Love More, Judge Less

All-differences-in-thisOn Tuesday mornings I volunteer for an hour in my daughter’s Kindergarten class. It’s extremely fun. I love my daughter’s teacher. She’s very warm, but very firm, and she maintains standards in the room. The kids have to listen to each other. They have to keep their hands to themselves. They don’t have to agree with each other, but they have to be respectful. She’s really setting them up with great tools for life. Last week when I was there, one of the little girls was sitting at my table, and she crossed herself when an ambulance went by, and said something under her breath. I knew what she was doing, but she looked up at me with this little smile, and said, “I’m praying that everyone is okay.” She’s five. I told her that I do that, too, but I don’t use my hands. One of the other kids asked what she was doing with her hands, and she explained that she was asking God to take care of anyone who might be hurt. One of the kids asked what “God” was. I said it was a word that meant different things to different people, and that was a topic she could explore with her mom or dad, and we had a conversation about what it means to care about people, whether we know them or not. It was easily the best conversation of my week.

We get so caught up with labels and separation. We try to figure out who’s like us, and who’s different. We’re so prone to create an us and a them, but true spirituality doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t separate. It asks us to care about everyone, because we’re all part of the same family. I know it’s not easy, but if we start to expand that same idea to all living creatures, and the planet itself, we start to shift the way we’ve been moving through the world. Sometimes we learn things at home, like hatred. Hatred can be passed down from generation to generation, just like eye-color. When we’re little, our parents are god-like creatures, and it doesn’t occur to us to challenge what we’re being taught or told until we get old enough to realize we’re our own beings. We have our own minds and our own hearts and our own ability to discern and intuit and make sense of the world.

Hatred is a great divider, and it weakens its host. When we hate, we’re blind. In my opinion, it’s also unnatural to us. I spend a lot of time with little kids, not just because I have two of my own. I always have, because my little brother is eleven years younger than me. I’ve had a little person trailing around after me asking why questions for most of my life. We come into this world full of love and curiosity. We’re trusting and open, unless or until we have a reason not to be. Kids might ask guileless questions, like why someone has a different skin color, or why they observe different holidays, but it’s never with contempt. It’s with a genuine desire to understand, and kids do what we do, not what we say, as we well know. Maybe you don’t have kids, and maybe you don’t want them, but you were a child once, and it’s good to examine your beliefs about yourself, about other people, and about the world around you. Sometimes something we’ve learned is so ingrained, we don’t even question it. I get emails from people who were told they were mistakes. That they’d never amount to anything. That they were meant to be seen and not heard. That their parents wanted a boy, not a girl. That they’re a disappointment.

Also, you can preach compassion all day long, but if you’re hard on yourself, don’t think that will go unnoticed by your kids. We internalize everything. We’re energetic creatures, and we both emit and absorb energy wherever we go. If your mother was always dieting and scrunching up her face when she looked at herself in the mirror, even if she always told you you were beautiful, don’t be surprised if you have body-image issues. If you were taught that people who didn’t believe the same things your family believed were wrong or not to be trusted, you’re going to have some unlearning to do.

The outside might look different, and I mean this for all of us. We may be male or female, short or tall, thin or stocky, dark or light. We may believe in one god, many gods, or no god at all. We may believe in a continuation of consciousness, or we may believe we’re worm food when it all ends. We may be rich, or we may struggle to put food on the table. The bottom line is that we all deal with certain parameters. We have a finite amount of time in the body we’re in. We have the capacity to love people wildly, openly, with everything we’ve got. We have our attachments, our fears, our dreams, our heartbreaks, our nights when we cry ourselves to sleep, or wonder what we’re doing here, or flail about trying to find our place in the world. The more we look for the vulnerability behind the mask, the kid underneath the grown-up, the similarities instead of the differences, the kinder we become, and the world could really use that right about now.

Yes, there are some people who’ve closed their hearts and fed their hatred, and are so far off the grid, there’s not much hope for any kind of epiphany at this point, but that’s a tiny percentage of human beings on planet earth. The vast majority of people recognize that an us versus them mentality isn’t getting the job done. It isn’t creating a world that’s safe for us, or for our children, and it also doesn’t have to be this way.

Examine your thoughts, your words and your actions. Maybe you’re already operating from a place of love the vast majority of the time, but maybe you’re still struggling with this. Start with your own internal dialogue. Since there’s no (good) escape from the voice in your head, start to starve a loud inner critic if you have one. You don’t have to believe everything you think. Sometimes our thoughts about ourselves are so violent, so unforgiving, so relentless, it’s a wonder we can get out of bed in the morning, and if you’re that hard on yourself, I guarantee you’re hard on other people, too. Perhaps not as harsh as you are with yourself, but whatever we have within us is what we spread. Start there. It might seem like a small thing, but if everyone worked on creating a peaceful and loving world within themselves, the whole landscape around us would change. If you’re in the habit of saying things like, “I’m such an idiot” when you make a mistake, shift that thought to something like, “I’m human and I make mistakes sometimes, and that’s okay, and very normal. Let me take a deep breath and see what I can do.” Find a nickname for yourself that makes you smile, like, “Chief”, or, “Sport”, or “Tiger”, and whenever you feel that self-loathing come up, catch yourself, with an, “Okay, Sport, that didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but it’s no big deal.” What I’m trying to say is that you really want an inner voice that roots you on, not one that tears you down. May we all send good thoughts and love when we hear an ambulance go by. May we all care about each other more, and judge each other less. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings be happy.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Meditation or Electric Shock Therapy?

pemaskyDid you know there are a significant number of people who’d rather give themselves electric shocks than sit quietly in a room with nothing but their own thoughts for just 6-15 minutes? So reported Kate Murphy in Sunday’s New York Times, with her excellent article, “No Time to Think”. In an article she cites from Science Magazine, researchers were amazed with results from several different studies involving 700 people, “In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.” You can read the full, fascinating report here. Apparently, participants were interviewed before the experiment, and all said they’d pay not to be electrically shocked, but when push came to shove, 65% of the men, and 15% of the women ended up opting for self-administered shocks as opposed to just a few minutes of sitting with their feelings.

Researchers theorized that the difficulty for people arose because their thoughts tended to be negative. That does seem to be our default setting, that “negativity bias”. Back in the days when we were living in caves, this was probably a key factor to our survival. We needed to worry about things like being eaten by saber-tooth tigers. We needed to be on the alert for danger, we needed to be thinking ahead about all the things that could befall us. And even though most of us don’t have to worry about being eaten for lunch at this point, we’ve replaced those primal worries with other pressing anxieties and stresses of the day. So given the opportunity to sit quietly, without distractions, without our mobile devices, without anyone calling or texting or emailing, chances are, our minds will start to lean into those fears which are often hiding just below the surface. Maybe we worry about what we’re doing with our lives, or we feel anxious about the state of our relationships with those closest to us, or we start thinking about financial pressures. Maybe we feel lonely, or bored, or deeply unfulfilled. Maybe we’re enraged, but we keep ourselves busy enough that we don’t have to feel that often. There are all kinds of uncomfortable feelings we humans experience—shame, doubt, guilt, envy, jealousy, despair, grief—just to name a few, and no one would invite these feelings into his or her living room for tea. Nonetheless, we’ll be visited by all of these perfectly natural, human emotions form time to time. And if we distract ourselves, or numb ourselves or busy ourselves so we don’t have to face those feelings, we also lose an opportunity to know ourselves, and to grow.

We have such fear about being with what is. Maybe we think if we stop and breathe and get quiet, we’ll remember that we have a finite amount of time here, and so does everyone else, even those we treasure beyond words. Maybe we’re scared that old pain will rise to the surface and overwhelm us. But this is the stuff that keeps us miserable and suffering. The denial, the avoidance. If we refuse to look at our issues, our problems, or pain, then all of that remains bubbling below everything we do and say. Living your life on the run is no way to do things. Not knowing yourself is the loneliest thing there is. Getting quiet and allowing your feelings to arise, peak and subside, is a beautiful lesson in impermanence. No feeling is forever if you acknowledge it. If you repress it, it’ll just keep coming after you. And if you develop a practice of sitting quietly and observing your breath, your thoughts and your feelings, you’ll find such relief. You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. You have the ability to step back from all that white noise and take a good look and listen to your internal dialogue. You’ll find, if you haven’t already, that “you do not have to believe everything you think”. You’ll find that everything is in a constant state of flux, including you. You’ll find that you have the power to choose one thought over another, and that this power will give you your life back. To the extent that you’re able to face your pain and work with it, you’ll be able to set yourself free. Otherwise that stuff owns you. It rules your world, and there’s just no need for that.

It is true that the rules of this game are not easy to swallow. If we’re lucky, we get 80, 90, maybe 100 years, as do all the people we love, if they are also lucky. That’s not a lot of time. But it’s enough time to have a blast. It’s enough time to live with your heart wide open, and to love the people in your life with everything you’ve got. It’s enough time to take in the insane beauty that’s around you if you look up from your phone now and then. Now AND then. Yes, some of it is devastating. We’ll all be heartbroken from time to time. Some of us will endure knifing losses. But there’s also joy. There’s also the laughter of those people you adore. There’s holding hands. There are hugs. There’s the ocean and the sun on your face, and the wind in the leaves of the trees. There are moments that take your breath away and fill your heart with yes. You really can’t have one without the other. If you numb out the pain, you numb out the joy. And that’s a great way to miss what could have been 100 incredible, interesting, meaningful years. Don’t let it happen.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

The Voice Inside Your Head

negativecommitteeYesterday afternoon my son, who’s seven, was practicing the guitar. He’s been taking lessons for less than a year, but he’s doing really well. I love to listen to him play, it brings tears to my eyes. This week, his teacher told him to stop whenever he makes a mistake, and “loop back.” This is a new way of working; in the past, if he made a mistake he’d keep going. Anyway, he was having an “off day.” He couldn’t make his fingers move as quickly as he wanted to, and he couldn’t make the notes sound the way he wanted them to sound. After about twenty minutes, he came out of his room frustrated and in tears, and told me he was “never going to get it.”

So I went in and sat down with him, and asked him to breathe a little before he started again. I also talked to him about the voice inside his head. I asked him if he was aware of that voice, and he looked at me like I’d discovered some huge secret of his. He asked how I knew he had a voice inside his head, and I told him we all do. I told him about a ballet teacher I had when I was thirteen. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. He’d berate me in front of the whole room of dancers with scathing remarks. I felt the burn of shame so many times as I spun and spun on my toes in that room with him. In the years I studied with him, he only “broke” me once. There was an afternoon when a tear slid down my cheek, and even though I wiped it as I danced, he saw. It was the only time he asked me if I was okay. Years later, after I’d quit, I ran into him on Broadway. He asked me where I was dancing, and I told him I wasn’t. He was shocked. He said he’d always been especially hard on me because I had what it took. I told him for me, personally, hearing that then would have made all the difference in the world. I didn’t need “tough love” and I didn’t need shaming. Someone who believed in me would have worked wonders.

The thing is, we often internalize those voices we hear growing up. If we’re told we’re loved and cherished, if we’re made to feel that we have an impact on the people and the world around us, we’re likely to have a pretty kind and forgiving inner voice. If our effort is acknowledged, we learn to appreciate our process, instead of getting hung up on the results, but if we’re met with constant criticism, if we get the message that we never measure up, we’re very likely to develop a loud and relentless inner critic. My son’s guitar teacher is an incredible guy. Kind, loving, patient, encouraging, and tough in all the right ways. He’s bringing out the best in my son. Anyway, I explained to my boy that an inner voice that roots you on is a huge help as you move through life. Shame is a poor teaching tool, and it’s a horrible constant companion. Telling yourself you’re having a tough moment is a lot kinder than saying you’ll never get it, and it’s a lot more accurate.

I get lots of emails from people who are in pain, and so many of them are incredibly hard on themselves. We all make mistakes. We all have pain, and we all struggle. None of us acts from our highest self in every moment, or in every situation. Sometimes we have healing to do in a certain area, and maybe we’ve been avoiding that work, and then it springs up and bites us in the ass, this raw place within us that’s crying for our kind attention. Sometimes we make a mess of things out of sheer confusion and desperation. Beating yourself up isn’t going to serve anyone, and it isn’t going to aid you in your growth process. It really isn’t. Telling yourself you’re a terrible person who screwed up and made your own bed which you now deserve to lie in isn’t going to help you get to the source of what caused you to move in the direction you did in the first place. It’s okay. You’re human. Just start where you are and examine what happened with a compassionate eye. You’re not a terrible person who deserves to suffer. You didn’t set out to hurt anyone. If you were that kind of person, you wouldn’t torture yourself about it. You see what I mean? If you feel badly, it’s because you have a kind heart. Maybe you made some really poor choices. So be it. Get to work figuring out why you weren’t respecting yourself. Or why you didn’t speak up and say that you were feeling unseen or unheard or unloved.

Life is short and amazing, or long and painful. I’m pretty sure those are the options. And I think the key difference is how you’re talking to yourself. If the world within you is loving, it makes it so much easier to move through the world around you. I can say for myself, I worked this out on my yoga mat. I took that loud, shaming voice and I starved it. I stopped believing in it. I stopped giving it power or credibility, and I fed a loving, kind, patient, compassionate voice. I still worked my ass off, but I did it with a smile on my face, because it feels good to be in a healthy conversation with yourself.

Wishing that for you so much, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Grappling with Your Truth

plansMost of us know what’s true for us long before we act on it, especially when we’re talking about making huge life shifts. Sometimes we agonize for weeks, months, or even years, because so much hinges on maintaining the status quo. This can happen in our personal and professional lives. People stay in jobs that crush their souls for all kinds of reasons. Some are practical—they need to keep a roof over their heads and food in their refrigerators, or they need health insurance for themselves and their families. Sometimes the reasons have more to do with low self-esteem, or a lack of self-respect. People tell themselves every day that they are not good enough, that they don’t measure up, that they should be thankful for what they have, because who are they to think that things could be different? Who are they to pursue their dreams? There are all kinds of reasons we convince ourselves we’re stuck, and when you’re speaking about the necessities of life, of course those are real. But if you’re in a job that’s sucking the life out of you, I wouldn’t accept that as “the way things have to be.” I’d do everything in your power to seek out another opportunity somewhere, because 80 hours a week is a lot of time to spend feeling like you want to scream.

It happens in relationships, too. Sometimes two people come together, and despite all their best efforts, they grow in different directions. Maybe they came together when they both had healing to do, and attempted to cover their individual pain with a relationship. Maybe there are kids in the mix, and now it’s brutal; staying is painful, and leaving is painful. Sometimes those are your choices. It’s human to agonize when we’re faced with a decision that impacts the people we love, but ultimately, if you’re in a situation that’s crushing you, you’ll never be able to nurture yourself, or anyone else to the best of your ability. Maybe you can get creative. Maybe you can go for radical honesty with your partner, and come up with a way to stay, and not feel like you’re losing yourself, and maybe you can’t, but allowing your light to go out is never the way. Numbing yourself or editing yourself until there’s almost nothing left of you won’t serve anyone. Distracting yourself, running, denying, keeping everything on the surface level will not be sustainable for the long haul.

So what do you do? I think first you get quiet so you can really allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling, and face those realities head on. There’s no point hiding from yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to act on your feelings. It’s just that it’s such a relief to acknowledge them, to lean into them, to accept them, and accept yourself. Then, at least, you’re dealing with your own truth. Getting support from someone objective is also a great idea, and communicating honestly is a must. I don’t believe anyone would thank you for keeping them in the dark, or staying in something out of guilt, shame or pity. Maybe you can resurrect the thing, but the only chance you have of that, is if you start building with blocks of truth. You can’t build anything that lasts on top of lies, bitterness, resentment or rage. You want to be seen, right? You want someone to see you, to understand you, to cherish you for the person you are, but you give no one the opportunity to do that if you repress what’s real for you. Is it scary to start a conversation that may change the course of your life, and the lives of those you love? Absolutely, but it’s less scary than decades of betrayals, emotional or otherwise, and I’m talking about the betrayal of your own heart, as much as anything else here.

If you want to be at peace, you have to allow what is true for you to rise to the surface and spill out of your mouth, kindly, confidently, and with compassion.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace, in the coming year, and always,

Ally Hamilton

Tackle It

writingonthewallSometimes people get really clear on what their tendencies are, but that’s as far as they go. Maybe you know people like this. I used to date a guy who was brilliant in this regard; if something came up between us and I talked to him about how I felt, he would focus and listen and completely own his end. He could tell me what had driven him to do what he did, or say what he’d said. He would acknowledge that he understood why I would feel the way I did, and he’d apologize, and I’d think, awesome. He really heard me. We understand each other. We’ve had some really good communication. But then the next time a similar situation presented itself, nothing at all would change. It was like “Groundhog’s Day”, only not funny.

Identifying our stuff is a huge step. It’s definitely a big part of knowing ourselves, so we can be accountable for the energy we’re spreading and the actions we’re taking, but if that’s as far as we go, we’ve landed in a ditch. Sometimes I get emails from people, and they say things like, “Well, I have an addictive personality, so sometimes I lie,” and I’ll ask, “Is that the end of the story? You have an addictive personality, so you lie?” Or I’ll hear, “My dad left when I was four, so I have abandonment issues.” I may have said that once or twice in my own life. The thing is, your abandonment issues don’t make it okay for you to cling or manipulate or bend over backwards to be perfect so people won’t leave you. Life isn’t going to feel good like that. Knowing what your issues are is huge. Then you can be aware when you’re in a danger zone. If you have fear of being left and you keep picking people who are unavailable, you can rightly assume you still have some healing to do around the first time you felt abandoned. You don’t have to let that one ancient event predetermine your whole destiny. You don’t have to keep replaying the old tape again and again.

Other classic examples of identification without the follow-up work? “I have fear of commitment”, “I have fear of failure”, “I felt invisible as a kid so I need attention all the time”, “I felt invisible as a kid, so I cringe when people notice me”, “I learned you can’t trust anyone, so I don’t.” You get the picture. It’s what we do about what we know that matters. If you have fear of being abandoned, that’s yours to grapple with and tame, it’s not your partner’s work, it’s yours. Do you want to choose people who are compassionate when you’re going to be intimate? Of course. Do you want to be able to share your struggles and allow yourself to be vulnerable? Yes. But your pain and disappointments and heartbreaks do not give you free reign to act out all over the place. It’s never okay to check your partner’s emails or text messages, even if your last partner cheated on you, or you grew up in a house where infidelity was the norm. That has nothing to do with your partner, and it is not their job to allow you to violate their privacy because you feel triggered. Having a conversation about your feelings is fine, but even that will get old after awhile. A therapist is a great call if you’re struggling with internal demons. I can tell you I slayed quite a few on my yoga mat, and in a therapist’s office. I find that to be a winning combination by the way. Therapy is a great place to become aware of what’s scaring you, or blocking you from living life in a way that feels good to you, and a yoga mat is a great place to start to starve the voice that tells you this is how you are, or this is how things are. You don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. Everyone is different, of course, and part of the work is searching for healing modalities and combinations that are going to work for you.

In order to liberate ourselves from our issues, we have to heal the original wounds we’re carrying. We can’t play this stuff out in the present and expect that to be the balm that soothes us, because in order to create a similar dynamic of pain, you’ll have to pick people who cannot give you what you want. That’s the hook, that’s what snags you. All you’ll accomplish that way is the creation of more pain for yourself, and more information that affirms your false assumption that “everyone leaves”, or “everyone cheats”, or whatever it is you’re telling yourself. If you want to heal, you’ll have to dive into the source of your pain and face it head on. This is the only way I know to free yourself. If you could run, I’d tell you to run. If you could solve it be pretending it isn’t there, I’d say go ahead, pretend. If you could numb it without killing yourself in the process, I’d say do your thing, and if you could heal by replaying ancient pain in your present, with people who don’t know how to do anything but hurt you, I’d say go right ahead. But none of that works. You’re just on a train, crashing into a wall, and that becomes less and less pleasant, no matter how many words and explanations you give it. Who cares why you’re crashing into a brick wall? At a certain point, don’t you want to just not do that anymore?

It’s wonderful to be able to know yourself and articulate how things are for you, but ultimately, these things are more interesting to us than they will be to anyone else and they’re more useful to us, as well. Stopping at the identification process is like picking a dish off the menu, but not eating it. Time to grab your fork if you need to!

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Don’t Worry

doctorowAs much as possible, try not to “future-trip.” It’s so easy to get caught up in worries about things that may never come to pass, to start envisioning worst-case scenarios, to formulate conversations in your head, or come up with plans you might not ever need. While you’re busy boiling yourself this way, your nervous system is tensing up and sending cortisol through your body, as if these events are actually occurring. In other words, you can make yourself sick with worry. You can raise your blood pressure with your thoughts.

When are we most likely to do this to ourselves? When we’re feeling vulnerable, tested, or threatened, and maybe it’s part of our inclination toward negativity bias, too. We survived as a species by being alert to possible danger, but there aren’t too many sabertooth tigers waiting to chase us down to eat us for lunch these days. We aren’t built for longterm stress, we’re built for short bursts. If we’ve been hurt before, we try to set things up so we won’t be hurt again, and that’s understandable, but you don’t want to live defensively. You know the saying, right? “Hurt me once, shame on you…hurt me twice, shame on me.” But the thing is, living in fear isn’t really living, it’s gripping. When we start to spin out, and imagine all the things that could go wrong, we’re losing the potential for peace in the current moment. We’re feeding fear instead of love. If you’re dealing with survival, keeping a roof over your head, and caring for your loved ones, that’s real stress, but worrying won’t help, action will. Any small thing you can do to try to right the ship or get some momentum happening is going to make you feel more energized and hopeful, and optimism in the face of difficulty is often the difference between turning things around, or staying stuck.

The same is true when we travel back in time, with regret, despair, or longing. Whatever has happened, it’s behind us. Of course we all have treasured memories, and there’s nothing wrong with visiting old friends and cherished loved ones we can’t hug anymore, in our minds and in our hearts. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about traveling backward as if we could redo or undo something. There’s no potential left in the past. We can learn from it, we can be softened by it, but we can’t rewrite it.

For so many people, the mind catapults from one to the other. Longing and sadness over things behind them, fear and anxiety over things out ahead of them, and the poor nervous system goes along for the ride. The most powerful way I know to land yourself fully in the now, is to become aware of your breath. That’s the greatest gift of yoga, and seated meditation—they both center around your breath. Those inhales and exhales are always happening in the present moment, and if you can feel your breath, you know you’re here; awake, aware, engaged with life, which isn’t happening behind you, or out in front of you. It’s happening right now.

Worry doesn’t change the outcome of a thing. Believe me, if worrying about something could prevent it from happening, we’d know about that by now. We’ve all had the experience of making ourselves ill over something that never came to pass, right? It’s especially hard when we love people and we’re concerned for their well-being. Maybe someone you love beyond words is putting herself in harm’s way. How do you not worry about that? First of all, when we love people, we make ourselves vulnerable, so you may as well accept that. And, you can’t save anyone but yourself, and you may as well accept that, too. There are certain answers we’ll never have until we exhale for the final time, and perhaps, not even then and that also makes us vulnerable.

Anyway, my point is, we can’t control the outcome of anything except how we face what we’re given, and even that takes tremendous effort. We can love people with everything we’ve got. We can offer an ear, our shoulder, a hand up if we’re in a good position. We can listen, we can grieve with people, or make them a meal, or try to find help for them if we aren’t sure how to help them ourselves, but our worry doesn’t help anyone. If someone is afraid for themselves, you really don’t help by reflecting that fear back to them. If someone is suffering, you don’t serve them by getting down in the mud and wailing with them.

I believe you can help a lot simply by being present with someone, being able to hold a space for someone’s grief or anger or loneliness or confusion or shame. That’s a huge thing you can do, but you can only do that if you show up with open ears, an open heart and an open mind. You won’t find those things behind you or in front of you. They’re within you. When you can show up that way for yourself, and for all the people in your life, then I believe you’re really living. Life is short and precious, or it’s a long and painful; I believe those are the options. Try not to miss too many moments. Life brings enough heartbreaks of its own, we don’t have to make this stuff up. It also offers a million gifts a day if we’re paying attention. It’s easy to take it for granted that we all woke up today, right? But that is a gift. If you have your health, it’s a gift. If you have people in your life whom you love with your whole heart, that’s a gift, even if they’re causing you some pain right now. Loving people so deeply that we hurt when they hurt, is a gift. Try not to miss too many gifts if you can help it.

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton


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It’s Not “All Good”

changingseasonsYou do not have to be grateful for every experience you’ve ever had in your life. I almost feel the need to write that again. I think there’s enormous confusion around this topic, at least in the “spiritual community”, and I think it’s important to shine some light on it. You can, in retrospect, appreciate how certain tragedies may have made you a more compassionate and insightful person. You might acknowledge that you would not be the you that you are, had you not endured certain piercing heartbreaks. Maybe you’ve even taken this knowledge and used it to help people going through the same kind of loss, and perhaps you can feel grateful that something of value has risen out of the ashes of your grief. That’s all beautiful, but you do not have to look back on your life, on everything that may or may not have happened to you, and feel grateful for it all.

You may think I’m splitting hairs, or that this is just semantics, but I assure you that’s not it. I watched a close family member lose his six year old son to brain cancer, and I can tell you, no one in my family is grateful for having gone through that, least of all his parents. Having said that, his mother helps other families facing loss like that. So is that gorgeous of her? Yes. Can she appreciate that she would not be able to comfort people going through something that horrendous in the same way had she not gone through it herself? Of course. But would she gladly give back that experience and be less insightful in that area? Yes. One hundred percent, yes.

I get really fired up when I see these quotes, or hear people spouting platitudes about everything being wonderful and positive. It’s so alienating for people who are in pain, who are grieving or suffering, to also feel they’re supposed to somehow trust that it’s “happening for a reason”, or to have faith that “someday it will all make sense to them.” Some things will never make sense. Some things fall so far outside of anything we could call sense, it’s asinine to try to put them in the same sentence.

I recognize we all want to make order out of chaos, create stability in a vulnerable world. I know we’d love to feel there’s some quid pro quo, and that it’s all cause and effect. “If I’m a good person, then nothing bad will happen to me, or to those I love,” but it doesn’t work that way. Knifing things happen to incredibly kind people sometimes. Perhaps you believe there’s a larger picture, and that it all works out in the end. Maybe you’re right, and maybe you’re wrong. We could shout our opinions from the mountaintops all day long, but ultimately we all have to figure out what makes sense to us. We all have to grapple with these questions and piece together answers we can sleep with at night. When we tell a grieving person their tragedy has befallen them for a reason, even if we believe that and we mean well, we are showing an enormous lack of understanding and compassion, and there’s nothing spiritual about that.

There’s the “normal” amount of suffering, and then there’s the kind that brings you to your knees with your mouth full of why, the pain so great it takes up all the space in your lungs, the breaking of your heart something you can feel in real-time. Then there’s the way you respond to what you’ve been given, and that’s pretty much all you can control. How do I work with my history, my pain, my fears, my tendencies, my gifts, my strengths, my joy? How do I lean into all of it, and do my life in a way that feels good and right to me? How do I learn and grow and use what I know to have a positive impact on the world around me? What within me still needs my kind attention? Where do I have room to heal more, to open more? If you force yourself to feel grateful for everything, or you feel disappointed in yourself because you can’t, you’re simply getting in your own way.

Examine your “shoulds”, as in, “I should be able to handle this.” Says who? How old is that should? Is it even yours, or is it something that was instilled in you, that you’ve internalized? You feel how you feel. You are who you are. Obviously, we want to focus our minds on all the things we do have, like our health, and the people in our lives who love us, and whom we love beyond measure. We want to feel grateful for the sound of laughter spilling from our children, our partners, our best friends, and total strangers. We want to feel grateful for the sun on our faces, or the breeze across our skin, for kindnesses bestowed upon us by those we know so well, and those we don’t know at all. Gratitude is a beautiful state that makes us feel all the abundance around us and within us, but you can’t force it, and it isn’t even a sane response in many cases. Facing reality as it is, is my religion. Give me the truth, whatever it is. Let me know myself and the people in my life well, and deeply. That way I can love them for real. When I’m angry, let me examine what’s happening within me. When I’m joyful, let me spread that far and wide. Let me start and end and fill my days with all the reasons I have to say yes, and thank you. But when I’m suffering, grant me a spiritual practice that makes space for that, too. That way I can breathe.

Wishing that for you, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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