Yes and No

We are living through such strange and tender times. There is no right way to feel, there’s just however you feel from moment-to-moment on any given day, and the amount of patience, humor and grace you’re able to offer yourself (and others). One of the best things we can do is figure out what we’re saying YES to, and what we’re saying NO to. Everyone is struggling with something most of the time, pandemic or not. Read that again if you need to. No matter how stunning, smart, funny, kind or successful a person may seem to be from the outside, you have no idea what’s happening inside unless you’re very close friends or family, or they tell you. The most gorgeous person in your orbit could have grown up in the most abusive household and struggle every day to feel worthy or unbroken.

I know people who look like they’re killing it on social media, but inwardly and in their day-to-day life they feel like they’re not enough. Or maybe their life is falling apart but they’re keeping it together on the outside. I remember when I was going through my divorce and my kids were tiny. My son was four and my daughter was 18 months old and still nursing, and I owned a business with my soon-to-be ex husband and the only thing I could focus on was making sure my kids were okay and trying to take care of the yoga community that had sprung up around the studio and online. There were many, many days I sobbed in my car on my way to teach, but I always got it together before I walked into the studio, always did my best to show up for the people who’d driven and hunted for a parking spot or ridden their bikes to come practice with me, always tried to have an ear to lend to anyone who needed it. I didn’t always succeed at all that, but I always tried. And a lot of the time my soon-to-be ex husband was the one greeting people and checking in my class. From the outside, I have no doubt it looked very Modern Family, but from inside the experience, there were many chapters that were gutting. That isn’t the stuff you post on social media, though, because it’s deeply personal and it isn’t just your story to tell. I share this with you in case you feel deeply insecure a lot of the time, or you fall into the trap of comparing and contrasting. Just assume everyone has pain they’re dealing with on some level, because you’ll never go wrong if you move through the world with kindness.

Things feel particularly painful and raw out there right now. Some people are thrilled and relieved we are coming out of the strangest sci-fi year any of us has ever lived through, and others are anxious and scared we’re opening too fast, or they feel the pace of the world starting to infringe on the slower pace they’ve adopted. Many people are a combination of all those feelings, every day. We have people exhausted, heartbroken and enraged over systemic racism and continual fear of what might happen next, wondering if things are ever really going to change. We have people working tirelessly for that change in the face of massive polarization, and often a true lack of understanding.  None of it is easy, so at the very least, could we have some compassion for ourselves and each other? Could we recognize on a good day, most of us are struggling with some legitimate fear and insecurity, and also some totally absurd and meaningless mind-stuff – and behave accordingly?

Lately I’ve been feeling more and more that the root of all anxiety is fear of death. That because we don’t often talk about the reality of how fragile it is to be human, how mind-bending it is that we don’t know how long we have or how long anyone else has and that we don’t know for sure what happens after this, we’re in a constant state of knowing all this and also not wanting to know all this. It’s like the root of an anxiety tree in your mind, whose branches grow in different directions. It’s there, and you know it’s there, but maybe if you Netflix-binge enough you can forget about it. I mean, you can’t do anything about the parameters, right? So why dwell on it? I really think when we don’t grapple with the temporary nature of our being, we don’t live with the gusto and abandon that opens us to joy, and those branches can start to overgrow the system and block out the sun. We don’t have to agree about what we’re doing here or what happens next, but I believe we do ourselves a real disservice when we don’t face those questions head on, and figure out what makes sense to us. Then we can get on with the business of living with some peace of mind, true excitement and gratitude for the days we have.

Because the parameters of being human are tough, and they are, you can expect that many people are going to struggle. Hurt people hurt people as the saying goes. You will be hurt, and you will also do the hurting along the way. Hopefully at a certain point – maybe even today – you realize life is short and painful and amazing and glorious and full of loss and hope and dreams and if you’re very lucky, tons and tons of love and laughter. Hugs. Deep feeling. Grief because you love with your whole heart and losing people is devastating. Sand between your toes and the ocean – the ocean with its waves and currents and salt and sea air all around you, seagulls flying over head. The feeling when you scrape your knee and someone tends to it, cleans it for you, puts a bandaid on your scrape and gives you a kiss. Sings you to sleep at night. Gives you reason to believe that people are, at heart, really, really good.

But if you’re going to live fully, and if you’re going to find peace, there are two essential things: what you say yes to, and what you say no to. If life is precious, and I hope we can agree on that, then our job is to show up for it and give everything we’ve got to this dance while we’re here. There are going to be people who can’t be kind, can’t feel empathy, can’t respect your boundaries, can’t be counted on to treat you with love and respect. You may have people like this in your life. I would say the best course of action is to forgive everyone you can, but to realize when we forgive people, we don’t have to have them over for dinner. We don’t have to have them in our lives. We don’t have to call and say, “I forgive you.” And forgiving doesn’t mean we’re saying whatever happened is okay. It just means we are removing that fish-hook of pain from our hearts, we are reserving our finite energy and attention for other things, we are recognizing that whatever has happened is probably a result of this person’s pain, and we are not going to keep our pain and heartache alive by feeding it. There’s what you say yes to, and there’s what you say no to, and both are equally important for your well-being. If your body is your home, and your peace of mind resides within your body, imagine you can open or close the door to people and situations…and choose wisely!

 

Sending you tons of love,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here, and my yoga classes and courses here. For private coaching, please email me: ally@yogisanonymous.com

 

 

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