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.

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.

 

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

intro-seated-meditation

You Can’t Control the Tides

smaraboliSometimes we’re trying to control things. It’s understandable; we’re on a spinning planet and we each have our unknown expiration dates, as do the people we love. We don’t know for sure what happens after this, so it’s a gig that makes us all inherently vulnerable, and some people have a very hard time with that. Most of us suffer great losses at some point or another, because the loss of someone we love is like the loss of a whole, gorgeous universe. It’s not hard to understand why you might want to put your mat down in the same place when you come to yoga, or why most of us thrive on some routine, some rhythm, something to count on.

Here are some other realities. We are in control of very little. We don’t control what life is going to put in our paths. We don’t control other people, nor should we try. We don’t control what anyone else is going to do, or say, or want, or need, or feel. All we can work on is the way we respond to what we’re given, and there’s tremendous power in that. Sometimes people do things that are incomprehensible. I know someone who was just abandoned in a cruel and heartless manner when it would have been just as easy to end things with dignity, and to honor the love that was there. But “just as easy” for who? For me? For you? I mean, from the outside, I can look at the situation and feel astounded. Why would someone do it like THAT? With no communication, respect, tenderness? But for me those things are obvious. And probably for you, too.

That’s where we get into so much trouble. We start to project what’s clear to us onto other people. Shouldn’t this be totally obvious to them, too? I’d argue that certain things are indisputable. You should treat people the way you’d want to be treated. You should treat other people’s children the way you’d want your child to be treated. The thing is, people can only have the tools they have, and they can only be where they are on their own journeys. Some people are so full of fear, they can’t imagine trusting and being kind and compassionate, because some part of them feels if they do that, they’re going to get screwed. I mean, you can’t project your world-view on anyone else, that’s my point. It’s easy to take things personally, especially when an intimate relationship comes to an end, and we’re left with no explanation or chance for closure, but honestly, if that’s the way your partner operates, then they aren’t ready for a real relationship with anyone. Relationships require a willingness to listen and understand, to communicate and to try; without that, there is no relationship. Someone who lacks those tools doesn’t lack them because of anything missing in you.

The very best thing any of us can do is work on inner steadiness; confidence in ourselves to hold and examine whatever life throws in our paths with strength and grace and breath and curiosity. This is how it is right now. Let me lean into it. Let me allow myself to feel whatever I need to feel, whether it’s rage, or grief or confusion or shock, or all of those things. Let me remember that how it is now, is not how it will always be. Let me understand if I missed something along the way, if I sailed by red flags because I didn’t want to accept what I knew in my gut. Let me understand if I often override my intuition, or I just got burned this time. Let me know myself. Let me honor and cherish myself. Let me learn and grow from this pain so I have that much more empathy to share when other people in my life suffer. Let me use the heartbreaks to soften and open, so I’m also ready to receive the love and the joy and the astounding beauty when it shows up. Life is full of everything. You have to be ready. Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

Don’t Consent to Poor Treatment

eleanorrNot all friendships or romantic relationships will stand the test of time, and that is okay. Of course it hurts, but it’s just the way of things. People change, circumstances change, everything in the known universe is in constant motion. Sometimes we think something is “for life”, but it turns out not to be. Certain people are going to turn out to be “somebody that you used to know.” Yes, you can thank me for having that song stuck in your head for the next little while. But it’s really the truth.

Of course it doesn’t feel good when someone rejects us or ditches us or treats us with very little respect or concern. Especially if there’s a history of kindness and shared memories, of times when you really went out of your way to show up or to help, but if you are suddenly discarded, you’ll probably look back and realize you were dealing with a mostly one-way street. Someone who genuinely cares about you will not treat you carelessly, no matter how caught up he or she might be with other interests.

If someone is behaving in a disappointing way, that’s no reflection on you, it’s a reflection of where that person happens to be on her or his own path. You don’t have to take it to heart. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting or hurt, it just means you don’t have to take it as a sign that you’re easy to discard. There’s another great Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

Generally, you’re dealing with one of two things: either you have some part in the dissolution of what was once a beautiful bond, but the other party is unwilling or unable to communicate in a respectful way so you can understand a differing point of view, and apologize if the situation warrants that, or, you’re dealing with a person who truly doesn’t give a sh%t. And either way, it takes two to make a “thing go right”. There’s another song for you, you’re welcome.

If a person won’t tell you what’s up, don’t lose sleep over it. I mean, in order to own your end of a thing, a person has to be willing to tell you what the thing is, and if they won’t, it really has to go in your, “no time for this” folder. Because that’s okay in high school, but otherwise, not so much. If a person doesn’t care enough to communicate, why waste your precious time and energy on it?

The thing is, life is so short. All you can do is manage the way you show up, and pay attention to what you do. If you blow it, own it, apologize, and take some time for self-inquiry so you can learn and grow and do it better the next time. Try not to hurt people. If you’re the person doing the leaving, whether we’re talking about the end of a friendship or a romantic relationship, communication is always a good way to go. I mean, if you went on one date with someone and it wasn’t a match, I’m not saying you have to spend an hour talking about why that is, but don’t say you’ll call if you have no intention of calling, because that’s also only okay in high school, and not really even then. If someone is into you and it isn’t mutual, don’t leave them hanging in the wind. People are precious and the human heart is tender. Take care of your own, and be kind to others.

Sending you love, lovers,

Ally Hamilton

Letting Go with Love

aninHow do you let go when everything in your being, every cell in your body, has been wired to hold on? The loss of a child, no matter how old, is as bad as it gets. Losing people is the hardest thing we go through as human beings. It’s devastating when we’re lost from people we don’t know how to live without. It’s crushing, it’s hard to breathe. There’s a hole where a universe once existed. It seems impossible the world keeps spinning. Or that people everywhere are getting up and brushing their teeth or driving to work or sending a text as if everything hasn’t changed.


I want to say up front that some things are never going to be “okay”. There are some losses that are so great, you’re just going to carry them. That doesn’t mean that joy cannot exist again, or that you won’t experience great love, or be filled with gratitude for those moments that come out of nowhere and leave you with tears of appreciation. It’s incredible to be alive. It isn’t always easy, but it’s wildly interesting and life is full of the potential to surprise us and help us to grow and open. Of course there are some ways we’d rather not grow, and some lessons we’d rather not learn, but we don’t get to choose. When your heart breaks, it opens and softens and expands, or it hardens and contracts. I highly recommend you allow the pain to open you, but I do not believe you have to be thankful for the opportunity to grow in that way. Not everything in life has to go in the “thank you” column.

 

Sometimes we lose people because they choose to leave us. This kind of pain happens between parents and children, between siblings, between best friends. I think it’s incredibly sad when family members stop speaking to one another. I recognize sometimes that’s the only way to heal and move on. If there’s physical or verbal abuse, if there’s addiction, if there’s a personality disorder that renders a person unable to empathize or communicate with any kind of compassion, then you may not have a choice. Short of that, it breaks my heart when I hear about families ripped apart.

I met a woman at a holiday party one year, and we started talking. Before long, she’d told me she has two sons, but she’s only in contact with one of them, her youngest. He was also at the party. She said her other son had married a woman who just didn’t like her. From the beginning, no matter what she did, it was wrong, or not good enough, and her son was in the middle, and his wife got pregnant, and the longer they were together, the less he found ways to communicate. She’d tried apologizing to her son, and owning anything she could think of, she’d told him how much she missed him. She’d never met her grandchild. She said she had been a single mom, she’d raised the boys on her own. She certainly hadn’t been perfect, but she’d always done her best. Her younger son came over at one point. He put his arm around her, and kissed her on top of her head. When she went to get food, he told me his brother had married a very unhappy woman, and that he was sure his brother wasn’t happy with the situation, but he also told me his mother was one in a million. Always there for them. Working her ass off to make sure they always had what they needed, and most of what they wanted, and that he was furious his brother was treating her so poorly. So it had taken a tremendous toll on their relationship as well. He’d asked his brother what their mother had possibly done to be in a situation where she doesn’t even get to meet her grandchild? And his brother’s response was to shut down their relationship as well.

What do you do in a mess like that? It’s heartbreaking. You cannot force people to communicate or be rational or kind or compassionate. They are those things, or they are not. Sometimes people are weak, or they’re insecure, or they doubt their worth on a core level, and then they get involved with a strong personality who takes over. Controlling people are attracted to fragile people. I don’t know enough about the woman and her sons to have any real sense of what was going on there, but you have a grown man who was abandoned by his father as a small child, and maybe some part of him has always felt doubtful about his worth. If your own parent can leave you, you must be pretty unlovable, right? Like I said, I can’t swear that was this guy’s thing, but I’ve heard from so many people over the years, and I can tell you from my own personal experience, if you don’t heal your deep wounds, they bite you in the ass again and again. They break your heart until you can’t see straight, and you become so lost to yourself, it’s easier to let other people make decisions for you. Tell you where to go and how to be, and how to think, and who to see. I mean, that isn’t a life, that’s a fog, but a lot of people exist that way, and you can’t march into the center of that fog and wake them up. They do that on their own, or they don’t.

It hurts like hell when someone revises history and turns you into a person you don’t recognize. It’s even worse when your own child does that. The person you bathed and fed and strapped into car seats. The person who’s lunch you made and breakfast and dinner, too, for years and years and years. The person who’s hand you held, and knees you bandaged and face you gazed into and saw the moon and the stars and the sun, all at once. The little person you read to and laughed with and fought for and sat up with through sickness and heartbreak and mean kids at school. Of course it hurts to have that person discard you. Deny you. Reject you. And it isn’t easy to go through the day and know that person is going about his business. That you could pick up the phone and hear his voice, or get in your car and see his face. Except you can’t, because you’ve been invited to disappear.

All you can do is communicate your love, your pain, your confusion, and your desire for connection. Once you’re sure you’ve done that, I think you have to do your best to let go with love. Hopefully, your child will find his or her way back to you. Hopefully, eventually, the fog will lift. The pain of being in a false reality will outweigh the pain of healing and making things right. Until then, you have to do your best to remember who you are, to forgive yourself your imperfections, because we all have them, and not one of us gets it right in every moment. You have to do what you can to remove the onus of guilt and blame if they don’t belong to you. That woman at the party told me she must have failed as a mother, to have a son who could do this, but I don’t agree. Maybe he needed help. Maybe he was in more pain than she knew or understood. Maybe she was so stressed out trying to make ends meet for herself and two boys, she missed some signs. Being exiled is a harsh punishment. After twenty-five, we are responsible for how we behave and what we do, and I’m being generous. Really, twenty-five is old enough to know how to treat people. It’s old enough to get help with your healing process. It’s old enough to recognize that you need help. It’s old enough to tell your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse that no one comes between you and the people you love, and this guy was way over twenty-five.

Blaming and shaming and pointing fingers is a sad way to go through life. Being so unsure of your worth that you allow someone else to dictate the terms of your day and your relationships is a prison sentence. Having your heart broken by one of the two people you treasure most in the world is incredibly sad, but these things happen. All you can do is try your best to build joy around the fracture. The fault line is there, there’s no denying it, but doing your best to be kind to yourself, to gravitate toward love, to reassure yourself of reality when you need to, these are all things you can do. If the situation permits, maybe every so often you reach out. You stick with the through line of love, and leave it at that. You take your life day by day, which is all any of us can do, anyway, and you figure out what you can do to nurture yourself on this day. What you can do to uplift the people around you. What you can do that will bring you joy and peace and fulfillment, and you carve out some time for those things. Talking to people really helps. Sharing your story, finding support, being with people who know how to hold a space for your grief without trying to make it better, those things are all helpful. Hopefully one day your child or your parent or your sibling will realize life is short and time is precious. Holding on to rage when you could be opening to love is a poor choice.

Sending you strength, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton