Unlearn and Re-learn

pemaarrowheartSometimes we develop coping mechanisms in childhood, and we keep using them as we grow, even if we’ve removed ourselves from those situations that made them necessary. If you learned to push your feelings down as a child, for example, it’s highly likely you’ll grow into an adult who has difficulty expressing yourself. This stuff doesn’t just vanish, after all, and like anything else, it’s always easier to learn something the right way, than it is to unlearn one thing and relearn another. But if you’re like most people, you’ll have some unlearning to do.

Awareness isn’t the whole story, although it goes a long way. We can’t change a habit unless we know we have one, but you might be incredibly self-aware, and still feel stuck. You might realize you have abandonment issues, and you might know exactly why that is, but if you start to feel uncertain in a relationship, that overwhelming fear you’ll be left can be crippling even if you know you’re being triggered. A lot of people get stuck at this very point. They recognize their “stuff”, they’ve tried to heal by bringing these wounds into the light, but the power of the pain is undiminished when push comes to shove. Pain is still running the show.

The best way to unlearn one thing and relearn another is to work with your own experience, your own nervous system, your own mind. Reading about concepts can be very helpful, but putting them into practice is where it’s at. Thinking about high levels of reactivity and how that can disempower you is good, but working on non-reactivity and empowering yourself is better. I don’t think you can just take someone’s word for this stuff, no matter how much you trust them, or feel they “get it”. If you want to make significant shifts inside yourself, you have to get…inside yourself, right?

Yoga is brilliant for this, but only if you practice with compassion and patience, because of course you can show up on your mat and be cruel and unforgiving with yourself (I know, because I did that for years!). Only you know the quality of the voice inside your head. I mean, if you’re clearly frustrated when you fall out of a pose, your teacher doesn’t have to be a mind-reader to guess you’re dealing with a loud inner critic, but you don’t have to give that critic power. You could tell that voice to f&ck off with a little smile on your face, and find a way to come back to your breath. Maybe you could take yourself a little less seriously, and start to understand the poses are tools, and they’ll only work well if you use them wisely. Then you might start to feed a loving, compassionate voice. The kind you’d use if you were speaking to your best friend, or your child, or someone else you love with all your heart.

There’s something incredibly powerful about a visceral experience. If you feel challenged in a pose, or you feel infringed upon by the person next to you, you have a chance to work with those feelings. Maybe when you feel confronted in your day-to-day life, you run, or you dig your heels in, or you take yourself somewhere else deep within you, or you get loud or aggressive. The possibilities are endless. but if you know you have beliefs and tendencies that aren’t serving you, that are, in fact, impeding your ability to live life in a way that feels good, you do not have to accept that this is “just the way things are”, or that this is, “how you are”. You don’t have to push people away, or cut yourself off from the pain by also cutting yourself off from the love and the joy. You don’t have to give up on yourself. You just have to get busy unlearning so you can relearn. You have to watch what you feed yourself on every level. You have to choose thoughts that will strengthen you and not weaken you, and all these things take time and practice, but I really don’t know of a better endeavor. You can’t offer up the best of yourself and tear yourself down simultaneously. The world really needs each of us to offer up the best of what we’ve got right now, so healing is a gift you give to yourself, but ultimately, it’s a gift you offer to the world. You can get started right here, right now. I hope you do.

Sending you love and hugs,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

Don’t Wait

When-someone-tells-me-noWaiting can be a particular kind of agony, whether we’re waiting for a call, an email response, the results of a test, a job interview, or a first date. We never know what’s going to happen, even though we like to think we do. Tomorrow isn’t promised, and we can make all the plans we like, we can create our routines and try to make order out of chaos, but there’s no getting around that truth, and for many people there’s the impulse to run from it, but I think if you accept and embrace that you don’t know what’s coming, or how much time you’ve got, it can also inspire you. A little fire under your a$$ can be a great thing. That way you don’t get caught up in the idea that you can “waste” time, or “kill” time, because you know it’s precious.

Why do we agonize when we’re waiting for the phone to ring? Do we really think our happiness lies in the outcome? People will like us and get us and understand us, and other people will not do any of those things. The news will be good, there won’t be any news, or the news will be bad. The real issue isn’t the news. It’s how you’re spending your time and energy. Waiting is probably not a great use of your time, because it takes you out of the power seat, and I don’t mean power over other people, I mean the power you can exert over how you’re going to use the time you have. If you have a dream, if you have something to say, something to offer, you just keep going. There’s no need to wait. If you keep directing your energy toward spreading some love with every day you’ve got, I really believe that momentum will build on itself. Giving for the sake of giving is the reward. It happens as you’re doing it. If you’re giving to get, that’s another thing altogether.

Is it okay to want good things in your life? Love, companionship, affection, at least one person who sees you and knows you and cherishes you? Of course, but if a person isn’t running in your direction, and I mean this whether we’re talking about a romantic or a professional interest, keep going. They can catch up if it’s the right thing. Waiting feels like sh&t. Waiting for someone’s approval, acknowledgement, love, attention, respect. Screw that. If a person doesn’t have it to give, get going. Give it to yourself, and keep giving it to yourself, and don’t let anyone or anything cause you to doubt your ability to offer something only you can. There’s only one of you. In a world of seven billion people. You think you were put here to wait? I don’t.

I’m not talking about patience, which is something else. We all need patience in this world. Sometimes we have to be patient with ourselves, and our inclination to give someone else power over us. Maybe we have healing to do. Maybe we doubt whether we’re lovable at our very core. Maybe we have to be patient with someone we love. I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about hours, afternoons, days, weeks when most of your energy is spent waiting for something to happen, instead of living each beautiful day you’re given in awe and wonder and gratitude, or in deep sadness if that’s where it’s at, but not allowing your energy, your essence to be derailed while you obsess over what someone else might or might not do. How someone else might or might not reward you. How you might or might not be received and understood. What calamity might or might not befall you. That’s what I’m talking about. Life is too short for that, and you are too precious. Carry on, you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton


birdsingsongChoice involves loss, and for many people, paralysis at a crossroads is a desire to choose without losing. It’s not always easy to let go of ideas or feelings or questions or desires, and boldly pick a path. For most people there’s some fear, and a need to grapple with all the pros and cons of moving one way or another.

Commitment to anything—another person, a job, your life’s purpose, a move to a new city, a lease on a house, or a car, or a new way of being, also involves the decision to release other options, at least for a time. If you decide to commit to a romantic partner, you’re also deciding to forego explorations with anyone else. If you live in one place, you’re giving up the culture, geographical benefits, aesthetics, flavors, smells, rhythms, and personality of any other.

If you decide you have to start living your life in a different way, and you commit to that journey, you’re also saying goodbye to your old way of being, your coping mechanisms, your comfort zone, your dynamics with all the people who’ve known you forever. Choosing and changing aren’t easy because we can’t predict the future, and sometimes fear becomes overwhelming. What if we pick the wrong path? What if we commit our time and energy to something or someone, and learn down the line that it just doesn’t feel right? How will we recover, or shift gears, or handle the guilt of disappointing the people in our lives, or ourselves?

The thing is, you go with your gut, with all the information you have at hand, and with a willingness to give a thing everything you’ve got. If it turns out it’s not the right path, then you’ve learned a tremendous amount, and you change course again. It’s never too late until your final exhale, and most people don’t have it all figured out when they graduate from college. We start asking our kids at two, three, four years old what they want to be when they grow up, and we ingrain in them this pressure to know, but we’re always in process and the story is always unfolding, and if you can’t roll with it at least a little bit, you’re going to suffer.

You’ll never know if something is right unless you give it a go, and as human beings we are fallible and vulnerable and we each grapple with our own pain. Life isn’t linear, it’s everything all at once, and so are we. We’re confident and scared and happy and lonely and full of love and judgement and beauty and shame and joy and sometimes deep insecurity or self-loathing. At the very center, I really believe there’s love, and I don’t think we have much time to waste longing for a crystal ball. I think you’re better off choosing boldly, and trying with all your heart than you are agonizing and having the same conversation nine million times. Pick Paris, and if it doesn’t work out, give Positano a go. Pick Jack, and if that doesn’t work give Sally a go. Just pick something, and go for it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

Focus on the Days, Not the Decades

Waiting-is-painfulSomebody sent me an email today asking what I do when I don’t know what to do. She said she has big choices to make, but none of the options look good; no matter which way she turns, there’s suffering. Life is like that sometimes, and it’s just not easy when we come to those forks in the road.

I like the saying, “When you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything,” and of course, there’s the White Rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland”, with his famous line, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” When I don’t know what to do, meditation is always helpful. Getting quiet so you can hear the voice of your intuition is a good plan.

When your decisions are mostly going to impact you, it’s a bit less daunting. You may make a regrettable choice, but sometimes that’s how we have to learn, so we can make different choices the next time, or so we learn something about ourselves, or life, or other people. Maybe there are growing pains, but anything that helps us to see ourselves more clearly is ultimately helpful. When your decisions impact other people, like your children, for example, it’s exponentially harder.

“Paralysis through analysis” springs to mind. We can’t nurture ourselves or anyone else when we’re stuck, and in fear. Fear is a perfectly natural feeling we’ll all experience, but it’s not a great motivator. I mean, sometimes we have to feel the flames scorching our ankles before we move, I’m just saying whenever possible, coming from love is always better than coming from fear.

None of us has a crystal ball. It’s not like we get to make both choices, living our parallel lives so we can see which way is better, and then circle back and decide. Also, we really have no clue what anyone else’s journey is supposed to look like. If you’re making choices that impact other people, you just have to do the best you can to weigh it all out.

Sitting at the fork in the road biting your nails and agonizing isn’t going to serve anyone. If you have to act, move in the direction that seems the most likely to be the least painful. That’s the very best you can do sometimes. Life doesn’t always unfold the way we expected or hoped, and you truly never know what may happen down the road. Maybe nothing makes sense right now, but later the pieces will all fit together.

It isn’t all light and positive. Some of it breaks your heart. Sometimes you have to make your best guess and feel your way along and see what happens. You do the best you can with the information you’ve got and you try to move toward love. Something will happen, you can be sure of that, and maybe you can work on trusting yourself, and your ability to open to the vulnerability inherent in this experience of being human. You can always find beauty, joy, love and gratitude on any given day. Focus on your days and not the decades out in front of you. Try to unearth the gifts each day. The smile of someone you love, or someone you don’t even know. The sound of laughter from those closest to you. Hugs. The sun on your face. Your ability to uplift other people in small ways and large. Give everything you’ve got from your heart, because you’ll never run out of love. Move toward those things that inspire you and light you up. Piece together a bunch of those days, and you’ll be looking at a good life.

Sending love and a hug to anyone who needs it,

Ally Hamilton

Let it Out

freudOnce when I was about seven years old, I left my mom’s house and headed to school for a field trip. My parents got divorced when I was four, and I went back and forth, four nights at my mom’s, three at my dad’s, the following week four at my dad’s, and so on and so on. For whatever reason, I woke up that morning and didn’t want to be away from my mom for the next few days, and I cried my way through The Museum of Natural History, past the elephants and tigers and bears, the scenes of Native Americans, the giant whale and the dinosaurs. I went to an after-school program, and I cried my way through that, as well. When my step-mom came to pick me up, the director pulled her aside and said I’d had a really rough day. She let her know my teacher said I’d been crying at the museum, and that it had continued, and that she felt my step-mom would want to know.

My stepmother was so embarrassed, she walked thirty feet in front of me all the way home, so I was forced to run to keep up. I apologized over and over again. I told her I hadn’t actually cried the whole day, and that I was glad to see her, but she wouldn’t speak to me, and she was cold the whole time I was there that visit. Before you go thinking my step-mom was some terrible person, let me say that she was not. She was twenty-three when she met my dad, so she was about twenty-six when this happened, and she took it personally, and she also worried that everyone would think things were horrible at my dad’s, or why would I be so upset? People can only be where they are, and they can only have the tools they have. We all know what we know, until we learn more. She’d also call in and take the day off of work if I was sick, and she’d make me crepes and cover me with a blanket. She was a good person in a difficult situation, and she didn’t always rise to the occasion, like most of us.

For lots of different reasons, I learned to push my feelings down. I understood if I said I missed my mom, this upset my stepmother, so I kept it to myself, even at school. I didn’t confide in teachers or friends, because I realized things got repeated, and people might let the cat out of the bag in an effort to help. When you start editing yourself and repressing your feelings as a child, it becomes a habit, a way of being. As a society, we often encourage our children to do just that; we tell them not to cry, not to be sad or angry or scared, as if, “Don’t be sad” really solves anything. The message is, certain feelings make grown-ups uncomfortable, and therefore, they should not be expressed.

We’re all going to feel everything in this life, and when you reject certain parts of yourself, you also lose touch with your own inner voice, your own intuition. You bury it until you can’t hear it anymore, or you close yourself off in your own little world, and grow into an adult who feels isolated and alienated and lost.

Your feelings are markers for how things are with you, they let you know if something is a “yes” or a “no”. They show you where there’s still healing to be done. They teach you about who you are and what you need. They’re not something you want to push down, because if you do, you’ll be lost.

The pain, anger, grief, shame, fear, guilt and/or confusion you might feel show you exactly where you are, and they point you in the right direction. To cut yourself off from those feelings is to lose the potential to heal, and to know yourself well and deeply, and not knowing yourself is the loneliest thing there is. Feelings won’t kill you, but pushing them down certainly can. Maybe not literally, but anything within you that you reject will own you. We all long to heal, I truly believe that. The heart wants to heal so it can open again. If you want to sit with your feelings, that’s all you have to do. Sit down and breathe, and see what comes up.

You don’t have to act on every feeling you have. You don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. You don’t have to accept a feeling as a fact, and you do want to remember that no feeling goes on forever — how it is now is not how it will always be.

Facing yourself feels scary, but the more frightening thing is to avoid that work. If you need help with it, try this.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3


We-first-make-our-habitsRewiring your system is never easy; after all, it took years to get it up and running, and if you’ve come to the conclusion that an overhaul is in order, you can count on some resistance and turbulence. We have our experiences, and we figure out how to cope with whatever struggles and challenges we’ve faced. If your early childhood was not stable for whatever reason, you figured out how to self-soothe, or you didn’t. If you had stability in your early years, but faced loss or tragedy later, you found a way to get through, or you wouldn’t be reading this right now. If demands were placed on you to keep the peace, you learned how to repress your own needs and wants. The human heart can be very resilient, and the will to survive, strong.

Having said that, it’s very possible that your coping mechanisms aren’t serving you well anymore. Sometimes we develop a thick skin, or we dissociate, or numb out, or make ourselves so busy we don’t have time to feel anything. If all you’ve ever done is direct your energy outward, and extend yourself for other people, it’s not going to be a simple matter of deciding one day to shift your attention to your own peace and happiness. You’re probably going to have to work for those things.

Care-taking at the expense of your own well-being is exhausting. In this context, the premise is that your worth is determined by how much you’re able to do or be for other people; if you want love, you have to earn it. Your needs are not the thing, the other person’s are…how you feel is not on the menu. When we bend over backwards for people, we lose our center. I’m not talking about giving of yourself, or being of service, or using your gifts to uplift those around you. I’m a big believer in sharing whatever you’ve got, in lending a hand, a shoulder, your ear, your heart. I’m talking about a one-way street where you do all the giving, and the other person or people do all the taking; where you’re constantly trying to manage another person’s path, or fix what isn’t working for them. When we try to save other people, we lose ourselves, and we also set ourselves up for failure. If we could do each other’s journeys, we would. We’d remove obstacles and suffering from the paths of our children, our parents, our best friends and our partners, but you can’t save people, you can just love them. You can’t make another person happy, or reliable, or compassionate. You can’t make anyone fall in love with you, or show up for you, or take care of themselves. People do these things, or they do not. You can give someone all the love in your heart, but that won’t fix things if they don’t love themselves. Care-taking doesn’t work for either side of the equation.

Numbing out doesn’t work, either. You’re a slave to your pain, and to the agent that numbs it. You’ll need more and more of whatever that is, and your pain will own you. The people who love you will suffer, and here, too, you’ll lose yourself.

Running and making yourself insanely busy also lead to pain and exhaustion. Keeping people at an arms’ length is a lonely way to go. Making yourself hard so no one can get close to you, hurt you, or leave you also ensures that no one gets to really love you. Bailing when things get tough, wallowing in self-pity, marinating in rage and blame, none of these coping mechanisms will serve your highest good, and yet, it’s not as easy as deciding to break the habit.

If you’ve been operating a certain way for years, reworking the way you relate to other people and to the world at large is no easy feat, but it is doable. If you’ve developed habits or ways of getting through during turbulent times, you have to understand, at least on a subconscious level, you’re living in the past if you’re still functioning as if you’re under fire.

If you want to rewire your system, you have to set about the business of finding tools for healing that will work for you, and that’s extraordinarily personal work, and will probably involve exploration and determination. As you’re beginning that process, it’s very likely you’re going to feel depressed. You might wonder why you’d feel that way while you’re trying to make positive changes, but if you think about it, it makes sense. You’re intentionally crashing your own hard drive. Your system won’t know quite what to do with that.

If you’re trying to set healthy boundaries for the first time in your life, you’re likely to encounter resistance from within, and from those who are used to your usual way of moving through the world. When you shift, everything around you shifts. Most people resist change, even though it’s the only thing we can count on. Re-learning how to be with yourself, and other people takes time, effort and patience. Re-birthing yourself doesn’t happen without pain, fear and discomfort, but no feeling is forever, and I’d rather be deeply uncomfortable for a short while, than miserable for a whole lifetime.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton


Love-makes-your-soulYears ago, way before I had my kids, and before I moved to Los Angeles, I let my best friend’s mother set me up on Valentine’s Day. It’s already bad, right? Just right off the bat, it’s a bad idea, but she said he was funny and really smart and nice looking and she thought we’d hit it off. So I met my best friend and her then-husband for dinner, and after, we headed to this club where said guy was going to meet up with us.

So we’re dancing and having a good time when the dude shows up. I take my hat off to him (not that I’m wearing one), because that’s no easy gig, showing up on Valentine’s night to meet a girl for the first time, who’s flanked by her best friend, and her best friend’s then-husband. It’s loud, but we try to talk, or at least I’m trying to talk, but it’s kind of useless, so we hit the dance-floor. It’s like dancing with an octopus, his hands are everywhere, and he’s grinning at me, and I’m like, dude, back off. It’s not at the point where I want to knee him in the huevos rancheros, but it’s not cool, and he’s saying something to me, but I can’t hear it over the music, and he, apparently, can’t hear me telling him to “calm down”, while I remove his eight arms from my person. He’s determined to say this thing to me, whatever it is, so I lean in closer, and he yells in my ear, “You look hot! It must be hot in there! I think we should go somewhere so you can take off your dress!!!” At which point I told him to get lost in no uncertain terms.

I share this with you in case you’re depressed about Valentine’s Day, even though I hope you aren’t. Someday, maybe I’ll share my New Year’s Eve story with you, which is even worse. But my point is, you really can’t force these things. You fall in love when you’re good and ready, when the timing works out, when you cross paths with someone else who’s also ready. It could happen on a blind date on Valentine’s Day, but it could also happen on any random Tuesday for no reason. That’s probably more likely, because when we pressure ourselves to feel something we don’t, to force a situation to be “right” because we think we “should” be at a certain milestone by now, it doesn’t work.

I get emails from people who think they “should” be married by thirty because all their friends are doing it, and that’s a nice round number, right? I get emails from people who are in their fifties and sixties, still trying to find that thing that lights them up, and feeling like they’ve failed because they haven’t. It’s never too late; if you’re breathing, you still have a chance. It’s not easy to be patient, to allow yourself to open, to allow the future to unfold. We want what we want, and usually, we want it now. The yearning for connection, for someone to see us and understand us and cherish us can be so strong, and the lack of those things can be so disheartening, especially if you’ve been waiting and wanting for a long time. I’m not just talking about romantic love, I’m talking about real connection, of any nature, but everything can change in an instant. That’s really the truth, and in the meantime, you get to be you, figuring it out.

That’s a huge thing, getting to be you. Nobody else gets to do that. Maybe you want love, but you have healing to do, work to do. That’s something you can start right now; that’s something that doesn’t require waiting. You can start nurturing yourself today. You could sit and meditate for a few minutes. If you did that every day for awhile, I guarantee you’d start to feel love and peace and connection. That might sound incredible and improbable, and in that case I’d challenge you to give it a try. You could buy yourself some flowers and a little dark chocolate, and go home and watch, “Moonstruck” tonight, since it’s a full moon and a movie that has the guts to look at how complicated human beings and love can be. It’s not always pretty, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful.

Personally, if you are in a relationship, I hope every day is Valentine’s Day, every day is a day to celebrate the person you’re with, but whatever your situation, the key relationship in your life is the one you’re having with yourself. That’s a relationship that deserves your time, energy and attention, because if you aren’t being kind to yourself, I’d really start there. You have this gorgeous heart. Chances are, it’s been broken by now, at least once, and badly. Maybe you’ve been disappointed, betrayed, neglected, abandoned. Whatever it is, when your heart breaks you have a choice. You can allow that to harden you, or to soften you. I’ve tried both. I’ve never been good at being hard, but when I tried that, I can tell you it felt terrible–cold, lonely, depressing. In order to be hard, you have to close yourself off, you have to defend yourself against your own natural, inherent vulnerability. You might block out the chances of anyone breaking down your walls, but you also block the chances for joy, love, beauty, and all the other gifts this life has to offer. Softening feels so much better. It is what it is. It has been what it has been, but there’s no telling how it could be. Life has a way of surprising us again and again. Just when we give up and think, “I guess that’s it, then”, something happens to throw everything off course. Don’t lose faith in life’s ability to confound you, and maybe in incredible ways. Wishing you love and hugs and joy and laughter today and every day. Happy Valentine’s Day, sweet people. I love you. And by the way, I still love my best friend’s mother 😉

Ally Hamilton