3 Ways to Forgive Yourself and Stop Dwelling on the Past

glassofregretIf you’re human, (and I assume there are no zebras reading this post), then you can probably look in your rearview mirror and spot some choices you wish you could make over again, and differently. The truth is, most of us do the best we can as we go along, and that means most of us will probably fall short from time to time. Life does not unfold in a linear fashion, we do not get to hit the “pause button” until we’re ready, sometimes we think we’re ready for something only to find out we are wildly unprepared or had an unrealistic idea of what we were getting into in the first place. Also, sometimes we’re coming out of abuse or neglect, a dysfunctional family system, a crazy culture that expects us to edit out our difficult feelings, or we’ve developed coping mechanisms along the way that don’t serve our highest good at all. We may have stories we tell ourselves that are not true, ideas about other people that are based on our own misperceptions or lessons we learned that we have to unlearn, or a whole host of other difficulties that come along with being human. It’s an interesting and incredible gig, but no one would argue that it’s easy! You can lose a lot of time dwelling on the past, obsessing over decisions you cannot unmake, or feeling regret that won’t serve you or anyone else.

Here are three things you can do to lift the weight of regret from your shoulders, stop dwelling on the past, and free yourself of the burden of shame.

1. Embrace your fallibility and join the human race.

Welcome to the party, sport. We have all screwed up, some of us in big ways, some of us in smaller ways, but there is not a person on this planet over thirty who doesn’t have some questionable choices in his or her past. We learn as we go, and sometimes we hurt people because we are too young to know what we want, or too confused, or we wanted it then, but five years later we felt the soul being crushed out of us. If you feel badly about some of your past actions, please recognize this is because you have a kind, gentle heart. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t even be thinking about this stuff. If you have a warm and gentle heart, you are not an a$$hole, and that is fabulous. Please take a moment right now, place your hand over your heart, close your eyes, take a deep breath and say out loud in a firm voice, “I forgive myself for being human.”

TIP: If you’re at work, say it in a firm voice inside your head, but say it enough times that you feel it. If you exhale out some tears or other emotions, that’s great.

2. You are not Atlas.

Your work here does not involve carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. If other people won’t or can’t forgive you, that is on them, that’s a weight they’re choosing to carry, and an obstacle to their own freedom; at a certain point, you have to forgive yourself. Having said that, it never hurts to communicate clearly. If there’s something you feel you need to say to someone to make things right, go ahead and say it. Think carefully about your motivation, and how this might be for the other party. If you think you might disrupt someone’s life, or his or her tenuous grip on being okay, if you think the other person might still be healing from heartbreak, then it might be best to write a letter you never send.

TIP: It’s incredibly powerful to get things down on paper and out of your head, so don’t hesitate to put your thoughts in black and white. When you’re done, you can determine whether this is a missive that was just for you, or for you and them.

3. Be present.

It’s good and important work to know yourself, and that means it makes sense to examine the choices, decisions and behavior you regret, but you serve no one by marinating in that sad sauce. Once you’ve looked at your part in any story, owned what you can of it, apologized when necessary or appropriate, then there comes a time when you need to close the book on that story. Your life is not happening behind you, any more than it’s happening in front of you. The mind loves to hurtle back into the past, or careen forward into the future, but all that does is rob us of the present. Of course your memories and experiences are part of the fabric that makes you, you, and of course that makes them part of the tapestry that is your present, but how can you do a journey with your back to the road? That’s not a great way to navigate, or open to things as they are now, but it’s an excellent way to crash into feelings, things or people who are trying to get your attention in this moment.

Everything is in a constant state of flux, and if you keep looking back over your shoulder, you are trying to stop time and stop the current. Maybe your mistakes will help you travel through your present-day waters with more ease, strength and insight. Perhaps recognizing the bumps in the road will help you avoid repeating mistakes, so you can, at the very least, make better mistakes as you go. Your breath is an excellent anchor-point. When you become aware of your inhales and exhales, you’re directing your mind to focus on something that’s happening right here, right now. This is an excellent way to catch yourself when the mind wants to head in a downward spiral, when you notice obsessive thinking, or when you recognize you’ve already examined a situation to the degree that it’s productive.

“Svadhyaya” means “self-study”, and it’s one of the Niyamas. We want to understand ourselves and know what’s motivating our choices and actions, but we also want to embrace the reality that we’re continually evolving. Don’t allow yourself to continue to set your compass toward something behind you, because you’re failing to integrate your own metamorphosis. That’s not something you want to miss!

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

intro-seated-meditation

Make the Right List

Find-a-place-insideSo much of our ability to be at peace and to live life in a way that feels good, has to do with what we feed, and what we release. I have these two relatives, and I’ll call them uncles, although they aren’t uncles. One of them is the kindest, sweetest, most loving, joyful, affectionate, fun, generous person you’d ever want to meet. If you sit down next to him at a family function, he will share with you a list of all the amazing things you’ve ever done in your life from the time you were four, to the present. He will talk to you about the joy you’ve brought to his life, and how he knew you were special from the moment he laid eyes on you. You will tell him how much you love him, what an important person he is in your life, and how grateful you are that he is your uncle. You will want to make sure that he knows this. The family function will fly by, and you will leave feeling grateful and full and happy and inspired.

The other uncle, though, he’s a different tune altogether. If you sit down next to him, he will present you with a list of all the ways you, and every member of the family, have disappointed him over the years. If he adds alcohol to the mix, which he almost always does, he will even go back generations, and share a list of ancestral wrongs that predate you, him, and everyone you know. He will do this because he makes a hobby out of should. He’s something of an expert on what people should and should not do. If you let him, he will involve you in his should, and try to get you to should on yourself and everyone else. By the end of the family function you will feel drained and angry at the relative who did the seating arrangement.

These are two actual but disguised relatives in my family, but I’ll bet they mirror people in your own life. I’ve been watching this for years, and the kind uncle is living a life that is happy and fulfilled and full of family, while the other uncle is isolated and often feuding with family members, or writing them off altogether. He’s missed decades of time with certain cousins because he wasn’t speaking to their parents, but for him, this just adds fuel to the fire. Now he can be angry that these children were not brought to him as they grew up, and therefore do not know him, or have any real bond with him today.

The thing is, it’s really a choice. We all have heartaches and disappointments, ways we were let down, or in some cases neglected, abandoned, or abused. You know how the lotus flower grows in mud and muck, but emerges out of that as this gorgeous, white, stunning bloom? The same is true for people. We all have our mud and our muck, and it’s up to us to grow beauty out of the pain, or to wallow in it. Of course we can hold up our muck and show everyone how awful it is. We can excuse our poor choices or crappy behavior on the mess we’re coming out of, or we can get busy strengthening ourselves, and reaching toward the sunlight.

As a society and a culture, we are constantly encouraged to focus on what we don’t have, what isn’t going right, and all the ways we don’t measure up. Internally, we’re wired to worry, thanks to negativity bias, and the days when we had to avoid being eaten for lunch by saber tooth tigers. Externally and internally, we’re trained on lack, but that leaves us stuck in the mud of envy and despair, and that’s no way to live. You can point fingers like my angry uncle, or you can dig your way out of the mud like my happy uncle.

What are you focused on? Upon what do you place importance? Is it your looks? Your bank account? Your house, car, size of your boobs or biceps? Is it the latest, greatest vacation your friend took that you didn’t? Is it whether you have a partner, or whether you should get rid of the one you’ve got because s/he isn’t making you happy? Do you keep lists? If so, what’s on them? Do you have a list of ways you’ve been wronged, betrayed and let down, or a list of ways you’ve been amazed by the beauty in this world?

Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen. Is it important to acknowledge that your past has shaped you? Of course. You cannot be at peace if you don’t know yourself, and part of that work has to do with recognizing your wounds and figuring out what you need in order to heal. That doesn’t mean you dwell on your past and drag it into your present and future, it means you glean the meaning from the pain, and you allow it to open your heart and your mind so you have empathy for other people. Being human is a tough, but wonderful gig. You have to embrace your vulnerability if you want to be free, so that fear and rage don’t rule your life. Be the happy uncle. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Work That Doesn’t Belong to Us

There-are-things-that-we (1)Much of our pain in life comes from our inability to let go and trust. Often, we’re so attached to that picture in our heads of “how things should be”, we contract against things as they are. You may have noticed, life doesn’t feel great when we’re hunched in a little ball with our eyes squeezed shut, and our hands over our ears.

Sometimes we’re trying to do work that doesn’t belong to us. Maybe we’re attempting to save people, which is different than loving them. We might think we know what’s best for the people closest to us, and we might even be right, but everyone has to do his or her own journey. You cannot keep someone else’s side of the street clean. I mean, you can cross the street and sweep all you want, but if a person is committed to making a mess, the minute you walk away the debris will start flying again. You have to open your mind to the idea that sometimes a person has to make a mess in order to learn something essential. We’ve all experienced that.

Also, the truth is we never know what is right for other people. What seems obvious to us might not be obvious to someone else. There isn’t one path to happiness, there are about seven billion. People are complicated and messy and we all have our histories, stories we tell ourselves, ideas about things that we’ve learned from our experiences, and tendencies that help or hinder us. Most people reach a point when they have to reckon with their pain, anguish, heartache and disappointment; this is part of knowing ourselves. Some people are terrified of that work, or committed to finding ways around it, like numbing out, denying or repressing. Those are not solutions that lead to happiness, but you can’t force a person to come out of hiding. People do that if and when they’re ready, and not a moment sooner.

You might create a lot of fear, anxiety and suffering for yourself by thinking it is your job to manage the path of your children. When they’re little, of course you want to create stability, a nurturing and loving home, a solid base from which they can grow and flourish. If you start to “future-trip”, however, and think that your current choices can somehow protect them from future heartbreak, I think you’re fooling yourself. I don’t know too many people who get through life without some heartbreak along the way. Of course we want the path for our children to be full of sunshine and flowers, joy and love, and a profound sense of belonging in the world, and hopefully we give them the tools to set them up for their adventures in the best ways possible. It’s not always in your control to make everything perfect, though. Some people stay in abusive marriages thinking it’s best for the kids, but is it? Is it good for our sons and daughters to model their relationships after the one they’re seeing day in and day out, if it’s full of pain and violence?

The more you can release your grip on the story, the more life flows. It’s not just your story, you are not the only writer. You don’t get to edit out the parts you don’t like, or force the other characters to do, say, or feel what you want. This isn’t a piece of fiction, this is life, and the other characters get to forge their own stories and do things that might surprise, infuriate, delight, scare, enrage or depress you. You don’t have to allow other people’s desires to affect you at all, but if you’re close to people and you’re human, they probably will. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful and mysterious and interesting to be human, and who’s to say what the right way is to go about this thing? Obviously, we don’t want to move through life intentionally hurting other people, that would be a really crappy way to go. Short of that, following your heart seems the clear choice. We’re here for such a burst of time. There’s never been another you, or me, there’s never been another any of us, nor will there ever be. The more space we can give each other to be who we are, the more the artwork of life shines through. We all have a particular color to splash all over the canvas. Trust in yours, and celebrate the splashing of those around you. We can figure out who was “right” after we die 😉 Sending you a ton of love, Ally Hamilton

Ride the Waves

You-cant-stop-the-wavesFew things are more difficult than watching someone we love grapple with pain we cannot fix. Of course we want the people we hold dearest to be happy and at peace, just as we want those things for ourselves; that’s natural. But loss, grief and pain are built into the experience of being human. We’re all on loan, here, and we’re always changing. Sometimes we’ll be in the throes of our own confusion and anguish, and sometimes we’ll feel powerless as we watch someone else struggle with the reality of being human.

The most loving, well-intentioned parents will say things like, “Don’t be sad,” or, “Don’t be angry,” but sadness and anger are normal, healthy, human emotions, and they don’t need to be pushed away. In fact, the more we try to deny the challenging feelings, the longer they persist, because we can’t fight a truth that is living inside our own bodies. If your heart is broken, there’s no use pretending otherwise. I know a woman who lost her mother a few years ago, and the pain is still acute, every day. Some of her friends have suggested she should be moving on by now, and many have distanced themselves from her. This is not an uncommon story; often, people feel uncomfortable around another person’s grief because it reminds them of their own mortality, and the fragility of this life.

The more we long to be somewhere other than where we are, the more we strain to feel differently than we do, the more we suffer and create dis-ease for ourselves. You feel how you feel, and it won’t all be pretty. In order to deny your vulnerability, you also have to deny your joy; an armored heart can’t pick and choose. You are not obligated to do things in a neat and orderly way, and you are not on anyone else’s timetable. If someone in your life requires that you show up smiling and happy, then the potential for true intimacy and genuine friendship is not there.

Sometimes, pressure to be “over” something, whether it’s the loss of a person, a relationship, a time in your life, or an event that’s transpired, is not coming from the outside, it’s coming from within us. Happiness is not a spot on a map where you land and plant your flag, it’s a process and it requires patience and a willingness to embrace all of your feelings as they arise. No one is ecstatic all the time. A great day will also include some challenging moments, just as a great life will include painful chapters. We all get frustrated with ourselves from time to time, but an aggressive or unforgiving inner atmosphere will not help your grieving process. Cultivating compassion for yourself and others is essential if you want to walk peacefully through this world. Granting patience to yourself, other people, and the situations in your life creates an expansive environment where healing is likely to occur. No one can heal in a vise grip. None of us relax because someone yells at us to relax, just as none of us heal because we’re pressured to do so. Allow yourself to be where you are, and avail yourself of the tools that exist that make it easier to ride the waves of grief when they arise. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Healing Grief Through Yoga: A Workshop on 9/12/15 with Ally Hamilton and Claire Bidwell Smith

Transform your grief process in this yoga workshop led by yoga teacher Ally Hamilton and grief therapist Claire Bidwell Smith. Grief is a time for slowing down and learning to be present to our bodies and our process. Grief also requires great compassion and conscious awareness. Yoga can help us get in touch with those realms. Through various poses, meditations and breath-work we will help you find grounded space in your grief journey and work towards healing. You’ll leave with tools to help you through those times when you feel overwhelmed or alone, so that you can comfort yourself and come back to center. Whether you’re going through a grieving process for a loved one, or you’re moving through the loss of a relationship, a job, a beloved pet, or a way of being that is no longer serving you, we want to offer support.

CAT Headshotlaire Bidwell Smith is a therapist specializing in grief and the author of two books of nonfiction: The Rules of Inheritance and After This: When Life is Over Where Do We Go? both published by Penguin. Claire has a bachelor’s degree from The New School University, and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University. She teaches numerous workshops around the country and has written for various publications including The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Slate, Chicago Public Radio, The Guardian and BlackBook Magazine. Claire currently works in private practice in Los Angeles. www.clairebidwellsmith.com

allylaughingcolorjvkAlly Hamilton is a Santa Monica-based yoga teacher, writer and life coach, who streams online yoga classes all over the world. She’s the co-creator of YogisAnonymous.com, which has been featured in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, Self Magazine, Shape Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She’s a regular contributor for The Huffington Post, a wellness expert at MindBodyGreen, and writes an almost-daily blog at blog.yogisanonymous.com. She’s the mama of two amazing kids and one energetic Labradoodle. She’s very excited about her first book, “Yoga’s Healing Power: Looking Inward for Change, Growth and Peace” due from Llewellyn Worldwide in 2016.

Workshop details: This workshop is open to all. If you’ve never done yoga, or you are an experienced practitioner, this is for you. A very gentle flow followed by lots of restorative hip and heart-openers, breath-work, and meditation.

When: Saturday, September 12th 6-7:30pm

Where: Yogis Anonymous

1221 2nd Street (Suite 150)

Santa Monica, CA 90405

Parking: There is a public parking structure right next door. First 90 minutes free, $1 for the next hour.

Price: $50 per person

signup

You Have to “Like” Yourself

You-cannot-save-peopleIf you’ve ever tried to save another person from his or her pain, then you already know it can’t be done. You cannot divorce a person from his past; whatever we’ve been through is going to shape us, and have an effect on the way we look at, and move through the world. If we come from a stable and loving background where we felt secure and celebrated, we’re probably going to have an easier time dealing with life’s difficult surprises, rejections and losses. But there are some things that are so knifing, it really doesn’t matter what your background was. You’re going to have to walk through the fire.

I think the large majority of people are going to struggle, and I say this because it’s rare for two healthy, happy people to come together out of love, and to remember to appreciate the gifts as they roll in every day. I’m not saying this doesn’t exist, I’m just saying I don’t believe it’s very common. They teach us about fractions in school, we spend time figuring out what happens if a train leaves Baltimore at 7:50am, traveling 40mph, and another leaves New York City at 8:20pm going 30mph, but we don’t learn about the human heart. We don’t have classes that teach us about healthy relationships, and how to be a good partner. Most people develop their skill set with on-the-job training, and that doesn’t always work out so well. If you didn’t have exposure to healthy, happy relationships growing up, if you don’t have a model for that, then you’re flying by the seat of your pants, and it’s likely you’ll have a bumpy ride.

The point is, if we come out of pain, dysfunction, confusion and instability, it’s probably going to take some time for us to find our center. And if we start having intimate relationships while we’re still totally in the dark about who we are, they aren’t likely to go well. If you were born into a situation with two people who didn’t know how to love each other well, and also didn’t do a bang-up job loving you well…welcome to the human race. I believe you’re in the majority.

On top of your own personal history, there’s the vulnerability inherent in this gig called being human. And not everyone deals with the uncertainty of this thing very well. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes explosions go off in the middle of our lives because we set them off, and other times, this happens because we lose someone unexpectedly, or we lose a job, or some other totally unforeseen thing happens. What defines us is how we deal with what we’re given. Sometimes people flail about or point fingers or develop constructs that support the idea that it isn’t their fault, whatever “it” may be. Sometimes people numb out, deny reality, or run like hell. Sometimes people are so self-destructive, you just can’t watch anymore.

The thing is, you can’t do the journey for anyone else. You can’t do it for your children or your parents or your siblings or your best friend. We all have to man up and woman up and and get serious about healing. You can’t be of any real good to anyone else if you’re miserable. You can’t blame your parents if you’re 40 and unhappy. I mean, you can, but it won’t get you anywhere you want to be.

What can you do if someone you love is hurting? You can offer your support and encouragement of course. You can learn to say less and listen more, and just be there with your love. You can reflect back to them the incredible beauty you see. You can try to find them resources so they can start to take ownership of their pain and their happiness. But you can’t fix it for them. It’s torturous to watch someone we love as they flail or doubt or fear or cling. When people have a hole they’re trying to fill, whether they try to fill it with fame or adoration or things or food or sex or they try to numb it out so the ache is less intense, there’s nothing much you can do except to tell them again and again, the only thing that fills that hole is love. And it isn’t love from other people, although that’s wonderful, it’s love from within. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton

A Matter of Degree

Find-a-place-insideLife is complicated and messy sometimes. It doesn’t take much to land yourself in a challenging set of circumstances; one poor choice is often all it takes. But the reality is, we all have our stuff. Some people have more than others, but I know very few people who get through 80-100 years without some serious difficulty along the way. In fact, I don’t know anyone.

What we’re talking about is degree. Break-ups are painful. Divorce is harder. Divorce with children is even more devastating. This is not to say that a heartbreak where there wasn’t a marriage is not brutal. This is not a contest about who wins the prize for suffering the most, because who would want that award? The reason divorce is harder than your average break up is because you have so many people to tell. You’ve stood up in front of everyone you know and you’ve taken vows. Now you have to acknowledge to yourself and everyone else that you are not able to keep the promises you made, and that hurts. In most cases, you’ve asked people to make a huge effort on your behalf—to travel so they can bear witness to this big decision you’ve made, to drop whatever is happening in their lives so they can be there for you. There’s a feeling of accountability around it. There are two families involved. Sometimes there’s the merging of money. So there’s your heartbreak, and then there’s all this other stuff, too. With children in the mix, you can take all of that stuff I just mentioned, and add to it your fear that your inability to keep your promise is going to cause pain to the people you love most in the world. Along with a million other things that can happen, and all the complications that arise for everyone when you have to go down that path. Losing people we love because we grow apart or can no longer tolerate certain treatment, or because we’ve had a misunderstanding, will cause us grief. Losing someone through death will cause even more because the possibility of seeing them, holding them, hearing them, touching them…it’s gone. So it’s a matter of degree, and it’s how we’re going to work with the pain. You can make it your enemy, or you can make it your friend and your teacher.

Sometimes situations are hard to navigate because the boundaries are always shifting; what worked at one point no longer does, and the peace we’d found is lost again. So be it. The river flows, and we have to flow with it. The more we contract against our feelings, the more we suffer. The more we deny reality or try to convince ourselves or other people that everything is okay, or we are okay when it isn’t and we aren’t, the more we compound our pain. There’s no pain-free option, so get over that. Pain is part of life, but you don’t have to feed it or help it to grow. If you’re going to feed something, feed love. Life will feel a lot better that way. Sometimes we make mistakes and we’re going to pay the price and that is called growing up. You may not like where you find yourself, but if you can look back and recognize that your actions and choices have landed you where you are, then you can grow from the experience and create something new. Beauty can grow out of pain. Nothing comes from nothing. That’s really the issue. Not whether you’re going to have any issues, but what you’re going to do, or not do about them.

Sometimes the pain comes from the outside. Maybe we love an addict. That’s brutal because addiction takes hostages, and it does not care how kind they are. All I’m saying is that human beings are complex and life is complex and a lot of what determines how much we’re going to suffer, and how much we’re going to be at peace, is nuance, attitude and perseverance. A spiritual practice gives you a foundation, so when times are good you have the tools to receive the gifts and take nothing for granted, and when times are tough you have some ground to stand on in that rain. In between the highs and lows, you also recognize there is no such thing as an ordinary day.

Also, there’s this: nothing comes from nothing, and nothing dies. Before the big bang, there was something. I don’t know what it was, but there was something. It’s the old chicken or the egg question, but it’s one or the other. There was a chicken, or there was an egg. There was something. You might have your birth certificate with the time of your birth stamped as the moment you took your first big inhale, but you existed before that moment. In fact, you’d already had a profound experience, a journey through the birth canal. And before that, you were in your mother’s womb, and in your mother and father before that, and in all your ancestors. You would not exist without them, you were in them, they are in you, and when you die, you will not be nothing, no matter what you believe. If you decide to be buried or cremated, eventually you will become part of the earth, you’ll be watered by the rain, you’ll grow into the trees and into the air and toward the sun. Your soul, if you believe in souls, will go on its own journey. But even if you don’t believe there’s something essential that goes on, you will not be nothing. You can never be nothing. It’s a miracle you’re here, scientific or otherwise, it’s a miracle any of us are here. And I say all this to you, because so much of our trouble comes from our strong identification with the body we’re in, with our names and our jobs and our weight and our hair color, and our huge fear that we are going to die and become nothing. This is why we cling. This is why we struggle and try to control and force. This is why we forget to live sometimes.

So what if you’ve made a mess of it? Most people do at some point. Clean it up, that’s all. You’re here. You have the capacity to love. You’re changing every second, whether you want to or not, so why not change in the ways that are going to help you to heal and thrive? Things do not have to be perfect in order for you to give freely from your heart, and have a positive impact on the world around you. If you wait for things to be perfect, you will spend most of your life waiting, because perfection comes in moments, and they’re easy to miss if you’re stuck in rage and blame and shame, or you’re numbing yourself out. There’s so much love. There’s so much beauty. Your heart can expand and so can your mind. You are not stuck. You are not nothing. You are everything. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton