Don’t Grip the Pen

Living this life well, in a way that feels good in your skin, is, indeed, an art form. You can grip the pen and sweat blood to try to get the story of “How Things Should Look” out of your head and into your reality, but you’ll only create pain that way; pain and sorrow, for yourself and those close to you. You aren’t writing this whole story. You get to manage your inner world, that’s where your masterpiece can happen. You can create a garden inside yourself, or an ocean, or canyons or waterfalls or an entire underwater world full of colors you’d never see above ground and even that is hard, by the way. Even managing yourself is enough work to keep you busy– deciding which thoughts deserve your attention, where to direct your energy. Bringing yourself into a deeper state of awareness, aligning yourself with what you know to be true for you, making your world a loving, peaceful, compassionate place to be.

The world around you is not yours to control, however. Other people are not yours to control, either. Not your family members or your own children or your friends. You own no one but yourself, and even that’s debatable; regardless, you are here for a blink of time in a body that won’t last forever.

The thing is, most of us think small. I have this body and it defines me, it’s who I am, and it needs to be controlled so it will look the way I want it to, or the way society wants it to, or the way I’ve been convinced it ought to look, which takes up a lot of my time and energy, and usually makes me feel badly about myself. I have this life, and this job, and I live in this house in this city, and I grew up here, and went to this school. Somewhere along the way, this thing happened to me, and then this other thing happened, and these things define who I am, and so this is how I look and where I live and what I do and where I’m from, and now that I’ve told you all of those things, why don’t I feel seen and understood? As if the details are the essence of you. As if you could be defined by a list of things. You are a human being on planet earth, which is a miraculous thing in itself. You are so much more than the sum of the details of your life, and upon which details do you place the importance? What are you feeding? What are you doing here? Have you figured it out yet?

Here’s what you can hold onto (and give away): your integrity, your truth, your good heart, your trust in your own journey, your ability to give love freely, your understanding that everything is in a state of flux, even you. Here are things we can all work on: our outlook, the way we’re thinking about the world and other people, our level of acceptance, and when we can’t get there, our level of tolerance, patience, compassion and understanding; discovering our particular gifts, and the best ways we can share them, figuring out how to be of service, and having faith that somehow or another we are going to keep growing and learning and becoming better and stronger. Things to let go of: attachment to what other people will think or want or need or do; attachment to the way the story will unfold, and the way we think things ought to be. Life is going to bring all kinds of circumstances. Some of them will be beautiful and some of them will take your breath away with their cruelty and devastation. We get it all in this life.

Do your thoughts create your reality? In this context, I pose the question because some people believe if they think a thing hard enough, they can bring it into existence and sometimes the thing they’re thinking has to do with what another person will do or say or want. So to that I say no, you can’t “manifest” another person’s journey and you’d be walking down a confused path if you tried. You can hope for everyone’s greatest good. You can wish people well, and hope they heal and offer you support and love, but you can’t control other people with your mind. Part of becoming spiritually and emotionally mature is learning how to face reality as it is, which is not always as we’d like it to be.

Living intentionally is powerful, and putting your action behind your intention is where it’s at. Your thoughts don’t create your reality, but they affect your reality quite a lot. If you believe the world is cold and unfair and people suck, that’s going to affect the way you move through the world and interact with other humans. If you’re coming from that dark place, the world will rise up and meet you there. People don’t respond with warmth and compassion to a person who walks around grunting and barely making eye contact, so if you walk out the door in that frame of mind, yes, it will affect your reality, because you will create the circumstances to confirm your hypothesis that the world is cold and people suck. Once in awhile, some kind-hearted person may mess with your experiment, but you’ll just peg them as nuts, or flowery, or one of those hippies, and get back to the business of despising your life.

On the other hand, if you believe the world is full of both intense pain and unbelievable joy, that people are good and kind and capable of limitless love and the potential for growth and change, that’s also going to affect the way you move through the world and interact with the people you encounter. Because you’re coming from a loving place, you’ll be spreading love, and you’ll find the world will rise up and meet you there, too. So if we take the time and make the effort to heal the worlds within ourselves, we can contribute to the world around us in a very positive way, but that does not mean that horrendous things won’t happen to good people and it isn’t because these good people called this stuff into their lives, or believed it’s what they deserved spiritually. We could talk about Karma and karmic debt, but those are ideas and beliefs and they won’t comfort everyone, and you know, that’s really what I want to do with my time here. Division is not going to get the job done. If we could pare it down to simply this: we are all human beings on planet earth, and we are all equally miraculous, and not a single one of us knows for sure what happens after this, then we’re getting somewhere. Then we can look each other in the eyes and say, “Isn’t this something? Isn’t this an insanely vulnerable state we’re in? And as such, couldn’t we love each other a bit more and let go of our need to condemn, justify, control or judge?”

We’ve lost the plot. I’m pretty sure the story is, “How Much Can You Love?”, and maybe we need to define the terms, too. Love is not controlling or manipulative or conditional — love is going to love. Whether the story unfolds like we wrote it in our heads, or pinned it on our vision boards, or were told it would from the time we could think. Love is going to love regardless. If the person you adore is walking out the door, and everything in you is breaking, love is going to love. You already know that because you’ve been through it. When you called that person names and told every single person in your life the story of how you’d been wronged, you did that because you were still loving. When you couldn’t eat or couldn’t sleep or couldn’t figure out how you were going to get out of bed and take that shower and make that breakfast and put one foot in front of the other until you were out the door and in the car and on your way into a day you could hardly face, you felt that way because you were still loving. Love makes you vulnerable. Life makes you vulnerable. You can hold onto that. Devote yourself to loving with your whole heart. If someone exits your story, let them go with love. Stay on point. If you are met with the kind of grief that makes it hard to breathe, love gives you a free pass. You do whatever you need to do to get through it. But eventually, come back to love, so you don’t die, too. Life without love is death in a walking body. That’s no way to live. Be a bold artist and paint with your love. That’s the part of the plot you get to control.

Sending you some love right now,

Ally Hamilton

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

Nothing Stays the Same

If you’re looking for stability, learn to count on yourself and your ability to face reality as it is. The “as it is” part is challenging, because it won’t always be the way we think it ought to be or the way we’ve envisioned it in our minds, and the “as it is” part is also not easy to wrap your head or your heart around, because it’s always in flux. It should really be about facing reality as it is in this moment. This is great to remember if you’re suffering right now — if you’re feeling hopeless or desperate or bitter or totally apathetic. Feelings aren’t permanent. There are certain heartbreaks you’ll carry with you for your entire life, but the intense searing pain of them will subside; the scar will form where that burning may be now, and that scar can be the symbol of your further opening, or your closing and hardening. To me those scars are like thorns on a rose. They happen on the way up, during the growth, but they lead to the most amazing blossoming. The deepest color of you.

We like to “fix” things, to feel like they’ll be where we left them, exactly as we remember them. It gives us a sense of security in this world where we are forced to realize that we don’t know what is going on, what we’re doing here, what happens after this. Just because these things are unknowable until they aren’t, you really have to grapple with them if you want to be at peace. You have to struggle and investigate and come up with answers that make sense to you, but as you do that, or as you try not to do that, you will probably want some sense of stability in this world, on this spinning globe. And so you will want your keys to be where you left them and you might need to have everything “in its place” before you walk out the door. You might put your mat in the same spot whenever you go to class, because you like to count on that. That one thing. You may try to do it with people, too. This person is mine. This person belongs to me. The truth is, we all belong to each other, we’re all connected, but you can never own another person. People are not possessions. Your children are not mere extensions of you, birthed into this world to make you look good. We all have to find our own way. There is a GPS for people. It’s called intuition, and if you’ve been following yours, you’re probably doing pretty well, but we aren’t trained to tune into it.

We’re taught that happiness and peace lie in externals. If you look right and go to a good school and get a good job and drive a nice car and get yourself a house and find someone to complete you, you’ll be good to go. As if there’s a formula, a game-plan you can work, a bunch of circumstances you can control, and some happiness equation that can only be solved when you meet someone else. But if you’ve tried going down that linear, orderly path, you know it doesn’t lead to your happiness because people aren’t robots, and life isn’t a game we’re playing, and if you want to be happy, that is your sole responsibility. Each person is a miraculous combination of 37 trillion or so cells and a lifetime of memories and heartaches and deep fears and moments of incredible shame, guilt, doubt, joy, ecstasy and imagination. You can’t set up “markers” for this stuff. The more you try to control life, and the people who are in your life, the more despair you’ll create for yourself. You’ll never be able to control or predict what life will set in your path or what other people will do, say, want or need. Not your partner. Not your children. Not your best friends. Not even yourself much of the time, unless you work on it quite a lot.

As much as you can, open to the adventure, to the ever-changing nature of things. It may not be comfortable, but at least life is always interesting. Recognize that love means you give people the freedom to be fully themselves, and sometimes that means they will leave you. Love doesn’t block the door. Not just because it’s unselfish, but also because love knows that’s not good for your tender heart. Love loves in the midst of change. In the midst of chaos or longing or grief or fear. Love just loves. It embraces everything. Don’t waste too much energy trying to control things or people, accept that it can’t be done. Live intentionally, and follow your own heart, your own inner yes. Try not to “peg” people, because how they once were is not always how they’ll be. Show yourself the same consideration and compassion. Do your best not to cling to ideas too tightly, or opinions, because they’ll cloud your ability to open to anything else. If you’re going to be riding this roller coaster with its twists and turns and tunnels without light and steep uphill climbs and exhilarating falls and scary ones, too, those rotations where you’re suddenly upside down, and those times when you think you might just throw up, only to be followed by gleeful screaming and laughter from the very heart of you, then you might as well do it with your arms in the air, your head thrown back, and your mouth full of yes. Hoping you can simply open to the ride and find your center through it all. That’s your stability, that beautiful heart of yours.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

It Takes Courage to Surrender

Rejection is one of the worst feelings known to humans. It starts when we’re little — the first time you weren’t invited to a party or a sleepover, the first time your best friend decided she wanted lots of friends and not just you. The first time you were left out of a game, or were the last person picked for dodgeball. Maybe you grew up being bullied or teased or excluded or you’ve always had a tough time making friends. We’ve all had our hearts broken at least once, badly. You could have experienced feelings of rejection from your own parents or siblings.

There’s research that suggests the same part of the brain that responds to physical pain is also triggered when we feel rejected (the anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC if you’re interested in these things); that we are as distressed by feelings of being excluded as we are to a physical injury. That could explain the level of panic and desperation many people feel when they’ve been left, and of course there’s always personal history that can compound the situation. Many people experience heartbreak as an actual sensation or mix of sensations in the body — a heaviness, an emptiness, the lack of appetite or motivation to get out of bed, the exhaustion, and physical pain deep in the belly or around the heart.

Have you ever been rejected by someone you didn’t even like that much? Even in that case it doesn’t feel good. If you have any deep-seated doubts about whether you are truly lovable, it’s highly likely you’re going to feel the desire to run toward people who reflect those doubts back to you because if you can convince them, maybe you can convince yourself and heal an old wound. If you’ve tried that, you know it doesn’t work.

Here’s the thing. If someone wants to walk out the door or throw in the towel, or if a person expresses doubt in word or in action about their feelings for you early in a relationship, the only truly loving thing you can do is let them go. Trying to sell yourself is damaging to your soul, it’s going to make you feel sick. Running or chasing after people also makes you sick, like you’re hooked, and can be yanked in any direction. Like you’ve lost your power.

Love with your heart, your mind, and your hands open. People may change or leave, they may disappoint you in many ways. In order to love yourself, you cannot allow yourself to be abused. When you feel like your light is being crushed, and when you participate in the crushing, you really can’t nurture anyone else. If a person doesn’t see you or understand you or get you or celebrate you, let them go and do your best to wish them well. Do that for yourself and the other person, because love does not force or manipulate or control. It doesn’t run people down. I know we all have our visions or ideas of “how things should be,” but you have to meet people where they are. Too many people get caught up in the potential. “I’m so in love with the way I know this person could be, if only…” That’s not the same as, ” I’m so in love with this person.”

Your story may not unfold the way you’ve written it in your mind. You cannot control what other people will do or say or want, but you can heal yourself and if you do that, you will happily walk to the door anyone who doesn’t seem fully psyched to be with you. You’ll do that for you, and you’ll also do that for them. Thich Nhat Hanh on this, “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” Not every lid is meant to fit your pot. No point forcing it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Let Go or Wear Bananas

When my son was about two years old, I began going to the Mommy and Me parenting group at his preschool. We met once a week to talk about child-rearing issues, but in actuality they turned out to be mostly mom issues. One woman was having a very tough time with her son in the mornings. He wanted to pick out his own clothes, and when she resisted he’d throw himself on the floor and scream until he was blue. It had been going on for months, and by the time she basically sat on him and got him dressed in the clothes she’d picked out he was exhausted and angry and wouldn’t eat breakfast, he’d throw it at the walls. Then she’d have to wrestle him into his car-seat, and once they were at school, he’d beg her not to leave. So she was pretty beaten down and most of the time she’d arrive with some kind of food in her hair. Banana, or eggs.

I’d experienced the power-struggle over getting dressed with my kid, too, and had finally just gotten him a stool so he could open his dresser drawers. I figured he was becoming autonomous, and dressing himself was part of the process. Plus, he was making it pretty clear with his exclamations of “MY do it!” I don’t mind telling you he picked out some pretty interesting outfits for awhile. There was also a period of almost a year when he wanted to be called “Kobe” even though that’s not his name. (Yes, the Lakers games were on in the house at the time.) So there he was dressing himself outlandishly, and everywhere we went, my friends good-naturedly called him Kobe. Once at a supermarket, a woman began talking to him as he sat in the cart at the checkout line. He was wearing one of his hand-picked outfits, a green and white striped shirt, some kind of plaid shorts, and black socks pulled up to his knees. The woman told him he was adorable and asked him his name and he said, “Kobe”, and I didn’t correct him because, really, what difference does it make? I’ve been enjoying my kid from moment one, and I love watching him unfold. But this woman looked at me like I had three heads and said, “Unbelievable. Good luck with your kid,” and huffed off to another line shaking her head. I started laughing, mostly from the surprise of it, and Dylan started laughing, too. I leaned down and told him my name was Derek Fisher, and we went about our day. But the mom at school wasn’t okay with letting her kid dress himself which is fine. We all have our non-starters and not everyone wants to walk around with a kid who looks like a color-blind/pattern-blind very short golfer.

However you do it, and wherever the lines are for you, you have to pick your battles and I don’t just mean with parenting, but in life. It’s important to know yourself, and to figure out what is and isn’t okay for you. If you think you can control what life is going to send in your direction, or what other people will say, do or want, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of pain. I understand that accepting the uncertainty in life is not easy. We all want to feel some sense of order in the chaos. In the, what am I doing here, and how did this come to be, and how long do I have, and when will it end, and what happens when it ends, unknowing, unknowableness of life. So we make our plans and we have our schedules and our routines. We go to yoga on these days and we put our mats in this spot, and on this day we go grocery shopping. We have our kids’ soccer practice Tuesdays, baseball Thursdays. We plan our vacation for these two weeks. We go to work and we go here for lunch and order this, or we go there, where we order that. If the person who takes our order knows our name and what we like to eat, even better.

The truth is everything can change on a dime. Your careful planning and reassuring routines can’t save you from that reality. Not everything will go the way we want it to, and sometimes our plans will get turned upside down and inside out. A few years ago I went to a meeting and this person asked me what my five year plan was. I started laughing, I think I might have snorted; I didn’t mean to, it just struck me as absurd. It’s not that I don’t have intentions, or that there’s anything wrong with a five-year plan. It’s just that she happened to ask me this not long after the birth of my son, and nothing at all went according to my carefully written birth plan. So I think it’s good to have a vision, but also important not to grasp it, to allow some room for a different plan to emerge.

Everything is in a state of flux, and we really don’t know how things will be next week, next month, next year. We don’t know how we will be, either. There are things I’d like to do, but I try to take it one moment at a time because I don’t want to get so caught up in a plan that I miss the pure joy that can happen in any moment, or the absolute heartache. I don’t want to be so focused on working my plan that I forget to live my life, or leave some room for life to surprise me. It’s not happening five years from now. It’s happening now and I can’t control whether I’ll get to accomplish every single thing I’d like to, I can only do whatever I can possibly do today. I can use every moment I’ve got wisely, and I can try to pack as much love into each moment as I have within me and as I’m ready to receive. That’s the only power I have.

I can’t control my son’s path or my daughter’s, nor do I want to. Of course I want to keep them safe, I want to nurture them and teach them to be strong and to love themselves, and to go for it in life all the way. To figure out what lights them up, and to move in that direction with everything they’ve got, but I don’t care if they wear orange and green and decide they want to be called names that never would have occurred to me.

An attempt to exert control over other people is really something to examine if you experience that pull. Love doesn’t manipulate, force or reject. It’s not conditional. This is why it’s essential to choose wisely. To know yourself, to understand what’s important to you and what you need, so that you can recognize a person you’ll find easy to love. When we love well, we liberate the objects of our love so they can be their best selves. So they can follow the pull of that inner yes and fly. When you’re loving someone, you’re wanting their happiness the way you want your own. You’re wanting them to discover what ignites them if they haven’t already, and then you want to get busy helping them stoke that flame. Loving someone well helps them become more of who they are, not less.

If you love someone and you’re afraid, then there’s a good chance you’re not loving yourself well, or you may not have chosen wisely. Perhaps you’re being reckless with your heart. Or maybe you’ve been hurt before and you’re scared you’ll be hurt again. If you keep picking people who hurt you, you have some healing to do. It’s also possible you’ve picked someone in a lot of pain themselves. Loving people bent on harming themselves is heartbreaking, and sometimes the only thing you can do is love them from a distance. Of course you try to support them and get them help if they need it, but you can’t control anyone, or manage another person’s path. You can’t save anyone, you can just love people. If you’ve picked a keeper, don’t allow fear to dismantle it and crush that liberation that could happen for both of you. Yes, love involves risk. People grow apart sometimes. Life brings pain that can change a person. We never know what’s going to reveal itself down the path a stretch. If you’re not willing to be vulnerable, you’re not going to be able to love because it requires your willingness to release control. That means you’re going to expose your jugular, the soft underbelly of your heart, but it also makes you human. If you look down and you see opposable thumbs without fur, then you know you’re human already. So you might as well get in the game.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Uncertainty 2.0

So many times in life we search for answers, look for ways to predict the future, understand the past, or ask for signs about which way to turn now. It’s perfectly natural to want some stability, to want to know there’s a point to all this, to want to feel that your past had a purpose and that your future has one, too.

You can absolutely find your purpose while you’re here, and your life can be filled with meaning. If you allow yourself to open to the ever-changing nature of things, and to the vulnerability that’s required if you’re going to embrace reality as it is, then you also grant yourself the possibility of incredible love. It requires open hands, an open heart and an open mind, and the ability to say, “Yes, I embrace this, too. Even if it breaks my heart and I don’t understand why and every fiber of my being feels it’s unfair or senseless or tragic, I still embrace it because fighting it is pointless and I am here to open. To learn. To grow. To continue to begin again, even if right in this moment, I have no idea how to do that. I’ll start by reminding myself to breathe in, and breathe out.”┬áIf you do that, your time here, however much you have, will be beautiful. You can count on the people in your life who know how to love, to give it and receive it, for as long as you have each other. You can trust that there will be beauty and experiences that stun you into gratitude. But if you want everything wrapped up in neat little packages, and you want to understand every single thing that’s happened in your past and try to exert a lot of control over what happens in your future, you’re going to have a very tough time.

There’s a difference between having an idea of how you’d like to share your gifts, and an attachment to the idea that everything is going to unfold according to your five-year plan. You can absolutely move with intention and focus, but if you don’t also factor in the possibility that your plan could easily be turned on its head on a sunny Tuesday morning without any notice at all, or on a rainy Saturday when you planned on being at the beach, you set yourself up to be knocked over sideways by life. We never know and not everything is going to make sense. Sometimes the best you can get to is acceptance.

This is true on so many levels. I get emails from people who are trying to understand why someone hurt them or left them or betrayed them or neglected them or abused them or discarded them or were taken from them without any warning or any chance to say one last goodbye. One last, I love you so much I don’t understand how to make sense of a world without you in it. There are many times I sit at my laptop with tears streaming down my face. There are plenty of times I sit at my laptop laughing, too. But there’s never a lack of the unexplained in life.

I have close friends who were ditched suddenly and without explanation, by a couple they’d known and loved for years. Their families vacationed together, their kids grew up like brothers and sisters, they had a standing dinner Sunday nights. They were at graduations and weddings together, and one day it all ended. That’s as rough as any breakup and when my friends tried to ask what had happened, what was wrong, why they were being shunned, there was no real response. Their friends were just suddenly busy all the time. The kids are left to pick up the pieces, and thankfully they’re old enough to make their own plans, but everyone is hurt and confused, and no one understands. There is no resolution or closure. There are only so many times you can go to a person and ask to talk. Eventually you have to shed your tears and shrug your shoulders and take your ball and go home and remember other people will want to play catch with you down the road. If someone won’t communicate there is no hope of working it out. There’s just painful mystery and acceptance and the rest of your journey.

There are also people who get stuck in the past, and feed it and stoke that flame, even if the past was brutal, because it’s a familiar misery. If you work at it enough, you can feed that flame until it scorches everything, even your present. Your past may not ever make sense. Maybe there are questions you have that can never be answered. We all have some. Rilke has a beautiful quote about this, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Embrace all of it. Even the mysteries and the tragedies and the lack of closure that happens sometimes. Let it open you so other travelers who are also seeking, and will also never find answers to all their questions will know yours is a safe hand to grab in the dark and a good one to hold onto when it gets sunny again. Wishing you love through all of life’s beauty and heartache and uncertainty, and through all of its joy as well.

May we all live the questions with our hearts open,

Ally Hamilton

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