Use Your Gifts Wisely

twainOur time and energy are our most precious gifts to give, and they’re also finite. Sometimes it’s really a practice in itself to direct your energy toward thoughts that strengthen you, rather than those that weaken you. It’s easy to get caught up, or snagged on someone else’s thoughtless comment or careless act, to become embroiled in other people’s dramas, or to allow yourself to spin over mistakes you’ve made. Rejection creates this scenario for many people, as does feeling disrespected, unseen, unheard, ignored, excluded, or harshly judged. We can lose hours, days, weeks obsessing over how other people feel about us, when our time would have been better spent getting right with ourselves.

Human beings are complex. We all have our interior worlds, our inner dialogues; in many ways, being human requires our ability to deal with solitude. Obviously, we can reach out. We can seek connection, love, joy, shared experiences. We can uncover our gifts and spread them in whatever ways are available to us. But if you aren’t happy on the inside, no person and no thing can fix that for you. Often, we’re so focused on the externals, we neglect to do the work that would really bring us peace and joy. So many people spend the large majority of their lives trying to prove that they’re here and they’re worthwhile by pointing to things outside themselves. A lot of people have their identities wrapped up in what they do and what they have. If your self-esteem is determined by factors outside your control, you can see how this leads to trouble.

It’s not what we have, it’s what we give, and it doesn’t have to be grandiose. You can change a person’s day by really taking them in, even just for a moment. You can smile at a stranger, hold open a door, allow someone to merge in traffic. These are small things, but they have a huge effect. When we move through the world and people are kind and considerate, it really fills us with a sense of hope and well-being, but having said that, if someone cuts us off in traffic, we don’t want to let that experience rob us of our own peace. There’s no need to let a stranger raise your blood pressure.

Sometimes we have to draw a line with someone. Maybe you have people in your life who struggle, and as a result they can be inconsiderate or self-absorbed or sometimes thoughtless. The truth is, we can all display these tendencies from time to time, and we probably will. Sometimes we have a day or a week, or many years when we feel victimized or angry or lost, and we lash out because we’re unhappy and we can’t figure out how to fix it. We point fingers and come up with our reasons, and make it about other people or circumstances, and as we flail and rage about, we unintentionally hurt those around us. Some people live their whole lives this way. You are certainly free to direct your time and energy toward making other people responsible for your lack of peace, but I don’t recommend it. No one is going to save you, but you. We each have to do our own work, and for most of us, that gives us plenty to do. Anne Lamott has this great phrase for those who suffer from, “Good Ideas for Other People’s Disease.” Isn’t that awesome? Aren’t we all great at figuring out what other people should do to get it together?

You can’t control people or circumstances, nor do you want to try. The more you let go and practice acceptance (which doesn’t mean you allow yourself to be disrespected or abused), the less you suffer. The more you seek to create steadiness and peace inside yourself, the better off you’ll handle the inevitable and ceaseless ups and downs of life. The more you direct your mind to the present moment, the more peace you’ll find. Breathing deeply feels good. Being awake and aware feels good. Being enraged or depressed or anxious for extended periods of time, obviously does not feel good. Are heartbreaking things going to happen? Yes. To some degree or another we’re all going to face loss, grief, confusion, shame, guilt, envy, jealousy, fear and rage. We’re all going to lose people. We’re all going to have to move and shift with changing circumstance, and sometimes we’ll be grieving, mourning, heartbroken and listless, and those feelings will be understandable and appropriate. This is when you hope you have a spiritual practice that’s going to be there for you, along with the people in your life whom you love. This is the dance. You can fight it. Of course we’d all like to be able to count on things, but the only thing we can truly count on is that everything is always changing.

Think carefully about where you’re sharing those gifts of time and energy. You’re not going to save other people, so I wouldn’t squander your resources there. That doesn’t mean you don’t try to find help or support for those in need, but it does mean you don’t try to manage someone else’s path; usually when we do that, it’s because we’re avoiding our own. Things that will surely bring you down—gossip, violent thoughts or actions, self-loathing, clinging to your anger. Things that will absolutely lift you up- remembering all the good that’s present in your life right now. Taking ownership of your story, and righting the ship if necessary. Doing the work to heal, and seeking out whatever tools you need to help you with that endeavor. Reaching out when you need help, and offering it when you’re in a position to give it. Trying to help those you love be their best selves by celebrating them and encouraging them when times are tough. Doing that for strangers, too. These are all great uses of your time and energy, and the beautiful thing is, the more you direct your energy toward helping others, the more you’ll feel meaning and purpose and fulfillment in your own life. Good for you, good for everyone else.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Free Yourself and Forgive

forgiveSometimes I write about forgiveness and people get very upset. I recognize there are some things we want to put into the category of unforgivable, so let me clarify what I mean when I say I believe forgiveness is freeing and vital if you want to be at peace. I am not talking about deciding that something traumatic or hurtful that happened in your past is now okay with you. I’m not talking about picking up the phone or sending an email to a person who betrayed you, and telling them it’s water under the bridge. You don’t have to tell anyone. You don’t have to speak to the person, or see them ever again, but if you’re holding on to anger, they’re still hurting you, and that’s my point.

When we’re enraged with someone, we’re carrying them around inside our heads and our hearts because whatever happened is in the past, but in order for us to stay angry, we have to keep thinking about it, and fueling that flame, and rage is a poor constant companion. It seeps into everything. It makes it hard for us to be intimate, to trust other people, to let our guard down, because to do that, you have to be vulnerable, but to hold onto rage, you have to be tough; staying angry requires constant vigilance. We end up depleting our energy on that, when we could be spending it on opening to love, which feels so much better.

How do you forgive someone who stole any chance you had at a normal, innocent childhood, for example? That’s a difficult one, right? Because something was taken from you, and you can never have it back. You can never know what it would have been like to be in Kindergarten feeling safe and secure. You can never know how it might have felt if you’d been able to relate to kids your age, not just in Kindergarten, but in elementary school, junior high, high school, college. It turns out not having a childhood affects you for your whole life. So how do you forgive that? You can re-parent yourself. That little kid who was scared and confused and hurt and alienated is still available to you, and you already know that. If you’re an adult, you aren’t powerless anymore, and it’s never too late to heal. Maybe you get yourself some help, some support. In fact, I’d highly recommend you do that.

Healing takes dedication, time, energy, and a willingness to lean into your pain. If you refuse to work with your issues, don’t expect them to get tired and go away, they’ll just keep showing up for you in every area of your life. They’ll be bubbling right underneath the surface of everything you say and do. If you face your fears, your rage, your loss, your grief, if you allow yourself to mourn, you’ll find you don’t mourn forever. The deep feelings arise, and they hurt, and you cry and you feel raw and maybe some days you feel hopeless or alone or scared, but you hang on, and eventually the heat and the power and the strength of all that old stuff starts to subside, and you can loosen your grip and start to breathe again, maybe for the first time in a very long time.

It’s just, if you’re using a ton of energy to stay angry, you’re probably not going to have enough left to heal. Blame keeps us stuck. It places our ability to be happy in someone else’s hands, or in events over which we had, and have, no control. The past can’t be rewritten; whatever happened, happened. Some things shape us, but the only thing that defines you is what you do about what you’ve been given; how you proceed, how you live your life, and show up for yourself, and the people you love, and the people you don’t even know. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. It has very little to do with anyone else.

Sometimes people balk at the word forgiveness, so let me say this. If you’re living your life and you’re happy and you don’t feel like you’re carrying someone who betrayed you within your heart, then I think you’re good to go. You don’t have to call that forgiveness, but that’s what it is in my book. You are not a prisoner of another person’s actions or inactions; you’re liberated.

The same goes for people who enter our lives later in life. Maybe you had an idyllic childhood, but something unthinkable happened later. This is your life. You get to decide how much energy you’re going to spend looking back. If you work on it enough, you can witness your experience. You can examine your thinking. You can choose one thought over another and there’s so much power in that. Choose the thoughts that strengthen you. Feed the love. Let the rest of it go, as much as you can. It doesn’t have to fit into a neat little box. You certainly don’t have to be grateful for everything that’s ever happened to you, just try to grow from your pain. Allow it to soften you and make you more insightful and compassionate, and likely to reach out to other people in pain. That way, at least, some beauty grows from it. Learn to love yourself as you are right now, and understand, you wouldn’t be you without every event that’s ever befallen you. Remind yourself that you’re strong, and unhook your journey from someone else’s past behavior. That’s their journey, it isn’t yours.

Sending you love, and a huge hug,

Ally Hamilton

A Bridge Takes Two

lonelywallsIf you have a long history with someone, and you have healing to do around your relationship, or events of the past, understand you can never do one hundred percent of the work. I’m talking about important long-term relationships in your life, with family members, or spouses, or your best friend for years and years. Life is not easy. It’s amazing and interesting. It’s filled with incredible beauty, the potential for love so intense you feel your heart might burst, and pain that can bring you to your knees. It’s always changing, so it’s certainly an adventure, but there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty, and not everyone is able to handle that easily. Sometimes people cling to their pain or their anger because that feels safer than letting go, and the reality is, the people in the most pain are also the people who create the most pain. It’s not usually intentional. What we have within us is what we spread around us.

If you’ve been disappointed, neglected, abused or abandoned, those are all experiences which might have hardened you, or broken your trust in people. I understand that, but I think it’s important to believe in the goodness of people, and to understand when you’ve been betrayed or abandoned by someone, it’s not a reflection of you, or your worthiness or ability to receive love, it’s a reflection of where the other party is on his or her own path. That doesn’t mean it’s okay if someone abuses you or mistreats you, it just makes it easier not to take those things personally. I think the key is to be discerning, and to understand that it takes a long time to know a person. We all want love and connection, but your heart is precious and it’s important not to be reckless with it. There’s a big difference between living in fear, which is not really living, and taking your time.

The thing is, human beings are complicated. We all have our histories, our pain, our various upbringings, ways we were nurtured, loved, supported, or not so much, so when you bring any two people together, it’s exponentially more complex. And when you increase that number to three or four or five (as in, a family), you can bet the chances for different dynamics to arise just multiplies. I get emails from so many people in pain over their strained or nonexistent relationships with their mothers or fathers, sons or daughters, sisters or brothers, friends from childhood. Things happen in life. Sometimes a person is moving through pain and they lash out, or there’s a family system in place and roles are being played and maybe it’s not a healthy situation, and then one day, one of the players doesn’t like his or her role anymore, and everyone panics as the system collapses. Maybe the whole family is held hostage by one member’s addiction, depression, or mental illness. There’s no shortage of different scenarios. People fight over money (it isn’t usually really the money they’re fighting about), or something someone said at a wedding when they were drunk and full of salmon.

If you have healing to do with someone, understand you need some kind of bridge. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to mend a bridge that’s collapsed. I don’t think a person has to meet you halfway; it’s ideal, but not everyone will be up to that. A person has to step onto the bridge. If you feel motivated to walk the rest of the way, that’s enough, but if a person won’t even take that first step, you’ll be dealing with a chasm and it will be up to you how you want to manage that. Sometimes we can’t have a person in our lives, and sometimes we have to accept that a relationship will never be quite what we want it to be. Not everyone is capable of fearless and honest communication and acceptance. Not everyone can open his or her mind to a different point of view. You can’t force someone to be somewhere they aren’t.

Sometimes we have to choose between two painful options–not having someone in our lives, or having them in our lives in a way that falls incredibly short of what we know is possible. That’s a choice only you can make. You can keep your hands open. You can offer the chance for healing, but you can’t make someone take you up on it, and I know that can hurt. I think closing yourself down and shutting yourself off hurts more, though.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

Oh, Susie.

susiesallyIt is so hard not to take things personally. Sometimes a person attacks you, directly. If you have a finger pointed in your face, or someone calls you names in an email, it can be challenging to look for the pain behind the anger, but that’s what an attack is about; if there wasn’t a lot of feeling there, the person wouldn’t be so worked up. So it could be that this person cares deeply for you, or it could be that something about you, or the dynamic you have with this person has really set them off, or it could be that they need you to be the villain so they can be the victim, or it could be nine million other possibilities, and that is not about you, that’s about what’s happening within them, what it is that’s being tapped. Unless, of course, you royally screwed up, in which case a heartfelt apology may or may not do the trick. Some people hold onto their rage like it’s going to save them from death, but all it’s likely to do is bring them to their death faster. It’s debilitating to be in a constant state of anger.

We all have pain, and unless you do a lot of work to acknowledge and understand yours, certain things are likely to trigger you. If someone says something or does something that happens to hit you right in your most vulnerable spot, unless you’ve practiced sitting with intense sensation, you’re likely to strike back. I don’t mean with your fists, although there’s sadly too much of that in the world, but with your words or your actions.

Sometimes we screw up, that’s part of being human. We’ll all have moments when we wish we could undo something we’ve said or done. So of course, there are times when you’ll hurt people, hopefully inadvertently. It may also happen because you think you want something at some point, but then you grow and you change and that thing you once wanted doesn’t feel right anymore. If you do have a reason to apologize, by all means, get to it. I think it’s an enormously great quality in a person, the ability to be accountable, and to say “I’m so sorry” when and where it’s warranted. Most people want to be understood, and an apology from the heart can make all the difference in the world.

If you haven’t done anything, and you’re on the wrong end of a slew of expletives or judgements, you do not have to receive those “gifts.” If someone has decided you’re a terrible person because deep down they’re envious, or they feel threatened or jealous, let it be. If you have it in your heart, wish for them that eventually they’ll realize their own gifts and their own beauty, and release their need to write fiction about you in their head, but try not to get caught up in defending yourself, or responding, or trying to convince anyone that you’re really wonderful. You know who you are. You know what kind of person you are. That’s all you need to know. Your actions speak for themselves, and if you’ve made mistakes, welcome to the human race.

When we receive the gift of someone’s insults and start firing back, we give power to their viewpoint. If it’s a creation of someone else’s, why give it power? Why spend your energy that way? Of course it doesn’t feel good when people say things about you that are mean-spirited or flat-out lies, but that stuff doesn’t deserve one ounce of your attention or energy. There’s too much life to be living. Also, not everyone will like you or understand you (or me), and that’s okay, it really is.

The only thing that’s personal is what you think of yourself. That’s as personal as it gets. I’d say it’s good to pay attention when someone close to you holds up a mirror and challenges you to do better. Other than that, focus your energy on what it is you can give. That’s the joy in life. A lot of people struggle; this is no easy gig, this work of being human and vulnerable. When you encounter people who cling to their rage like a shield, wish them well if you have it in you, but don’t take it on. That’s not what you’re here to do.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

What’s Driving You?

Awareness can be incredibly liberating; if you’ve found yourself participating in an unhealthy relationship with someone — your partner, your close friend, your boss, your landlord — and you feel “hooked”, try to figure out what’s happening. Chances are, something deep is being tapped, some very old wound, something from your early history. Don’t think in terms of gender, think in terms of the quality of the interaction, especially if you notice a pattern of interactions that cause you pain when you look back on your life.

Anything within you that is unhealed wants your attention. Anything that is unresolved in your heart is looking for relief. People write to me frequently about toxic relationships they feel unable or unwilling to end, and sometimes it’s so far underneath the surface, they just can’t figure out what it is that has them so imprisoned. It could be that your boyfriend’s inability to commit is echoing your mother’s elusiveness, or that your colleague taps an insecurity within you about your ability to succeed that reminds you of your inability to gain approval from your dad. We’re so close to this stuff, sometimes we really can’t see it, so we just spin; we obsess and feel desperate, and think it really is this other person or situation that’s got us so turned around. Anyone who elicits a strong reaction from you, pleasant or unpleasant, is someone to consider. These interactions are like markers on the path that offer us an opportunity to sit up and take notice. There aren’t too many things in life that make us feel disgusted with ourselves more than the feeling of being out of control, unable to stand up for ourselves, unable to act on our own behalf. Self-loathing is debilitating at best.

When you’re hooked in and you go back for more even though you know it won’t end well, that part of you that’s aching to be healed cries out all over again. You might mistakenly think if you could just resolve the current situation, you’d satisfy that old longing, but it isn’t the case. First of all, you’re probably caught up with someone who is incapable of giving you anything other than what they’ve been giving you; all you’ll do is compound your pain. When I look back on the big heartbreaks of my life, they always resulted from an attempt on my part to rewrite history. Freud called this the “repetition compulsion”. Jung said, “Whatever is rejected from the self, appears in the world as an event.” Einstein on this, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The thing is, if we don’t know what it is we’re doing, what it is we’re trying to solve, we’ll just be acting out, we’ll be following this ancient map that keeps leading us back to pain. Sometimes people tell me they don’t want to sit with their pain all the time. Who would? Why would anyone choose to do that? You don’t have to do it “all the time.” You just have to do it once, but that “once” might take awhile. You need to be able to sit with it long enough to truly understand yourself, to find compassion for yourself, and to grieve or mourn, or be enraged if that’s what you need to do to release the heat of those old wounds. Then your pain doesn’t own you anymore. When it shows up in your life in the form of another person, or situation or opportunity, you recognize it, and since you know all too well where it leads, you take a pass. This unhealthy stuff loses its pull over you. You may go through times when you’re feeling vulnerable or tested, and those old unhealthy desires might resurface for a minute, but they’ll just tug on you, they won’t pull you off your feet anymore. If you do the work to heal (that “work” is personal, but I highly recommend the combination of yoga and therapy, so you flood your system with new information from both the “top-down” and the “bottom-up”), you just won’t want to go down that road anymore. You won’t choose to participate in interactions that cause you pain or drag you back down, because you will have worked too hard to lift yourself up.

Aristotle  gets the credit for this last quote: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

The Snack Bar

A couple of days ago I received an email from a man who’s in agony; last week he had a terrible fight with his father. He’s been working for his dad for years, in the family business. He started over the summers when he was in high school, and went right to work full-time when he graduated from college. He and his dad have always been close. His dad coached him through Little League, cheered him on through high school, and never missed any of his college games. They went camping in the summers, and skiing in the winters.

People have always commented about how close they are, but they’re also both passionate and stubborn, and have had a hard time apologizing to each other over the years. He said once they’d gotten into it, and hadn’t spoken for a month. His mother was miserable, caught in the middle and unable to make headway with either of them. He was playing baseball at this point, and he had the last game of the season this particular weekend. He and his dad had spent another week gruffly and pointedly ignoring each other. He saw his mom and sisters and little brother in the stands at his game, but no dad. His team won, but he said he felt kind of dead inside because his dad hadn’t been there to see it. Except he had. His uncle told him later in the week that his dad had driven with him separately and they had stood next to the snack bar watching. When his team won, his dad had punched the air in victory, turned, and walked off to the car. He told me at that point, he’d gone and found his dad in his office. He said he walked in, and at first his dad just looked at him, kind of guarded, and then he said, “Dad, I’m sorry”, and his old man started crying. Two big guys hugging it out in the middle of the office, and it was forgotten.

Anyway, they hadn’t let that happen again until last week. He’s gotten older, and so has his father, and he’s really tried to work on staying calm when he feels angry. That month they didn’t speak was hard on the whole family, and he’d promised himself he wouldn’t let that happen twice, but it isn’t easy when tempers flare, and working for his dad makes it tougher, still. He said any time he’d try to do things a little differently than his dad had been doing them for years, pops took it like a judgment against himself, as if his son was questioning him, or suggesting he was losing his edge or getting old, or that he was, “not with the times.” So they had a blow up and he said a bunch of things to his dad that he wishes he could un-say, and he stormed off. A few hours later his uncle called and said they were on the way to the hospital. His dad had a heart attack. By the time they got to the hospital, it was already over, and he can’t take it back. He can’t undo the last conversation, he can’t tell his dad he’s sorry, he can’t make things right.

I guarantee you, and I guaranteed him, things are right, they really are. His dad knew he loved him, there’s zero doubt in my mind about that. We all have conversations we’d like to do over again, things we regret saying. This is a tough one, when there’s no way to go and look the person in the eye and say, “I’m sorry for a lot of what I said. I didn’t mean it, and I love you.” It’s hard to bear a last conversation that was heated and full of “you always”, and “you never”, but we’re all human, and we are not going to operate from our highest selves in every moment. Part of him is scared he caused the heart attack by yelling at his father, even though admittedly, his dad had high blood pressure, a diet that wasn’t great, and a habit of sneaking cigarettes at work. He’d often go home and have a glass of bourbon after dinner. All things his doctor had been warning him about for years because there’s a history of heart disease in the family. All things his wife had been worried about, as well, and the reason he smoked at work and not at home.

Sometimes in life, your work is to forgive yourself for being human, which sounds crazy, right? I mean, what else could you be? Not everything is always going to be resolved and perfect with all the people in your life, and we all have a finite time to be here; we all have unknown expiration dates. Of course you want to let that reality seep into your bones, so that as much as possible, you let the people in your life know how you feel. So you don’t allow things to build up or unravel for too long. Ideally, you get to a point where you observe your feelings as they arise without acting on them, but if you have one conversation with someone one day, after a history of love and laughter and joy and being there, and yes, tears and misunderstandings and fights sometimes, (because that’s what most relationships look like over the long haul), believe me, one conversation isn’t going to take all that away. You can trust that the people who love you well and deeply, know your heart. You can trust that they’re standing by the snack bar cheering you on, even when you can’t see them and don’t know they’re there. Some things in life you have to carry, and some things you have to let go. Figuring out which is which is one of the great keys to your own peace.

Wishing that for you, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Why It’s Good if You Feel Angry, Depressed and Alone

thetruthwillsetufreebutfirstA couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about forgiveness. I got lots of emails, one from a woman who’d just found out her husband had been having an affair. This came to light just hours before the article was posted, and she told me she was struggling to forgive him. Last night I was talking to a friend of mine, and she told me that one of her closest friends had betrayed her over a business opportunity. She said she knew there was a lesson in it somewhere, that she’d known her friend operated this way, but that there were also amazing things about her. She felt the onus was on her since she’d been aware, and had remained close to her friend, anyway. Here’s the thing…

Read the rest of the article at: