is, the longer we run from our pain, the longer it rules our lives. That is a fact. The more we work with it, acknowledge it, deal with it, the more we take our power back. Your life belongs to you. It doesn’t belong to your past.It belongs to you, and what you do with it is up to you. I believe your very first priority is getting right with yourself. Nothing else flows until we do that. If we aren’t happy on the inside, if we aren’t at peace with ourselves, nothing external will make it right.

If you’ve been chasing love, approval, affection or self-worth, figure out why you’re doing that, and get yourself some support, so that you can have the feelings and urges and impulses without acting on them. Obviously, I teach yoga because it changed my life, and I believe if it could do that for me, it could do that for anyone. I love sharing the tools that helped me make the biggest and most important shifts in my life, and continue to help me to do that. But maybe there’s a different path for you. Get passionate about figuring out what you need to be at peace with yourself, and don’t stop pursuing that until you’re able to live your life in a way that feels good to you. If you’re struggling and suffering, and have been for quite some time, then you know you’re not going to solve that by midnight tonight, nor do you need to feel any pressure to do that. But take a step today. Do one solid, tangible thing to nurture yourself. Remember that there’s always the potential to start again, in every moment, in every breath. Begin again. Wishing you the happiest New Year, and a 2015 full of love, laughter, hugs, joy, great surprises, good health, and healing if you need it. I’m so grateful to be in conversation with you all, you have no idea. Here’s to more love in the coming year,

Stop Kidding Yourself!

annlandersI know it can be painful to swallow, but for the most part, people will do what they want to do. I say this because I think many people try to fool themselves, or make excuses for someone else’s behavior, or justify certain actions. Sometimes we want to hold on to our idea of how someone is, or how we want things to be, or how we want someone else to feel, and we just refuse to see reality clearly. We think we’re going to change someone, or save another person, or we fall in love with the potential we see, which is not the same as falling in love with the person in front of us.

In order to face reality as it is, you have to be able to discern what is real from what is not real. What is you from what is not you. What you wish were happening, versus what is happening. Ideas and opinions and desires can really fog up the lenses. Often we want to see through the glasses that show the outcome we want, and no matter what happens, we press those glasses to our heads, and stick our fingers in our ears. We reject, deny or explain anything that challenges our view, or we numb the edges so that reality almost looks the way we want it to. This person would be with me if they could. Or this path is the right path because I’ve been pursuing it so long I can’t turn back, even though it just feels wrong, now. Whenever we deny reality, we set ourselves up to suffer. The truth won’t kill you. Not facing it could.

Some people agonize for months or years, grasping on to false hope, creating constructs that uphold the happy ending they desire. I know too many people who can look a person in the eye and insist something is purple when it’s clearly orange. I don’t mean it’s someone’s opinion that it’s orange, I mean it’s actually, factually orange. If you say that, though, you might be met with anguish or rage or stubbornness. Sometimes a person needs to hold onto that purple, that false version of reality. If that’s the case, there’s not much you can do. I mean, you really can’t say, “Okay, it’s purple”, and still feel good when you look in the mirror at the end of the day. You can have compassion, you can recognize the pain, you can hope eventually they can loosen their grip on the need to deny. You can love people, but you can’t save them, you can’t press their faces up to the reality of a thing and scream, “This is orange!!!” You’ll just alienate them or break their heart, and maybe they are not yet strong enough to allow their heart to break. You have to be strong to do that.

The thing is, you know in your heart if you’re desperately grasping at something, because you’ll feel sick and exhausted, and things just won’t make sense. You’ll talk yourself into accepting less than you want. You’ll hear yourself explaining the situation to your closest friends, and even to you, the story won’t add up. It’s true that many people are floundering around in the dark, trying to figure out what to do next, with no real idea of which way to turn. So you may deal with someone who doesn’t know what they want. The thing is, if a person wants to be with you, it’s not going to be a mystery to them, or to you.

Lots of things in life are complicated, but the truth isn’t one of them. When I say the truth, I just mean what is true for you, and what is true for other people. Love requires bravery and intense vulnerability and a lot of acceptance. It’s challenging, but it isn’t complicated. Joy is simple, too. So is gratitude. The paths to get to these places may be full of thorns and stopovers where you have to lean into your deepest fears and your most raw, unhealed places, your mistakes and your regrets and your desires, but if you want to be at peace, you’re going to have to get acquainted with the voice of your intuition. It can spot excuses hundreds of miles away. Its vision is so clear, it cuts right through judgements and attachments and shoulds, and just sees what is. It’s a relief, really. Working to create a false reality takes a tremendous amount of energy. Facing reality as it is leaves you the energy to move with and toward love.

Sending you some right now,

Ally Hamilton

The Game of Life

I-wanted-a-perfectA few weeks ago, my kids and I were introduced to “The Game of Life” when friends of ours brought it over to play one night. If you aren’t familiar with it, you start off in a car and you make choices along the way. Maybe you decide to go to college. You might pull over to get married and have babies. You might hit the jackpot, find your dream job, or lose big if you decide to take the risky route. Anyway, you get the picture. Since we’d never played before, we read the directions before we started, and under the section, “How to Win”, it says, “The person with the most money at the end wins the game of life.” So, of course, we had a big conversation about how untrue that is in real life, not that this is a new topic around our house.

But it got me to thinking. Can you imagine if the board game resembled actual life? Okay, folks, here are the rules! You’re going to start off in your little car, and the road underneath you is going to be shifting all the time, so there’s no point in giving you a map; good luck figuring out which way to turn! Maybe you’re going to get a great car, and maybe your car is going to be running on fumes, because all the players start out with different advantages. Your home might be full of love, or you might live with an abusive alcoholic, who knows?! Then, you’ll start making your choices, mostly in the dark because you’re supposed to know what you want to do and who you want to be by the time you’re eighteen. And some of you will be nurtured and supported and you’ll have good self-esteem, and some of you will be neglected or mistreated and you won’t believe in yourself at all, so you’ll all have different tools at your disposal. Also, at any time, you could be killed, and so could any of the people you hold most dear. We can’t tell you what happens after you die, or they die, and we can’t tell you how long anyone has, this is all part of the game! Okay, everybody, let’s have some fun!

I mean, seriously, who would want to play that game? It’s crazy, right? But this is the gig. Now, of course, I’m being a little facetious. Because there’s so much that’s amazing and incredible about this experience of being human. So much beauty and depth and love and light and emotion that just fills your heart with yes. Being able to love the way we do, for instance. Being able to care, to extend ourselves, to share, to connect. It’s pretty awesome. But the parameters are crazy, and for a lot of people, they make the game of life a painful journey. You don’t get to know what’s coming. You don’t get to have any reassurance that your big life decisions will pan out the way you hope they will. You don’t get to “pin people down”, or depend on any kind of stability, unless you nurture that within yourself.

And that’s really the key to this game. Figuring out what will bring us peace as we journey onward. It’s the moments. When you look back on your life so far, I’m sure there are moments that stand out. Some of them are beautiful and some of them are devastating. Time folds in on itself, and we can travel back to moments inside of a single blink, a scent on the air, something someone says that jogs a memory we haven’t thought of in years. Maybe we have moments when we felt humiliated, ashamed, caught with our pants down literally or figuratively. Maybe we have moments when our trust was betrayed and we stood in the shower at 3am, our tears and the water mixing together, the pain in our hearts overwhelming. Maybe we have moments when we thought we wouldn’t make it, only to be gifted with the greatest treasure we’ll ever know. But they’re moments that make up the fabric of each of our lives. And they’re borne of our ability to be present and engaged with our intuition. That’s the only worthwhile map you’re going to get. You can’t count on the road to curve a certain way, even if it did yesterday. You can’t count on people to stay the same, because they won’t, and neither will you. You can’t count on conditions around you, because those are also part of nature, and as such, constantly in flux. If you want to “win” this game of life, you have to be true to yourself.

This will almost undoubtedly mean you’ll have some dragons to slay. We all have pain, and our pain is our path, but most people run like hell from it, sending their cars careening this way and that, running into trees, walls, telephone poles, blowing out their tires, and stopping only to get gas. Not a fun way to journey. When you fight for peace within yourself, you might have to pull off to the side of the road for awhile, and it might be deeply uncomfortable or painful, but at least you find liberation that way. So you can get back in your car and slow down, since you now understand there’s no need to race, and that racing will actually cause you to miss precious moments that could have happened if you hadn’t been in such a rush, to what? Escape death? You’ll realize the thing is to roll down your windows and take in the sights and the smells and the colors, to feel the wind whipping through your hair, and the sunlight or the rain on your face. You’ll realize the sound of laughter always trumps the sound of a text message coming in, and that a look from the right person can take your breath away.

The rules aren’t easy, but the experience is incredible. Hoping you’re slowing down and letting in the light. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Make Peace with the Shape of Things

woolfWe all have our plans and our ideas. We have a picture in our heads of “how things should be,” or “how things will be”, but most of us get the lesson early that life just doesn’t work that way. I know very few people who can say that everything has gone according to their plan. In fact, I don’t know one person who can say that.

Few things cause us to suffer more than our attachment to that picture in our minds or our hearts of how things should be or look or feel. Sometimes it’s so f&cking hard to let go of what you’d hoped for and wanted with your whole heart, but I really think a huge part of maturing, and of opening to things as they are has to do with this: at a certain point, you have to make peace with the shape of things. The shape of your world, the rhythm, the colors, the feel of it. Maybe things are more jagged or fractured than you’d hoped; maybe they’re spread out in a way you hadn’t envisioned and didn’t want. Life can be incredibly complicated sometimes. It’s not always obvious which way to turn, especially when your life and your choices and your feelings affect other people, and so you may look around at some point and wonder what exactly happened. How your life looks the way it does, when none of it was anywhere on your plan.

Sometimes the ship sails and the storms come and you do your best to go with your gut as you make decisions while you’re getting hit in the face with hail, and couldn’t find north from south even if you had a compass, because the compass wouldn’t be a crystal ball, would it? Maybe you end up in a country you’ve never traveled to before, with customs and a language you don’t understand, and you think, “I can’t do this,” but you can.

You start again, you come up with a new plan. Or maybe you’ve landed in the exact spot you were trying to avoid, and somehow, some insane way the GPS on your ship landed you right back where you began, because maybe, just maybe, your plan did not include healing yourself first, before you took off on your great adventure. Maybe the language and the customs are all too familiar, and you can’t believe you have to deal with this sh&t again, but it’s not the same, because you aren’t the same. Maybe you need to get the lesson that you can’t always change a situation, but you can change the way you deal with it.

Anyway, here’s the thing. We cling and we grip and we refuse to let go and we suffer. Or, we trust that we can forge a new way and work with a changing set of circumstances. We acknowledge that we were never in control of this thing, and our plans look funny to us, or we feel a little naked, or foolish or naive, like we got caught with our pants down because we just didn’t see the folly of it. Have your passions and pursue your dreams all the way with everything you’ve got. Set your intentions and work your a$$ off, and put some action behind what you want, because you’re here to share your gifts freely and with abandon. Just watch your attachment to things (or people) feeling the way you think they should feel, or the way you want them to feel, because people are going to feel however they need and want to feel and things are going to happen you never could have imagined, and all your fine plans could easily get turned upside down on any given morning. It could be that your plan goes flying out the window, and you watch it float, fly away, out of reach and maybe something more amazing than you ever could have imagined happens instead. It’s not all doom and gloom, life can be quite the adventure if you let it.

However things are right now, whether they look like that picture you’ve had in your head, or nothing at all like that, try to make peace with the shape of things. If you cling and grip, you will suffer. If you draw a huge heart around all of it, you’ll find your way with love. Maybe you can draw a heart so big, there’s space around things and life has the room to surprise you.

Start small if you need to—make peace with the shape of your body. We spend so much time obsessing over the external stuff. The body is a freaking miracle, but we get caught up in numbers. How many pounds is it? How many inches? Like we’re going to the butcher’s or the tailor. This is life, this is the party, it’s happening right now. It’s not the butcher. How’s your heart? Is it beating for you? Marvelous. Can you look outside and see the sun? The rain? The green of the trees? Can you walk outside because you have two working legs? Brilliant. Can you hug the people you love because you’re alive and they’re alive and you have two working arms? Oh my god, how fantastic. Make peace with the shape of things. Draw a big, huge heart around it all. See what you can grow that way.

Sending you love, as always,

Ally Hamilton

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