You Have to Choose It

failurepickfordWe all have our stuff; ways we’ve been hurt or disappointed, longing that’s gone unmet, grieving we’ve had to do. We also have our histories, our patterns, those dynamics we grew up with that shape (but needn’t define), who we are. The more work we do to know ourselves, the easier life becomes. Otherwise we’re being pulled by unconscious drives, and are along for a bumpy, painful and confusing ride.

Having said that, consciousness is not the final destination. You might know yourself well. You might recognize your tendencies and know exactly what’s driving you. You might understand and embrace in your heart what’s true for you, what scares you, what excites you and inspires you. That’s all amazing, and what we work toward, because that way we can be accountable to ourselves and to everyone else. But in large part, happiness is a choice, and it can take enormous willpower to choose it.

Don’t get me wrong, here, because there are heartbreaking, stressful, lonely times in life when it would be unrealistic to think or expect that you could simply choose to be happy. When we lose people we love, for example, it’s appropriate and healthy to grieve. When we’re under enormous pressure to keep a roof over our heads, it lacks compassion for someone to suggest to us that we should just choose to be happy. I’m not talking about those times.

I’m talking about the day-to-day rhythm when we can easily allow the mind to get snagged on what isn’t going well, on what we don’t have that others seem to, on everything that hasn’t happened yet. You can look up “negativity bias” if you like, because we’re naturally inclined to be on the alert for any potential dangers. This is a life skill we don’t need the way we used to, but old habits die hard. Since we don’t have to worry about saber tooth tigers chasing us down for dinner, we might dwell on paying the mortgage, or our inability to feel like life is flowing the way we wish it would, and lose sight of all we do have, like our health, the ability to put our hands over our hearts and breathe in deeply and breathe out fully, which feels great (try it if you don’t believe me), the sun shining in a particular way, or the laugh of someone we love so much, the way their nose crinkles when they smile.

The other thing is, just knowing we have unhealthy tendencies in some areas is not always enough to stop us from playing them out, even though we know they lead to a head-on collision with a brick wall. This, once again, is where willpower and vigilance come in. If, for example, you have a history of dating people who are unavailable in some way, and you’ve come to understand that pursuing people like that leads to your own heartbreak, you may still feel pulled to head in that direction should the opportunity present itself, even if you’ve worked on bringing this pattern to the surface, even if you’re extremely self-aware. This little (or big) pull may always be there; it’s what you do, or don’t do about it that matters. Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen, and this goes for your habits, too. Don’t feed your pathology. If you meet someone at work and you start having a coffee here and there, and you find out along the way that they live with someone, but you’ve already developed a little crush, I would say get the f&ck out of Dodge, and do it now, no more coffees, no more flirting, just shut the thing down. If you meet someone and they’re in all kinds of pain, and you can tell they just really need to be loved, and you feel like you’re the one who can love them the way no one else has ever been able to love them before, if you tell yourself you’re the missing link, and your love can heal them and save them, even though you’ve done this in the past and you know it’s futile, I would say, get the f&ck out of Dodge, and do it now.

It’s not okay to be reckless with your heart. If you are, you’ll find your heart will harden eventually, and out of your mouth will come words like, “You can’t trust anyone”, or “People suck”, and neither of those things are true. Also, you’ll prevent yourself from diving in all the way when things are good, because some part of you will still be pulled toward those things that bring you pain. As I’m writing this, it’s 12:45am, and a woman is walking by my house on her cellphone, crying loudly between bursts of words. I don’t know who’s on the other end of the phone, but it’s clear she doesn’t feel heard because she’s raising her voice, and she’s sobbing about why it always has to be this way, why this person has to keep hurting her. The real question is why she’s choosing to participate. Because I really think life is too short to spend the wee hours of a morning that way. People can’t “keep hurting us” unless we give them the power to do that (I’m not talking about things that may have happened when you were a child. Children are powerless in abusive situations, and some adults feel that way, as well. If you fall into that category, you need to reach out for help).

Feeling pulled in an unhealthy direction is fine. Acknowledging that it’s happening is good, especially when we do that with people we can trust. Bringing our darkness into the light takes the power away from it. But feelings aren’t facts, and we don’t have to act on every feeling we have. In fact, there are a lot of feelings we’d do best to observe, because all feelings have one thing in common: they arise, they peak, and they subside. No feeling lasts forever. Once again, I’ll suggest to you that yoga is an excellent way of training yourself to sit with uncomfortable feelings, calmly. Holding Warrior II when your quad is burring, and sweat is dripping down your face, teaches your mind and your nervous system to breathe through sensation. That’s all a feeling is—it’s a sensation. If you need help with this, or want to try practicing with me online, you can sign up for a free trial here. Sending you love, and reminding you to starve your pathology. Your heart will thank you for it.

Ally Hamilton

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Your 3-Point Shot, from Downtown!!!

Ive-missed-more-thanIf you have a song in your heart (and you do), you have to sing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s off-key, if the melody needs work, or the lyrics are clunky. Whatever it is within you that sets your soul on fire is your purpose. It’s the key to finding a meaningful, fulfilling life. It might take a lot of time to figure out how best to express from within you what’s aching to come out; the thing is not to give up, and not to worry when your song isn’t received as the gift that it is. Sometimes you’re going to get thrown out of the game and have to sit on the bench and figure out what happened. And if you haven’t discovered what lights you up from the inside, don’t give up on that, either. Frequently we have to unlearn what we’ve learned. It’s totally possible you’ve been pursuing a path that doesn’t really suit you, because you feel like you should. We get inundated with so many messages about what we’re supposed to do, and how we should look and feel, it’s a wonder any of us knows anything about what we really want. But it’s in there, I guarantee it. Don’t give up on yourself, and don’t give up on life. And don’t blame the ref and get stuck in resentment and anger, you know? It’s a marathon, not a sprint, as they say.

Here’s a question for you: Do you know how many mistakes you’re going to make in your life? How many times you’re going to do something or say something you wish you hadn’t before you exhale for the last time? I don’t know either, but I bet it’s a lot. I gave up trying to be perfect a long time ago. I tried for years and finally decided I’d rather commit to being happy. I let go of the idea of perfection, because I was in a pretty constant state of disappointment. Perfection is too heavy a burden to carry. It’s such a relief to embrace the idea of being perfectly imperfect. All too human. However you want to think of it, it’s a total liberation. The thing is to find your joy, your passion, your yes, and put everything behind it. And that’s easy to do when you realize that your gifts, whatever they may be, are yours to share. There’s nothing better I know of in this life, than the feeling that comes when you realize you’ve uplifted someone else. I think that’s because it’s what we’re here to do, to spread as much love as possible with the time we’re given.

This business of being human is not easy. It’s messy and complicated, and sometimes it breaks your heart wide open, without warning, on a mild Tuesday night, or a rainy Saturday morning. The absolute best thing you can do is get right with yourself. Know yourself deeply, heal what needs to be healed, uncover those gifts, and share them with abandon and delight. If you get back to love, (and it might be buried under some rage or fear or doubt or shame or guilt), you can try and fail left and right, and it will still be okay, as long as you don’t give up.

There’s a Maori proverb, “Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.” If you’re coming from love and doing everything you can to make the world within you and the world around you a more peaceful and loving place to be, your missed shots are meaningless. If love is at your center, you’ll never be careless with another person. You’ll never turn a blind eye when someone is suffering. You won’t hit below the belt, that just won’t be in your wheelhouse. You’ll consider the impact of your choices and your words and the way you’re moving through the world. And it will never be perfect, and there will always be circumstances that blindside you from time to time, moments when you don’t show up the way you’d like to, efforts and creative endeavors that sink, times when it feels like you’re not adding to the happiness quotient as much as you’d like. As Robert F. Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” And achievement to me means living a life that brings you, and everyone around you, joy. Over-prepare, practice hard, pick yourself up again and again, and then go with the flow. Quitting isn’t an option, and sitting on the bench sucks!! Grab your jersey and get in the game! Sending you love, Ally Hamilton


You-have-to-decide-whatYou can’t do everything to make this world a more loving and peaceful place, but you can definitely do something. I think it’s essential for anyone who wants to feel their life has purpose, who desires to feel fulfilled each day, to figure out what that something is going to be. It doesn’t have to be loud or public; one person can make a huge difference simply by spreading love as they move throughout their days. Holding a door open matters, as does letting people merge on the freeway, smiling at a stranger, lending an ear, a shoulder, a hand. It all counts, because those are the things that reassure us that people care, and we aren’t in this alone. The surest way I know to be miserable is to make life all about what is or isn’t happening for you, because it’s such a small worldview. It’s a population of one, and we are built for connection, not isolation.

I know many people who think they’ll give back once they “make it.” As if tomorrow is promised, and it’s okay to think of today as a rehearsal or a place-holder leading to some fruitful outcome in the future. Today counts. Today is the only day you know for sure you’ve got. You can make a difference today, all day long. Life may unfold exactly as we’d like (although it rarely does), or it may be full of twists and curveballs that turn our plans upside down and inside out. Waiting to make a difference is a way of letting ourselves off the hook.

For people who’ve figured out what their purpose is, managing energy becomes the thing. You cannot be all things to all people, and you will never please everyone. If you spread yourself too thin, you won’t get anything done well. If you’re a giver by nature, saying no is a tough pill to swallow. Sometimes you have to say no to how you’re being treated, because taking care of your heart and protecting your ability to shine really must come first. Otherwise what do you have to share, and where do you expect the fire to come from to get things done, to show up for the other people in your life, and to be of service? You have to figure out what feeds your soul, what lights you up from the inside, and then you have to honor, cherish, protect and stoke that flame. Because that’s your purpose, that’s your gift, and you’re meant to share it. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Stand Up Eight

Fall-down-seven-timesThe key thing in life is not to give up. If finding inner peace was easy, the world would be full of happy, loving people, and we’d have a much different set of global circumstances, too. How it is outside is a reflection of how it is inside, and we simply have too many people at war within themselves at this moment in time.

In our culture, we’re taught to be against ourselves, we’re trained to have an adversarial relationship with our own bodies. In other words, we are taught to go to war at home. You’re going to live in your body for your whole life, so in a very real sense, it IS your home, and you’re going to keep the company of your internal dialogue. How sad that we’re taught that almost nothing about us is okay, and how obvious it is that we’d need some healing. This business of being human is not easy, and you may feel lost, alone and in darkness for quite some time. Yesterday in one of the threads, someone said she wished she had a set of tools for healing. The best tool for getting unstuck is knowing yourself. Figuring out what makes you tick, what lights you up, what feeds your soul. And then finding the courage to make choices that are in alignment with your big, resounding inner YES. Acknowledging and embracing your pain so it doesn’t rule your life. Accepting all parts of yourself not with shame or fear, but with grace, with compassion. Understanding that your work is not to be perfect, but to be real, to be perfectly you, perfectly human.

How do you know yourself? There are so many tools. I teach yoga because that’s the set of tools that worked, and continues to work for me, six days a week, and more than twenty years (and counting) later. Talking to at least one someone you trust is also essential. Someone who will mourn with you, but will also kindly hold up a mirror for you when you are not showing up as your highest self, or when you are acting in a way that is harmful to your own well-being. A great therapist will do those things for you. Treating yourself well, feeding yourself well, and examining relationships with people that may not be healthy. Getting out in nature, feeling the sun on your skin, the breeze on your face. Reading books that open you, that shed a little light into your darkness (anything by Pema Chodron, Sylvia Boorstein’s, “Happiness is an Inside Job”,”The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, “The Hero’s Journey” by Joseph Campbell, “Devotion” by Dani Shapiro, and “Being Peace” by Thich Nhat Hanh are all favorites of mine, along with the poems of Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Rumi, Rainer Maria Rilke…I could go on and on, but that’s a good start if you need some inspiration), and a seated meditation practice (check out if you’re interested). These are the tools in my particular shed, but knowing yourself means figuring out what you need in yours.

Falling down and staying down is a commitment to misery and darkness and rage and bitterness. It’s going to be a long, unhappy life like that. Yesterday someone else said they’d given up, but I don’t believe that, because then, what are you doing on this page? You know I’m gonna come out swinging every day about the beauty in life and the beauty in you, and that I’m going to keep talking about healing yourself and doing the work and being accountable and taking a hold of this one, amazing, gorgeous, painful, unpredictable life, and riding it all the way. Please don’t give up on yourself, or on life. That would be such a shame. Because no one else can be you. You are the only you we’ve got, and you have your own particular gifts to uncover and share. Robbing yourself of that opportunity is also robbing yourself of the joy of life, the sweetness of your purpose, the great, true laughter of your heart. It’s also robbing the world of gifts only you can offer. You may have grown up, you may shave your face every morning, or your legs, but there is still a little kid inside you who is hoping beyond hope that you will do it. That you will face the dragons and slay the sh&t out of them. That you will charge the fence with everything you’ve got and break yourself out of the illusion that you are not good enough, or that the world isn’t beautiful even with all its pain. Fall down seven times, stand up eight. Don’t let yourself down, don’t let yourself get counted out. I hope you stand up right now. Sending you love, and a very hot cattle-prod if you need one, Ally Hamilton