Spiritual Bypass

hemingwayThere’s a huge difference between focusing on the good in your life, and ignoring or denying difficult or painful issues. There seems to be a manic need from the spiritual community at large to be positive and light in every moment, which is alienating to so many people, because the truth is, life is not “all good.” Part of being at peace has to do with our ability to integrate all parts of ourselves, and all chapters of our story. Part of loving other people has to do with our willingness to accept the whole person, the gorgeous parts, the quirky ones, and the stuff that’s raw and tender. Integrating the painful parts is different from dwelling upon them or magnifying them. We all have our struggles and our fears. We go through periods of confusion or despair, or we suffer because we’ve become attached to a picture in our heads of how things should be. Leaning into those uncomfortable feelings is an act of compassion, and it’s also the gateway to liberation. Pushing things down requires enormous energy, and when we repress feelings, we inadvertently give them power. They’re going to come out in other ways.

Clinging to happiness is no different than clinging to anything else—it’s going to cause you to suffer. The minute you feel anything other than positive, you’ve become a disappointment to yourself; a failure. If you reject any feeling that can’t go in the “gratitude column”, you’re going to be at war with yourself, judging yourself for those feelings and thoughts you deem to be negative or ungrateful or petty or unkind. You’ll just compound your pain with shame. We’re all human, and none of us operates from our highest self in every moment. When we sit to meditate, we don’t deny thoughts when they arise, we observe them. “Ah, I’m thinking, judging, clinging, obsessing, daydreaming…let me return to my breath.” Denying your experience is a sure way to create inner dissonance, when the whole point of a spiritual practice is to know yourself, to accept yourself, to find peace, and to feel the connection between yourself, and everyone and everything around you; to find union. Denial won’t get you there, and neither will rejection.

Imagine if you were getting to know someone, and they told you they only wanted to hear the good stuff about you. How close could you get? Yes, we always want to stay focused on all the things we do have—our good health if we’ve got it, the amazing people in our lives, the fact that we have a place to call home, and food to eat, the gifts we’ve been given, like time, our ability to feel the sun on our faces and the breeze on our skin, or that we can see the leaves blowing in the wind with their million shades of green. Laughter of the people closest to us, and also, laughter of total strangers. There’s so much to take in, and so many ways in which we’re gifted, just because we woke up today. Unless, of course, you’re going through knifing loss, and today is a day when it’s hard to breathe. We have to allow space for that possibility, too, because someone out there is dealing with that right now, this very minute, and they aren’t thinking about leaves, or their good health, or sunlight on their face, they’re trying to understand how the earth is still spinning, and people are doing things like putting gas in their cars as if everything has not changed.

A spiritual practice ought to be there for you when times are tough. It takes strength and bravery to face life head-on, and it also requires acknowledgement of our inherent vulnerability. If you want to do life well, if you want to do love well, you’re going to have to get acquainted with the underside of things. You’re going to have to be strong enough to face the dark, and also to embrace the light. If you try to pretend they don’t both exist, you’re not living in reality.

Joy and despair are flip sides of the same coin. I’m not telling you to be grateful for despair when it comes, I’m just saying we wouldn’t recognize joy the way that we do if we’d never felt bereft. If we’d never felt rejected, misunderstood, unseen or dismissed, we wouldn’t appreciate the feeling and relief of being totally accepted. I can look back on all the experiences in my life, particularly the devastating ones, and recognize how they opened me and taught me things about myself, other people, and the world at large. They were not always things I wanted to learn. There are a couple of lessons I would really, truly give back, but we don’t get to choose. Sometimes your heart breaks wide open and you think, “I won’t make it through this.” That’s when you have to hope the people in your life show up for you. Kindness matters. Caring matters. Being there matters, in fact, it matters a lot. The most insightful, kind, compassionate people I know, the most open and sensitive and trustworthy people, happen to be the same people who’ve suffered and grieved and found a way to let their experiences soften them instead of harden them.

Don’t ever let anyone shame you for your feelings. Feelings are not facts, and they aren’t forever. They arise, they peak and they subside. Some feelings take longer than others to cycle through, and if we’re going through something particularly brutal, like the loss of an entire person, we’re going to move through all kinds of feelings, many times. None of them are comfortable or positive. Shock, grief, confusion, rage, panic—those feelings are real and appropriate when we’re going through tragedy. These experiences and feelings do not have to go in a file marked, “thank you for this”; you don’t have to be grateful for everything. Just feel what you need to feel, and trust that over time you’ll be able to breathe without reminding yourself to do that. And let your suffering matter, eventually. Grow from it, and see if you can use it to be there for other people. At least, in that way, some beauty arises from the ashes.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

A Leg is a Leg

lincolnSometimes people come into our lives and there’s an instant and real connection there, but circumstances prevent us from exploring it. There’s no need to agonize over this. You can’t pursue every road; life is full of choices. There’s a reason we have the word “bittersweet.” Also, understand that there are times we idealize someone, or the feeling we have when we’re with them, simply because we’ll never get to really test it. Fantasy is easy, even with a real bond. Meeting once a decade for tea, or reconnecting on Facebook with someone you knew twenty years ago can bring you back. It can make you feel like you’re in a time warp, but if you really want to know how things would be with someone, you have to be in the foxhole with them at some point. Otherwise, it’s easy to feel like this would have been the person for you, if only things had worked out. Sending messages, meeting at Grand Central Station for an hour-long wistful coffee while you’re in town on business, that’s easy. Holding your baby at 3 o’clock in the morning as he’s throwing up for the sixth time in four hours, covering you both in vomit until you finally strip down to your underwear to lessen the laundry load, that’s something. Especially if your partner is there to take shifts with you, to discuss the merits of a trip to the ER, to hold you, too, because you’re on the verge of collapse—that’s when you really know, one way or the other.

Focus on what’s real in your life. Try not to take people for granted, or to be reckless with the heart of someone you say you love. If there are problems, welcome to real relationships. Life will never fail to put challenges in your path, it’s how you handle them that defines your relationship with yourself, and anyone else. It’s easy to lose the thread. You wake up with someone, day in and day out, for weeks, months, years, decades, and it’s easy to stop seeing them. I mean, to really take them in, and not just glance and nod your head like you’ve got it all figured out, because guess what? We’re all changing, all the time. Every single one of us. The person you chose to share your life with ten years ago, is not the same person today, and neither are you. We like to “peg” people, to think we “have them down”, but we’re always in process, and so are they; if you stop paying attention, you’re going to miss a lot, and no one likes to feel unseen or unheard. If two people stop showing up for each other, but continue living under the same roof, you can bet problems will follow.

A relationship exists in the space between you and the other person, whether we’re talking about your partner, your child, your parent, or the person behind the counter at the juice bar. What you put into that space is up to you. If we’re talking about intimate, longterm relationships, you have to be especially mindful about what you’re contributing, because complacency won’t get you there. Boredom, rage, frustration, blame and criticism won’t do it, either. You can’t control other people, or where they are on their own path. You can only do your end, you can only work to keep your side of the street clean, but you can inspire other people to be kind, compassionate, caring and present, by being those things yourself. If they don’t follow suit, if you try to communicate but find it’s falling on deaf ears, you may not be able to walk the distance together. It takes two people to make that third thing beautiful; that third thing being the relationship.

Maybe it can’t work, and that’s hard. It hurts. Depending upon circumstances, it can hurt a lot. If there are children in the picture, for example, it’s brutal, but understand that they live in that space between you and your partner, and if it’s polluted, they’re going to suffer. If you can’t make the space safe, loving, healthy and nurturing, it’s time to come up with a new plan. Turning your attention to fantasy won’t help anyone, but people do it all the time. They allow a flirtation at work to grow into a full-fledged situation, with heated emotion, and lying and desperation. It’s easy to justify poor behavior when you’ve felt discarded or rejected for years, but that just adds to the mess. It involves a whole other person, with all their feelings and complexities. It adds a layer of guilt and shame and hopelessness to a situation that’s already bleak. You really have to go to the source. If you’re unhappy, unfulfilled, misunderstood, it’s time to have a conversation. It’s time to sit down and get real with your partner, who already knows things are not okay. If it’s so bad you’re ready to trade in your integrity, and your ability to feel good about yourself, communication is long overdue. Some things are just not sustainable. Sometimes the foxhole is full of broken promises, dreams, hopes and potential. All that stuff has been shot up over the years, and now it’s time to see if you can piece things back together. If there’s enough there to start again, and start new, as you are now, and maybe you’re going to find that you can’t. But dealing with reality as it is, is always the place to start.

When we struggle in a relationship, we all like to think that things would be different if we had a different partner. And let me say this—maybe you chose someone when you were too young to really know yourself. Maybe you got hitched because you turned thirty and it seemed like the thing to do. Maybe you thought you knew your partner, but found out once you were in it, that so much had been edited out. Maybe you thought you wanted intimacy, but once you had it, you realized it isn’t for you. It isn’t for everyone, and that’s just reality, but if the truth is that if you’re not happy on the inside, finding a new partner won’t fix that. It’ll catch up with you. We can’t run from our pain, or gloss it over, or push it down or numb it out, and expect life to feel good. It won’t. Whatever it is, deal with it. Take it by the horns, and own it, because you don’t have all the time in the world. You want to be at peace, and you want the people you love to be at peace, and you want to be able to face yourself in the mirror when you’re brushing your teeth at the end of the day and feel you can look yourself in the eye. These things are really important. There’s no judgement here. People screw up royally, all the time. Someone is making a huge, messy mistake right this second. Sometimes that’s what we need to learn a painful lesson, or own the fact that we’re miserable, and start to make hard choices. So don’t go to self-loathing, because you’ll get stuck there. Just start where you are. Yoga is great for this, by the way. One of the biggest things we work on is the ability to lean into our uncomfortable feelings, and to work with reality as it is, to breathe when we feel challenged, to trust that everything is always in flux, to understand that how we feel now is not how we will always feel, and to pause and listen before we act. When you follow your intuition, the way becomes clear.

Sending you love and a hug,

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

Hungry for the Truth

mandyhaleAttachment leads to suffering. As human beings, we are going to be attached to our loved ones, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to avoid that. We’re going to be attached to wanting our families to be happy and healthy and living in a way that feels good and right to them. Connection and love and shared experiences are the best things in life. It’s just that when we allow ourselves to be attached, we also allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You can’t have one without the other, and the reality is, we are going to lose people we don’t know how to live without. Sometimes this happens because we’re in these bodies with their unknown expiration dates, and we just don’t know how much time we have with each other, and sometimes it happens because we grow apart from people with whom we were once so close, this eventuality seems impossible.

Few things cause us greater suffering than attachment to a picture we have in our heads of “how things should be”, or “how people should be”, or “how life should look.” That “should” is such a dangerous word. Sometimes we’ve attached our happiness to a particular outcome, and anything less, or anything else, just won’t do. So many people attach their happiness to externals. It’s the old, “I’ll-Be-Happy-When” formula. “I’ll be happy when I lose ten pounds, or have a different job, or a bigger house, or a faster car. I’ll be happy when I meet the ‘right’ person, or win the approval of my parents, or book that big gig…” It goes on and on, and I’ll tell you what. If that’s the formula you’re working with, happiness will always be just out of reach because it will never be enough. Anything outside of you will never equal your happiness. You plus the right person won’t do it. You plus the big house won’t do it, either. You minus the ten, fifteen, twenty pounds won’t get you there. It’s inside work.

I know this from my own personal experience. I tried the “me plus lots of external stuff” way for many years, and I exhausted myself. The funny thing is, while we’re out there in hot pursuit of that place called happy, inside it never feels right. We know, intuitively, it’s pointless, but we’re taught that this is the way, so many of us hang in there hoping, for many years. At a certain point, I stopped chasing happiness, and I got hungry for the truth. When I say “the truth”, I’m not talking about it like there’s one truth for everyone. I mean, I got hungry for my own truth, the truth of my own experience. Sometimes we think, “If only I could get this person to love me and see me and understand me and cherish me, then I’d be happy!!” And “this person” is not necessarily a romantic partner (although that’s often the case). It might be your mother or your father, or your mercurial Uncle Howard. Sometimes we start out with a parent who seems out of our reach and we repeat the pattern later in life by choosing partners who can’t or won’t commit to us. You can literally make yourself sick trying to be perfect for other people, trying to make yourself worthy, trying to dance like a monkey to earn love, trying to be something other than what you are just to get that thing you so desperately want—your happiness. But you’ll never be happy by trying to be something you are not. The alternative is to lean into the truth of whatever is real.

Maybe you have a parent who will never be able to love you in the way you long to be loved, perhaps they’re just not capable. You can receive that fact as a reflection of something lacking within you, but the much likelier reality is that it’s a deficit within them. People can only be where they are, and they can only use the tools they’ve got. If you’ve chosen a partner who can’t commit, you could interpret that data as an indication that there’s something about you that just isn’t good enough, or you could accept that perhaps this person has deep fears around intimacy, or maybe it’s just not where they’re at at this particular moment in time. Accepting reality as it is, without taking it personally, is such a huge relief. Getting hungry for the truth is a liberation. Setting yourself free of the idea that only one outcome can lead to your happiness opens you to a whole new world of possibilities. And yes, accepting that someone might not love you the way you love them, or might not want to commit to you is going to hurt, but it’s also going to allow you to breathe again, and to feel like your feet are planted solidly on the ground. It’s going to give you back your self-respect and your self-esteem, which you have to check at the bars of your prison cell when you make yourself unable to release your attachment to a happy ending that isn’t in the cards.

The other thing is, opening to reality as it is, gives you power and peace. You’re not busy telling yourself stories, or pretending things are other than what they are. You aren’t spending your time or energy pretending that you are other than what you are, and I have to say, that’s a pretty happy feeling. It puts you at ease. It allows you to release your grip, to stop your grasping and clinging. It relieves you of any notion that things are “happening to you.” It puts you back in the power seat. There’s no desire to force or manipulate or cajole. Why would you do any of that? You just allow things to flow, and trust that when they’re right, it’s clear, and if you have to force, it isn’t right. So much simpler, so much happier. I highly recommend it.

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

P.S. If this was helpful, you can buy Ally’s books here.

Direct Your Energy

churchillNot everyone is going to like you, or me, that’s just a reality of life. Sometimes we’ll be misunderstood, judged, rejected, excluded, or ignored. None of these things feels good, but human beings are complex. Some people need to be angry, or they need for you to be the bad guy, or they need to rewrite history so they can live with themselves. There’s nothing you can do about that. If a person won’t or can’t communicate in a respectful and compassionate way, there isn’t a lot of hope for mutual understanding or closure. On the flip side, sometimes we’ll screw up, and we may not be met with forgiveness. Once you’ve owned your mistakes and apologized, there’s not much more you can do, except try to do it differently next time.

Sometimes we spend our energy on the people who are looking to bring us down, thereby using up energy we could have spent on the people who can see us clearly. And look, I’m not saying we’re all wonderful. We all have work to do, places to heal, ways we could show up for ourselves and the people in our lives that might be infused with more enthusiasm or presence or gratitude. I’m talking about the tendency to get snagged on those people who are full of venom. Sometimes you’re dealing with a personality disorder, but if you try to rationalize with someone who cannot hear reason, you’re as nuts as they are. It’s not like we have all the time in the world, and where and how you direct your energy has the biggest impact on how your life will feel.

By this same token, sometimes we dwell on all the things we don’t have, and all the ways life is presenting its challenges, when we could be focusing on those things that are flowing, and are fulfilling. I’m not saying we should shun people who are struggling, in pain, or full of rage. Compassion when possible is always the path, but to spend hours, days, weeks, years getting caught up in other people’s dramas is not the best use of your time. You have a song to sing. You have dreams, fears, things that inspire you, scare you, excite you. You probably have a vision of how you’d like life to be or to feel, gifts within you that you long to share, ideas that you’d love to see blossom into being. That’s where you want to direct your energy. There will always be barking dogs, or, in the vernacular of our time, “haters gonna hate.” Don’t allow too much of your precious time and energy to go toward that stuff, and try not to dwell on what you’re lacking at this particular point in time.

It’s not always a choice, but the more we can choose to be grateful for all we have, the better we’re going to feel. This is not realistic when you’re dealing with heartache, rage, grief, jealousy, guilt or shame. I’m not one of those, “It’s always in your power to be happy” kind of yogis. Real, actual, devastating things happen sometimes, and your best bet is to feel all of your feelings. We don’t take the road marked, “Spiritual Bypass” on this page, but short of tragedies and great losses, direct your energy toward the good stuff. You’re not going to get to the end of your life and think, “I wish I’d been angry and defensive more. I wish I’d held onto my righteousness a little more fervently. Too bad I didn’t judge and gossip more of the time.”

Open your heart. Nurture yourself and the people close to you. Care about everyone, but don’t get stuck in a ditch with people who do nothing but hurt you. You aren’t here for that.

Sending you love, as always!

Ally Hamilton

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

Aisle 5

douglassAt the time that I write this, I have an almost-eight year old, and a five year old, and so I spend a lot of time with little kids, and not just my own, and I’ll tell you something about kids, in case you don’t hang around with them very much: Kids know themselves. If they’re angry, they’re fully red-in-the-face angry. If they’re sad, they’re fat-tears-streaming-down-your-face sad. If they’re scared, or frustrated or confused or cranky, they’re all of these things fully, and because they allow their emotions to arise and peak and subside, they cycle through their feelings quickly, and one of the great gifts of being this way, is that you don’t push things down, or edit things out. You just feel how you feel, and you let it out. If you love someone, you wrap your arms around them, and kiss their whole face. If you don’t like something, you tell everyone within earshot how you feel about it. If you want something, you aren’t shy about asking for it. It doesn’t occur to you to shrink yourself, or question your right to take up space in this world. It doesn’t occur to you that you aren’t special and important. At least, that’s how it is if you’re loved and nurtured. These feelings are natural to us.

Now, look, I’m not suggesting that we should all behave the way we did when we were three in every area of life. If you go to the store and they’re out of your favorite brand of peanut butter, it’s not going to be appropriate for you to throw yourself on the floor of aisle 5 and wail, and pound your fists on the tiles at the injustice of it all. If you do that, you will very likely meet a whole bunch of police officers, paramedics, and firemen. Part of the reason a nurtured child lets things out, is that his or her nervous system isn’t yet developed enough to do anything else. Good parenting requires that you teach your children what is okay, and what is not okay, but as a society, I believe we ask our children to edit out and push down too much, and as result, we end up with generations of people who are lost to themselves.

Every loving parent wants her or his child to be happy, healthy, safe, joyful, confident, curious, kind, open, loving and trusting, but human beings are complex, and life is full of everything. We don’t just get the light, we get the shadows, too. We are not going to be happy in every moment. Not everything in life goes into the “positive” category. Some things are brutal, some things are devastating, some things will break your heart wide open. Sometimes, loving parents are so invested in the idea that their children are happy, it’s hard for them to hold space for them to be anything less than that, even for a moment. I hear parents all the time telling their children not to be sad, or scared, or angry. It’s not much different than treating the symptom, instead of the underlying cause. If it were as simple as saying “Don’t be sad”, if that would magically make us all happy, I’d say it myself, but of course that doesn’t work. Is it hard to watch your child struggle or cry or endure disappointment? Absolutely. But teaching your child to push down or edit out her or his emotions because they’re making you feel uncomfortable or inadequate or frustrated or ashamed or confronted, just feeds the cycle of repression. I don’t say that in any kind of shaming way. Shame is the least productive feeling we can have about places where we might need to shine some light.

Many of us received this kind of parenting, because this is what we’re taught as a culture, right? Happiness lies in external things. Push down your feelings of longing and confusion, and just make things look right on the outside, then you’ll feel better. I think we’ve all come to understand that doesn’t work. It’s just going to take time to change the conversation and the story we’re telling as a people. It’s going to take effort and awareness and a desire to check ourselves when we’re tempted to smooth things over, or distract or manage how other people are feeling, whether they’re our kids or our partners or our friends, because people do this with their friends, too. Have you ever reached out to someone when you’re in need, only to be met with advice you didn’t want, that doesn’t help to do anything but make you feel more alienated and alone? When all you wanted was to be heard and understood?

It takes time to shift and breathe when someone we love is struggling. It takes effort to be able to sit with someone’s despair or loneliness or fear without trying to fix it, and I believe the best way to make that shift, is to start with yourself. When you have moments of discomfort or jealousy, of shame or rage or blame, of despair or longing or fear, of loneliness or guilt, instead of trying to distract yourself or numb yourself or run anyway, you lean into it. You breathe into it. You acknowledge how things are for you in this particular moment, which is already morphing and shifting and changing into something else. You allow the feelings to arise and peak and subside. You allow the tears to come, or you allow yourself to feel enraged or bitter or insecure. You sit with that stuff without judging it, because they’re just feelings, they’re not you. You aren’t defined by the fleeting emotions and thoughts that cruise through your being from moment-to-moment and day-to-day. You’re defined by what you do with and about those feelings, by how willing you are to hold some space for yourself just to be human, and by how much you’re able to do that for other people, because that’s a lot more comforting than unwanted advice. That way, you aren’t lost to yourself, you’re known to yourself.

There are many great things we can learn as we grow. We can learn how to listen deeply. We can learn about compassion and empathy. We can learn about showing up for ourselves and for other people. But there are also some things we might have to unlearn. To me, this is a big part of the yoga practice. So much of it is about stripping away anything that isn’t real for you, that isn’t authentic to you, because I do think we know most of the important stuff when we arrive here. We know we need people. We know we need connection, and warmth, and touch and love. We know that it feels good to give love. We know that it’s okay for us to take our place in this world, and to shine. I don’t wish you a melt-down on aisle 5, but I do wish you the gift of coming home to yourself.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton