Gaslit? Grab Your Fire Extinguisher!

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

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

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

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

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

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

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

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Falling

Sometimes-when-thingsWhen you’re in the midst of things that are falling apart, whether they be jobs or relationships or a way of being, this is a tough concept to embrace, but things fall apart so they can fall together in a different way. That doesn’t mean “everything is happening for a reason”, it just means that this is the nature of all living things–people, emotions, situations, and the leaves on the trees around us. Everything is always in flux. If a relationship ends and your heart is broken, of course you’re going to grieve and examine what happened, and depending upon circumstances, you may have a lot of healing to do. Those times when I’ve felt desperate, or paralyzed by fear, or heartbroken because I couldn’t see a path in front of me and realized I’d have to cut through the brush and create one, have also been the times when I’ve learned the most about myself and have grown in ways I never would have otherwise. That doesn’t mean you have to put everything in a box marked “thank you”, it just means we always have the choice to create beauty out of our pain.

Sometimes the thing that’s “falling apart” is you. In yoga philosophy and practice, you might come upon the concept of “The Dark Night of the Soul”, which is not a yogic concept, but rather a poem (and later a treatise about the poem) written by the Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross. In the poem, he narrates the journey of the soul from its bodily home to its union with God. In the yogic context, we have something called “isvara pranidhana”, which has a few different translations: devotion to the divine, devotion to the Ultimate Reality, devotion to your True Self.

It’s basically that time that comes when the old way of being in the world isn’t working anymore, and the new way of being isn’t clear yet. The old way may include relationships, jobs, coping mechanisms, the way you see yourself…anything that feels inauthentic, that just doesn’t “fit right” anymore, that will now have to go. It’s an extremely uncomfortable, lonely, painful, and scary process…and it takes a lot longer than a night. For me I’d say it took about five years. Any spiritual path (and there are many), will hopefully lead you to your own truth, your own peace, your realization of the incredible and limitless well of love within you. But in order to get there, you’re probably going to have to sail away from the shores you know, and head out to sea for awhile, waiting for your internal compass to kick in.Knowingly plunging yourself into darkness doesn’t usually sound appealing to people unless they’ve tried everything else first.

I’d feel comfortable saying that if the path you’re on isn’t making you a more compassionate person, it’s probably not the right path. Because ultimately, we are all so much the same. All grappling with life’s big questions: What’s the meaning of it all? What am I doing here? What happens when I die? We all breathe the same air, all live off (and on) the same planet, all love our children, all have fears and doubts and hopes and dreams and places within ourselves that need healing. So whatever you believe, I hope it opens you so that when you meet people, you really see them. And so that you realize that although they may be smiling at you, last night they could have cried into their pillow until they finally fell asleep. Because maybe everything is falling apart for them right now. It’s not easy, this business of being human. Things do fall apart. We will never know for sure if our answers to those big questions are right. And one day we will die. For me personally, I feel I’ve grappled with those questions and come up with answers that feel right to me. But you may answer those same questions with completely different answers, and you know, you may be right. We’re all just doing our best here.The only thing I’ve come up with that I believe in my heart is universal, is that we are made of energy, and that energy is love. Anything else is taught and learned. When things fall apart, whether it’s your way of being that isn’t working anymore, or it’s a relationship or a job, and you just can’t envision how things will possibly work out, see if you can open your hands and your heart and your mind instead of clenching your fists. We cannot control circumstances. We cannot control what other people will think, or do, or say. We cannot manage anyone else’s journey. But we can manage our own path, and we can keep heading toward healing and love.

What I want most in this world is for my children to be happy. I want them to live in a peaceful world. I want you and your children to be happy. I truly believe we are all family. Your children are related to my children, even if you live on the other side of the world. The only way I know to a peaceful world, is one person at a time. One person at a time taking the journey inward and doing the work to heal. One person at a time being willing to let things fall apart if they need to so that something strong and beautiful can emerge. If your house is peaceful, if you model loving behavior for your children, if you teach them what it means to be compassionate by being compassionate, they will do as you do. And if you don’t, they will also do as you do. That’s how we change the world, I’m pretty sure of that. I believe almost everyone is capable of healing. I realize our culture encourages sleepwalking but I don’t underestimate the power of a growing number of people who are awake. Engaged. On fire. When things fall apart, the desire to go to sleep, to numb out is understandable. But I’d rather be awake and in pain than asleep. And I’d rather be awake for all the incredible joy, too. Aware of all the gifts. Open to all the love. I’d rather accept that everything is always changing, and that one day I’m going to die. I hope it’s a long long time from now. But however long I’ve got, I want to use every minute to spread love. I won’t succeed. I’m a human being. I’ll get angry, or discouraged or tired or cranky or depressed sometimes. But I’ll do my best. And I know you will, too. And I hope we all live long enough to see the impact of a bunch of loving people doing their best and coming together. Wouldn’t that be freaking awesome? Sending you so much love, and a very big hug if things are falling apart for you right now, Ally Hamilton

The Picture in Your Head

What-screws-us-up-theDo you know people who get married because they’re thirty and the clock is ticking, and that’s where they thought they’d be by thirty, and so this guy or girl will have to be the one? Or talk to people with rigid ideas about things, like, if they’re dating someone for a year and there’s no ring, it’s over? How about people who go to medical school because that’s what their dad did and their grandfather, too, and that’s just what people in their family do? When you have a picture in your head about how something should look or feel, you are rejecting things (or people) as they are. Sometimes the person you reject is you, your authentic self.

Life rarely looks like the picture we have in our heads. Sometimes it’s so much more incredible than what we had imagined, and other times it’s way more painful than we had hoped. But there are always opportunities to grow and to open, to dig more deeply and see more clearly. I don’t know why things unfold the way they do. I have theories and ideas like we all do, but who knows if they’re right? Some things are so incomprehensibly painful you just have to let your heart be broken open.

Whatever your feelings, the ability to be with things as they are makes the journey so much easier. To look at your life as it is, with curiosity and compassion for yourself and everyone you encounter, because it’s not an easy thing, this business of being human. To be awake and aware and engaged with what is, not with a daydream or a fantasy or a memory or a picture in your head. I’m not saying thoughts aren’t powerful. The chair you’re sitting on started as a thought in someone’s head. I’m just saying, don’t think your way into a box, where nothing but the picture you’ve imagined will do. Because it might not go like that.

I had a beautiful birth plan with my first, for example. Low lights, no drugs, just a few people to support me. I ended up with a respiratory team in the room, monitors blaring, fear like I’ve never known before or since, panic everywhere. But you know what? I have the most amazing son. Like, insanely amazing. Kind and sweet and smart and funny with a smile that could light up any room. He has incredible enthusiasm for life, hunger for information, a contagious laugh. There’s more love than my heart can hold. So much laughter, so many hugs, such an adventure. And we are both okay. And there has been more joy than I ever pictured or imagined or planned for. Open to what is. Be with it. Explore it. Maybe you’ll be surprised, amazed, heartbroken, head over heels in love. I don’t know. But I do know that whatever you take in as it is, is real, is full of truth, and its own particular beauty, even if it’s the truth and beauty of having your heart broken. This is the ride, this is the best mode of transportation I know. The rest of it is numbed out illusion, a dream, a sleepwalk, an attempt to control something that is really no different than if you woke up today and decided you were going to try to manipulate the tides of the ocean. Just get in and swim. So much love to you, Ally Hamilton