Love Frees You

lovefreeThich Nhat Hanh also says, “To love without knowing how to love, wounds the person we love.”  We don’t all enter the world knowing how to love, though. If you were very blessed, you might have learned this at home, but even the most loving parents don’t always have the tools to love with open arms, open hearts and open minds. So many people confuse love with possession or control, or they make it conditional. And, it should be noted, there are many people who were born into violent homes, and have a lot of unlearning to do, before the learning can begin.

So yes, for most of us, we’ll spend time flailing around as we figure things out, and we are both likely to hurt, and to be hurt as we do this. Friendships may fall apart, romantic relationships may crash and burn, we may find that trusting anyone in any situation is a challenge. Whatever your past, you’ll have to reckon with it so it doesn’t determine the quality of your present and future.

Here are some things to think about, if you’ve been struggling in this area. Love is freeing. When someone loves us and sees us and accepts us, we’re safe to relax and open. True love gives us permission to be more of who we are. If you’re in a relationship and you feel diminished, that’s not love. If you’re in a relationship and you feel you have to edit yourself in significant ways, that’s not love. If you’re in a relationship and affection is given or withdrawn based on whether you do or do not show up the way the other person wants you to, that is not love. If you feel unsure of yourself, insecure at every turn, doubtful about where you stand, that is not love. If you’re being emotionally, verbally or physically abused, that is also not love.

Having said all of that, you may be with someone who’s trying to figure out what love is, and who has no frame of reference. This doesn’t make him or her a bad person, you’re dealing with someone who has deep wounds. They may be doing the best they can to love you with the tools they have. I’m not saying they don’t love you. I’m saying they don’t understand yet what love is. If you’re being abused, you cannot stick around and be a punching bag while they figure it out. You are not here to be that for anyone.

If you’re with someone and you’re both trying to figure it out, and you’re both willing to listen and communicate honestly and do the best you can to look at yourselves and each other with compassion and honesty, there’s hope. You won’t avoid hurting each other as you go along your path, but it won’t be intentional, and you may learn a great deal about giving each other the benefit of the doubt, about forgiveness, and about creating a safe space to forge ahead together. So something that starts out as “not love” can turn into love, but only if both people are willing and ready.

Other things: we’re all human and we all blow it from time to time. Learn how to say, “I’m sorry”, without excuses or justifications. Learn how to do it while you look someone in the eye and allow yourself to be vulnerable. When people feel hurt, they put their defenses up, that’s understandable. So if you do something thoughtless or selfish or weak, it’s normal for your friend or loved one or family member to feel both hurt and angry, and they may come at you. The best way to diffuse an attack is to take ownership of your part (if you’re culpable, which you will be sometimes, because you’re human). Also, forgive as easily as you can. It doesn’t feel good to hold onto anger and be “right”. Don’t make lists and keep score of all the things your friend or partner has done, unless they’re lists of the good stuff. Resentment grows like weeds and it will strangle the life out of your relationship. Bitterness tastes terrible and it eats away at your stomach lining and makes it hard to sleep and who needs that?

Listen with your heart. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk. Listen the way you’d like to be listened to. Consider that your viewpoint might be wrong, but also stand strong when you know in your gut something isn’t right. Learn to express yourself calmly and clearly. Get help if you need it. I’m always amazed at the people who resist therapy. If you tried it once and the therapist wasn’t for you, try again, try someone else. It’s subjective, but if life isn’t going well, or your relationships aren’t going well, or your ability to express yourself is limited, or you can’t figure out what you need in order to be happy, use every tool available to get right with yourself. For me it was yoga, meditation, therapy, reading, writing, and having an amazing dog. You have to be willing to weep. You have to be brave enough to face your pain and own it and examine it so it doesn’t own your a$$ for the rest of your life. You have to free yourself because no one else can.

Then you can get busy loving. Love is acceptance and understanding and forgiveness and listening and nurturing and supporting another person’s growth and well-being. It doesn’t grip, force, manipulate or punish. It’s absolutely worth fighting for.

Sending you a ton of love right now,

Ally Hamilton

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

You Are the Steward of Your Own Ship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Define Your Terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Don’t Make an Ass out of U and Me

The two things that are most likely to cause trouble between family members, partners, close friends, colleagues, strangers, and pretty much anyone who interacts with anyone else, are assumptions and projections. We all have our experiences, and they shape the way we think about things, people, and the world at large. They also inform the way we respond to the data coming at us; we can only know what we know, we can only have the frame of reference we have. A big part of maturing has to do with the awareness that your way of seeing things is only that — your way — and with the understanding that your frame of reference may be severely bent, the glass may be distorted or warped, and you might need an entirely new prescription.

If, for example, all you’ve known is abuse, fear, loss and grief, then your experience has taught you that the world is an unsafe place, and no one can be trusted. You’ve also learned that your feelings don’t have an impact on the world around you, and that they aren’t important. What’s important, according to what you’ve known, is that you don’t upset the apple cart, that you learn how to maneuver, or how to be invisible, or how to be invaluable, so that you can survive. This is an extreme example of a warped frame of reference, but hopefully it illustrates my point. If that’s the kind of life experience you’ve had so far, you can bet it’s going to affect the way you respond to people, the way you move through the world, and how much value you place on your own feelings, needs, wants and dreams.

If your experience has been that love is conditional, something you have to earn, and something that can and will be withdrawn if you don’t measure up, that’s also going to bend your frame and affect the way you operate; the way you are in relationships, at your job, with your friends.

If your experience has been that people are loving and kind and interested in how you feel and what is exciting or inspiring to you, that will certainly affect the way you think about people, and the way you lead your life, so your perspective is hugely important, and so is knowing that you have one. A lot of people assume how they feel is how everyone feels, especially if they’re young. Usually, enough time teaches us that people have wildly different ideas about everything, but for many people, this feels like a judgment against them. If someone is making different choices or has different opinions, they’re rejecting me and my way of thinking about things. All it really is, though, is a different framework.

We can be so quick to judge and assume, and put people into the “us” camp, or the “them” camp, and it’s so sad, because fear drives a wedge between people. It’s hard to drop our stance and just listen, just explore how someone else looks at the world. We can cling to our ideas and beliefs like our lives depended on it, we can insist we know what someone else is thinking, so there’s no point trying to talk. We can make all kinds of assumptions about what someone is feeling based on nothing — a face they’re making, the fact that they didn’t say hello when they walked by.

We tend to move through the world and respond to it as if it is all being directed toward us, individually. This makes sense when we’re young. As babies, we don’t differentiate between ourselves and our mothers; it takes us awhile to understand we’re separate, which is kind of cool–we come in knowing we’re connected, we’re not “just us”, but as we grow, we discover autonomy, which is also good. We think about what we want, or where we’re headed, or what we’re contributing, or not; about our relationships, and our jobs, and keeping a roof over our heads. We think about dinner, and a conversation we had with someone we’d like to do over again, but sometimes we forget we’re connected to everyone and everything around us. We forget that “our story” is overlapping with everyone else’s; the threads are intertwined. We are not at the center, with everything else in orbit around us. We spend so much time on the inside, looking out; we’re in there with our internal dialogue, our expert on everyone and everything we encounter, and we process things through our own filtering system. Sometimes we need to flush the system with new information.

I think a big part of healing has to do with wiping our lenses clean, especially if they’re blocking us from living life in a way that feels good, full of meaning, joy and inspiration. Recognizing that everyone has something unique to offer, everyone has a story, and that maybe, the way we’re thinking about things or other people, is not the way they actually are; to understand that what we think and feel may be greatly impacted by what we’ve known. That’s part of being accountable, and of knowing yourself; it can be the key to liberation if you’re suffering, too. Sometimes we’re just stuck. There are many ways to clean, repair, or release your frame of reference if you need to; seated meditation, yoga, therapy…you have to figure out what works for you. (I’m a big fan of a combination of all three).

We can never know the interior world of another person, unless they’re willing to show us. We can make all kinds of assumptions and projections based on what we would do or say in similar circumstances, but that’s like expecting someone from another planet to believe and accept what we do, it’s not any different. If you want to know what’s happening with someone else, ask, care, listen.

Sending you love, and a big hug,

Ally Hamilton

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

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Years ago, not long after I’d moved to Los Angeles, I took over the regular classes of a very popular teacher at a very busy gym in West Hollywood. The other teacher had moved back east, and I knew a lot of his students were bummed out, so I went in understanding I’d have my work cut out for me. After a few weeks of dealing with that understandable “I’m-not-sure-I’m-gonna-like-this” energy, things were good and the vibe in the room was awesome. We were having fun, people were focusing and breathing and sweating and laughing. We had a good thing going. Except for this one guy. He always stood in the same place at the front of the room, and he was there like clockwork, three times a week, but he was hostile to me, frequently shot me dirty looks in class, and often shook his head at something I’d said. Sometimes he’d even roll his eyes. I wanted to talk to him about it, but he always arrived right before class, and took off right after. I figured he was there because it was the only time-slot that worked in his schedule.

Several months went by this way. I’d grown to accept that he didn’t like me for whatever reason, but he must like the class enough to deal with it, and then one day we bumped into each other outside the gym and I said hi. We had a short conversation on the way up to class, and although he was guarded, I was surprised that he was willing to talk at all. It was the first time I sensed vulnerability underneath the layers of aggression, and it gave me a feeling of hope. He started showing up a little earlier, and he didn’t fly right out the door after class anymore. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, before or after class, I’d say hi and chat for a few. He started talking to some of the other regulars, too. I grew to learn he was a screenwriter who spent most of his time alone with his laptop. One day he stayed after class, and when everyone had left he asked if I’d meet him to go for a walk up Runyon Canyon. It felt meaningful to me, like it had taken him a lot to ask, so I took my dog and met him there a few days later. We walked and talked for three hours. I learned a lot about his background, struggles he’d been facing, his familial history which was painful, and his successful battle against addiction.

Somewhere along the hike I started laughing and shaking my head. I told him I’d been convinced he pretty much detested me for the better part of the last year. His mouth fell open, and he told me taking class was the one thing that had gotten him through, that he’d been closed for years, and he was finally starting to feel open again. I told him I’d been thrown off by the dirty looks and head shaking, and he said he’d been angry with himself, that a lot of the things I’d been saying really resonated with him, and he’d been shaking his head at himself, not me. He looked at me the way he did because he felt like I was holding a giant mirror up to his face while keeping his feet to the flame, but he didn’t mean for it to seem like he was feeling angry or aggressive. Surprised was more like it. Surprised like when you pick up a drink thinking it’s tea, only to find out it’s apple cider vinegar.

I learned so much from this experience. I’d created an entire story in my head that wasn’t even close to reality. I’d interpreted his behavior through my own lens. He followed me all over L.A. to take class. When I left the gym in West Hollywood and moved all my classes to Santa Monica, he drove down five times a week without batting an eye. For awhile, he was between cars and rode his bike back and forth, which is no small feat. Even though he’s since moved away, he’ll surprise me and show up in class once in a blue moon when he’s in town. Big smile, hugs, lots of love. He’s my oldest regular, this guy who couldn’t stand my guts.

I think we do this a lot, we “fill in the blanks”. Someone says something or does something, and we assume it must mean the same thing it would if we said that or did that, but that’s nuts. The only way you’ll ever know for sure where someone is coming from, what’s going on within them, or how they’re feeling, is if you ask. Human beings are such complex, vulnerable, deeply alone creatures in many ways. We spend most of our time with our internal dialogue, interpreting data from the outside world through our own filters and lenses. Lenses which have been shaped and informed by our experiences, by our beliefs, or the things we think we should believe. By things we’ve been taught, and things we’ve come to understand culturally. The lenses are so different, assuming you’re seeing what someone else is seeing is dangerous at best.

When people are in darkness and in pain, they’re going to spread that. Not intentionally, but just because that’s what’s within them at that time. If you cross paths with someone in the midst of painful transformation, it’s likely you’re gonna get some spillover. It’s not personal, except inasmuch as you may have to do some work around it, assuming it’s someone you want in your life. That may mean you need clear boundaries. Honest communication is always key, but writing a story in your head about why things are happening the way they are, and filling in dialogue, motivations and character arcs for you and the other person is really only okay if you’re writing fiction. Otherwise, you only ever know what you’re feeling, and what’s happening for you. We waste a lot of energy responding to imagined slights or aggression we’re creating ourselves. I know so many people who don’t bother having conversations because they “already know what the other person will say.” It takes courage to make yourself vulnerable, to admit you don’t know, to drop the stance where you get to be the victim or the hero or the innocent bystander, and just be you, a human being who has enough work to do just to understand yourself in every moment. Wishing you love, and the strength to ask when you aren’t sure what’s happening,

Ally Hamilton

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