Self-Pity is a Thief

gardnerSocial media can be amazing when it comes to connecting with people you might never have encountered otherwise. It can be a beautiful forum for sharing ideas, laughter, concerns, gratitude, tools for living well, and beauty. I’m in contact with people I haven’t seen for twenty years because of Facebook. I get on this page every day and am blown away by you people, and how thoughtful, kind, compassionate, enthusiastic, honest, intelligent, funny and thought-provoking you are. I get emails from people that are raw and brave, and I have zero doubt this is one way we can show up for each other. We can reassure each other that we’re not alone, and people care, and more importantly, strangers care. I think that’s huge to know, because it restores our faith in the goodness of people, if we need to have our faith restored. I see people rooting each other on in the comment threads, offering support, or condolences, or ideas. So those are some of the ways this world is not virtual at all, and can be a real blessing.

Having said all of that, sometimes social media, and I’m including Twitter and Instagram and whatever else you might be doing, can be a source of pain for people, if they’re feeling badly about themselves, or moving through a dark time. It can really seem like everyone else is having this idyllic, carefree, fulfilling life with their bare feet in the sand, and their annoyingly perfect dog in the background. Or that everyone is wittier, more cutting edge, better informed, more engaged, cooler or hipper or hotter or glossier or whatever-er. It can become a source of feeling “less than”.

Social media is certainly not the only contributing factor that might make a person wonder if they’re measuring up. Most media is designed to do that, after all. If you want people to buy products, apparently you have to barrage them every day with messages that they just don’t cut it. They don’t look right or smell right or feel right, and there are a million products, diets, supplements, cars, pills, and different kinds of beer that can help. We could talk for hours about the way women are relentlessly encouraged to be as tiny as possible. Perhaps we should all disappear, and don’t even think about getting angry around that topic, because then you’re really taking up too much space. Men don’t fare much better. They’re supposed to be virile and unafraid and able to take charge under all circumstances. Video games start to look awfully appealing if those are the standards men are supposed to meet. In a virtual world, that might be possible, but in the real world, it’s asinine to think we’ll never be afraid, or we’ll always have the answers, or know the next right thing to do, and that goes for both genders. Anyway, my point is, most advertising is designed to make us all feel like we’re blowing it, in all kinds of ways, and if you’re feeling vulnerable, you can get sucked down the rabbit hole.

Self-pity and self-doubt are thieves. They rob you of your power, of your belief in yourself, of the desire to take ownership of your life. Blame and shame and rage are poor traveling companions, but sometimes it’s hard to take action when we’re already feeling like we should just give up. It’s easier to point our fingers, and make other people the cause of our unhappiness, or to feel angry at the world at large because it’s so unfair. And you know what? It is unfair. It’s not a level playing field. Some people are born into loving, nurturing families where there’s no concern about health insurance, or keeping a roof over everyone’s head, and other people are born into abusive environments where they weren’t wanted, or their parents were too young to be responsible for themselves, let alone a baby. Some people have to deal with loss and grief and mourning that just brings you to your knees, and other people have a path that’s a lot smoother. Here’s the thing. There might be a few people living a life where their hair is always done, and their cars are sleek, and they talk to their housekeeper about the meals for the week. That doesn’t add up to a happy life if there isn’t happiness on the inside. Most of the crap we see that’s designed to sell us something, is just so far removed from most people’s reality, it’s laughable. I think most people know this, it’s just easy to get sucked in when you’re feeling tested, down on yourself, rejected, hopeless or really confused. It’s a distorted perception of reality when we’re moving through times like that, and believing we’re not good enough. Or that other people are more deserving, or more likely to get the breaks, or the girl or the guy or the promotion.

If you ever find yourself thinking, “No one likes me”, or “People suck”, or, “Everyone cheats”, you know you’re hanging out with the White Rabbit. Extreme thinking, sentences that involve “always” and “never”, are good indicators that you’re not thinking clearly, that you’re allowing yourself to spiral downward, or spin out of control. When we feed self-pity, we make ourselves sick. It’s likely we’re all going to feel sorry for ourselves at one time or another, so please don’t misunderstand me. Sometimes horrendous, deeply painful things happen to beautiful people, and it’s hard not to feel like we’re being “singled out”, especially if many unfortunate things happen at once. I’m just talking about self-pity as a way of life, as a way of moving through the world. There’s no possible way you’re going to uncover your gifts and share them freely, and light yourself up, if you’re in the blame/shame/rage cycle. You really have to step off that wheel, dust yourself off, and start again. That’s the beauty of being human. It’s never too late to start where you are, until your final exhale.

You are not less than. Less than what? Other people? You’re you. You cannot be less than you. We have about seven billion people on this planet, but we only have one you. So what are you going to do with your spark? What are you going to offer up? Whatever it is, you’re the only one who can do it, and you can’t buy that knowledge, you have to dig for it. You really don’t want to move through life feeling bitter and resentful, and unable to be happy for other people’s good fortune. I can’t think of too many things that would feel more unfulfilling than that. There’s so much beauty inside you. If you’ve been hurt, disappointed, heartbroken, allow those experiences to open you and make you a more compassionate, understanding, empathetic, patient person. Don’t believe the hype. You aren’t missing anything. You don’t have to be anything other than yourself, your authentic self. Let your pain inspire you to grow, let it mean something. And stick with the social media that lifts you up! 

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Get Sweaty

sweatyI think many people out there are miserable because their expectations are unrealistic. If, for example, you’re thinking you’re going to reach some point in your evolution when you’re ecstatic every moment of every day, I think you’re going to be disappointed, and I don’t believe you’re ever going to reach that place. It seems many people are searching for the “high highs”, and as a result, they find themselves dealing with the “low lows.” We’ve all heard it a million times, but it bears repeating: happiness is not a destination, it’s borne from your process.

When we get caught up in the externals, in the results, in the material proof of our successes, we’re way off the path of what brings us fulfillment and true satisfaction. An object will never be able to provide you with feelings of worth or meaning for long. Neither will an altered state of consciousness. Nor will another human being. What do you spend most of your time doing? Really look at that, because most of your time adds up to most of your life, and if you’re spending a large majority of it feeling dissatisfied, or like you’re just punching a clock, or doing what you’re “supposed” to be doing, I wouldn’t expect life to feel very good for you, regardless of your bank account. In other words, you might be making lots of money and accruing lots of stuff, but if you don’t love the way you’re spending your days, it won’t amount to a happy life.

Happy doesn’t mean ecstatic. I know we see all of our friends with their shiny Instagram lives and pithy status updates, but please understand everyone goes through the same stuff. The people who are genuinely happy with their lives still have their struggles, their challenges, their days when they don’t feel like getting out of their pajamas. It’s not “all good”, and it’s not all positive, and you don’t have to be grateful for every experience you’ve ever been through, or every loss you’ve yet to endure. It’s a tough gig, being human. It’s awesome, it’s wonderful, it’s interesting, but it’s not easy. We get sold a false bill of goods, and sent down an unfulfilling path until we wise up and get right with ourselves.

Take a look at what you’re contributing, and how you feel about it. Working toward something you believe in feels great, but it’s not easy. Take a look at the people with whom you’re spending your time. It’s one of your most precious gifts–that, and your energy. Sometimes when we step back from the “grind”, or the “rat-race”, we realize we’re giving our time and energy to pursuits and people who weaken us, rather than strengthen us, and maybe we remember it shouldn’t be a grind, and we aren’t rats. Obviously there are the practicalities of life. We have to be able to feed and clothe ourselves, we have to keep a roof over our heads, and if we’re responsible for other people, we have to make sure they’re taken care of as well. But what lights you up? What feeds your soul? What excites you, scares you, inspires you? These are questions you’ll have to answer if you want to be at peace. That’s my definition of what it means to be happy. It means you’re feeling good about the way you’re living your life. It means you’ve figured out what your particular gifts are, and you’ve found a way to share them. Does that way have to be the thing that keeps a roof over your head? No, not necessarily. I think that’s ideal, but I think the main thing is to be sure you’re devoting a nice chunk of your time to those paths that bring you joy, and that offer you an opportunity to share what’s in your heart.

Self-acceptance is another huge part of the puzzle. If you despise yourself, you’re not going to be happy. Obvious, yes? If you have healing to do, there’s simply no avoiding it. If you’re enraged, ashamed, in a cycle of blame and shame, you’re going to have to move right into the center of your pain and have a seat. You do not have to stay there for the rest of your life, so don’t tell yourself it’s too hard. What’s too hard is living your whole life feeling frustrated and lost. Sitting with, examining, and understanding your issues, your pitfalls, your raw places and those tendencies that aren’t serving you, are the very things you need to do to liberate yourself from a lifetime of suffering. You can’t avoid your rage, or internalize it, or attach it to people outside yourself, or numb it out and think it’s going to go away, because it won’t. You have to deal with the source, and that’s deeply uncomfortable, painful work, but it’s also finite. Once you have a thorough understanding of why you feel and have felt the way you do and have, it will lose its grip on you. I promise you, this is the way it works. I’m not saying you’ll never have to deal with it again, I’m just saying this stuff will not own you anymore, it won’t rule your life, your behavior, and your choices. It won’t show up in its unrelenting way and block you from feeling a sustained sense of meaning, purpose and peace. Then you can go about the business of figuring out how you want to spend your time, and with whom, and how you’re going to share your gifts, and if you start to do your days like that, you’ll find you’re having some pretty happy and fulfilling weeks, months, years and decades. It’s not what we have, it’s what we give. Focus on giving, and the having takes care of itself. You’ll always have enough with this formula, because what you’ll have is meaning and purpose.

Lastly, take this literally several times a week–get sweaty. Feel your heart pumping. Remember you have a body, and use it and move it. Become your breath and your heartbeat and your sensations, and get out of your loud mind with it’s relentless and obsessive thoughts. Yoga is great for that; that is actually the purpose of yoga–to calm the storm that rages in the mind. It’s not about turning yourself into a pretzel, it’s a way of moving through life. It’s about the quality you’re bringing to whatever it is you’re doing. We practice being present on our mats, so we can be present in our lives.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Nothing Stays the Same

Nothing stays the same, not the house you grew up in, or your beloved dog, or your first crush. You aren’t the same you you were in high school, or even the same you you were last year and neither is anyone else. Do you have family or friends with kids you only see a couple of times a year? Aren’t you always astounded at how big they’ve gotten? We tend to try to keep things the way they are in our heads. This person exists this way in my mind. That guy I dated who broke my heart is a person who lacks compassion and doesn’t think about the effect of his actions on other people. Is that still true twenty years later? Maybe it is, and maybe there’s been incredible growth. My parents were this way or that way when I was growing up, and so now I’m like this. Are they still that way? Do you still need to be like this?

The earth is spinning around, and we are spinning around on it, and yet somehow we want to peg things down. I go to this grocery store and I buy these items and I eat at this time, and on these days I go to yoga and I get upset if someone else is in my spot. I know my partner, s/he is this way, and my best friend is like X, and you get the picture, right? Even your dog, who will love you consistently and unconditionally with every breath for his or her whole life, is changing, but we resist that reality, and are usually shocked and dismayed when loved ones die, even if they’re 97 years old and we knew it had to happen eventually. It’s almost like we think death happens to everyone but us. People almost always say that the loss of a loved one puts everything in perspective. Does it take death to wake us up? Do you really give a sh&t about ninety percent of the stuff you obsess over?

There are two times people seem to take action — when they’re desperate and when they’re inspired. Otherwise, you see most people simply trying to maintain the status quo. The status quo is changing, too. If it’s living, if it’s made up of energy, then it changes. When we resist the natural process of change, we strangle ourselves and others. We prevent our own growth, we limit our own potential, and we cling to things as they are, even as they’re slipping through our fingers as if we’re begging, “Please, I worked so hard to get here. Leave things alone, I’m all good.”

Things will keep shifting whether you want them to or not, so you might as well accept that; resisting it is futile and exhausting. If you’ve been participating in a situation that’s causing you deep pain and you’re feeling desperate for something to give, you need to examine your participation. The why of it is the key to your healing and the “good news” is that desperate people get things done, not that any of us would ask to get to that point. Chances are, if you haven’t been loving yourself well, that’s where you’re headed. Maybe it’s what you needed in order to start to move in a different direction. If you get to a point at work or at home where things are just intolerable, you’ll start to think of a way out. Your mind will begin with all its machinations to forge a new path and as soon as your mind begins to do that, to even consider a new way, you will figure out how to make it happen, even if you’ve been telling yourself for a long time that it’s impossible, that there is no way. There’s always a way.

If you can allow the idea that everything is in a constant state of flux to inspire you instead of terrify you, you’ll probably start to live with a little fire under your a$$, which is a good thing, I think. Too many people talk about wasting time or “killing time”, as if it’s limitless and it is. The world was spinning before we got here, and it will go on spinning after we’re gone. The real question is, what will you do with the time you’ve got? That’s finite. My feeling at this point in my life, is the more you invest your time and energy toward spreading love, the more you uncover your gifts and share them, the more you treasure those moments that are so easy to take for granted and recognize that just breathing deeply is a gift, the more you notice the beauty that’s all around you, the more your time here will have incredible meaning. Because it does. Your particular spark is not an accident. Shine it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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