Love vs. Control

michaeljfoxOne of the key components to a lasting, healthy and happy relationship of any kind, is a foundation of trust and acceptance. This applies to our familial, romantic and personal relationships. The people with whom we feel closest are also the people with whom we feel we can be completely ourselves. This seems so obvious, and yet, we screw it up all the time. We start putting our shoulds on other people. For so many people there’s confusion between control and love, and if you’re dealing with someone who has a harsh inner critic, you can bet that voice is going to reach out and give you a lashing on a pretty frequent basis, too. What we have within us is what we spread around us.

Love requires our vulnerability. It’s a paradox. If you want to love, you have to be soft. You have to be willing to expose the parts of you that aren’t so pretty, that are still raw, and in order to be soft like that, you have to be really brave. Most controlling people did not become that way in a vacuum. A person who longs to control circumstances and other people has been hurt. It’s natural to want to protect your heart after you’ve been disappointed, but you can’t defend and open your heart simultaneously.

Most people believe in their own stories about themselves and other people, and controlling people do this to an even greater degree. In order to justify the need to tell you what you should or should not be doing, they have to build a construct that supports the idea that they know more about what you need to be happy than you do. For many people, “I love you” means, “I love you when you do what I want you to do”; it’s conditional. If love can be withdrawn that way, it isn’t love.

When we go and sit by the ocean, we don’t think, “Wow, the ocean would be so much more majestic if it were just a little bigger or bluer. If those waves were crashing just a little differently.” We don’t look up at the sun and think, “That’s great, but too bad the sun doesn’t shine with a little more pink or gold or orange.” We just take these miracles as they are. People are no different. We all long to be seen and heard and understood as we are. We long to be accepted and known. That doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do, or areas that might need a little more of our kind attention. It just means we long to be embraced with all our beauty and all our flaws. When someone who purports to love us can only seem to find our faults, it’s very defeating.

Fear and love do not play well together. When we’re trying to control someone else, even if we’re doing that because we think it’s in their best interest, we’ve really become confused. We humans are solitary creatures in many ways. We have interior worlds that other people can know only if we let them. I will never know what the right thing is for someone else. Obviously I can recognize if someone I love is putting himself or herself in harm’s way, and I can try to hold up a mirror with concern and compassion. If someone I care for is struggling, or feeding destructive habits, I can try to get them support and help, and offer my shoulder, my ear and my heart, but short of those situations, we each have to find our way.

Sometimes we need the struggle to break free of an old pattern, just like the butterfly needs to struggle to get out of the cocoon. The struggle strengthens the wings. Without that effort, it would never fly. When we try to jump in and tell someone we love that they’re crazy or they’re making a mistake, or they’re screwing up their lives, when we try to save someone from misery or pain, we may be robbing them of an experience they needed in order to grow and open. When we try to manage another person’s path, that’s a marker for us to step back on our own.

The same applies when we chase people down for their love, time, affection or reassurance. If a person is telling you they need space, you really have to respect that. If a person is telling you they are not where you want them to be, you really want to be able to take that in, for your sake and for theirs. It’s not loving or accepting to refuse to embrace the reality of someone we say we love. People are where they are. They want what they want. They have the tools they have. The more we open to reality as it is, the less we suffer and the less we cause those around us to suffer. Reality is not always going to meet your expectations or longings. Things are not always going to unfold like the picture in your head. In fact, most of the time they won’t.

Whenever possible, accept where you are on your journey, and accept where other people are on theirs. Work when you need to work. Give those raw places within you your kind attention. Learn to listen to yourself with an objective ear, instead of pushing away thoughts that frighten or disgust you. You are not your thoughts. You don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. You don’t have to act on every feeling you have, but you do wan’t to know yourself. You really can’t be at peace if you’re rejecting essential components of who you are, and you can’t love other people well if you’re unable to embrace them and meet them where they are.

Wishing you strength, bravery, clear-seeing, and a lot of love,

Ally Hamilton

Closure Doesn’t Save Us from Grief

goodbyehelloMost of us torture ourselves at some point or another looking for closure regarding a heartbreak. Sometimes it’s something that’s happened with a family member or close friend, often it happens when we’re grieving the loss of a romantic relationship. Here’s the thing. There are some situations we’ll never understand, and our best hope for closure is acceptance of that fact.

It’s completely understandable that we’d want to know why something has happened that’s caused a rift or a split, especially when we feel devastated, bereft, confused and untethered. When these things are left shrouded in mystery, it’s so hard to let go. Sometimes we can’t wrap our heads around why someone is doing what they’re doing, because we’re on the wrong end of displaced rage. Sometimes we’re dealing with someone who’s coming from a totally different place philosophically or emotionally, and we just can’t comprehend what would make a person do, say, want or need whatever it is they’re doing, saying, wanting or needing. Sometimes we’ve blown it, and no matter how much we might apologize, the door is shut with no hope for communication or healing.

Some people communicate well, and others really struggle. There are many people who have a difficult time putting words to their feelings, and sometimes resentment or despair is mounting for ages, and one day it blows up all over the place, leaving us to wonder what’s happened, and why something so small has caused an apocalypse. We only know other people, even those closest to us, to the extent that they allow us to know them. You will only know the interior world of another person if they choose to share it with you. Sometimes, for some people, the truth feels too painful to speak, or it requires the speaker to confront weaknesses or anger they aren’t ready to face. If that’s the case, you’ve cornered a person, and even if you’ve done so inadvertently, it’s not surprising that they’ve lashed out. You can’t force a person to tell you what’s going on in their heart of hearts.

This is like a small version of how we feel when we lose someone through death. We can’t and don’t have all the answers we long for, we don’t have the information that would soothe and reassure us. We are left to hold a space in our hearts for someone we once loved. We’re invited to let the trace of that love soften us instead of harden us. We can carry some of the good stuff forward with us. We can hope this person who’s lost to us is okay, and that they know they were loved. Eventually, we’ll have to accept that some questions will simply go unanswered, and that we’ll move forward, allowing the questions to inspire us to do that with love and compassion for ourselves and other people.

When you’ve done all you can, you have to release your grip on the story, and allow it to unfold on its own. Time does not heal all wounds, but it does lessen the piercing pain of loss. Time also invites us to stop clinging and start living again. You don’t want to lose too much of today making yourself sick over what happened yesterday, last week, or last year. The day is calling, and it has its own fresh mysteries and beautiful potential. Breathe in and breathe out, and trust your heart to heal.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Consider the Source

You-become-what-youSometimes we invent stories out of our insecurity and the breezes going by. Maybe we haven’t heard back from someone and we start to obsess. Did we say, do, or write something inadvertently offensive? Have we been misunderstood? Has the person decided they don’t like us, after all? Did we embarrass ourselves, and if so, can we ‘save it”?

Maybe we start to second-guess ourselves, or tell stories in our heads about how we always blow stuff. If you doubt yourself, you’ll need validation from somewhere, right? Maybe you doubt your talent, or your ability to give whatever you’ve got, or whether you’re really, truly, actually lovable. If you suffer from those doubts, any rejection can bring up deep fear and anxiety.

Usually when we’re obsessing, it’s because we’re triggered. Something in the current interaction is tapping something old and unhealed. So if you’re going to spend your energy on anything, figuring out the source of your pain, doubt, shame, fear, insecurity, or tendency to chase people is really the best way to go. Because then, at least, you’re dealing with something real. Something you can get your hands around, something that exists within you, and not some amorphous upsetting thing that exists “out there”, that’s really just a projection.

When did these feelings first emerge, and around whom? What happened to make you feel you might be the kind of person easily ignored, discarded, disrespected or unwanted? If the people who were meant to love, protect, nurture and cherish you didn’t have the tools to do those things well, that’s a reflection on them. It can be a compassionate reflection, because a lot of people are ill-prepared for the task of loving all the way, and timing is a huge factor. Maybe they were hurt or made to feel invisible, themselves. So much of the time, people are just repeating and perpetuating what they know. But if you weren’t loved the way you deserved to be when you arrived here on this planet, you may find it surprisingly difficult to learn how to love yourself.

That’s really the work. We never know what’s driving other people. Maybe you’re being ignored because your email didn’t go through, or because the person has decided they don’t like you, or because they’re on vacation, or because their mother called to ask them why they aren’t married even though they’re thirty-five, and they just aren’t talking to anyone this week. All I’m saying is, deal with what’s real. Don’t guess at things and fill in the blanks as though life is some huge game of mad-libs.

The story to look at is always the story of your participation. What’s within you? What are you bringing to the party? How are you spending your time, your days, your energy? Upon what are you placing importance? Choose wisely. You’re going to be with yourself for this whole ride, so you might as well know who you are. Sending you love and wishing you peace, Ally Hamilton

Use the Block

Being-challenged-in-lifeIn the physical yoga practice, props are often used to help a person find more ease and space in different poses, more room to breathe. If the hamstrings are tight, for example, one might put blocks under the hands in a stretch to “lift the floor up.” If the shoulders are a place of tension, a person might use a strap. Sometimes we put a blanket under the tailbone to create more length in the spine. Basically we use blocks (straps, blankets, bolsters, etc), to remove blocks. And as I said that in class yesterday, “Use the block to remove the block,” I realized the same holds true in life.

Buddha is credited with the quote, “The obstacle is the path.” It may not feel like it when we come face-first into a wall, but we strengthen through effort. If you look back on your life so far, you’ll probably notice you’ve learned the most about yourself when times were tough. When we’re faced with a challenge, whether it be personal or professional, we’re usually forced outside our comfort zones. We may discover that we need to develop a new skill set, or maybe the challenge for us lies in asking for help. Perhaps you’d rather endure a root canal than admit that you can’t do something on your own. It could be that you discover a place where you still have some healing to do, where things are still raw. Whatever it is, when we come up against these kinds of obstacles, turning and going the other way isn’t an option. There’s no way under, over, or around, there’s only through. Maybe we aren’t ready to face that yet and we sit and numb out, or we turn around and see if there’s anywhere to run, or we beat our fists into the dirt, or shake them up at the sky, but eventually, we understand the jig is up. And so we head through calmly, or we panic and flail, or we take one step back for every two steps forward.

Change isn’t easy for most people, so it’s not surprising that many of us wait until the proverbial sh&t has hit the fan before we get real with ourselves. The thing is, once you’re on the other side of something, you see how it’s liberated you. A lot of the time, we sabotage ourselves; we become our own obstacle. Maybe fear is stopping us, or some self-limiting belief, or idea we have that we’re unworthy of love, or not special enough to do something amazing. We can all be completely absurd in our insecurities and doubts. Having to face those places is never comfortable, but of course it’s freeing, because who wants to live life in fear? That’s a thing to be afraid of. Dying without truly living.

When you’re up against it, when you feel lost, alone, confused, scared, uncertain, see if you can also reassure yourself. It might be painful and lonely and deeply uncomfortable, but if you hang in there, you’ll use the block to remove the block. You’ll create that space so you can breathe easily.

Wishing that for you, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

You Are the Steward of Your Own Ship

If-you-feel-lostSometimes it’s really hard to stay centered. Maybe someone has said or done something hurtful, maybe you’re being ignored, left to figure out what’s happening on your own, in the dark. It could be that things are shifting rapidly in your life, or that you’re feeling stuck. You might be wildly in love, or going through a heartbreak. Maybe you’re under incredible pressure at work, or you’re trying to figure out how to make ends meet. You might feel judged, rejected, or invisible, or perhaps you’re the object of someone’s intense desire.

Any and all of these situations can throw us off balance, and again and again, it comes back to how much we need reassurance, affirmation and love from other people. There’s nothing wrong with wanting connection in life, with wanting to be held and seen and cherished. If you need those things because you doubt at your very center that you’re worthy of love, then you’re in trouble, because if one person says or does something that leaves you feeling rejected or discarded or “stung”, you can bet you’re going to spin for awhile.

Our time, attention and energy are the most precious gifts we have to offer. We don’t get a do-over; there is no roll-over plan for wasted moments in this life. Other people can’t make us feel anything, unless we let them. To feel love, you have to be receptive to it, you have to be ready to receive, and to give, to open and to trust. If you feel insecure, ashamed, or rejected based on the actions of another person, some deep part of you is in doubt; somewhere within you, you must not be sure of yourself, otherwise why would it bother you so much? I’m not saying it’s a minor thing if someone pushes you away, or doesn’t bother to treat you with respect, consideration, and compassion, I’m just saying you don’t have to receive the insult. If you know you’re doing your best and you’re trying not to hurt other people, then you can feel centered and at peace. It won’t matter so much if other people say nasty things behind your back, or to your face, because at the end of the day, you can face yourself, that’s what matters. Of course we care about the opinions of those nearest and dearest to us, and if one of those people tells you it’s time to do better, I’d take that into serious consideration, but ultimately, you have to trust yourself.

It doesn’t feel good to be held in someone’s contempt, and it’s even worse to feel unseen, but you are the steward of your own ship, you decide your course each day. You’re a human being, so some days you’ll come up against the rocks, or the seas will be rough, or you’ll be thrown overboard and pulled under by the current. As soon as you can, grab your compass and get back to it. If you need to dock on an island for a bit so you can explore the source of your pain, fear or doubt, by all means, get on that. Otherwise, try to direct most of your time, attention and energy toward sharing whatever you’ve got to give. As long as you’re approaching life with an open heart, and doing your best to be accountable for the energy you’re spreading, you won’t have much cause to doubt yourself. I wouldn’t let someone rob you of an afternoon, a few days, a week, or more, because time is too precious, and you won’t always know or understand another person’s pain, but you can bet we all have some.

If you’re off center because of great circumstances, enjoy every moment. Just don’t lose yourself, and don’t forget about your family and friends.

It’s not possible to understand what’s driving a person unless he or she tells you. People do things that are confusing and hurtful when they’re in pain. That’s where they are on their journey; it’s no reflection of anything lacking in you. So if you’re going through tumult around that kind of storm, try to get back on your feet.

We can be rocked by circumstance, thrilled when things are going our way, and depressed when they aren’t, or we can keep coming back to steadiness. You might call that steadiness “knowing yourself”, or inner peace.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Obsessive Thinking

mindyourownbusinessSometimes we “boil ourselves” as my meditation teacher used to say. Something has happened, is happening, or could happen, and we obsess and spiral and get so caught up dwelling on this unwanted turn of events, we lose hours and create incredible stress and pain for ourselves.

This happens frequently around breakups, or in the context of acrimonious relationships. We feel rejected, judged or completely misunderstood, and we go over the details like a detective trying to solve a case. Where was the moment? What was that one thing we said or did that turned the tides and changed things forever? Or we tell and retell our story of how many different ways we were wronged so many times, it becomes mythic. We get caught up in defending ourselves, as if the other person’s opinion is true, even if we know in our hearts it is not. (If you need help snapping out of obsessive thinking, if you’re stuck in a cycle with yourself or someone else that’s causing you pain, try this.) We might replay a conversation that’s already happened, rewriting our lines again and again until we’ve had the perfect comeback in every moment, or we’ve said just the right thing to make everything turn out the way we wish it would have, or we might imagine a conversation that hasn’t happened yet, and get ourselves worked up as though it’s happening exactly this way, right now.

Your nervous system can’t differentiate between a painful conversation you’re actually having, or one you’re rewriting or creating in your head. If your breath is shallow and your blood pressure is going up and your shoulders are around your ears and your jaw is clenching, does it really matter if it’s real or imagined? Your thoughts create chemical reactions in your body, so allowing yourself to fixate on something outside your control can really take a toll, and if it’s happening for an extended period of time, if you find yourself dwelling on your recent or not-so-recent ex, for example,  and what s/he is doing, and with whom s/he’s doing it, it’s really time to pick your mind up and come back to the now. Otherwise it’s like story hour, except the librarian is drunk and angry, the doors are locked, and she keeps reading the same story over and over again.

You can’t redo the past, and you can’t predict the future. You can make yourself sick trying to time-travel, though. There’s no point making yourself nauseated over the great relationship your ex is now having with someone else. Maybe it’s great, and maybe it’s a mess, or maybe they’re three weeks in and getting swept away by hormones, thinking, “This is it!!” People do that all the time, and then when the dust/lust clears, things get real. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter. Your work is always to manage your own mind, heart, choices and actions. If the quality of your thoughts is causing you pain, you have to come back to nurturing yourself.

Loss, fear, grief, rejection, jealousy, insecurity, loneliness, shame and guilt are not easy to lean into, but that’s the best way to release the heat of your feelings. Remembering that feelings are not forever, and they aren’t facts, either, can be enormously helpful. How you feel now is not how you will always feel. Opening to things as they are is empowering and liberating. Releasing your grip on the story and the players, and allowing people to be who they are as the plot unfolds the way it will, is the strongest stance I know. I’m not saying you shouldn’t fight for things, or stand up for yourself or others when that’s the right thing to do. Honest communication is always good; being able to express how things are for you, calmly, and with compassion is beautiful. That’s really the best you can do.

People can only be where they are, they have whatever tools they have. You’re not going to save someone with your love. You’re not going to teach someone the error of their ways. We all have to do our own journeys. Wishing you strength, love, and the hope that you’ll stop boiling yourself if you have been. Love feels a lot better.

Ally Hamilton

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

Define Your Terms

happinessgandhiI’m a big believer in “defining your terms”, especially when it comes to loving relationships, and by that, I don’t necessarily mean romantic ones, but rather any relationship that demands your vulnerability. If you love someone, you’re vulnerable; there’s a chance you could be hurt, either because we all have these bodies with unknown expiration dates, or because people grow and change, and not always in a way that merges. This happens romantically, to be sure, but it also happens in familial situations, and with close friends. Sometimes we have ideas in our heads about how things should be, or how people should be, or how a relationship should look and feel. That “should” can really bite us in the a$$, but sometimes we get hurt simply because we’re using the same words to describe different things.

My idea of what it means when I say, “I love you” to someone may not resemble your meaning. Does that seem crazy? Does it seem obvious to you what it means when you say those words? To some people it means, “I love you when you do what I want you to do.” Or, “I love you when you want what I think you should want.” It can be conditional, or about control and manipulation. For others, it’s a statement of possession, “I love you and now I own you.” It’s not so simple, and to complicate things further, sometimes what we think we mean, and what we actually mean are not in sync. Looking at yourself honestly, examining your patterns, and being truthful about what’s happening within you are essential if you want to be close to other people.

Your experiences and frame of reference and ideas about things shape the way you move through the world, the way you interact with people, and the way you define your terms. If the love you’ve known or have come to understand involves unflinching acceptance of those closest to you, you may assume your loved ones will respond in kind, and they may, or they may not. It depends on their own history and their own outlook. So many misunderstandings are the result of poor communication, assumptions and projections.

Someone does something, or does not do something, and we assume this must mean what it would if we did or did not do this same thing, and that’s just not a fair assumption. You’ll never know where someone’s coming from unless you ask them with ears that are willing to hear, and a heart that’s willing to understand and accept what’s real for them (that doesn’t mean you have to agree). Sometimes people ask questions but they only want to hear one answer, and it doesn’t really matter what the other person says or does; with enough desire, obsession and reworking, the answer will be twisted and expanded or pared down or shoved under a rug, so the “right answer” will emerge. We kid ourselves, in other words. This can happen when we fall in love, or when we have a friendship we can’t bear to lose, or when a family member is moving in a direction that scares us. Sometimes we just don’t want to accept the truth of a thing, so we intentionally reject any definition that challenges our own.

Knowing yourself is the key to knowing other people, because in order to know yourself, you have to integrate all parts of your being–the stuff that’s pretty, that you’d gladly share in a status update, and the stuff that isn’t so pretty, that you’d be embarrassed to share. If you can accept yourself without being rigid or unforgiving, you’ll be able to do the same for others and you won’t be scared to explain what you mean when you say, “I love you,” or to show it. Fear is responsible for so much that goes unsaid and undone, but what’s to fear? If you speak honestly and from your heart, you either will, or will not be embraced. What’s the point of living a lie? Knowing yourself is liberating to you, and to those closest to you. Defining your terms honestly, without trying to shove your ideas down someone’s throat is a beautiful gift.

I get so many emails from people who don’t bother to talk because they “already know what the other person will say,” or from people who are in despair because their partner isn’t loving them the way they want to be loved. If only their partner would change, they say, all would be well, but we have no control over what other people will do, or say, or want and we never know what life will put in our path. The only true power we have is to express ourselves calmly and with compassion, to face reality as it is, and to choose the way we respond to what we’ve been given. If you’ve been deeply hurt, betrayed, neglected or abused, you really want to examine what you expect from the world, and the other people in it. Define your terms for those you want to bring close to your heart. We’re part of a mystery, but you want to take the mystery out of it when it comes to your ability to say what you mean, and to share your deepest desires. The rest of it will unfold.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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