Your Heart is So Precious

caringformyselfA couple of days ago I wrote about someone suffering over the loss of a painful relationship and I’ve received a torrential downpour of emails from people in similar situations since then. A man wrote in and said his wife had invited a man from work to a party at their house. She spent the whole afternoon with him, introducing him to all their friends, sitting next to him, endlessly putting her hand on his arm or leaning into him, swimming in the pool when he wanted to swim. He said the vibe was definitely flirtatious, and that many of his guy friends asked if he needed back up. Some of the wives asked him if he was okay. He pulled his wife aside at one point and told her he was extremely uncomfortable and so were many of their friends, but she rolled her eyes and said he was just being jealous again.

He told me the last time this happened he’d discovered she’d been texting and emailing with another guy from work who lives in another state. She sees him at conferences, but for the most part their relationship was happening over their laptops and cellphones. He told me he had checked her phone and her emails, because he had a very definite feeling something was off and he found pictures she’d sent of herself in a bikini sitting by their pool, and pictures of her curled up on their sofa. He saw an email in which she told this guy her husband was very possessive and she might not be able to write as much because it was making him crazier than usual. When he confronted her about that, she again said he was being jealous, and that it showed a real lack of integrity for him to be checking her emails and phone. She put passwords on everything, insisted this guy was a friend, and carried on. Anyway, at the end of the party, it was just the husband, the wife, and this guy left alone in the pool. The colleague did make small talk with the husband, but his attention was definitely on the wife, as hers was on him. She opened another bottle of wine and handed this guy a glass, and asked her husband if he wanted one, too. He said he was tired, and she told him he could go to bed anytime. At that point, he asked the guy to leave. He said he was polite, but he just told him it was late, and he needed to kick him out. That he had to get up early to drop their boys off at school. The guy gets his stuff and goes, and the wife goes to bed without saying a word to her husband. They’re in therapy because she thinks he needs help. As far as she’s concerned, she doesn’t have any problems.

Someone else wrote in feeling pain because she’s in love with a man who wants to keep their relationship hidden. He told her at the outset that he wasn’t looking for anything serious, but she fell for him anyway, and now when she runs into him in public, it crushes her that he acts like she’s just a friend. That he could go from being so close to so cold in a matter of hours. It’s brutal when someone pulls you in and then pushes you away, and for some people that’s their modus operandi. If you get too close, you’re going to get burned because for some, getting close is a dangerous proposition. There’s the possibility that you could find a tender spot and tap into something so painful they fear they couldn’t survive it. Or it enrages them that you’re asking for that kind of intimacy. Not because they don’t want it, but because they aren’t willing to be that vulnerable. If you fall in love with a person’s potential, that’s not the same as falling in love with them as they are. Accept people as you find them. Not as you see they could be or might be one day, and either love them the way they are, or set them free. Otherwise the love you’re offering is a form of rejection. It’s a kind of manipulation. It assumes your love will be enough to save them or change them. You’re going to break your own heart that way. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing where a person has room to grow, but it’s not loving to expect and ask someone to be somewhere they aren’t.

Lots of people wrote in saying they know they’re in something that isn’t healthy but they can’t get out. Some of them have children, and that always complicates things and in those cases it makes a lot of sense to go slowly and make sure you’re clear about the impact your choices are going to have on those around you. Counseling is a really excellent idea, because sometimes your feelings are so intense, they cloud your vision. This is true whether there are kids in the picture or not. How you see a person is not necessarily how they are and how someone sees you isn’t always accurate. A third, objective and compassionate set of eyes can be incredibly helpful. Two people can weave a very intricate web over time, and untangling it is not easy. People frequently become attached to their list of wrongs. Dig their heels in and recount every awful thing that’s ever happened in the history of the thing. The anger is so great, it colors everything.

If you know you’re in something that isn’t growing and isn’t loving, if you’re allowing yourself to be degraded, disrespected, neglected or abused, you really need to find yourself some help and support. Sometimes the way we’re coloring things in the rear-view mirror is also really inaccurate. When I finally left that much older man I dated when I was in college, I suffered intensely for over a year, and he was pretty awful to me. Not because he was a terrible person (although in retrospect I think it’s very selfish for a 37 year old man to chase down a seventeen year old girl), but because he was in an incredible amount of pain himself. Nonetheless, I loved him and thought I could save him and I tried to heal some of my deepest wounds in the context of that relationship, but instead, I drove the stake into my heart a little more deeply. We suffer those relationships the most because not only have we lost this person we thought we loved so much, we’ve also betrayed ourselves. The tendency is to look back and think, “If only…”, this, that, or the other thing. If I’d said this, or done that, or been more this way or that way. You know I’m going to say the work is always inside. You have to wrangle your own dragons and know yourself if you expect to be able to handle yourself well in the context of intimate relationships. If you don’t know who you are or what you want or how you feel or what makes you happy, it’s very hard to figure those things out as you try to factor in what someone else wants or needs in order to be at peace. There are exceptions to that rule. I know a couple who’ve been dating since they were fifteen years old and now they’re thirty and married with kids and very happy. They grew up together and figured it out together, but it’s highly unusual.

The bottom line is if you’re suffering it is your work to solve that and heal it, on your own or in the context of a relationship. You can’t wait for your partner to fix it, nor can you keep pointing your finger in their direction. You have to take care of yourself if you want to be able to nurture anyone else. If you’re depleted, you won’t have much to give. Please don’t allow yourself to be abused. Life can be so beautiful, but not if you allow yourself to stay stuck. Reach out if you need help.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

The Stuff That Isn’t Chasing You

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Life Does Not Suck

Do you know people whose mantra is “life sucks” or “people suck” or “I suck”? Most of us have been that person at some time or another, even if only for a moment, but some people get stuck there. That perspective usually shows up after we’ve been knocked around by life for awhile — had our hearts broken romantically, in relation to a family member or friend, or in a professional situation. If all those things happen at once, it’s like a perfect storm of suckiness and that can really effect a person’s outlook.

Sometimes I think of life in terms of “birth cycles” and “death cycles.” Birth cycles are times of incredible growth, creation, productivity and expansion, and although they usually involve lots of transition and can be uncomfortable, there’s the underlying feeling of excitement. Death cycles are times when things are stagnant, we feel stuck or trapped, nothing seems to be moving or opening, it’s hard to breathe or see the light, and the path is not clear. These are usually times when we are refusing to acknowledge that something is coming to an end, be it a relationship, a job, or a way of being in the world. Or we realize, but struggle to accept. Death cycles mark the journey from the moment we know something is over in our hearts and in our gut, to the moment we accept it in our minds and start to map out a different route. Then we are on to another cycle of growth. Birth cycles feel better, but we are going to get both in this life and riding the waves is part of the gig. Also, the degree to which we allow ourselves to open to despair is the same degree we will be able to open to joy. They’re flip sides of a coin; you need one to appreciate and understand the other. Pain is often the catalyst for action. When we try to avoid the pain, we disempower ourselves.

This is not to say there isn’t overlap. There are certainly times when one facet of our life is going really well, and other parts, not so much. We have a great relationship, but professionally we feel stuck. Or we have our work life in order, we feel we’ve found our calling, life has meaning and we have purpose here, but romantically it’s a wash. I’m simply talking about those times for people when it all feels hopeless. It’s tough to maintain an optimistic attitude when nothing seems to be flowing, but allowing a perfect or sustained storm of suckiness to affect your overall outlook is dangerous business because it changes the way you walk through the world. A couple of years ago, I drove behind a car with the bumper sticker, “People Suck”, and I was so struck that someone wanted to drive around with that message. What happens in someone’s life that makes them want to buy that and stick it on their car? Disappointment, betrayal, abuse? Heartbreak? Being neglected, left, ignored? All these things can happen to any of us. Not everyone is able to love well; some people are in incredible pain and it spills over onto the people around them. Maybe your parents weren’t able to love you well, and it set you off on a cycle of repeating that pattern in all your relationships, and now you think no one can love and no one can give, but really, it’s just no one you’re choosing. There are beautiful, loving, amazing people in the world who don’t suck at all, not even a tiny little bit.

About a year ago I met a guy with a tattoo on the top of his hand that said, “Trust No Bitch”, and that also blew my mind. Can you imagine going on a first date with that guy? I mean, you’re done before you start, aren’t you? And if you aren’t, then I’d have to think there’s something going on with you, too. Maybe you think, this seems like a fun project! You’ll be the one to change him, right? Or you’re not looking for anything where you have to trust, either. At least he was “out there” with it, at least he was stating it loud and clear, “I don’t trust women and I’m angry.” A lot of times people have tattoos like that, but they’re on the heart, not the hand, so it takes a long time to see them. Nonetheless, they might as well be on the forehead because if you really feel that way, it’s going to affect the way you see the world and interact with everyone. If you think all guys cheat, and you walk into a relationship like that, it’s going to affect everything. How much you open. How willing you are to let yourself be seen, known and understood. How much you relax into it. If you think all women are liars and users, it’s going to permeate all your interactions with women, romantic or otherwise. If you think people suck, you’re going to take that with you to the grocery store, on the freeway, to the barista behind the counter. We’re energetic beings so even if a person might not be able to articulate your “tattoo”, they’re going to feel it and respond accordingly. If someone feels the energy from you of contempt, they’re probably not going to respond with love (unless they’re your yoga teacher ;)). And so wherever you go, you perpetuate the idea that people suck, or no one likes you, but that’s just your lens, that’s the way you’re seeing the world being reflected back to you. If you think life sucks, that’s so all-encompassing it’s going to be hard to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes you really need to get your lenses wiped.

You don’t suck, and people don’t suck, and life does not suck. You have pain, and other people have pain, and life can be full of pain sometimes, but if you’re breathing, there’s still time to turn it around. If you have pain and it’s overwhelming, you need to reach out and get yourself some help and some support. There’s not a thing in the world that’s wrong with that. If the people who were supposed to love you didn’t do a bang up job of it, then you learned some stuff you’re going to need to unlearn. It’s doable. If you’ve chosen to surround yourself with people who end up hurting you, once again, the answers are inside. Your pain is running the show, and you’re trying to solve it but you can’t do that until you identify it and sit with it. When you heal yourself and love yourself, you’re going to choose to surround yourself with people who are also able to love. When you’re coming from love and surrounded by love, there’s no way you’re going to think life sucks. The answers are always inside. Tattoo love on your heart. Everything else flows from there.

Sending you some right now,

Ally Hamilton

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

Embrace the Mess

When it comes to life, the best you can do is try to keep your side of the street clean; that’s plenty of work for any of us. The first step in that process is just to know yourself, that’s a huge and necessary thing if you want to be at peace. When I say know yourself, I mean don’t be afraid to embrace and examine all aspects of who you are and what makes you tick. Don’t reject anything or look away because it’s too painful or you think some facet of yourself is ugly or unacceptable. Look at it all, hold it up to the light, take a deep breath, and understand we all have our pain. Anything you reject causes a war within you and gives power to that voice of “Not good enough. Not worthy of love.” You become the architect of your own heartache and your own suffering. Shame is a strangler.

You are not your thoughts and you are not your feelings. Your actions are the thing and even then, every single one of us has made mistakes. Maybe you’re in the process of making one right now, and you know it but you’re doing it anyway because you feel powerless to stop yourself. It’s okay, it’s called being human. Mistakes are there to help us learn and grow. Obviously you do your best not to hurt other people. You won’t always succeed with that because we are all changing all the time, and sometimes people grow apart or recognize they never really grew together. Or they come together for all the wrong reasons and at the wrong time because they’re both in pain. Knowing yourself is step one because without that, you’re working without a compass or a sense of where you need to watch your step, have extra compassion for yourself, or recognize when you’re about to repeat a pattern that causes you pain.

Feelings are not facts, and not every feeling deserves or demands our action. In fact, there are many feelings we’ll all have that we’d do best to sit with and breathe through. Sometimes someone will tell me they had to honor their truth in a particular moment. You don’t have to do anything. A lot of crappy behavior can be excused under that umbrella. Better to sit in the rain instead, because it won’t last forever, and if the feeling you’re having will cause pain to someone else you’re really better off letting it wash over you. You’ll be grateful you did. Those are the moments we build character, integrity and self-esteem. When you act instead, look at it and grow from it. Apologize when appropriate, and hope for forgiveness. Eventually, you have to forgive yourself. Guilt travels with shame, and if you host them for too long, you won’t get very far. Forgive other people their humanness, too when you can, and at a certain point you’ll look around and realize you have a group of amazing friends who really see you and truly love you.

You can do your best to be accountable for the energy you’re spreading. After doing the work to heal what needs to be healed so that your pain isn’t ruling your life (because it really doesn’t need to be that way), then you can speak and act in alignment with what’s in your heart. Keeping your word becomes easy because you won’t need to lie. You won’t be covering anything up, and you also won’t be willing to betray yourself. Once you get ahold of that one, trusting yourself, taking care of yourself, and being kind to other people is a lot easier.

Having said all of that, realize you can do all that work, heal yourself and create a loving world within you and life will still be messy because we are all complex and life brings its everything at every one of us, some more than others. Not everyone will be thinking about how to keep their side of the street clean and even if you think about it quite a lot, sometimes you’ll blow it. We will all create situations we’d never have dreamed of, because life keeps unfolding, and one choice leads to another, and suddenly you realize this is your life.

It’s full of every color and every feeling and every sorrow and joy and laughter and heartache and beauty and devastation and full moons and tornados and teenage boys who slipped through the cracks, and teenage boys who thought of something no one else ever saw and grew up to be Albert Einstein, or Jaques Cousteau and millipedes and rain forests and skyscrapers and the chair you’re sitting on. Your first love and your first broken heart and your first really bad scrape and the first time you felt ashamed and the first time you felt understood, and the last time you saw that person. Your mother, who gave birth to you, and that girl in the first grade who had a smile like the sun. Maybe she grew up and lost someone so close to her the world collapsed on that smile for a time, or maybe she’s somewhere, right now, saving the world in her own particular way like Marie Curie or Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Life is full of everything. It’s incredibly gorgeous sometimes, and other times it will break your heart in ways you never thought possible. It’s amazing, but it is not clean and you can’t tie it up in a neat little box with a ribbon on top, and aren’t you really grateful for that? I am.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Sometimes Acceptance is All the Closure You’re Going to Get

No one ever asks life to knock them down. You’re not going to hear anyone say, “Things are pretty good. I hope life throws a huge monkey wrench into my world. Maybe my husband will suddenly announce he has a girlfriend and leave! Or I’ll lose my job. Or something I never could have seen coming will bring me to my knees and break my heart wide open.” We don’t ask for these things, but sometimes these are the kind of challenges we have to face. Or worse.

Not everything in life is positive, and there are some lessons no one will ever appreciate. You might grow, strengthen or reach new levels of compassion or insight, but there are some heartbreaks that are so knifing, no one would ever say, “Thank you for this.” As a result, you’ll never hear me say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I used to say things along those lines, and maybe everything does, or maybe it’s all random, but I think spiritual sound-bytes like that are an attempt to wrap life up into a neat little package, and I think they’re incredibly alienating to people who are devastated. When you cannot recognize your life, when everything falls apart and you have nothing but the shards of glass that used to be your home in a pile around you, and old photographs and a sweater that still smells like what was, you really don’t want to hear it’s happened for some reason that will make sense to you some day. Some things will never, ever make sense, and some things will never be okay. Recognizing that is the only way you can conceive of moving forward. Sometimes acceptance is all the closure you’re going to get.

When you find yourself in a state like this, move slowly and have compassion for yourself. If you know someone who’s been knocked down, show up and make them dinner, but don’t tell them how to grieve or that it’s time to snap out of it. People mourn in their own way, whether it’s over the loss of a person, a relationship, a job or a way of being. There’s a huge difference between being there for someone and enabling self-destruction, so please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m simply saying when a person is trying to put the pieces of their life back together, they need love, not a whip. Because although no one would ask for everything to fall apart around them, when that happens there is the potential for something strong, beautiful and powerful to emerge. A new way of being, of seeing, of understanding. It takes time to birth those things, and it’s a very painful process, but when I look back at the most devastating things that have happened in my own life, I can recognize that I grew from them. That I would not be where I am now if I had not been where I was then.

There are a couple of experiences I’d give back gladly. I’d say, “No thank you, not this. Not this.” But I can see how those moments opened me, and turned me into the kind of person who cares deeply when a stranger sends a message about a loss. A broken relationship. A dark time. And I can appreciate that. I can be grateful for that. Hopefully we can all care more about each other without having to personally suffer too much. Maybe I needed those times to open me. I wouldn’t want to be closed. I say this to you in case you’re going through one of those devastating times. I’d never ask you to be grateful, but I would say you have the choice to allow it to soften you and open you, or to close you and harden you. Opening feels a lot better.

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

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

Uncertainty 2.0

So many times in life we search for answers, look for ways to predict the future, understand the past, or ask for signs about which way to turn now. It’s perfectly natural to want some stability, to want to know there’s a point to all this, to want to feel that your past had a purpose and that your future has one, too.

You can absolutely find your purpose while you’re here, and your life can be filled with meaning. If you allow yourself to open to the ever-changing nature of things, and to the vulnerability that’s required if you’re going to embrace reality as it is, then you also grant yourself the possibility of incredible love. It requires open hands, an open heart and an open mind, and the ability to say, “Yes, I embrace this, too. Even if it breaks my heart and I don’t understand why and every fiber of my being feels it’s unfair or senseless or tragic, I still embrace it because fighting it is pointless and I am here to open. To learn. To grow. To continue to begin again, even if right in this moment, I have no idea how to do that. I’ll start by reminding myself to breathe in, and breathe out.” If you do that, your time here, however much you have, will be beautiful. You can count on the people in your life who know how to love, to give it and receive it, for as long as you have each other. You can trust that there will be beauty and experiences that stun you into gratitude. But if you want everything wrapped up in neat little packages, and you want to understand every single thing that’s happened in your past and try to exert a lot of control over what happens in your future, you’re going to have a very tough time.

There’s a difference between having an idea of how you’d like to share your gifts, and an attachment to the idea that everything is going to unfold according to your five-year plan. You can absolutely move with intention and focus, but if you don’t also factor in the possibility that your plan could easily be turned on its head on a sunny Tuesday morning without any notice at all, or on a rainy Saturday when you planned on being at the beach, you set yourself up to be knocked over sideways by life. We never know and not everything is going to make sense. Sometimes the best you can get to is acceptance.

This is true on so many levels. I get emails from people who are trying to understand why someone hurt them or left them or betrayed them or neglected them or abused them or discarded them or were taken from them without any warning or any chance to say one last goodbye. One last, I love you so much I don’t understand how to make sense of a world without you in it. There are many times I sit at my laptop with tears streaming down my face. There are plenty of times I sit at my laptop laughing, too. But there’s never a lack of the unexplained in life.

I have close friends who were ditched suddenly and without explanation, by a couple they’d known and loved for years. Their families vacationed together, their kids grew up like brothers and sisters, they had a standing dinner Sunday nights. They were at graduations and weddings together, and one day it all ended. That’s as rough as any breakup and when my friends tried to ask what had happened, what was wrong, why they were being shunned, there was no real response. Their friends were just suddenly busy all the time. The kids are left to pick up the pieces, and thankfully they’re old enough to make their own plans, but everyone is hurt and confused, and no one understands. There is no resolution or closure. There are only so many times you can go to a person and ask to talk. Eventually you have to shed your tears and shrug your shoulders and take your ball and go home and remember other people will want to play catch with you down the road. If someone won’t communicate there is no hope of working it out. There’s just painful mystery and acceptance and the rest of your journey.

There are also people who get stuck in the past, and feed it and stoke that flame, even if the past was brutal, because it’s a familiar misery. If you work at it enough, you can feed that flame until it scorches everything, even your present. Your past may not ever make sense. Maybe there are questions you have that can never be answered. We all have some. Rilke has a beautiful quote about this, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Embrace all of it. Even the mysteries and the tragedies and the lack of closure that happens sometimes. Let it open you so other travelers who are also seeking, and will also never find answers to all their questions will know yours is a safe hand to grab in the dark and a good one to hold onto when it gets sunny again. Wishing you love through all of life’s beauty and heartache and uncertainty, and through all of its joy as well.

May we all live the questions with our hearts open,

Ally Hamilton

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

Anchors Aweigh

guilttripI grew up with a guy whose mom used to tuck him in at night and say, “Goodnight, honey. I hope I see you in the morning.” This was especially difficult because his dad overdosed and died when my friend, (I’ll call him Rick), was eight years old, so he had a real and understandable fear that he could lose his mother, too. As he hit his teenage years and wanted to hang out with his friends instead of staying home with his mom, she’d say, “Okay, let’s hope this isn’t my last day on God’s green earth!” as he walked out the door. My friend started doing drugs at thirteen, I think mostly to numb out the guilt and underneath that, the rage. Sometimes he’d get drunk and end up crying about all of it. Other times he’d stay home, locked in his room, headphones blaring, because it feels awful when another person tries to make us feel responsible for their happiness or their ability to be okay. It’s too heavy a burden to bear.

Rick went to college in the city, and although he moved out of the house and lived on campus, he went to visit his mom every week and often stayed home on the weekends. He rarely brought a girl home to meet her because no one was ever good enough for him in her eyes, and because she wasn’t especially kind to the girls she did meet. Eventually he met a really lovely woman and they fell in love and decided to get married. At the wedding, his mother stood up and gave a toast, wishing Rick and her daughter-in-law well, even though she and her son’s wife had, “had their struggles”, and she also reminded everyone that she loved her Rick, “first, and best.” It was uncomfortable, to say the least.

One day not too long ago, I got a call from Rick telling me he was losing it. He and his wife have two children, eight and four. Rick’s mom and his wife have had a rough time over the years, but I have to say his wife has been incredibly patient and kind with his mom, and tried every way humanly possible to reassure her that she isn’t “taking Rick away.” They live nearby and see her every weekend, and she comes over at least once a week for dinner. But it seems it’s never enough. Rick called because his mother started saying things to the kids like, “I hope I see you tomorrow”, and both his kids have cried themselves breathless after grandma leaves, asking why she can’t just move in with them so they can keep her safe. So the cycle continues.

Guilt attacks us in two ways. Either we engage with someone who wishes to manipulate us through guilt and we allow that to happen, or we take it on ourselves. Either way, it can be crushing. Rationally speaking, it’s normal to feel guilt if you’ve done something you really wish you hadn’t that ended up hurting someone else. But we all have choices we’d love to make over again, and times when we didn’t act from our highest selves. Just like worry (another very human emotion), guilt won’t get you anywhere, and it won’t help the injured party, either. It’s not a feeling that leads to growth, it’s a feeling that keeps us stuck. It’s draining. Where joy lightens us and makes us feel we could fly, guilt is heavy and it weighs us down like an anchor. Here’s Rick, going home every weekend for years, spending tons of energy trying to be enough for his mom. Trying to hold up the load. You can’t save other people and it’s not reasonable to demand that other people try to save us.

When you experience feelings of guilt, it’s really good to examine what’s happened. Have you actually done something wrong, or are you allowing yourself to be manipulated? If you’ve hurt someone, intentionally or thoughtlessly, own it and apologize with honesty and kindness. That’s all you can do. You’ll be forgiven or you won’t. But you do have to forgive yourself. If you’re participating in a manipulative and controlling relationship, it’s probably time for some healthy boundaries and compassionate conversation. Otherwise the rage builds, and if you push it down, you’ll end up feeling depressed. It’s exhausting to repress those heavy feelings; you won’t have much energy for anything else. Somewhere inside you know you can’t make another person happy. They are or they aren’t, and if they aren’t, they need to get busy. You can be supportive, but you can’t solve it for anyone else.

Vacations are fun, but guilt trips are a waste of time, and even if you pack a bag, you won’t be going anywhere. Anchors aweigh!

Wishing you love, joy, and liberation,

Ally Hamilton