How to Free Yourself and Forgive

Not one of us makes it through this life (or even most days) without making mistakes, occasionally saying or doing something thoughtless, taking people and things for granted when they’re truly gifts in our lives, or showing up as our best selves in every moment. Hopefully in those instances when we are all-too-human, we catch ourselves quickly, apologize from the heart when needed, and try to make better and different mistakes moving forward. If we are fortunate and wise, we both receive and extend forgiveness as a necessary means to have real intimacy with people and get through this life with open and fulfilling relationships to celebrate. There’s no intimacy without communication and forgiveness. That is not what this post is about.

This post is about people who seemingly lack empathy about how their behavior might affect those around them. People who might have lied to you, betrayed you, disrespected you or abused you emotionally or physically with little to no understanding of why their actions upset you, and no tools to offer a meaningful apology. Maybe you have people like this in your life, people who stampede over your boundaries and look at you like you’re nuts when you get upset. You might even have people very close to you who were “supposed to” look out for you, nurture you and protect you, who “should have” cherished you and received you as the miracle you are, but were completely unable to do so. I put supposed to and should have in quotes because while we might have certain expectations based on societal norms, there’s no guarantee what we expect is going to sync with what someone is able to do. How do you forgive that, and what does it mean to try?

Forgiveness does not mean you have to decide that anything and everything someone may have done is okay, or even tolerable. It does not mean you have to pick up the phone and call the person. It definitely does not mean you have to have this person in your life. It simply means if you spend a lot of time looking back over your shoulder and blaming past events or other people for your current unhappiness, you are keeping these old events alive by dwelling on them, renting space in your head to someone who has hurt you. Where our attention goes, our energy flows. So it’s good to consider how much energy you’re spending on things that have already occurred and can’t be changed or rewritten.

If you have examined your past, your patterns, the things that have happened along the way that may have shaped your worldview and your feelings about other people, if you have gleaned all the information you can from a situation, then there’s no potential left there. There’s no kernel of anything that’s going to suddenly help you find your freedom from all of it. The truth is, we show up in people’s lives whenever we show up. Sometimes they’re ready to meet us with open hearts and lots of love, and sometimes they are deeply struggling or hurt, angry or bitter or totally unprepared to receive the love we’re offering. Re-read that if you need to, because you will notice none of that has a thing to do with you. It’s not about you, it’s about the other person. This is even true if we’re talking about our parents, and perhaps most especially true there. It is so hard not to take it personally if your own mother or father didn’t love you, for example, or didn’t love you in a way that felt like love to you. What could feel more personal than that? Of course it’s understandable to feel like there must be something broken in you if your own parents can’t love you, but there’s something broken in them, not you. Do you know how many people I’ve worked with over the years grappling with that? Me neither, because I’ve lost count.

When someone lies to you, they’re disrespecting themselves first. At that particular moment in time, they are dishonest people and they know that about themselves. It’s not a good feeling to know you are a liar, or that you’re breaking your commitments. Good people make really bad decisions sometimes out of desperation, or because they find themselves in a soul-crushing situation and can’t see a decent way out. It happens all day, every day. It’s easy to sit in judgement of other people and think you would never do what they’re doing, but the truth is, if you had that person’s life and her experiences, you’d be doing exactly what she’s doing.

Hopefully we can all let the little things roll off. We can be big enough to forgive people for thoughtless moments and loving enough to easily accept heartfelt apologies for small offenses. When we’re talking about the larger things – betrayal, emotional abuse or neglect over long periods of time, a basic lack of empathy or understanding or ability to consistently show up with respect and kindness – the essential thing is to recognize it isn’t personal. When someone cuts you off on the freeway, it isn’t about you, this is how they drive all day long, and they’re going to cut off a whole bunch of people after you. Same with the above. It isn’t personal when someone lacks the tools to recognize truly hurtful behavior, this is a reflection of something lacking in the other person, not you. It can’t be easy to go through life being unable to have real intimacy with anyone. If possible, forgive people who’ve let you down. You don’t have to invite them over for dinner, just clear out the space they’re taking up in your mind, and try to wish them some healing and peace if you can.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

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

Get Off the Hamster Wheel of Not-Enoughness

When you’re part of a culture that is always sending you messages that you aren’t good enough, and teaches you to base your feelings of self-worth on how you measure up compared to other people, it’s really easy to feel like you suck. The truth is, there are about 7.5 billion people on the planet, but there’s only one of you. There never has been and there never will be another you, isn’t that incredible? Your worth has nothing to do with how you’re stacking up compared to the person ahead of you or behind you, whether you’re in a socially-distanced line or you’re looking at your social media feed. Your worth is not the number in your bank account or the number on your scale or your breast-size or waist-size or bicep-size. It isn’t in an arm balance or inversion, it isn’t in how many “followers” you have, it isn’t in your hair or the beer you drink or don’t drink, it isn’t in your car or your job or your partner. Your worth is intrinsic to you. You are here and you are unique and you have something to offer this world only you can. That’s amazing to me. You might need to get out of your own way, or heal on a deep level, you might need to stop believing old stories that keep you stuck, but your worth is never at issue.

One of the best ways to start coming from a place of abundance instead of lack and the fear that there isn’t enough for you, or that someone else has or could steal your place in the sun, is to focus on what you DO have, what is flowing, the gifts that might be easy to take for granted but are actually huge. I opened my eyes this morning and I get to be here another day with the people I love. That’s huge, that’s everything. I HAVE people I love deeply, who amaze me with their kindness, intelligence, insight, humor, enthusiasm, passion, steadfastness and resilience and I am loved in a deep way by a few people who really know me, see me and understand me, and that’s the luckiest thing I know. These are three gigantic things I could easily overlook if I allowed myself to get caught up in the hamster wheel of not-enoughness, but the antidote for that is a gratitude practice, a daily effort to remember. And this has helped me through some very dark days and tough times, and it doesn’t mean we don’t feel despair, fear, frustration, rage and every other feeling under the sun, it just means we take some time each day to appreciate the things we do have. It makes the painful days a bit less so and the beautiful days that much more piercing.

Sending you lots of love,

Ally Hamilton

What’s one thing that’s lighting you up right now? I’d love to know!

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.

Where You Find Your Shoulds You’ll Find Your Shame

You know about “shoulding” on yourself, right? When that nasty inner critic pipes up and says you should be further along than you are professionally or you should be married by now or you should make better choices with romantic partners or you should lose that ten pounds or you should be able to do it all and still look like a million bucks or you should be able to work and be an amazing parent, partner, friend, or you should not have said that stupid thing or lost your patience or made that horrible decision, and if anyone knew they’d also know how unworthy you are of love, friendship, anyone’s high esteem or affection.

That’s the problem with shame. It’s a liar, because the truth is we all have things we wish we could go back and do differently, we all have things we don’t share, even with our closest people, we all struggle with feeling like it’s just us. Shame makes you feel like a fraud, like you’re bad and not worthy, and because of that you have to push down your worst choices and biggest mistakes. Shame separates us from each other.

No one gets through life without making mistakes, no one feels good about every choice s/he has made. It’s okay, it’s called being human. Stop shoulding yourself and start working on forgiving yourself so you can offer up that particular spark of yours to the world. Life is too short for anything else.

If the world isn’t being gentle with you, I hope you’re being gentle with yourself. 
Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Yoga and Mindful Parenting

childrenimitateNot long ago, I was in a parking garage walking to my car, and I saw a young mom, struggling with her daughter who was wailing. “I miss Daddy!” Her mom was yelling back, “It’s not a daddy day, you’ll see him this weekend!” My heart hurt. I felt badly for both of them. I went back and forth as a kid, three nights at my mom’s, four at my dad’s, switching that fourth night every other week. When I was at my mom’s I’d miss my dad. When I was at my dad’s, I’d miss my mom. I wanted to go over to the mom and say, “Hey, it’s so normal. She loves you, you’re her mom, but she misses her dad. Maybe a phone call to him would do the trick?” But I have found most people are not very receptive to suggestions when they’re in a heightened emotional state. So, I sent them love, and felt grateful, for maybe the millionth time, that when I had my kids, I’d already been practicing yoga and seated meditation for fifteen years. It helps so much in those moments when you want to pull your hair out, are feeling vulnerable, tired, or tested, or just aren’t sure what you should do. Parenthood asks us to be our best selves in every moment, twenty-four hours a day, but of course, that isn’t going to happen! For me, my practice has given me the tools to show up with the best of myself for the greatest percentage of time I can manage. If I’d had my kids before I had a long-standing practice, I have no doubt I’d have been screaming at them in parking garages.

I think there are plenty of articles out there that are shaming and judgmental when it comes to parenting. This won’t be another one. Maybe you only let your kid play with organic wooden blocks, and maybe you let your kid watch tv, and maybe you eat only avocados and maybe you let your kid have sugar sometimes. You won’t hear any gasping from me. There’s no formula for perfect parenting, you just do the very best you can with the tools you have. If you love your kids to the moon and back, and they know it, you’re doing pretty well! Here are some tools I’m grateful to have as a result of yoga and meditation practice, and I hope they’ll be helpful to you and your littles, too.

1. The ABC’s of Non-Reactivity

Sometimes WE need a timeout, so we can tune in! One of the greatest parental superpowers you can work on on your yoga mat is the ability to breathe deeply and stay calm when you feel challenged. Maybe you’re exhausted and your kid just asked you his ten millionth “why” question of the day. Maybe your teenager just tried to walk out the door in shorts so short her butt is hanging out, and when you said no, she told you all the reasons you know nothing about life. Perhaps your infant will not settle no matter what you do. Whatever stage you’re at, parenting is no easy gig! When you learn how to hold a lunge for twelve deep breaths even though your quadriceps are on fire, that power will be there for you when you walk through the fire in other areas of your life. So much of the physical practice is about being aware of physical sensation, and exploring it with curiosity. Eventually, this shows up for you when you’re feeling intense sensation that is a result of intense emotion. That ability to breathe deeply and stay calm is the difference between lashing out and saying something you’ll regret, making threats you don’t intend to keep, or thinking about your kid’s point of view, or whether there’s been a misunderstanding, or not!

2. Starve your loud inner critic

You might say to your kids, “Do as I say, not as I do”, but the truth is, our children integrate and internalize what they see day in, and day out. If you’re very hard on yourself, they’re not going to miss that. And if you’re hard on yourself, you’re likely to be hard on them, too, and then they’ll be hard on themselves. Author and inspirational speaker Peggy O’Mara has a quote, “The way you speak to your children becomes their inner voice.” Quite the responsibility, right?! When we live with a harsh inner dialogue, it’s only natural that it slips out sometimes. Whatever we’re filled with is naturally what we spread. If you work on being more forgiving toward yourself, you’ll find that ability is strengthened when it comes to other people, too, especially your children. When you make a mistake and you have an inner cheerleader instead of an inner witch, that cheerleader will be there when your kids spill their smoothies down the front of their shirt, or come home with a “needs improvement” in some subject or another. When we feel safe to make mistakes, the foundation of trust is built, and the knowledge that we are loved for who we are, and not for what we accomplish, is driven home.

3. Being present is the best gift you can give

We are all crazy-busy, and trying to find that elusive work-life balance can be challenging. Personally, I am not sure that really exists, I think it might be an urban legend. What I think it comes down to is priorities. One of the things we work on during the physical yoga practice is focal points. Each pose has one, and when you train your mind to focus on one thing at a time, that’s the same skill you use when you decide to put down your device and focus on your child. It’s the same skill you use when you’re in a crowded restaurant, but really want to hear about your kid’s day, or whatever is on her mind. Our attention, affection, love and presence are really the things our kids long for and thrive upon. Having the skills to be there fully means you’re not going to miss the moments, and your kids are not going to miss the love you feel for them.

There are so many things we work on in the yoga practice that make us better people for ourselves, and all those we love, and the world at large. Ultimately, it’s a breathing and listening practice. We breathe and become present, we listen to the body and respond with compassion, acknowledgment, respect, acceptance, patience and understanding. If you strengthen your ability to do those things for yourself on your mat, if you fill your tank with love, that’s naturally the same stuff you’ll have to offer your children, and that is gorgeous!

Sending you, and your littles, so much love,

Ally Hamilton

from-pain-to-peace-using-your-practice-to-change-your-life@2x copy