The Story is Pretty Good

If-you-want-a-happyIt’s totally unsurprising that we think in terms of happy endings. Many children’s books start with the words, “Once upon a time…” and end with the line (that screws us all), “And they lived happily ever after.” We’re taught and trained to think this way, and it’s reinforced in every romantic comedy and dumb sitcom, too. But happiness is not a place. You can’t take some “right” train and end up there. Happiness is a process, it stems from work you do within yourself, and most of the time (not all of the time, though), it’s a choice.

We have some crazy idea that at some point we’ll be done. Depending on how old you are, that “done” point will keep shifting to a time out ahead of you. When you’re a kid, you might think you’ll be done at thirty–with that right job and that right partner, in that right house driving that right car, feeling….right. Life will make sense at that point, you’ll know what you’re doing, and everything will fall into place. When you’re thirty, you might think, well…I’ve got some of it figured out, there are just a few pieces of the puzzle I need to figure out. Maybe I’ve got a great person in my life, but professionally there’s a strain. Or vice versa. Once I solve the missing piece, I’ll be done and happy. You can keep having some variation of that conversation with yourself for your entire life. When I retire, I can take trips and relax and life will be good. When this happens or that happens, and before you know it, thirty years have gone by and you haven’t been enjoying the story, you’ve been waiting. As if this isn’t it. Then you can allow yourself to be startled when you catch a glimpse of your seventy-five year old reflection in a mirror, still not “done”. We are always in process, and the story is always unfolding. I think when we look back on our lives, we’ll realize they’ve been shaped by whatever life has put in our paths, and defined by our choices and our actions. That as the story is unfolding, we are also unfolding, shifting, growing, responding and evolving. There’s not going to be an end until we exhale for the final time, and it’s my belief that’s not going to be the end, either. It’s going to be the beginning of something else. Because energy doesn’t die, it just changes form.

The point is, living intentionally is the thing. Being awake and understanding this is the story, this is your life, and where you are right now is just a point in time. If you’re not embracing the journey, you’re missing the plot. When I say we’re all screwed by the line, “And they lived happily ever after”, it’s because the end of one chapter is the beginning of another. If you meet someone and fall in love and one day you decide to get married, for example, the story doesn’t end as you drive off into the sunset with your family and friends waving you off. That’s the beginning of the next phase. Because you’re always changing, and other people are as well, you can never expect to settle in and take for granted that your “happy ending” is a given.

Every story has its sunshine and its storms, its demons, its quests, its confusion, its beauty, its joy. Any good story has all of that. People who are motivated by different feelings and desires, plot twists, bumps and forks in the road. What you do with all that goes a long way toward determining what the experience of it will be for you. If you can open to the ride, to the not knowing of the thing, if you can accept that the ground beneath you will keep shifting, and that you’ll never know exactly what’s around the bend, you’ll probably have a pretty good time. If you keep choosing love, you’ll find it’s there for you when times get tough. And they will. If you take the time to truly know yourself, and know the people closest to you, and if you follow your heart, you’re probably not going to get too lost along the way. When I say happiness is a choice most of the time, I say that because horrendous things happen to extraordinarily beautiful people, and sometimes it’s just not possible to choose happiness. Sometimes you will have to accept that you’re in a chapter of despair, of un-rooting, of pain. But hopefully your foundation of love is strong enough that you’ll pick up the plot again when you’re able. That there will be some hands there to help you up, to hold you, to cry with you. And to remind you that it still is not the end of the story.

Life has everything. It’s a mystery, it has some science fiction, some adventure, some action, some tragedy, some romance, and a lot of comedy. But if you’re looking for a happy ending, think again. That will always be out ahead of you somewhere, because there’s no such thing. Don’t miss the story, I think it’s pretty good. Sending you love. Ally

Nothing Stays the Same

Nothing stays the same, not the house you grew up in, or your beloved dog, or your first crush. You aren’t the same you you were in high school, or even the same you you were last year and neither is anyone else. Do you have family or friends with kids you only see a couple of times a year? Aren’t you always astounded at how big they’ve gotten? We tend to try to keep things the way they are in our heads. This person exists this way in my mind. That guy I dated who broke my heart is a person who lacks compassion and doesn’t think about the effect of his actions on other people. Is that still true twenty years later? Maybe it is, and maybe there’s been incredible growth. My parents were this way or that way when I was growing up, and so now I’m like this. Are they still that way? Do you still need to be like this?

The earth is spinning around, and we are spinning around on it, and yet somehow we want to peg things down. I go to this grocery store and I buy these items and I eat at this time, and on these days I go to yoga and I get upset if someone else is in my spot. I know my partner, s/he is this way, and my best friend is like X, and you get the picture, right? Even your dog, who will love you consistently and unconditionally with every breath for his or her whole life, is changing, but we resist that reality, and are usually shocked and dismayed when loved ones die, even if they’re 97 years old and we knew it had to happen eventually. It’s almost like we think death happens to everyone but us. People almost always say that the loss of a loved one puts everything in perspective. Does it take death to wake us up? Do you really give a sh&t about ninety percent of the stuff you obsess over?

There are two times people seem to take action — when they’re desperate and when they’re inspired. Otherwise, you see most people simply trying to maintain the status quo. The status quo is changing, too. If it’s living, if it’s made up of energy, then it changes. When we resist the natural process of change, we strangle ourselves and others. We prevent our own growth, we limit our own potential, and we cling to things as they are, even as they’re slipping through our fingers as if we’re begging, “Please, I worked so hard to get here. Leave things alone, I’m all good.”

Things will keep shifting whether you want them to or not, so you might as well accept that; resisting it is futile and exhausting. If you’ve been participating in a situation that’s causing you deep pain and you’re feeling desperate for something to give, you need to examine your participation. The why of it is the key to your healing and the “good news” is that desperate people get things done, not that any of us would ask to get to that point. Chances are, if you haven’t been loving yourself well, that’s where you’re headed. Maybe it’s what you needed in order to start to move in a different direction. If you get to a point at work or at home where things are just intolerable, you’ll start to think of a way out. Your mind will begin with all its machinations to forge a new path and as soon as your mind begins to do that, to even consider a new way, you will figure out how to make it happen, even if you’ve been telling yourself for a long time that it’s impossible, that there is no way. There’s always a way.

If you can allow the idea that everything is in a constant state of flux to inspire you instead of terrify you, you’ll probably start to live with a little fire under your a$$, which is a good thing, I think. Too many people talk about wasting time or “killing time”, as if it’s limitless and it is. The world was spinning before we got here, and it will go on spinning after we’re gone. The real question is, what will you do with the time you’ve got? That’s finite. My feeling at this point in my life, is the more you invest your time and energy toward spreading love, the more you uncover your gifts and share them, the more you treasure those moments that are so easy to take for granted and recognize that just breathing deeply is a gift, the more you notice the beauty that’s all around you, the more your time here will have incredible meaning. Because it does. Your particular spark is not an accident. Shine it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Breathe In and Breathe Out

There are really only a few things that cause us to suffer, but they definitely get the job done. One is clinging — there’s something or someone we desire, some particular set of circumstances, some way of thinking or being, and we simply refuse to let go. When we’re attached in any way, we’re setting ourselves up for pain. Attachment to other people (which is a by-product of being human) leads to suffering because we are all in process all the time. You can’t “peg” a person, or pin someone down, or own anybody. People will choose to be with you or they won’t. Human beings have an expiration date as well, so even if a person chooses to be with you, eventually they’ll leave you or you’ll leave them. Attachment leads to suffering, and with human beings there’s no way around it, nor do I suggest you try to find one unless you truly feel called to move to a cave. The joy in this life comes from connection, from uncovering your gifts and sharing them, from touch, from laughter, from being seen and heard and understood and cherished. I wish that for you. I hope your heart expands with so much love you have moments you think it might just burst. Otherwise, I really can’t say what the point would be. You will lose people you love and it will hurt beyond anything you can fathom, but there’s a beauty in having loved that way —  that can’t be taken from you. You have a light and you’re meant to shine it with whatever time you’ve got, and attachment to an idea or a way of being leaves no room for anything else to unfold, to evolve, to open. You’ll keep growing and learning if you allow yourself to shift and change, to loosen your grip on the story. It’s natural to all of us. Stifling that is a form of death, of strangulation.

Another is avoidance or denial. We know the truth of something, but we refuse to accept it. We are so not okay with an idea or a situation, we reject it. We fling it from us, or numb ourselves to the heartbreak of the thing. We tenaciously push away the undesired outcome, or we make ourselves drunk with distraction so we can pretend it isn’t happening this way. You want the truth?  You might as well because trying to push it down or push it away is simply not sustainable, it makes you sick in your soul and it’s exhausting. Denial leads to depression. Denying your own feelings takes up so much energy, you simply don’t have much for anything else. Getting out of bed feels like a herculean effort. Forget about tea with a friend. Who can muster the energy to shower and go out in public and find the facial muscles to smile?

Fear of death is the final one. Your own death, or the death of people you love beyond words. The idea that someone could be ripped from you, or you could be ripped from everyone and everything you know can be crushing or paralyzing for people. For a lot of people, there’s so much fear and anxiety around that it’s hard to function, to go out into the world with an open heart and and open mind and open arms because there are too many giant what ifs in the way. The truth is, it’s a thin, thin layer between this living life we have, and whatever it is that happens after we exhale for the final time. I think it’s like a membrane between here and there. That was my experience once, many years ago when I was sick with pneumonia and almost let myself drift off because I didn’t want to take medication. I got to this place of feeling so floaty, so peaceful, I thought, maybe I could just go now and that would be okay. Of course, I had a temperature of 104, so that may have been influencing me, but something in me wasn’t ready for that, so I got two shots of penicillin in my a$$ and here I am, so grateful.

The second time I experienced that sensation of how thin it is, the here and there of this thing, was during childbirth with my son. We didn’t have an easy time, and there were many moments I wasn’t sure which way we were headed. I’ll tell you at that time I fought with everything I had to keep us both here. I clung to this life, for him, and for myself. I wanted to see his face. I wanted to hold him, to kiss him, to look into his eyes. It is a fragile thing, so I would say let that inspire you to treasure it. Cherish it. Live it. Don’t wait and don’t hold hold your breath because you’ll miss out. If you love someone, hold their face in your hands, and make sure they know it. Life can be both piercingly beautiful and painful. Some of it will break your heart wide open. I think your job is to let it. Let it soften you and open you, so when the joy comes, when the love comes, you’re ready to receive it.  You don’t get to own it, or keep it in a box, you don’t get to control it, so breathe in and breathe out, and let it wash over you and through you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Nothing Stays the Same

If you’re looking for stability, learn to count on yourself and your ability to face reality as it is. The “as it is” part is challenging, because it won’t always be the way we think it ought to be or the way we’ve envisioned it in our minds, and the “as it is” part is also not easy to wrap your head or your heart around, because it’s always in flux. It should really be about facing reality as it is in this moment. This is great to remember if you’re suffering right now — if you’re feeling hopeless or desperate or bitter or totally apathetic. Feelings aren’t permanent. There are certain heartbreaks you’ll carry with you for your entire life, but the intense searing pain of them will subside; the scar will form where that burning may be now, and that scar can be the symbol of your further opening, or your closing and hardening. To me those scars are like thorns on a rose. They happen on the way up, during the growth, but they lead to the most amazing blossoming. The deepest color of you.

We like to “fix” things, to feel like they’ll be where we left them, exactly as we remember them. It gives us a sense of security in this world where we are forced to realize that we don’t know what is going on, what we’re doing here, what happens after this. Just because these things are unknowable until they aren’t, you really have to grapple with them if you want to be at peace. You have to struggle and investigate and come up with answers that make sense to you, but as you do that, or as you try not to do that, you will probably want some sense of stability in this world, on this spinning globe. And so you will want your keys to be where you left them and you might need to have everything “in its place” before you walk out the door. You might put your mat in the same spot whenever you go to class, because you like to count on that. That one thing. You may try to do it with people, too. This person is mine. This person belongs to me. The truth is, we all belong to each other, we’re all connected, but you can never own another person. People are not possessions. Your children are not mere extensions of you, birthed into this world to make you look good. We all have to find our own way. There is a GPS for people. It’s called intuition, and if you’ve been following yours, you’re probably doing pretty well, but we aren’t trained to tune into it.

We’re taught that happiness and peace lie in externals. If you look right and go to a good school and get a good job and drive a nice car and get yourself a house and find someone to complete you, you’ll be good to go. As if there’s a formula, a game-plan you can work, a bunch of circumstances you can control, and some happiness equation that can only be solved when you meet someone else. But if you’ve tried going down that linear, orderly path, you know it doesn’t lead to your happiness because people aren’t robots, and life isn’t a game we’re playing, and if you want to be happy, that is your sole responsibility. Each person is a miraculous combination of 37 trillion or so cells and a lifetime of memories and heartaches and deep fears and moments of incredible shame, guilt, doubt, joy, ecstasy and imagination. You can’t set up “markers” for this stuff. The more you try to control life, and the people who are in your life, the more despair you’ll create for yourself. You’ll never be able to control or predict what life will set in your path or what other people will do, say, want or need. Not your partner. Not your children. Not your best friends. Not even yourself much of the time, unless you work on it quite a lot.

As much as you can, open to the adventure, to the ever-changing nature of things. It may not be comfortable, but at least life is always interesting. Recognize that love means you give people the freedom to be fully themselves, and sometimes that means they will leave you. Love doesn’t block the door. Not just because it’s unselfish, but also because love knows that’s not good for your tender heart. Love loves in the midst of change. In the midst of chaos or longing or grief or fear. Love just loves. It embraces everything. Don’t waste too much energy trying to control things or people, accept that it can’t be done. Live intentionally, and follow your own heart, your own inner yes. Try not to “peg” people, because how they once were is not always how they’ll be. Show yourself the same consideration and compassion. Do your best not to cling to ideas too tightly, or opinions, because they’ll cloud your ability to open to anything else. If you’re going to be riding this roller coaster with its twists and turns and tunnels without light and steep uphill climbs and exhilarating falls and scary ones, too, those rotations where you’re suddenly upside down, and those times when you think you might just throw up, only to be followed by gleeful screaming and laughter from the very heart of you, then you might as well do it with your arms in the air, your head thrown back, and your mouth full of yes. Hoping you can simply open to the ride and find your center through it all. That’s your stability, that beautiful heart of yours.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Get Up!

Even-if-youre-on-theAwareness is the first step, but action is what’s needed if you want to see a shift happen. People often get stuck at the level of identification, meaning they can tell you in great detail why they are the way they are, but that’s as far as they’ll go. The past experiences explain and justify the current behavior. Except they don’t, because there’s always space for growth, and for free will.

Healing requires openness and honesty and a willingness to not look away, even when you must stare at the center of your deepest pain. It also demands vigilance, especially when you detect unhealthy patterns in your life. It means re-training yourself to feed a loving voice, and to starve any tendencies that make you feel less than, or unworthy of love. We are always in process. Knowing yourself well is a gift that makes it possible to “catch yourself” sooner, so you can make healthy decisions based on how things are, and not how they once were. To move forward with love and trust, even when the road is dark and slick and we’re traveling with no map. In order to proceed in a direction that’s going to lead to happiness and peace, you’ll have to avail yourself of some tools that give you the power to pause and breathe when you feel triggered. Yoga practice is excellent for that.

Healing also requires your creativity, and a willingness to let go of the chains that are holding you back. Sometimes we’ve been attached to a sad story for so long, we can’t imagine what would happen if we just released it. If we weren’t blaming other people or circumstances for our unhappiness, what would we do with our time, and how would we explain our lack of joy or purpose? These are tough questions to face, and getting support is a really good move if you’re in this position. The combination of yoga, seated meditation and therapy worked for me, but you may need other tools. That part is personal, and you’ll have to figure out what you need by trying different things, and staying with it until you find something that resonates with you. But that’s a much better use of your time than explaining that your current abandonment issues are based on a time, twenty years ago, when your dad left you and your mom. Identification is great, but you have to add excavation on top of that. Is it your mom’s and dad’s story, or is it your story now?

Giving up on yourself is a serious shame and an act of ingratitude. As heartbreaking as it can be sometimes, this life is a gift, and this experience of being human, vulnerable, awake, and changing is an opportunity to heal more than just ourselves. We come into this world with an insane amount of love inside of us, and I believe we are meant to uncover it, and spread it all over the place. The story of your life will keep unfolding, every day. There are the circumstances, and there’s the way you respond to them. In that way, you co-create the story. The pieces are always moving, the ground below us is always shifting, there are no promises or guarantees, and you don’t have forever. There are big questions that need to be lived, that you can never truly answer, but that you’ll have to grapple with if you want to be at peace. The key is to keep moving, keep growing, keep seeing and listening and exploring. To be willing to allow life, and your very own self, to surprise you. To recognize you’ll never have all the answers, in fact, you’ll have very few. Only a couple truly matter, anyway. How much are you going to love, and how much are you going to do what you can to heal yourself, and in so doing, the world around you? Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton