Stay in Your Own Lane

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

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

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

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

Sending you lots of love on the windy road,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

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

Gaslit? Grab Your Fire Extinguisher!

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

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

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

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

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

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

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.

 

The Veil of Silence is Now on Fire

I posted something on one of my Facebook pages the other day about why it is young women and girls who are sexually assaulted often do not tell their parents, file a police report, or go to the doctor. I don’t feel like re-posting here, but I’m speaking from my own personal experience. A woman commented with “Mothers, teach your daughters well,” and I believe she meant well, but this is a HUGE part of the problem. The onus should not be on women and girls to do whatever they can to keep themselves safe at all times; are we really consenting to living life on the defensive, in a constant state of hyper-alertness?! It is not just about mothers teaching their daughters well. Fathers need to model respectful behavior and think carefully about the things they say and do, and the way they treat the women in their lives, because children watch and absorb EVERYTHING. Both parents of both genders need to teach their daughters and their sons well.
 
I have a son and a daughter. My son is almost 12, and although he is not yet at the age and stage where this is a current issue, he already understands a girl’s body is her own and we have had frank conversations about consent. I’m talking to him about this (and have for some time) not just because I want him to be a good man, but also for his own protection. He knows when he goes out in the world he is to treat the girls and women he encounters the same way he’d want his little sister and his mother to be treated. We need to be raising better men. “Boys will be boys” is an outdated mantra that does a disservice to boys and men everywhere, and perpetuates an awful cycle for women and girls. If you are a good man (and thankfully, I know many good men), please think carefully about ideas you may have absorbed from our culture and consider whether you may be contributing to these problems in any way, without feeling ashamed about it. Our society has taught us all kinds of things that are not true, and we are all influenced by our environment. Some things just need to be unlearned.
If you’re looking for concrete ways to help, here are just a few ideas:
– Don’t participate in “locker room talk”, and if you are present when someone else is speaking disrespectfully about women, call it out. Real men don’t talk about women like they’re objects.
– Don’t tell sexist “jokes” and don’t laugh at them, either. It’s okay to say, “Hey man, I just don’t find that funny.”
 
– If you don’t want the government to tell you what you can and can’t do with your body, don’t vote for people who want to tell women what they can and can’t do with theirs. This isn’t about being pro-choice or pro-life, it’s about the government making laws about what individual women can do with their bodies. Try to separate those issues.
– Ask the particular women in your life if or how you can help.
Not long ago, both of my kids ate up the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series by Jeff Kinney. They were so into those books, I took them to a book signing when Mr. Kinney came to town. When the movies started coming out, my kids were thrilled. I remember sitting and watching the first one with them, and how disappointed I was when the main character mentioned to a friend that one of the girls in class looked “hot.” I had to pause the film and talk to both my son and daughter about how comments like that reinforce the idea that a girl’s value is based on her appearance, and how wrong that is. Jeff Kinney seems like a really great guy. I don’t know him personally, of course, but his talk was great and he seemed truly thrilled to be there with tons of kids, talking and signing books. I was so disturbed by this line in the movie, that I went to see if he had written the screenplay, but he didn’t. He did, however, have a lot of power: “I worked with both sets of writers and the producers and attended all of the writers’ meetings and provided notes on all of the scripts,” he said. “I also contributed some jokes and dialogue. I didn’t have approval over the final script but I did approve the basic story that was told.” I have to believe if Mr. Kinney had stated clearly in his contract that he did not want any girls or women objectified in these films, he could have flexed his power and gotten that clause approved. After all, it’s his property. This is what I’m talking about — if you are a good man and you are targeting children as your main audience, then use your power and do some good.
Women are not fragile, we are strong but we are tired. You would be, too. We don’t need your protection, we don’t need a knight in shining armor to rescue us or save the day, we just need respect and understanding, and we need you in this fight with us, this is no time to sit on the sidelines.
Sending love to everyone,
Ally Hamilton

Make the Right List

Find-a-place-insideSo much of our ability to be at peace and to live life in a way that feels good, has to do with what we feed, and what we release. I have these two relatives, and I’ll call them uncles, although they aren’t uncles. One of them is the kindest, sweetest, most loving, joyful, affectionate, fun, generous person you’d ever want to meet. If you sit down next to him at a family function, he will share with you a list of all the amazing things you’ve ever done in your life from the time you were four, to the present. He will talk to you about the joy you’ve brought to his life, and how he knew you were special from the moment he laid eyes on you. You will tell him how much you love him, what an important person he is in your life, and how grateful you are that he is your uncle. You will want to make sure that he knows this. The family function will fly by, and you will leave feeling grateful and full and happy and inspired.

The other uncle, though, he’s a different tune altogether. If you sit down next to him, he will present you with a list of all the ways you, and every member of the family, have disappointed him over the years. If he adds alcohol to the mix, which he almost always does, he will even go back generations, and share a list of ancestral wrongs that predate you, him, and everyone you know. He will do this because he makes a hobby out of should. He’s something of an expert on what people should and should not do. If you let him, he will involve you in his should, and try to get you to should on yourself and everyone else. By the end of the family function you will feel drained and angry at the relative who did the seating arrangement.

These are two actual but disguised relatives in my family, but I’ll bet they mirror people in your own life. I’ve been watching this for years, and the kind uncle is living a life that is happy and fulfilled and full of family, while the other uncle is isolated and often feuding with family members, or writing them off altogether. He’s missed decades of time with certain cousins because he wasn’t speaking to their parents, but for him, this just adds fuel to the fire. Now he can be angry that these children were not brought to him as they grew up, and therefore do not know him, or have any real bond with him today.

The thing is, it’s really a choice. We all have heartaches and disappointments, ways we were let down, or in some cases neglected, abandoned, or abused. You know how the lotus flower grows in mud and muck, but emerges out of that as this gorgeous, white, stunning bloom? The same is true for people. We all have our mud and our muck, and it’s up to us to grow beauty out of the pain, or to wallow in it. Of course we can hold up our muck and show everyone how awful it is. We can excuse our poor choices or crappy behavior on the mess we’re coming out of, or we can get busy strengthening ourselves, and reaching toward the sunlight.

As a society and a culture, we are constantly encouraged to focus on what we don’t have, what isn’t going right, and all the ways we don’t measure up. Internally, we’re wired to worry, thanks to negativity bias, and the days when we had to avoid being eaten for lunch by saber tooth tigers. Externally and internally, we’re trained on lack, but that leaves us stuck in the mud of envy and despair, and that’s no way to live. You can point fingers like my angry uncle, or you can dig your way out of the mud like my happy uncle.

What are you focused on? Upon what do you place importance? Is it your looks? Your bank account? Your house, car, size of your boobs or biceps? Is it the latest, greatest vacation your friend took that you didn’t? Is it whether you have a partner, or whether you should get rid of the one you’ve got because s/he isn’t making you happy? Do you keep lists? If so, what’s on them? Do you have a list of ways you’ve been wronged, betrayed and let down, or a list of ways you’ve been amazed by the beauty in this world?

Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen. Is it important to acknowledge that your past has shaped you? Of course. You cannot be at peace if you don’t know yourself, and part of that work has to do with recognizing your wounds and figuring out what you need in order to heal. That doesn’t mean you dwell on your past and drag it into your present and future, it means you glean the meaning from the pain, and you allow it to open your heart and your mind so you have empathy for other people. Being human is a tough, but wonderful gig. You have to embrace your vulnerability if you want to be free, so that fear and rage don’t rule your life. Be the happy uncle. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

There’a a Lesson in Everything, But Not Everything is a Lesson

nehruIt’s always good to learn from our experiences. This is how we grow and open, it’s how we develop character and begin to know ourselves. There’s a lesson in everything, but not everything is a lesson, and I think that’s an important distinction to make if you want to be at peace.

I’m a yoga teacher, and I’ve been teaching for quite a long time, and I know a lot of yoga teachers. So my newsfeed is filled with inspirational quotes on a pretty frequent basis, and some of them are great, and some of them make me want to stick toothpicks in my eyeballs like they’re deviled eggs on a tray at a cocktail party. Sometimes people will post things like, “There are no bad events, there’s just the way we respond to them.” Oh. Really? There are no bad events? Can anyone be awake and say that, looking around the world today? There are plenty of heartbreaking, devastating events, and that’s true personally and globally. Pain is part of life, and to deny that is to live in a dreamworld full of unicorns and glitter, with an occasional leprechaun running through.

Another really popular saying: “Everything happens for a reason.” I always cringe when I see that, because years ago, in another lifetime, I said that myself. Then I got older and saw some things and went through some things, and realized that’s an awful thing to say, even though I meant well when I said it. It’s an awful thing to say, because you never know who you’re saying it to, especially if you say it in a room full of students you don’t know personally, or you post it on social media to friends you don’t know. What if there’s a grieving parent in the room, or on your newsfeed? Do you think they’re going to take any kind of comfort in that idea, or do you think you might have inadvertently alienated them, leaving them to feel even more alone and angry than they already did? I’m not saying you can’t believe that, I’m saying it isn’t a compassionate thing to say.

“Everything is perfect and unfolding exactly the way I need it to for my soul to evolve. This moment is offering me everything I need to know.” Get me the f&cking toothpicks. When we speak in these terms, we’re suggesting there’s a divine plan, and a certain path that’s been designed just for us, so that we can get the lessons we need, and maybe you believe that. Maybe you believe in karmic inheritance and reincarnation. I’d love to believe that. I’d love to believe we get more than one crack at this thing. I’d love to believe that some of the devastating things that have happened in my life have happened in order to balance out any of my past transgressions, and to help my soul evolve in this lifetime. I mean, reincarnation is such a comforting idea. We get to come back, and maybe we even get to travel with the same souls, we get to be with our loved ones again? That would make death a lot less scary, right? And I mean, we know energy doesn’t die, it just changes form, so who knows? We’re energy. And I believe in the continuation of consciousness, because that makes sense to me, and because I want to, but I don’t know for sure what happens after this, and neither does anyone else, and I’m not going to pretend differently. And because I don’t know for sure, I’m not going to say things with confidence that might not be true. What I do know for sure, is that we get to choose the lessons. We get to decide what we’re going to glean from our experiences, the wanted ones, and the unwanted ones. We get to decide if we’re going to pick ourselves up and start again. We get to do the work to grow beauty from our pain, or not.

Anyway. Here’s the other problem with that line of thinking. If you believe everything is happening for a reason, you’re probably also going to treat the trials and challenges of your life as some kind of test. You’re going to ask yourself, “Why is this happening to me?” In other words, you’ll relinquish your own power. Sometimes we exaggerate our own importance, and sometimes we dishonor it. I mean, there are about 7 billion of us on this planet. Each of us unique. So right off the bat, we’re going to have 7 billion distinct experiences, but there’s universality, right? I mean, talk to people. We’re a lot more the same than we are different. We all dream. We all long for connection, love, touch, understanding, compassion, forgiveness and acceptance. We all have our heartbreaks, our unfulfilled wishes, nights when we’ve cried ourselves to sleep. We all feel alone in this gig from time to time, on the outside looking in, when really, we’re on the inside looking out.

If you see a pattern in your life, if you keep making choices that lead to your heartbreak, I’d take a good, hard look at that. Then the question is not, “Why is this happening to me?”, but, “Why does this pattern keep showing up, why do I keep making these choices, and what is this pattern trying to reveal to me?” That way, you’re acknowledging your free will, and your own power. Things are not just happening to us. Life brings its everything, and we respond. We co-write this story.

Sometimes people do crappy things because they’re young and selfish, or they don’t know themselves well, or they grow in a different direction, or they can’t face what they want so they make a mess. You don’t have to be on the receiving end of poor treatment, wondering where the lesson is for you. I mean, again, if it keeps happening, then yes, you have to ask yourself why you keep picking people who lack the tools to love you well, but we can all cross paths with a scorpion from time to time. The only lesson in that case is that people in pain, spread pain. That is all.

Sending you love!

Ally Hamilton

Be Your Own Clean-Up Crew

jimrohnSometimes we get ourselves into difficult situations, and find we really want a way out, but the way does not seem clear. This is really common when we’re young. I certainly got myself into some tight spots along the way, and made a mess on the way out. Part of it is just that it takes time to know ourselves. It’s very easy to go through the first quarter of our lives being influenced by external factors. We might place a lot of value on what other people want for us. How other people want us to be or to feel. We might feel pressured by societal norms, or the way our friends seem to be doing things. There are countless ways to get lost on the path.

And when I say “the path”, I’m not suggesting there’s one path for everyone. I mean, your particular path. The one that’s going to lead to your deepest, truest self. The one that’s going to take you to your joy so you can swim in it and share it. The thing is, we aren’t encouraged to look inward, we’re taught to focus outside ourselves and meet certain markers, and those markers might differ from family to family, and from culture to culture, but we all have them. The expectations, the ingrained beliefs and ideas about things. Sometimes we have a lot of unlearning to do to figure out what makes sense to us, to uncover what scares us, inspires us, excites us. If you haven’t figured that out and you go ahead and make huge life decisions before you know who you are, you’re pretty much guaranteed to crash into some brick walls, and hurt yourself and others. As long as you aren’t reckless with other people, as long as you don’t set out to hurt anyone, no one can hate you for being young and confused, for thinking you want something, and then getting it, only to find out it is not what you thought it would be. That’s called being young and making mistakes, and it’s how we grow and learn.

Having said all of that, your choices and your actions define you, as does the way you make your mistakes, and the way you address them. What you do about how you feel is the stuff of character-building. Making a mistake is no crime. Handling it in a cruel or unkind way, leaving someone in the dark, showing a lack of compassion and empathy—those things are crimes. They’re crimes against your own heart and your own well-being, in addition to the harm you’re inflicting on the other party. The human heart is resilient, and most people will recover from heartbreak, abandonment or betrayal, given enough time, and assuming they avail themselves of tools that help with healing. Having to live with the fact that you treated someone poorly, though, that’s another thing. At night, in your bed, when all the noise of the day stops and you’re left with your thoughts and your internal dialogue, there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t run from yourself. You have to be able to live in your own skin, and breathe.

Sometimes we get desperate and it’s hard to face the mess we’ve made and so we try to run or hide or deny or deflect, and of course, that just compounds the pain and confusion, and lengthens the time it will take to heal. You cannot heal in murky waters, and you cannot heal if you lie to yourself. The sooner you face your problems head on, the sooner life will feel good again. It’s funny. Years ago I was on a play date with my son. He was about four. When we were leaving, I told him to go and help his friend clean up the mess of toys they’d created, and the other mom said her housekeeper would do it and that she preferred that anyway, because she didn’t want to end up with a nerdy kid who wore a pocket protector. I said I didn’t want to create a grown man who left his dishes and dirty laundry all over the house for his wife to pick up. I didn’t say it as a challenge, it just kind of slipped out, and we looked at each other and laughed and she sent both of our boys to go clean up. Often I see dog poop on the street. It’s the same syndrome. If you go through life expecting other people to clean up the messes you’ve made, don’t expect to be happy, because part of being happy requires that we’re accountable, that we’ve taken ownership of the way we’re going to show up in the world. Sometimes in an effort to help someone, we rob them of the opportunity to do that. Instead of helping, we’re enabling behavior that’s weakening this person we love, and true love doesn’t weaken us, it strengthens us.

Sending you some love right now,

Ally Hamilton