Take Off the Armor

 

glassmanThere comes a time when you really have to put down the blame and the sad stories and take ownership of your life, and your own happiness. You can’t point fingers and expect to feel good, because you’re making yourself powerless, and that feels terrible. You can’t feed your despair and also wonder why you aren’t happy. We are all here for a blink of time. It’s not how long we have, although I hope we all have long and healthy lives, it’s what we do with the time we’re gifted. Stoking the flames of your rage and bitterness would be an awful way to go.

There are so many people living in fear. Maybe it’s the vulnerability of being human that terrifies them, but it seems they’ve decided a shield of anger is better than an open heart. Usually when you’re dealing with that kind of armor, it’s because the heart it’s protecting was so badly broken. The thing is, those breaks can harden us or soften us. Softening feels a lot better. I know people personally who seem determined to die angry, though. It’s almost like they want their tombstone to read, “My life was hard, and it wasn’t my fault,” with a list of people at fault underneath.

You can’t cuddle up with the “last word”. If you choose being right over being at peace, it’s going to be a long and lonely road. Sometimes people are afraid to put down the sad story, because who are they without it? I once met a woman with blazing eyes who told me she could not forgive her father because then he wouldn’t pay for what he’d done, but she hadn’t spoken to him in years. So who’s paying? I mean, some things are unforgivable. Sometimes you have to choose not to have someone in your life, but you can do that with rage or acceptance.

Pain makes us grow. The butterfly needs the struggle out of the cocoon to strengthen its wings. If you cut open the cocoon, it will never fly. We need the travel down the birth canal to squeeze the fluid out of our lungs so we can breathe easily. If you’ve never suffered, you can’t help people who are in pain, because pain creates empathy. Sometimes people have blinders on and they actually think their story is unique, but you know what? I hear stories from people every single day and they’re the same. Something happens when we’re young. Maybe we aren’t received with love. Maybe we learn the world is unsafe and our best bet is to be invisible or indispensable, or both, depending on the minute or the day. Maybe those experiences create doubt within us. Doubt about our own worth. That’s a very common story. That, and fear of abandonment. Also, people suffering over betrayal, abuse, cruelty. Almost every time I post someone says, “This was exactly what I needed to hear today.” Or, “Are you psychic?” I’m not psychic. We’re all so much more the same than we are different.

Your memories are yours. Your ideas, your experiences, your frame of reference, the way you’ve come to perceive the people and the world around you, all of these are unique to you, but if you start talking to people you will also find the themes are uncannily similar. The pain and struggles and fears and doubts and failures we face are universal. How we respond to them defines us.

Life is not easy. It’s incredible and wildly interesting. It’s full of moments that are so gorgeous they suck the air out of your lungs and make your heart expand simultaneously. There are events that will undoubtedly put you on the ground with your mouth full of dirt and your head full of why. In the world right now, there are bombs going off, shots being fired. Children are dying, or they’re watching their parents die. These things are happening and it’s hard to bear witness and there are no easy answers. Sometimes people are ripped from us when we aren’t done loving them. We aren’t done. It’s not a level playing field. Some people will suffer in ways that make your own heart ache. Don’t think you’re the only one. You’re not alone in this.

The thing is, you have a spark that is yours alone, and you can feed that spark until it becomes a roaring fire in your heart, and lights you up from the inside. You can give that fire that’s yours, you can give that away every day. Whether it’s a fire of rage or a fire of love is up to you, but I think we have enough rage in the world. Healing is a lot easier than being bitter and angry and isolated for eighty, ninety or one hundred years. When I say healing, that’s personal. What you’ll need to heal is something only you can determine, but I’d get on that, because life is ticking away right now, this minute. I don’t say that without compassion. It takes a lot of bravery to release an old story.

I tried life the angry way. I pointed fingers and made my unhappiness and frustration and disappointment the fault of other people, but it wasn’t. Things happen and they shape you, but none of us is in a time warp unless we choose to be. The earth keeps spinning, and it will continue to do so long after we’re gone. Take hold of the one thing you can—how you’re going to show up, what you’re going to offer. May all beings be free from suffering.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

 

If you need some help, you can do this with me right now: https://yogisanonymous.com/courses/from-pain-to-peace-using-your-practice-to-change-your-life

Slow Your Roll

You-can-close-your-eyesSometimes we really get blindsided by someone, and nowhere is this more likely to occur than in the romantic realm. It’s so easy to get swept away in hormones and lust and romantic fantasies, and decide two, three, six weeks in that “This is it!”. It can happen with new friendships, too, of course, it’s just that our vision is less likely to be clouded by intense desire.

The thing is, most people can do the beginning of a relationship really well. I mean, hello? The first six weeks are fun and easy! The first three months can be pretty amazing. You really don’t know what you’re dealing with until the heat wears off a little bit and you can see straight again. Also, can we all acknowledge that it takes a long time to get to know someone well?

I mention all this, because so many people dive in full throttle, only to have their hearts smashed against a brick wall before they have time to call off the wedding in their minds. If you’re a romantic person and you’re of a certain age and you know you want a life partner and maybe a family, if that’s what you’re looking for, then that’s what you’re going to hope to find. And just as scientists might occasionally and inadvertently skew their experiments to get confirmation on their hypotheses, so do romantics see things that might not be there.

When you’ve been lonely for a long time, or if you’re suddenly back on the dating scene after years of longing for love, it’s hard to take things slowly. We want. We desire. We need. Most people long for connection and understanding. Most people want to be seen and cherished with all their beauty and all their flaws and all their absurdities and quirks. So if someone shows up who looks right and sounds right and says the right things, we might just be ready to start writing long-term scripts in our heads. But it’s always good to remember that attachment leads to suffering, so you want to take your time before you form an attachment to a person you barely know, or to a picture in your head of “how things should be”.

The thing is, you really don’t want to be reckless with your heart, your body, your time or your energy. Because all of these are gifts. Your particular spark is a gift. And these are not gifts you want to squander. You probably wouldn’t hand a stranger the keys to your house or your car, so why would you allow a stranger into your bed? I mean, maybe you wouldn’t, but I get plenty of emails from people who do. And listen. I am not judging. It’s your body and you can do whatever you like. I’m talking about emails from people who are longing for true partnership. If that’s what you want, I’d really take your time. Allow a person to show you who s/he is before you give them a tour of your whole farm, is all I’m saying. Make sure it’s a person who’s worthy of your hayride. Sloooow down your roll.

Because being heartbroken is no fun. Feeling rejected hurts, and might even tap old wounds, deep fears and doubts, and raw places that could use your kind attention. That can be good if you’re in need of healing. But if you put yourself through that too often, your heart will harden to protect itself, and you’ll become jaded. Cynical people are romantics who allowed themselves to be hurt too much. And the world needs people who are soft and open, not cold and hard. Be gentle with yourself. You’re the only you we get. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Letting Go with Love

aninHow do you let go when everything in your being, every cell in your body, has been wired to hold on? The loss of a child, no matter how old, is as bad as it gets. Losing people is the hardest thing we go through as human beings. It’s devastating when we’re lost from people we don’t know how to live without. It’s crushing, it’s hard to breathe. There’s a hole where a universe once existed. It seems impossible the world keeps spinning. Or that people everywhere are getting up and brushing their teeth or driving to work or sending a text as if everything hasn’t changed.


I want to say up front that some things are never going to be “okay”. There are some losses that are so great, you’re just going to carry them. That doesn’t mean that joy cannot exist again, or that you won’t experience great love, or be filled with gratitude for those moments that come out of nowhere and leave you with tears of appreciation. It’s incredible to be alive. It isn’t always easy, but it’s wildly interesting and life is full of the potential to surprise us and help us to grow and open. Of course there are some ways we’d rather not grow, and some lessons we’d rather not learn, but we don’t get to choose. When your heart breaks, it opens and softens and expands, or it hardens and contracts. I highly recommend you allow the pain to open you, but I do not believe you have to be thankful for the opportunity to grow in that way. Not everything in life has to go in the “thank you” column.

 

Sometimes we lose people because they choose to leave us. This kind of pain happens between parents and children, between siblings, between best friends. I think it’s incredibly sad when family members stop speaking to one another. I recognize sometimes that’s the only way to heal and move on. If there’s physical or verbal abuse, if there’s addiction, if there’s a personality disorder that renders a person unable to empathize or communicate with any kind of compassion, then you may not have a choice. Short of that, it breaks my heart when I hear about families ripped apart.

I met a woman at a holiday party one year, and we started talking. Before long, she’d told me she has two sons, but she’s only in contact with one of them, her youngest. He was also at the party. She said her other son had married a woman who just didn’t like her. From the beginning, no matter what she did, it was wrong, or not good enough, and her son was in the middle, and his wife got pregnant, and the longer they were together, the less he found ways to communicate. She’d tried apologizing to her son, and owning anything she could think of, she’d told him how much she missed him. She’d never met her grandchild. She said she had been a single mom, she’d raised the boys on her own. She certainly hadn’t been perfect, but she’d always done her best. Her younger son came over at one point. He put his arm around her, and kissed her on top of her head. When she went to get food, he told me his brother had married a very unhappy woman, and that he was sure his brother wasn’t happy with the situation, but he also told me his mother was one in a million. Always there for them. Working her ass off to make sure they always had what they needed, and most of what they wanted, and that he was furious his brother was treating her so poorly. So it had taken a tremendous toll on their relationship as well. He’d asked his brother what their mother had possibly done to be in a situation where she doesn’t even get to meet her grandchild? And his brother’s response was to shut down their relationship as well.

What do you do in a mess like that? It’s heartbreaking. You cannot force people to communicate or be rational or kind or compassionate. They are those things, or they are not. Sometimes people are weak, or they’re insecure, or they doubt their worth on a core level, and then they get involved with a strong personality who takes over. Controlling people are attracted to fragile people. I don’t know enough about the woman and her sons to have any real sense of what was going on there, but you have a grown man who was abandoned by his father as a small child, and maybe some part of him has always felt doubtful about his worth. If your own parent can leave you, you must be pretty unlovable, right? Like I said, I can’t swear that was this guy’s thing, but I’ve heard from so many people over the years, and I can tell you from my own personal experience, if you don’t heal your deep wounds, they bite you in the ass again and again. They break your heart until you can’t see straight, and you become so lost to yourself, it’s easier to let other people make decisions for you. Tell you where to go and how to be, and how to think, and who to see. I mean, that isn’t a life, that’s a fog, but a lot of people exist that way, and you can’t march into the center of that fog and wake them up. They do that on their own, or they don’t.

It hurts like hell when someone revises history and turns you into a person you don’t recognize. It’s even worse when your own child does that. The person you bathed and fed and strapped into car seats. The person who’s lunch you made and breakfast and dinner, too, for years and years and years. The person who’s hand you held, and knees you bandaged and face you gazed into and saw the moon and the stars and the sun, all at once. The little person you read to and laughed with and fought for and sat up with through sickness and heartbreak and mean kids at school. Of course it hurts to have that person discard you. Deny you. Reject you. And it isn’t easy to go through the day and know that person is going about his business. That you could pick up the phone and hear his voice, or get in your car and see his face. Except you can’t, because you’ve been invited to disappear.

All you can do is communicate your love, your pain, your confusion, and your desire for connection. Once you’re sure you’ve done that, I think you have to do your best to let go with love. Hopefully, your child will find his or her way back to you. Hopefully, eventually, the fog will lift. The pain of being in a false reality will outweigh the pain of healing and making things right. Until then, you have to do your best to remember who you are, to forgive yourself your imperfections, because we all have them, and not one of us gets it right in every moment. You have to do what you can to remove the onus of guilt and blame if they don’t belong to you. That woman at the party told me she must have failed as a mother, to have a son who could do this, but I don’t agree. Maybe he needed help. Maybe he was in more pain than she knew or understood. Maybe she was so stressed out trying to make ends meet for herself and two boys, she missed some signs. Being exiled is a harsh punishment. After twenty-five, we are responsible for how we behave and what we do, and I’m being generous. Really, twenty-five is old enough to know how to treat people. It’s old enough to get help with your healing process. It’s old enough to recognize that you need help. It’s old enough to tell your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse that no one comes between you and the people you love, and this guy was way over twenty-five.

Blaming and shaming and pointing fingers is a sad way to go through life. Being so unsure of your worth that you allow someone else to dictate the terms of your day and your relationships is a prison sentence. Having your heart broken by one of the two people you treasure most in the world is incredibly sad, but these things happen. All you can do is try your best to build joy around the fracture. The fault line is there, there’s no denying it, but doing your best to be kind to yourself, to gravitate toward love, to reassure yourself of reality when you need to, these are all things you can do. If the situation permits, maybe every so often you reach out. You stick with the through line of love, and leave it at that. You take your life day by day, which is all any of us can do, anyway, and you figure out what you can do to nurture yourself on this day. What you can do to uplift the people around you. What you can do that will bring you joy and peace and fulfillment, and you carve out some time for those things. Talking to people really helps. Sharing your story, finding support, being with people who know how to hold a space for your grief without trying to make it better, those things are all helpful. Hopefully one day your child or your parent or your sibling will realize life is short and time is precious. Holding on to rage when you could be opening to love is a poor choice.

Sending you strength, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

Do It Anyway

susan-jeffersSo much of the time, the thing that’s blocking us from being at peace, and from expanding and opening in all the ways we could, is our ability or willingness to trust, and release our hold on an idea, or a way of being, or a path that just doesn’t feel right anymore. For many people, fear of the unknown is so debilitating, they’d rather stay where they are and suffer; at least it’s a known entity, and there’s some kind of ground underneath their feet.

The truth is, life involves risk. We risk our hearts when we love people, whether we’re talking about our romantic interests, our children, our parents, or our best friends. The more invested we are, the more deeply we love, the more we know we would suffer were anything to happen to the relationship, and things do happen sometimes, as we all know. There are families that fall apart because there’s a refusal to back down, or compromise, or hear another person’s point of view. Sometimes we lose people due to an inability to accept and love people as they are, and sometimes we lose people in the most profound and painful way, but what would life be without love and connection? I wouldn’t be reckless with your heart, as it is tender, but I wouldn’t build walls around it, either.

Often, we have a picture in our heads of “how things should be”, and nothing else will satisfy us, but you know when things are flowing, and you know when they aren’t. There’s a huge difference between working your ass off in service to your dreams and your gifts, and refusing to accept reality as it is. For example, every relationship requires effort and nurturing and time and energy. If you want to love another person in a real and full way, you have to be willing to listen, to move through the storms with them, to choose them every day, and especially on the days when it would be easier to bolt, but that’s different from forcing something that doesn’t feel right anymore. You want to work on something that’s growing, that has potential. You don’t want to work on deluding yourself.

Life is not easy. I would argue that it’s gorgeous sometimes, and wildly interesting, but I don’t believe anyone would suggest it’s easy. Sometimes it breaks your heart with no warning on a normal Tuesday morning. We just never know, but one of the things that makes life a LOT easier is opening to things as they are, and following the call of your heart and the voice of your intuition. I just don’t think you can get too lost or too delayed on your path if you do that. We all hit speed bumps from time to time, or find ourselves in a ditch, but if you’re trusting and allowing more, and clinging less, it makes the journey so much more enjoyable. It’s like riding with the windows down and the wind in your hair, with no map and no destination, and good tunes playing, or the sound of the waves crashing. You know, the stuff you don’t want to miss. The stuff that makes you feel alive.

Sometimes a way of being is so ingrained, we just can’t fathom anything else. How can we leave or shift or change? What would we do? How would life look? How would our loved ones respond? Maybe you’re in a situation and you’re telling yourself it’s impossible to do anything else. Maybe you spend a lot of your time making lists in your head of all the reasons you’re stuck. Why don’t you try daydreaming for a little bit? Just drop all the reasons why not, and allow your mind to play with a different vision. Sometimes when someone is struggling with a pose in class, I’ll suggest that they see themselves doing it in their mind. This is not because I’m invested in their “getting the pose.” I’m invested in their vision of themselves, their belief in themselves, their perception of what might be possible. If you tell yourself you can’t, there’s no hope, because there’s no incentive to try. If you tell yourself, “Well, maybe…” you open up a world of possibilities. Sometimes you just have to go on faith. Sometimes you have to gather your strong center and take a chance with the understanding that you might fall on your face, and that that is okay. It’s never the falling down. It’s always the process of getting up. That’s the stuff that strengthens us and teaches us and helps us to grow.

The thing is, you cannot cling and fly simultaneously. Trusting your gut requires bravery, there’s no doubt about that, but you have to show up for yourself in this life. You have to be willing to act on your own behalf when necessary. There’s no way to predict the future, but you can screw up your present with a lot of fear. Allow life to surprise you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

With Strong Determination…

thichIn large part, our ability to be at peace requires our resolve and our discipline. I am not suggesting that’s all that’s required. There are things that happen in life that would bring anyone to his or her knees. I’m not a yogi who’s going to tell you that you can choose to be happy in every moment, because I believe that’s unrealistic and alienating for people who are suffering great loss. Grief is a healthy response to heartbreak, but short of tragedies that befall us in life, much of our suffering does, indeed, come from our thoughts.

A lot of the time, happiness is a choice. Of course we all want to be happy, we even addressed it as a given right in our Declaration of Independence, but often, in our pursuit, we get snagged on our attachment to a particular outcome, and we suffer if anything else should come to pass. Sometimes we spend a lot of energy worrying about things that never happen, and that’s time we won’t get back. Sometimes we boil ourselves replaying old situations as if we could rewrite them or turn back time. The trick is to catch yourself as fast as you can, and to be vigilant. The days are precious. The moments are precious. We really don’t want to lose too many of them traveling into our past and future, because life isn’t happening in either of those places.

Awareness is clearly part of the equation. If you know you have a tendency to “future-trip” and make yourself sick over all the things that “could” happen, or you recognize your predilection toward revisionist history, you want to be on the alert. That way if you’re driving somewhere, or folding your laundry, or washing the dishes, you can catch yourself if you start to spin, and bring yourself back to the present moment. In order to choose the thoughts and habits that strengthen you, you have to understand you have a choice. This is a huge gift of a consistent yoga and seated meditation practice. We train the mind to focus on what is happening right here, right now. We use the breath as an anchor point because it’s always happening in the present moment. If we pull out our meditation cushions, and sit up and become aware of our inhales and exhales, and somewhere along the way we notice the mind is drifting, we pick it up, and begin again. There’s always the potential to do that, on a cushion, or at your kitchen sink, or behind the wheel of your car.

There’s a Pali word, “Addithana”, and it means “resolve”, or, with “strong determination”. If you practice Vipassana (Insight) meditation, as I do, then you already know this word, because we use it to refer to those meditation sessions where we’ve decided we are not going to move. Maybe the back aches or the knees hurt after we’ve been sitting for a time, but we don’t move, we just observe sensation, and notice that it’s always changing. It might not be comfortable, but it’s interesting, and that practice truly mirrors life. Even if we do nothing, things are always in motion, things are always evolving and changing and shifting. Not all of those changes are wanted, but we don’t have control over that. We just have the opportunity to work on the way we respond. If we aren’t paying attention, we miss the shifts, and we lose the power to make a choice. We’re carried along, being pulled this way and that, up and down, victims of circumstance; that’s how the mind is wired, but you can rewire it.

The thing is, we can make all the plans in the world, and it’s fine to do that if it gives you a sense of direction. In fact, I would encourage anyone to live with intention. It’s a relief to uncover your particular gifts and set about the business of sharing them. That, in itself, is fulfilling, but I wouldn’t get too caught up in making longterm plans, because your plans are likely to change. This is true in big ways, and in small ways. When I go to teach a class, for example, I always have a plan. I think about what we’ve been working on, what we did in the prior class, what themes feel right, what parts of the body I’m targeting, potential peak poses, all of it. Then I walk into the room and look around and see who’s there, and whether or not my plan makes sense. Sometimes I know immediately I have to scrap it. Sometimes I modify as we go, based on the energy in the room, and a ton of other factors. Maybe there are three pregnant mamas in the room, and I’d planned a deep twisting class. I’m not going to follow that plan. Again, that’s just a tiny example, but it’s really true of everything in life. We set our course, we have our intentions, but we always have to factor in the unknown. The unexpected. The curve ball. The moment of inspiration. The shifting circumstances around us. The way everything can change in a split second. We always have to deal with what’s in front of us, and leave room to be surprised and amazed and grateful. Life is not obligated to bend to our will, and it probably won’t. Our best bet is to stay present, to develop a practice that keeps us in tune with our intuition, that leaves room for curiosity and non-attachment, and that teaches us not to waste time.

In order to have a great year, for example, I’d really focus on having great days. What can you do to nurture and strengthen yourself today? What can you do to support the people in your life today? What would bring you joy, right now? Is there a chance you could make someone else’s day by picking up the phone to catch up? Is there anything you could do, even for twenty minutes, that would make your life easier? Anything you’re allowing to pile up, that’s going to be much harder to deal with than it would if you just marked a small amount of time each day to tackle it? Maybe you could start the day by thinking of one thing or one person or one quality you possess that brings a smile to your face, and maybe you could end the day like that, too. I’m just saying, there’s so much potential to cultivate some beauty and some love, and if we do that every day, if we string together a bunch of days in which we feel alive and engaged and present, then we don’t waste time, we celebrate it, and those days turn into weeks and months, and really, I believe that’s how we have a happy week, month, year, decade, and so on; that’s how we live our lives in a way that feels good. That’s how I try to do it, anyway.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Stop Kidding Yourself!

annlandersI know it can be painful to swallow, but for the most part, people will do what they want to do. I say this because I think many people try to fool themselves, or make excuses for someone else’s behavior, or justify certain actions. Sometimes we want to hold on to our idea of how someone is, or how we want things to be, or how we want someone else to feel, and we just refuse to see reality clearly. We think we’re going to change someone, or save another person, or we fall in love with the potential we see, which is not the same as falling in love with the person in front of us.

In order to face reality as it is, you have to be able to discern what is real from what is not real. What is you from what is not you. What you wish were happening, versus what is happening. Ideas and opinions and desires can really fog up the lenses. Often we want to see through the glasses that show the outcome we want, and no matter what happens, we press those glasses to our heads, and stick our fingers in our ears. We reject, deny or explain anything that challenges our view, or we numb the edges so that reality almost looks the way we want it to. This person would be with me if they could. Or this path is the right path because I’ve been pursuing it so long I can’t turn back, even though it just feels wrong, now. Whenever we deny reality, we set ourselves up to suffer. The truth won’t kill you. Not facing it could.

Some people agonize for months or years, grasping on to false hope, creating constructs that uphold the happy ending they desire. I know too many people who can look a person in the eye and insist something is purple when it’s clearly orange. I don’t mean it’s someone’s opinion that it’s orange, I mean it’s actually, factually orange. If you say that, though, you might be met with anguish or rage or stubbornness. Sometimes a person needs to hold onto that purple, that false version of reality. If that’s the case, there’s not much you can do. I mean, you really can’t say, “Okay, it’s purple”, and still feel good when you look in the mirror at the end of the day. You can have compassion, you can recognize the pain, you can hope eventually they can loosen their grip on the need to deny. You can love people, but you can’t save them, you can’t press their faces up to the reality of a thing and scream, “This is orange!!!” You’ll just alienate them or break their heart, and maybe they are not yet strong enough to allow their heart to break. You have to be strong to do that.

The thing is, you know in your heart if you’re desperately grasping at something, because you’ll feel sick and exhausted, and things just won’t make sense. You’ll talk yourself into accepting less than you want. You’ll hear yourself explaining the situation to your closest friends, and even to you, the story won’t add up. It’s true that many people are floundering around in the dark, trying to figure out what to do next, with no real idea of which way to turn. So you may deal with someone who doesn’t know what they want. The thing is, if a person wants to be with you, it’s not going to be a mystery to them, or to you.

Lots of things in life are complicated, but the truth isn’t one of them. When I say the truth, I just mean what is true for you, and what is true for other people. Love requires bravery and intense vulnerability and a lot of acceptance. It’s challenging, but it isn’t complicated. Joy is simple, too. So is gratitude. The paths to get to these places may be full of thorns and stopovers where you have to lean into your deepest fears and your most raw, unhealed places, your mistakes and your regrets and your desires, but if you want to be at peace, you’re going to have to get acquainted with the voice of your intuition. It can spot excuses hundreds of miles away. Its vision is so clear, it cuts right through judgements and attachments and shoulds, and just sees what is. It’s a relief, really. Working to create a false reality takes a tremendous amount of energy. Facing reality as it is leaves you the energy to move with and toward love.

Sending you some right now,

Ally Hamilton

Your Five-Year Plan

steinbeckThere’s no way to accept and embrace reality without recognizing our own vulnerability. If we’re lucky, we get seventy, eighty, ninety, maybe one hundred years to offer up whatever we’ve got. The first order of business, once we’re grown, is to make peace with our past. I’ve met maybe three people who had idyllic childhoods, so barring them, most of us are going to have some healing to do. And of course, I jest. Even if your childhood was wonderful, we all have pain, insecurities, doubts, fears and struggles. It’s part of the nature of being human, and of being part of a mystery much larger than any one of us. Yet, we have to face the journey in our own way, and we have to develop our own tools.

We like to make things linear, but my sense is really that time folds in on itself, and also expands out, simultaneously. I can go back to any vivid moment of my life at any time. I can be three, on my grandmother’s soft and cozy lap, I can feel her fingertips tracing my face, and I can smell the mix of powder and perfume and love, just by closing my eyes. I can be fourteen, in the living room of the boy I adored, being kissed for the first time with sunlight streaming through the window, my heart pounding, every sense on fire. I can be sixteen, walking away from the boy I loved, who sat on a bench and watched me leave, sobbing as I went, because he said he had to go away. I can see the blurry trees through my tears, the statue of Balto in Central Park, I can feel the biting cold on my face, on my fingers, in my heart. I can be at the funeral of my cousin’s little boy, with that impossibly tiny coffin, and I can still see the way my cousin’s hand flew to his mouth when our eyes met. Just like that, I’m there, and I’m crying. I can be with that same cousin when I was five years old, and he and his brother threw me in a pool in Bermuda, much to my delight, even though my thumb was broken and I had a cast up to my upper arm. I can see that same cousin, with his head thrown back, laughing, before, way before the coffin and the loss and the grief. I can be at the emergency veterinarian’s hospital with my dog, and doctors I’d never met before, holding his head and watching the light go out of his eyes as I thanked him and tried to wrap my head around the fact that he was here, and then he wasn’t, ten years of history, ten years of being my best friend, holding the ceramic paw print they gave me as I walked out the door, about to give birth to my son, joyous and bereft all at once. I can be in the delivery room with my son, a week later, terrified, wondering if we were going to make it, and I can be in the delivery room with my daughter, too, although the births were two and a half years apart. I can also be right here, right now, with both kids asleep, a different dog curled up on the floor, people walking by on the street outside. If you can’t acknowledge the vulnerability of this thing, I think you’re going to be in some trouble.

A few years ago, I went to a meeting, and someone asked me what my five year plan was, and I didn’t mean to, but I laughed, loudly. I might have accidentally snorted. When I look back on the last five years of my life, almost none of it has gone according to any plan I had. You heal. You make peace with your past. You use your wounds as entryways to understanding and insight and compassion. You figure out what lights you up, what it is, you, in particular, have to offer, and you get busy figuring out how best to do that. Hopefully at some point you realize that it’s what you give, and not what you have, that’s going to define your life. You follow your passion and you share your gifts, and you keep your heart open. You evolve as everything around you evolves, and you keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s the plan as far as I know.

I’m not saying you have to burn your vision board, or that you shouldn’t have goals. Living intentionally is the way to go. Thinking about where you’re going to spend your time and energy makes sense. It’s not like those are infinite gifts, after all, and you don’t want to squander them, but I wouldn’t get too attached to a picture in your head of “how things should be”, or how people should be, or how life should look, because reality is not obligated to bend to your will, and it probably won’t. If you want to pin something on a board, I’d make two columns. Under the first, “Things I Can Control”, under the second, you guessed it, “Things I Cannot Control”. There’s only one thing that goes under the first list, and here it is: “I can control the way I respond to what I’m given (if I work on it a lot).” Under the second list, go ahead and put everything else, including, “other people (and there are some sub-topics here, like what other people will want, or do, or say, or need), circumstances, the weather, when and if I’m going to meet someone amazing (here’s an asterisk for you— *YOU are someone amazing), how long I have here, how long anyone else has here, timing, and whether I’ll get the “breaks” I need.” There are a lot of other things that can go on that second list, that was just off the top of my head.

Here are some things I know for sure: When I’m coming from a loving, open, generous place, life feels pretty awesome, and when I’m in fear, when I’m anxious or worrying or feeling resentful or bitter, or I’m blaming someone else, life feels pretty crappy. When I focus on what I can give, it reminds me that I’m coming from a place of abundance, and that makes me feel really grateful, and when I focus on what I don’t have, or what I’m not getting, that makes me feel like I don’t have enough, and other people have more, and that, in turn, makes me feel that I ought to grasp whatever I’ve got which makes me feel small and petty and like I’m coming from a place of lack, which feels bad. Also, when I focus on the days instead of the years, that feels manageable. When I think about what I can do today to support my own healing if I need it (that has to come first), or what I can do to possibly uplift someone else, I’m on track to have a meaningful and fulfilling day. If I can string a bunch of those days together, I’m having a meaningful and fulfilling life. If I start to future trip and worry about what could happen or what someone else might or might not do, if I start imagining different scenarios, then it all feels overwhelming. What can you do in service to your dreams and the dreams of those you love, today? What can you do to strengthen and nurture yourself, and everyone you encounter, today? I think those are useful questions.

Grateful, as ever, to be in conversation with you all, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton