Use Your Key

The best way to meet fear is to allow yourself to feel it. For many people, social situations are a nightmare. What to say? What to wear? What to do if you’re left in a corner and no one is talking to you? What to say or what not to say if someone is talking to you? Whether you’ll get that call, and how badly you’ll feel if you don’t. Public speaking, lots of people are terrified about that. There’s fear of intimacy, the risks required to tear down your carefully constructed walls. Fear you’ll never live a life that feels good to you, you’ll never reach your potential. Or the fear that you will, and then what? Fear of spiders, challenging conversations, hurting other people, rejection, dying alone. There are all kinds of things that might scare you.

Being scared isn’t a problem; running from the feeling is. If you’re panicked, there’s a reason, and you have an opportunity to know something about yourself, probably something very important. All the shadow emotions are markers. They’re like burning flags, waving in the wind patiently, waiting to be examined. They’re marking those places where you still have some healing to do, but so many people are so averse to feeling uncomfortable, they flee. They fling the feeling away, or numb it out, or deny that it exists. They run from that flag like their life depended on it, when in actuality, their life depends on their willingness to walk right at it. If you can’t sit with your sadness and allow the tears to spill, how can you relieve your pain? If a close friend called you in real need, do you think you’d help them by hanging up the phone? Or getting them drunk, or taking them shopping or getting them laid? Yes, I said that, because many people seek relief from their pain in those ways, and no, none of those things would help. Dr. Earl A. Grollman on this, “The only cure for grief is to grieve.”

When I say the “shadow emotions”, I mean fear, rage, shame, guilt, doubt, insecurity, jealousy, bitterness. The feeling of having been betrayed, or judged or shunned — any of those feelings that have some heat to them. Culturally, we aren’t trained to sit with that stuff. We’re told, “Don’t be sad”, “Don’t be scared”, “Don’t be angry”, as if we could just snap our fingers and make the feelings vanish. We learn some feelings are not acceptable, some feelings make those around us uncomfortable, and so we should hide them. In our crazy framework, men aren’t supposed to show fear, and women aren’t supposed to be angry. You know what we call an angry woman. We have a word for it, and it isn’t nice, but this premise is so nuts. We will all feel everything, regardless of gender. We will all have moments when we wonder what we’re doing here, and what happens after this. We’ll all doubt our ability to have an impact on the world around us from time to time. We’ll all wish we could do certain things over again, and differently. This is called being human. We aren’t robots. We can’t edit out or shut off the parts that are unwanted.

I met an eighty-seven year old woman today. It’s not the first time I’ve met her, she’s the mother of a good friend, but it’s the first time we really talked. Her husband died this year, and her brother, and his wife. She told me she goes out every night. Goes to the theater, goes to her bridge club, volunteers. She said it doesn’t change anything, but it makes the people around her feel she’s okay. Can I tell you my heart broke a little? She was married for sixty-six years and her husband never wanted her to have lunch or tea or anything at all with any other man. She told me that while she laughed and shook her head. I told her he knew he had a good thing. My point is, this life makes you vulnerable. That’s what’s asked of you. To open your heart, even though you understand your time is finite. Feel your feelings. Feel all of it. The heartache, the despair, the uncertainty. Feel it so it doesn’t block you, because life is simply too precious for that. You don’t have years to waste being stuck. It might take you years to heal, but that’s different than time spent on the run. What you run from, owns you. That’s clear, right? Anything you won’t face controls you. You’re not meant to be controlled, that’s why it doesn’t feel good. You’re meant to be liberated, but you have to use your key. Hoping that you do, and sending so much love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

Let it Break Your Heart Wide Open

The more you open to the reality that you cannot rewrite your past and you cannot control or predict your future, the more your heart opens to the plight of being human. Inherently it’s a vulnerable undertaking and isn’t easy, especially if you’re trying to be kind, conscious and compassionate with yourself and everyone you encounter. Whatever has happened has shaped you, but it doesn’t have to define you or close you off to the possibility of joy. Whatever is coming is unknowable, but you can work on healing and knowing yourself, so the storms don’t knock you over when they come (some will no matter how much you prepare). You cannot know for certain what happens after this until you exhale for the final time. People will break your heart. Circumstances will break your heart. Let them. Hold all of that.

You can fight the groundlessness, but it will still be there. You can go down to the ocean and try to hold back the waves, too. You can allow this world, your life, your losses, your disappointments, frustrations, fear and despair to harden you. You can tell yourself other people have it easier (some do), and allow your heart to become encased in a bitter shell, but the more you toughen up against it (and aren’t we taught to do just that? Don’t cry, don’t be scared, don’t be angry), the more you also toughen yourself against joy, gratitude and the piercing yes of loving with your heart wide open. You can’t shut down the painful stuff without also closing yourself off to the incredible beauty in this world.

It actually feels good to embrace the truth of your smallness and your limitlessness. Your ability to love and to shine is what makes this life beautiful, and there’s no box, there are no circumstances that can hold you back in that regard unless you let them. It’s a relief to face both your vulnerability and your power. So many people feel alone in this thing, like they’re the only ones feeling this stuff, and everyone else is cruising along with their pithy updates and perfect glowy Instagram pictures. Everyone has grief, shame, confusion, fear and guilt. Doubt, anxiety and insecurity. Most people don’t talk about it because we’ve been taught these feelings are wrong, that they need to be dealt with and managed and hidden somewhere so as not to make other people uncomfortable. If you want to be known, seen and understood in this world, then you’re going to have to allow yourself to cry sometimes, to be scared, to be angry, to be whatever you are and to let those who are close to you see that stuff as well. If you edit out the painful parts, you’re going to feel very alone. It isn’t all going to be light.

If you want to heal yourself, and you want to support other people in their own healing process (which is how we heal the world around us, too), then you’re going to have to head toward compassion. The best way to give people permission to be fully themselves is to be fully yourself. To knock the walls down and to admit sometimes you have no f&cking idea what to do. That sometimes you fold laundry with tears streaming down your face, and your heart full of why. It’s okay, it really is. Let this world and your life break your heart wide open. It feels a lot better that way.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

The Stuff That Isn’t Chasing You

Sometimes people go through experiences that lead to questions like, “What’s the point of it all?” Most people asking this kind of question have faced desperate situations. There are people coming out of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. People who’ve endured the kind of loss that makes you weep if your heart is open and you allow yourself to stand in their shoes for just a moment. Sometimes the pain is really old; I have a friend who watched his father die of a heart attack when he was eight. That will never be okay. My cousin lost his six year old son to brain tumors, and my cousin is one of the best and kindest people I’ve ever known, and so is his wife. I know a woman who drove her daughter to the school bus and watched her get hit by a car as she crossed the street. The parents in Newtown Connecticut who are still suffering and still trying to put their lives back together in some kind of way so they can get through today and tackle it the same way tomorrow. I don’t think everything happens for a reason, or that everything happens for you and not to you. I think some things just happen, end of sentence. I think all kinds of things happen. I know how much we want things to make sense, but some things fall so outside the lines of sense, sense is just an idea. Things happen, and then there’s the way you rise up in the face of the things that happen, and you may be able to grow beauty out of your pain at some point, but it will probably be the kind of beauty and understanding you’d gladly give back to undo the thing that happened.

I wrote something about horrendous things happening to good people recently, and most of the responses were compassionate and kind, but one person said it was Karma, and life is fair, and people get what they deserve. No they don’t, not always, and that’s not a true understanding of karma, either. People who believe in karma and reincarnation feel the soul is going to get the lessons it needs for its evolution, it’s not a vengeful thing. It’s very hard to imagine anyone needs to lose their child violently for their soul to evolve, or that 40 of those parents happened to all live in the same town in Connecticut, and needed the same lesson. Someone else said it’s a person’s thoughts, that what you think about is what you attract, and that you will create what you believe you deserve spiritually. Can anyone truly believe people create that kind of devastation because they think that’s what they deserve? Or that anyone could have thought a thing like that into being? Yes, your thoughts affect your reality. Fear will shut you down, and tremendous amounts of worry and anxiety will create dis-ease within you, there’s no doubt about that. If you suffer from anxiety or are recovering from trauma, there are so many ways you can work with your nervous system, and there are different healing modalities available to you. (If you need help with that, feel free to message me privately). If you’re optimistic and you feel that life can be full of pain, but that it can also be full of joy, and you head into the world with an open heart and a lot of gratitude for what you do have, it will have an effect on your day, on the way you’re moving through the world, on the way people respond to you. But if you have worries about dropping your child off at school from time to time because we are living in a world where some people are slipping through the cracks, you are not creating a horrible outcome for your children or yourself. You’re simply awake. You cannot wrap life up into a neat little box any more than you can go gift wrap a wave from the ocean.

On Friday I had just finished teaching and someone at the studio told me to call my kids’ dad right away. He picks the kids up from school on Fridays while I’m teaching. When I went to get my cellphone I saw a text from a friend saying he hoped my kids were okay and then I saw a text from their dad saying nothing had happened at my son’s school, but they wouldn’t let any parents in, or kids out. A mom at my son’s school had texted saying we were on lockdown, and then a student in my class said there had been a school shooting. I felt the blood drain to my feet. I’ve never felt anything quite like that. The room went a little hazy, and I lost my peripheral vision. My hands shook so much I struggled to hit the right buttons to reach their dad. I didn’t get through right away, so I looked online to see if I could get the story. The shooting happened about fifteen blocks away, and at first they reported the possibility of more than one shooter. I felt personally reassured that it hadn’t happened at my son’s school, but to be honest, I really wanted some kind of visual. Someone to tell me they’d seen my boy and he was okay. Until I saw him myself, I really didn’t breathe normally. My heart went out and goes out to the families of people who were killed on Friday, who did not get to end the day feeling thankful. My six year old spent two hours in a bathroom with eighteen of his friends and their teacher while all this was going on. She played quiet games with the kids. I love her. My son said he wasn’t scared or worried. They didn’t say much to the kids about what was happening. This has become so commonplace, there’s now a procedure for school shootings. That’s the part that might break your heart if you let it. i hope you let it.

You have your wounds in this life. Some are greater than others. Some strip you right down to the bone without mercy, and level you so have to remind yourself to breathe in and breathe out, and sometimes you’d rather not even do that. I understand, but I’m going to tell you something. Just as much as there’s incomprehensible grief, loss and suffering, so too is there joy, love and fulfillment. You get everything in this life, and some people get more of the pain, and others get more of the joy. And maybe everything is happening for a reason, but you’ll never hear me say that because to a person grieving, what could be a more alienating thing to hear than, “I’m sorry for your loss, but it happened for a reason.” Or, ” I’m sorry you’re gutted but it will make sense to you one day” ? Some things will never, ever make sense, and some things will never be okay. Accepting that is often the doorway to surviving it. Staring it dead in the face and realizing you’ll have to carry this with you. This part of you that’s been changed. This scar. But as much as possible, allow your wounds to open you instead of close you. Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Leonard Cohen on the subject, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” You might wish for less of a wound and less light, so to speak, but we don’t get to choose.

What happens after this? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. I can tell you what I believe. I do not believe this is it and then we’re worm food, but I can’t prove that to you, it’s just my hunch and my hope. I wouldn’t even try to prove it because you have to figure out what makes sense to you. Sometimes people scream from rooftops or mountaintops or their Facebook page or the subway platform about what they think. A person who thinks this is it, when we die it’s over, can’t prove that to you, either. You just have to wrestle with these questions yourself and figure out what feels right to you, but also try to open to other points of view. Then you really have to get down to the business of making this life beautiful, even with all of its pain, of connecting and loving and giving and receiving and experiencing. Of being as awake as possible in each moment. Of opening to your own kindness, and to the kindness of other travelers. Of discovering your gifts, and giving them away. Of laughing with those you love until your eyes well up. They will if you let them. Have chocolate sometimes. Go for a hike, feel the breeze on your face. Watch the sunrise or the sunset, or stay up and be amazed by the next full moon or the stars in the sky when you can see them. Go to the ocean and let yourself be humbled by your smallness and your limitlessness, all at once. Take your heart, your open, wounded, gorgeous heart out into the world without fear, and without any delusion that you won’t suffer sometimes. If you come out of abuse, you may have to unlearn the idea that you are unworthy of love, because that is a lie, and you might need help with that.

Love is where it’s at, love is the point of it all. I’m pretty positive about that. If you miss out on opening to the limitless well of love within you and around you, then I think you will have to wonder what the point is. Because it surely isn’t amassing stuff or being a size zero or driving a fast car or keeping yourself relentlessly busy, numbed out or on the run. It isn’t about your bank account. No amount of money can save you from the vulnerability of this thing, but a lot of strength comes from accepting it. You are vulnerable. So am I. We could make ourselves less vulnerable in this world if we opened more to love, within ourselves, and with each other. There’s such an incredible amount of joy to be experienced and understood. I think it’s easy to miss if you buy the hype. If you think you can outrun the experience of being human. People do it all the time. They run from stuff that isn’t even chasing them. Stop. Stand and open to it all, hold it all. Some of it is so achingly beautiful, it would be a real shame to miss. It’s the stuff that makes it all worthwhile. It’s the point of it all.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

There’s No Quid Pro Quo for Life

Sometimes I get emails from people who’ve been through the kind of loss that makes it hard to get up in the morning; the kind where you open your eyes and it all comes crashing back and you just want to disappear, go back to sleep and go back in time and not live in the current reality with its crushing pain and lack of light or hope. Without your effort, without even an inhale to power them, the tears just stream from your eyes, and even that feels like too much life. Everything becomes an effort, to breathe in and breathe out, to find a reason to get in the shower, eat, put one foot in front of the other. The kind of loss that makes you question everything and think, “No. Not this. This I can’t do.” Those are the emails that break my heart, and they’d break yours, too. Because the absolute truth is, sometimes horrendous things happen to very good people.

We all want to order things, to feel things make sense, and that we have some control in this world, some say over our destiny or what might befall us. If I do this, then this will happen, and if I do that, this other thing will happen. But how well does any of that work out for us, really? Don’t we have a whole bunch of stuff we’re taught to do, with the promise that we’ll be happy if we see it through? Aren’t we told if we work hard, and go to good schools, and get a good job and make lots of money, then we’ll be happy? If we look right, then we’ll meet the “right person” and then they’ll “complete” us and then we’ll be happy? It all ends with us being happy, but none of it works, and anyone who’s toed the line can tell you that. You find the answers inside, and there is no formula for the human heart. So this quid pro quo system we’re fed from day one is a lie, and most people find this out after exhausting themselves trying to get it right.

We don’t just fall prey to this ideology when it comes to external factors. If we’re good people and we think good thoughts and we do good deeds, then we’ll be rewarded with a good life, right? Well, yes, as long as you derive fulfillment from doing good for the sake of doing good, because it gives life meaning and you feel a sense of purpose when you extend yourself and lend someone a hand or an ear or your shoulder. The joy in life lies in connection, in uncovering your gifts and giving them away freely. But if you start to think that this protects you, that there’s some kind of good person account you can draw from that will save you from loss, grief, shock and pain, then you’re in some very dangerous territory.

There’s such a thing as chaos, just as we see it in nature. (There are your choices, too, of course. Sometimes people pick the storm, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.) There are tornadoes out of nowhere, and hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis, and they don’t hit the places where the “bad people” live (although some very confused people have made suggestions to the contrary); they are equal opportunity levelers. They hit where they hit, and they wipe out homes where troubled people are living, and where kind, loving people are living. They knock down the doors of lonely people who set the table for one every night, and for families that have too many mouths to feed. This is the nature of life, it brings everything to everyone, and it’s not a level playing field. Some people will lose those they love most in this world violently, suddenly, and with no time for goodbyes. Some will lose loved ones slowly, and wrestle with the reality of their absolute powerlessness to stop it, and other people will not face grief like that.

To think you can earn points against calamity, to think you might rack up some frequent kindness miles is really just misguided. You get the reward from the action itself. You give of yourself, and it feels amazing, and that is all (and that’s a lot). You figure out at some point that the best you can do is create a loving world within you, so that you spread love as you move through the world around you. You let go of the idea that you can control anything but yourself, and even that you won’t do successfully all the time. Have as much compassion for yourself and for every other person you encounter as you can muster because it’s a vulnerable undertaking, this business of being human. Some people open to that reality, and others steel themselves against it, but somewhere underneath the surface we all understand it’s there. Those who try to toughen themselves against the knowledge that we can’t order things are the same people who have a difficult time when someone close to them goes through an incomprehensible loss. People who are grieving are often left to go it alone, because those closest to them don’t want to face the reality that it could also happen to them. They want to run from that idea, and in so doing, they run from the person who really needs that hug, that dinner to be made, that help getting into the shower, or running a comb through their hair, or making it over to the window just to see the sun for a moment. We don’t know. We are not in control. Given that, I say love your heart out. Show up all the way. Don’t let fear stop you from living a life that feels right for you, because you have this moment. What are you going to do with it?

Sending you love, and a hug if you need one,

Ally Hamilton

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

Happy Mother’s Day

youaresolovedIf you want to know the absolute truth about mothering from my perspective, it’s the most opening, amazing, humbling, beautiful, vulnerable experience I’ve ever known. It requires you to bare the softest underbelly of your heart and offer it up, along with anything else you’ve got. It’s a giant mirror in your face that sometimes reflects back those places where you still have healing to do. It changes your outlook about life. Before I had kids, I can remember long teas with girlfriends talking about…whatever. This guy or that guy or this issue, or something someone said that hurt, or some pattern or another dogging one or the other of us. After I had my son, there wasn’t time for that anymore, nor much inclination on my part, because 90% of the stuff we dwell on is really meaningless. I’m very grateful I had my kids when I did. A decade earlier, and who knows how badly I’d have screwed things up. But it happens when it happens, and you are where you are, spiritually, emotionally, developmentally, financially. Most people do the very best they can with what they’ve got and where they are.

Motherhood has taught me forgiveness, because it really isn’t easy. And if I’d had my kids at 24 when my mom had me…wow. Disaster. (Way to go mom, and Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.) A lot of people carry so much rage. There are countless jokes (if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother), and Freud and Jung certainly spent a lot of time dissecting the importance of a person’s relationship to their mama. Harlow’s famous wire/cloth “mother” monkey studies showing the need for affection. Attachment Theory, and the incredible difficulties that ensue if a baby can’t attach to at least one nurturing adult. The effect of human contact on newborn babies, and how a lack of it can prevent normal development and lead to illness and higher rates of infant mortality. Soldiers dying with the words, “Tell my mother I love her”. There’s no doubt when you become a mother it’s an awesome responsibility, and you simply do your best. And if you find you need help, you reach out and get it.

I know of nothing else that can break your heart wide open, inspire you to be your very best self, and occasionally bring you to your knees with the awareness that you can’t protect your children every moment of every day. I found a lump in my breast last weekend (it’s benign), and although I’ve been through it before, I still felt that grip of fear. I managed to go about my business, being there for my kids, and teaching my classes, and writing (I know I was a little quieter this past week, this is why), and for the most part I had the mantra, “I’m okay” going in my head. But three times I broke down and all I could think was, “I don’t want to leave my children.” Because that’s what fear does to you, and even if you’re incredibly healthy and take very good care of yourself, you simply never know. That’s the kind of vulnerability we all live with, but when you have little people who depend on you, the reality of it is shoved in your face a little more frequently. There’s no point in succumbing to fear. None of us knows from day to day, so I think you go the opposite way. You go toward love. And you open and you share and you laugh and you listen and you go deeper, and you leave absolutely nothing in the tank. That to me is motherhood, but I think it’s the only way for everyone, whether you’re a mother, or father, or great friend, a son or daughter, sister or brother. Live with your heart open. Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing mothers out there. And if you can, please send love to those mothers who don’t get to hug their babies this year. Sending you love. Ally

Don’t Drive the Scorpion Ferry

There’s an old tale I love about the Scorpion and the Frog. If you don’t know it, it goes something like this (though I’m taking some liberties): Once there was a scorpion on the bank of a stream. He called out to a passing frog, “Excuse me! Could you give me a ride across? I can’t swim!” The frog looked at him like he was nuts. “Dude,” he said, “you’re a scorpion. I’m not giving you a ride. If you sting me, I’ll die,” to which the scorpion replied, “If I sting you, you’ll drown, and I’ll die, too.” This made sense to the frog, so he said, “All right, climb on.” Halfway across the stream, the scorpion stung the frog. With his dying breath, the frog said, “Why have you done this to us?” and the scorpion said, “Dude, I’m a f&cking scorpion!”

The way people treat you is a statement about where they are on their journey, what tools they have in their toolbox, what things they’ve been through, what they’ve learned about how to survive in the world, and how they’ve been treated by other people. It’s also subject to change; a scorpion may not always be a scorpion. The main thing to grasp is that it’s not a reflection of anything lacking in you.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll remember the much older man I dated when I was seventeen. He was seeing other women for the three years we were together, and although I could never prove it, I always felt it. (I confirmed my fears once). At the time, I took it as a sign that I wasn’t enough. Not pretty enough or “something” enough to keep him interested solely in me. I spent so much time over the course of those three years feeling awful about myself. I was hooked on this interaction and convinced if I could just be enough for him, then I’d be happy. I didn’t realize that his inability to be faithful had nothing to do with me, or that a person who’s lying and sneaking around is ultimately having a painful relationship with him or herself. When you respect yourself and are making choices that are aligned with what’s true for you in a conscious and kind way, you’re not going to lie.

I think if you’re like most people, the tendency is to take those times you’ve been hurt, disappointed, neglected, betrayed, or even abused – personally. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. A person can only be where she is, working with whatever tools she’s got. What is about you, is what you do about it if someone isn’t treating you well. Sometimes we get caught up in relationships with lovers, family members, friends, or colleagues. Maybe things start out well, but over time the quality of the interaction deteriorates. Circumstances change and you observe responses you wouldn’t have predicted. If you have a pattern of participating in relationships with people who treat you badly, then it is time to take a long, hard look at why. It’s about something. Identifying that something is the key to your freedom. Your deepest pain is your greatest teacher.

There are lots of frogs in the world, but there’s no other frog just like you. If you’ve been swimming in shark-infested waters too long, hiding in shadows and making yourself as small as possible out of fear, or some idea that you’re not lovable, or enough, or worthwhile, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to turn around and swim directly for the mouth of that shark. Otherwise you’ll never rest. You’ll keep running the Scorpion Ferry, becoming harder and less hopeful with each ride. Being a hopeless frog sucks. I know, because I was one. Letting yourself get swallowed whole by the shark of your fear is not a fun ride, but it won’t kill you, either. If you’re still hanging with my Moby Dick-Aesop’s Fables-Life of Pi metaphor, then you probably already understand the Willa Cather quote, “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” The Dark Night of the Soul is a storm. It’s also an invitation to know yourself, truly and deeply. To heal and liberate yourself from your pain, so that the next time a scorpion calls to you from the bank of a stream, you’ll be like, “What’s up, Scorpion? You need to get your ride from a shark, my friend!”

Sending you love, and the strength to swim toward your pain if you need to!

Ally Hamilton

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