Grief is Like This

In case you ever wondered what grief is like, it’s like this. Last night I went to Trader Joe’s. It was packed which is why I try to go during the day, but there was also a nice holiday vibe. When I came out with my cart full of groceries there was a woman standing there by the wreaths and I waited to see if she wanted to cross in front of me. She was around the age my mother would be if she was still here. Cut from the same cloth – put together, very attractive. She gave me a big smile with her twinkling eyes and said, “Oh, that’s okay, I’m just waiting for my daughter.” And that was it, I was gutted. I managed to smile back at her, though.

 

I went to my car, loaded in my groceries, put the cart back. I thought about going to find her to tell her how lucky her daughter is to have her and to maybe share that I do not have my mother here on this planet anymore, but I knew I would fall apart. So I got in my car and pulled out of the parking lot, drove to the light and put on my blinker to turn left on Pico. I ran through the moment in my mind and wondered why I was so deeply affected, and then I realized my mother will never say that to anyone again. She will never casually say she is waiting for her daughter, she will never say anything. I had a seriously hard cry all the way home. The kind where it’s hard to see and the streetlights get blurry and there’s nothing you can do. Tears everywhere, wrenching sobs coming from your gut. It’s coming up on a year since my mom exhaled for the last time. I was there with her for that and I’m grateful, but it’s painful to remember. It’s easier than it was the first five months or so when I would wake up in the morning and have to re-remember that she was gone. Or the first seven or eight months when I would reach for my phone to call her. Around month ten I stopped forgetting that I can’t call her.

 

But it’s still hard. Grief can knock you sideways out of nowhere. You can be going about your day and someone can say something as innocent as “Oh that’s okay, I’m just waiting for my daughter,” or you might come around the corner of an aisle at the grocery store and see the brand of napkins your gorgeous mother had to use to wipe her mouth when her jaw got slack the last year of her life, because ALS takes everything, slowly. Or you might remember the way your mother’s face looked when they turned off the bipap machine that had been breathing for her. Weirdly enough, you might hear someone sneeze on a subway platform in New York City and realize their sneeze sounds exactly like your mother’s. There are a million ways you can be okay and then not okay at all.

 

There will be people who will tell you your mother is always with you. They’re not wrong, but it is not the same and hearing that won’t help very much if you are really hurting. The loss of an entire person is incomprehensible. And there is no timeline. If anyone tells you how you should be feeling by such and such a time, that is someone who doesn’t understand grief. They’ll understand eventually, but right now they don’t and that’s okay. There are people who do understand, they’re the same people who have had the breath knocked out of them in an instant because of someone’s perfume, a Facebook memory, a dream lingering on the edge of their consciousness in the morning.

Grief is an expression of the depth of your love. If you loved with your whole heart there’s a good chance you’re going to suffer the loss with your whole heart as well, whatever that might look like for you. There’s no formula for this, no “right” way to grieve, there’s just an ocean of feeling. So if you are suffering at least know you loved your heart out. That’s a huge thing, not everyone can do that. And the love that you extended is something that can never be taken away, and the love that you still feel is alive and well and continuous. And that’s a lot, too. But for all of you who have had or may be having the raw, deep cry on the way home from Trader Joe’s, I see you, I understand and you are not alone.

Sending love to all this holiday season and always,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here.

Glow from It or Grow from It

You can experience life as though it’s happening to you or for you and either way you set yourself up to feel like there is some quid pro quo, like you can tilt the odds in your favor if you’re a good person or you can manifest the reality you want if you try hard enough. You can tell yourself rejection is protection and everything has meaning and has been set up to teach you something. When painful things happen you can experience them as karma or as punishment for something you did or didn’t do. You can decide that everything that’s happening is happening for your growth.

The thing is, the earth was spinning long before you or I got here. The ocean existed before we showed up, the waves were rolling in, the waves were rolling out. The sun rose and set. The storms came and passed. The earth will keep spinning long after we’re gone. The chances that everything has been set up for any one of us are pretty small. That doesn’t mean we don’t matter or we don’t have the power to have a positive and lasting effect on the world around us, it just means that it might be a much kinder and gentler ride if you exchange the thought that “everything happens for a reason” to simply “everything happens” and it’s up to me to take from it what I will and to endeavor to be the best human being I can be while I’m here.

Whatever situations you face, whether we’re talking about a relationship or a job or anything else, you’re either going to glow from it – meaning it’s going to light you up and inspire you, or you’re going to grow from it. You do not have to do the mental gymnastics to put everything in your “thank you” column. When painful things happen, when you experience loss, grief, betrayal, or an unwanted twist in the plot, you can bet that you will grow. You may not have wanted the opportunity to grow in that particular way, you might wish with all your heart that you didn’t know what you now know, but we don’t get to choose what’s going to happen. The earth is spinning. We are here and my feeling is this is an extraordinary thing, just to be here with each other. Just to wake up each day.

Glow or grow in love,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

If the posts are helpful, I also have books!

And you can join me for yoga classes and entire courses here.

Your Relationship with Failure

We’re all going to try and fail at some things. If you’re like most people, you’ll try and fail a LOT and hopefully every time you fail, you’ll learn and grow and strengthen and also figure out how invested you are. How determined. How much it means to you, whatever “it” is you’re trying to do.

Failure is a topic that resonates with most people pretty instantly. You have some kind of relationship with failure, some feeling about it, whether you feel like a failure in certain areas of your life or you want nothing to do with the idea at all. As if failure might be contagious. Some people who are wildly successful by society’s standards still feel like a failure. Some people who are failures by society’s standards feel utterly fulfilled.

Sometimes we “should” on ourselves and compare and contrast our experiences with those of our peers and end up feeling pretty awful. It can be a lot easier to focus on what we haven’t done, or what we haven’t done well, than to pay attention to all the things we have done and all the things that are flowing.

You might find you spend a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror wishing you could turn the car around and go back a decade or two to do things differently.

Whatever the case, your relationship with failure is going to depend on your definition of success. So maybe consider your definition of success and look at your life through that lens. Do you have love? Meaningful connections? Pursuits that light you up? If you’re struggling to keep a roof over your head you won’t have time for questions like these right now, but otherwise these are good things to consider.

This is also what we’ll be talking about during the Friday Family Meeting on the Yogis Anonymous Practice Page. If this topic resonates with you, join me Friday at 11:15am PST! It’s free to join, we talk about a different topic each week and how to apply the practice of yoga to the topic at hand. Then I lead a live guided meditation. I’d love to see you!

Much love to all ❤️
Ally Hamilton

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

Feel Your Feelings, Don’t Drown in Them!

There’s a difference between feeling your feelings (essential) and drowning in them. There’s a difference between spiritual bypassing or toxic positivity and working with your nervous system to create a calm environment and bring yourself back to center when you’re dealing with big feelings.

Today I did a lot of both. I felt a lot of big feelings – grief, emotional exhaustion, and some of the frustration that comes from the less glamorous parts of owning a small business, and I did a lot of working with my nervous system to stay centered. I’m of no use to anyone including myself if I’m a puddle of sadness on the floor. So I felt all my feelings and I was compassionate with myself but I also did some things to create more peace, comfort and ease.

In practical terms that consisted of 15 minutes of insight meditation and an hour of yoga practice that included a lot of pranayama. Not just ujjayi breathing but also breath-of-fire to get energized and alternate nostril breathing to come into balance. It looked like a slow flow with a lot of long holds and deep stretching. It looked like getting in sweats after without a bra, true story. It looked like working at my own pace, not rushing and not getting everything done.

Some days are harder than others. If you’re having some tough days right now, you aren’t alone. Just do your best to tune in, practice kindness and patience as much as possible, and whenever you can, give yourself some understanding. If you’re looking for a few things to try, alternate nostril breathing is wonderful when you feel like you’re spinning. Feeling your feet on the floor or your butt in the chair or the weight of your hands in your lap, or finding one color in your environment to focus on – all those things are really grounding. 4-7-8 breathing is easy to do anywhere, even whilst driving. And community is everything. If you need help, come find me on the site. I’m there with an unbelievable team of teachers and a global community of yogis and it helps so much.

Whatever you do, take care of YOU. We only get one of you after all ✨

Sending love to anyone who might need it,

Ally Hamilton 

The Danger of Spiritual Sound Bites

One of my least favorite things is the spiritual sound bite – that little saying with a bow on top that sounds deep and meaningful, but is really just something we say in the face of great loss or heartache that might actually make things worse, like “everything happens for a reason” or “you choose everything that happens to you” or “when the universe takes something away it’s making room for something better.”

The truth is, heart-shattering things happen to beautiful, kind, incredible people every single day. Spiritual sound bites make me twitch because while they may be stated or posted with the intention of helping, they’re going to alienate people who are truly suffering, and possibly compound their pain. Imagine a grieving parent seeing a post that says “everything happens for a reason” or “you choose what happens to you.” Even if you believe those statements to be true, it must be clear how painful it would be to read something like that when a whole person has been ripped from your life and it’s the very last thing you would ever want or choose.

It’s my passionate belief that a worthwhile spiritual practice ought to be there for you when the ground falls out from beneath your feet. That’s the point of practice. It’s not to make everything okay. Everything will not always be okay, and that isn’t because there’s some master plan “the universe” has for your life or mine. There are 7.5 billion of us here on planet earth, and we’re talking about one solar system in a vast universe. You think “the universe” has time to be concerned with the weather on my wedding day or yours? Or that if something incomprehensible happens it will make sense one day?

A meaningful practice will give you some kind of ground to fall down on and grieve. It will give you a place to rest when you’re done shaking your fists at the sky. After a while, it will be the foundation you walk on when you start putting one foot in front of the other and are ready to feel the sun on your face again. But it won’t make everything okay, it will just offer you the soil to grow beauty from your pain and rise from the ashes like a phoenix, or from the mud like a lotus flower.

Please don’t let spiritual sound bites get you down or make you feel like you’re failing in your practice. Sometimes the only work is to allow your heart to break fully and to keep breathing. That’s as spiritual as it gets.

Sending you so much love,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

If the posts are helpful, please find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here!

 

Our Collective Undoing

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we all remember.

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

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

 

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

3 Ways to Forgive Yourself and Stop Dwelling on the Past

glassofregretIf you’re human, (and I assume there are no zebras reading this post), then you can probably look in your rearview mirror and spot some choices you wish you could make over again, and differently. The truth is, most of us do the best we can as we go along, and that means most of us will probably fall short from time to time. Life does not unfold in a linear fashion, we do not get to hit the “pause button” until we’re ready, sometimes we think we’re ready for something only to find out we are wildly unprepared or had an unrealistic idea of what we were getting into in the first place. Also, sometimes we’re coming out of abuse or neglect, a dysfunctional family system, a crazy culture that expects us to edit out our difficult feelings, or we’ve developed coping mechanisms along the way that don’t serve our highest good at all. We may have stories we tell ourselves that are not true, ideas about other people that are based on our own misperceptions or lessons we learned that we have to unlearn, or a whole host of other difficulties that come along with being human. It’s an interesting and incredible gig, but no one would argue that it’s easy! You can lose a lot of time dwelling on the past, obsessing over decisions you cannot unmake, or feeling regret that won’t serve you or anyone else.

Here are three things you can do to lift the weight of regret from your shoulders, stop dwelling on the past, and free yourself of the burden of shame.

1. Embrace your fallibility and join the human race.

Welcome to the party, sport. We have all screwed up, some of us in big ways, some of us in smaller ways, but there is not a person on this planet over thirty who doesn’t have some questionable choices in his or her past. We learn as we go, and sometimes we hurt people because we are too young to know what we want, or too confused, or we wanted it then, but five years later we felt the soul being crushed out of us. If you feel badly about some of your past actions, please recognize this is because you have a kind, gentle heart. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t even be thinking about this stuff. If you have a warm and gentle heart, you are not an a$$hole, and that is fabulous. Please take a moment right now, place your hand over your heart, close your eyes, take a deep breath and say out loud in a firm voice, “I forgive myself for being human.”

TIP: If you’re at work, say it in a firm voice inside your head, but say it enough times that you feel it. If you exhale out some tears or other emotions, that’s great.

2. You are not Atlas.

Your work here does not involve carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. If other people won’t or can’t forgive you, that is on them, that’s a weight they’re choosing to carry, and an obstacle to their own freedom; at a certain point, you have to forgive yourself. Having said that, it never hurts to communicate clearly. If there’s something you feel you need to say to someone to make things right, go ahead and say it. Think carefully about your motivation, and how this might be for the other party. If you think you might disrupt someone’s life, or his or her tenuous grip on being okay, if you think the other person might still be healing from heartbreak, then it might be best to write a letter you never send.

TIP: It’s incredibly powerful to get things down on paper and out of your head, so don’t hesitate to put your thoughts in black and white. When you’re done, you can determine whether this is a missive that was just for you, or for you and them.

3. Be present.

It’s good and important work to know yourself, and that means it makes sense to examine the choices, decisions and behavior you regret, but you serve no one by marinating in that sad sauce. Once you’ve looked at your part in any story, owned what you can of it, apologized when necessary or appropriate, then there comes a time when you need to close the book on that story. Your life is not happening behind you, any more than it’s happening in front of you. The mind loves to hurtle back into the past, or careen forward into the future, but all that does is rob us of the present. Of course your memories and experiences are part of the fabric that makes you, you, and of course that makes them part of the tapestry that is your present, but how can you do a journey with your back to the road? That’s not a great way to navigate, or open to things as they are now, but it’s an excellent way to crash into feelings, things or people who are trying to get your attention in this moment.

Everything is in a constant state of flux, and if you keep looking back over your shoulder, you are trying to stop time and stop the current. Maybe your mistakes will help you travel through your present-day waters with more ease, strength and insight. Perhaps recognizing the bumps in the road will help you avoid repeating mistakes, so you can, at the very least, make better mistakes as you go. Your breath is an excellent anchor-point. When you become aware of your inhales and exhales, you’re directing your mind to focus on something that’s happening right here, right now. This is an excellent way to catch yourself when the mind wants to head in a downward spiral, when you notice obsessive thinking, or when you recognize you’ve already examined a situation to the degree that it’s productive.

“Svadhyaya” means “self-study”, and it’s one of the Niyamas. We want to understand ourselves and know what’s motivating our choices and actions, but we also want to embrace the reality that we’re continually evolving. Don’t allow yourself to continue to set your compass toward something behind you, because you’re failing to integrate your own metamorphosis. That’s not something you want to miss!

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

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