The Blame Game Has No Winners

I get emails from grown adults with children of their own who are still blaming their parents for who they are. I get emails from people who are entrenched in a battle with a family member and from those who cannot forgive a former partner. The more you dig your heels in and cling to your opinions, your version of events, your list of ways you’ve been wronged, the less chance there is to let some love in and to shine some light on your own participation and what it is you brought to the equation that led to a painful outcome. We always bring something to any situation, even if that something is our inability to stand up for ourselves, to value ourselves or to put an end to abusive treatment (assuming you weren’t a child at the time — in which case your work is simply to heal, not that it’s easy).

If you’re over 25, it’s time to stop blaming your parents no matter how bad it may have been. People do the best they can with what they’ve got. Sometimes the best they’ve got kind of sucks. This is not about you, and it does not reflect anything lacking in you. Not everyone is going to be lucky enough to have loving, mature parents who are ready or able to put their children first. We should also acknowledge timing, here. You may come into a person’s life at a time when their capacity to love, to extend themselves, to care, is just really limited. I say that in the context of parent-child relationships, friendships, and romantic partnerships. People can only be where they are. If you experienced neglect or abuse as a child, it’s hard not to feel enraged and I think you need to allow yourself that rage for awhile. I think you need to sit with whatever feelings you’ve got, whether they’re feelings of resentment, bitterness or blame and examine all of it. Mourn the childhood you didn’t have. Grieve. But if you get stuck there, if that’s as far as you take the journey, you just land yourself in a world of pain. I think very few people intend to hurt anyone, very few parents intentionally screw it up. Sometimes you just get caught in the storm of someone else’s journey through no fault of your own and you get hit in the face with a lot of hail and end up throwing up over the side of the ship, but you don’t have to stay in that storm for the rest of your life.

There are so many healing modalities available. Yoga, meditation, therapy, journaling, reading and anything else that works for you. Hiking, windsurfing, painting…whatever causes you to lose yourself for awhile, and tap into that larger feeling of being in the flow. Of course we all have different responses to trauma, not everyone handles it the same way. If you need some help, reach out. Don’t allow yourself to stay rooted in the dark, alone and shut down and in despair. There’s no need for that. There’s no reason that your past has to control your present or your future. Love can happen right now, in this moment if you let it. If you don’t believe that, put your hand on your heart and close your eyes, and when you breathe in, think, “I am whole, and I am lovable,” and exhale out some pain. You don’t have to hold onto it so tightly. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

In the context of romantic relationships, let me say this. It is never one person’s fault. If you think that’s possible, I guarantee you you’re missing a great chance to know yourself more deeply and to take some valuable information into your future partnerships. We all have stuff. We all have work to do, places where we could go deeper or show up in greater alignment with what’s true for us. The end of a relationship never tells the whole story. You can’t separate out the beginning and the middle, the alchemy between you and the other person which creates the third thing, the relationship between you. Timing, circumstances, where you were on your path, and where your partner was on theirs. Your participation. Your level of appreciation, patience, kindness, support and understanding. Your actions, things you said, did, didn’t do. What was motivating you. If you want to dig your heels in and point angry fingers that’s always a choice, but it’s not a choice that’s going to lead to growth or a deeper understanding of where you still have some healing to do.

With family members I recognize it can get complicated, but I think it’s so sad when siblings don’t speak to one another for years at a time. Over money, or someone’s spouse who said something hurtful when they were drunk at a family wedding. I know a guy who didn’t speak to his sister for ten years because they were arguing over the money their mom left behind. They both had children during this decade and countless beautiful experiences. These were siblings who grew up playing together, loving each other, sailing together over the summers, climbing trees when they were kids. And then the sister died. Horrendous. Un-dig your heels in life wherever possible so you can keep moving forward, which life asks of you every moment. So you can keep responding to what is, with your mind, heart and hands open. It’s not all going to go the way we want. People will let us down. We are all going to make choices we’d love to do over from time to time. Say things we’d love to take back. All of us. Forgive. Recognize that, and forgive. Or really, you’re in prison.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Where are You Rooted?

Yesterday my six year old son asked me if I knew about the “walking palm trees of the rain-forest.” He told me that these trees were able to “move their roots” if they saw a spot that looked better to them. I told him that was incredibly cool, and that I did not know about these trees. Of course, I had to go Google it, because palm trees walking around the rain-forest seems like something I’d have heard about somewhere along the way. So it turns out the Socratea exorrhiza, or, “Walking Palm” is native to tropical Central and South America, and it has stilt roots that allow it to grow in swampy areas of forest. Some people think their roots exist as an adaptation to flooding, and others believe the roots allow the palm to “walk away” if another tree falls on the seedling and knocks it over. If this happens, the palm produces new vertical stilt roots and rights itself, the original roots rotting away.

I think life asks us to do this very thing again and again; to start over, to respond to the ever-changing nature of things, to move our roots when we need to and right ourselves. But a lot of the time we resist. We cling to the dying roots that don’t sustain us or nurture us anymore, that cannot support our growth any longer. Sometimes we do this out of desperation. We love someone, or many “someones” and can’t bear the thought of hurting them. Or we’re afraid of all that is required to pick up and move toward the unknown. In relationships, it’s incredibly painful. The roots grow down directly from our hearts. But if you aren’t growing, you’re dying, and if you’re dying you can’t nurture anyone else because all your energy is going toward your withering and quiet destruction. Without living, healthy roots, you just won’t have the strength to rise up and reach the light and so life becomes very dark indeed.

I know so many people who keep feeding those dying roots, though. It’s all swampy and murky and nothing new can grow there, but still, they try to shore the thing up, to feed it whatever they can. Sometimes it’s old stories that have become rooted. They’re poisoning the tree, the branches are hanging low, the leaves have mostly fallen off, but the roots of blame, anguish, fear or sadness, of bitterness, shame or guilt keep the person rooted in the Forest of What Was. I spent a good decade in that forest, so I can tell you the main thing that grows there are weeds. The kind that climb up your trunk and strangle your branches and steal all the light and all the nutrients, until you are just this Tree of Blame with sour fruit. “I am this way because this happened, and then that happened, and then this other thing happened, and so now when you say you love me I don’t believe you because everybody leaves and everybody cheats and I’m just going to stay rooted here in the darkness.” Or something like that.

Fear will keep you paralyzed in that forest if you let it, but it’s such a shame because old stories are old. They don’t have to control your present or your future. They may have created some grooves in your trunk, but they don’t have to overtake your ability to produce the sweetest fruit you can imagine; the fruit of, “I Got the F&ck Out!!!” for example. That is some sweet fruit. You may feel stuck and powerless. You may even be rooted to those feelings; there may be some pay-off for you in staying stuck. Attachment to sympathy or attention, a reason not to do the brave and difficult thing so you can stick with what you know even if it doesn’t feel good, or an excuse to numb out are some possibilities. But I have to let you know, the pay-off of digging deep, to the very bottom of your soul, gathering up your courage and your stilt roots, and moving your a$$ to the Forest of Life is Freaking Amazing has a much greater pay-off. If a tree can do it, I have zero doubt you can do it, too.

Sending you a lot of love,

Ally Hamilton

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

The Heart Cries Out with Truth. Answer It.

When-someone-shows-youI get lots of emails from people dealing with relationship issues and they often go something like, “I love my partner, and things would be amazing if he or she could just change some essential, defining personality attribute.” I mean, they don’t say it that way, but that’s the heart of it. There are few things in life more painful than falling in love with someone, offering up the most tender parts of yourself only to find you’re being rejected slowly for who you are – what once was endearing is now disappointing – or that you’ve been misunderstood on some profound level. That if you’d just change yourself, your partner would love you again. I see people bend over backwards, or squish themselves into the tiniest amount of space possible to endure. I’ve done that myself in past years, but I’d never do that today.  Love doesn’t require you to crush yourself and betray your spirit. That’s not loving someone and that’s not the experience of being loved, either.

This takes so many forms. People fall in love with someone they want to save (change). I’m going to love this person so much, they’ll heal and all these painful places within them that also cause me to suffer will go away. Or, this person has clearly told me they have trouble committing, but that’s just because they haven’t loved me before. Oh, yeah? I’d go get your crash pads out now. Sometimes a person gives to get– I’ll love this person so well, they’ll never leave me or hurt me. I’ll accept all kinds of poor treatment and keep showing up with love and eventually they’ll appreciate me and then I’ll have them. People are not possessions. Love is not controlling or manipulative. It’s not conditional or punishing. Love is accepting and when it’s happening well, it will open you and lead to the greater expansion of your heart and your partner’s.

I think a big part of the problem for people has to do with this desire to project. I have people write in about how they’ve made lists of all the attributes they’d like in a person and then they meet someone they’re attracted to and BAM! Miraculously, this person has all these qualities, down to their eye color and political leanings. Sometimes we want love so much, we simply see what we want to see. The best gift you can give someone is your curiosity and your full, kind attention, whether you’ve known them a few weeks or many years. Most people will tell you who they are if you give them the space to do that.

You really don’t want to be pushing important things under the rug, receiving the information that’s comfortable and editing out the stuff that’s confrontational, worrisome, or confusing. I think the key is to listen deeply and open to it all. You either love and accept people for all parts of themselves, the way you have to love yourself if you want to heal and be at peace, or you don’t, in which case you find the courage to gently release them. This is not to say we don’t all have our “stuff” and our places where we can grow. A great partnership is a foundation to move through those areas in a safe and loving space, to go deeper and become more vulnerable and still be accepted and cherished. That’s when you see a person blossom in the context of a relationship (If you haven’t blossomed before the relationship, it’s highly likely you’re going to go through some serious growing pains along the way, and you’ll either grow together or apart). But too many people fall in love with someone’s potential and that’s painful for both sides of the equation.

There are other areas this shows up as well. Parents who struggle to accept their children as they are, who have such a strong vision for their son’s life or daughter’s life, it’s hard to accept their path may look completely different. The heart cries out with truth. Part of loving means answering that call, and being in support of other people as they answer it.

You can’t change other people, and you can’t save them, either, but you can love them with your whole heart. Everyone deserves to be loved like that.

Wishing that for you, and for everyone,

Ally Hamilton

What’s Up, Monkey?

Sometimes life can be brutally painful. We lose someone we love beyond our ability to put it in words, way too soon. Loss like that is violent and shocking, even if it happens slowly. Or we have our hearts broken in a relationship, sometimes over and over again by the same person. If betrayal is in the mix, it’s even more painful. Or we lose a job we really loved or wanted. Or we simply can’t seem to get any traction going in any direction in life, with relationships or work, or even with how to be in this world. Maybe there’s an abusive background. A family of origin with addiction issues. A history of broken promises, emotional or physical violence. You get the picture.

Whatever you’re coming out of, you have a choice. You have the choice to ask for help if you need it. Healing is often confrontational and painful and lonely and confusing, and having someone there to hold your hand or offer an ear or a shoulder can really make all the difference. Someone who will kindly hold up a mirror for you, and make sure you’re examining your inner landscape clearly and thoroughly, because you can’t let go of those things that are blocking your ability to give and receive love without understanding them first and without allowing yourself to mourn and to grieve for what was, or what could have been. Your understanding is your path to liberation, your willingness to open to all of those emotions we’re taught to push down is the key. You actually want to pry the lid off and invite them all to come flooding in so you can swim in that stuff for awhile, and scream your heart out if you need to, and shed your tears, and exhaust yourself until there’s no denial and no fighting of reality left in you. There’s just facing it, as it is, and as it was, so you can open to how it could be. Your awareness and acceptance and compassion for yourself clear the path toward a new way of being.

Starting over is also lonely work. The old way doesn’t work, and the new way hasn’t become clear yet. Some of your closest family members and oldest friends may not like your new adventure. They may feel threatened and angry, like you’re rejecting them in an effort to take care of yourself, which really has to come first if you plan on being happy in this life. Socrates has a beautiful quote, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Even if you’ve been hurt and disappointed, neglected or abused, abandoned or ignored, you have the choice to live in fear, hardened and bitter and full of rage and blame, or to do the brave thing. To let go of the old handlebar you’ve been hanging off for far too long. The one that burns your hands with its heat and its pain and its why and its unfairness, and to reach out for love. To make yourself vulnerable in that space between the one and the other. To use all the strength and hope and courage you’ve got to propel yourself forward and reach out with your open hand and your open heart for that bar in front of you that’s full of promise and something new. Something different. To open to the possibility that you might do all that and slip right off the bar and land on your face and have to get back up again and start over. But that if you keep reaching and you keep trying, eventually the way will become clear. And then my dear monkey, the bars become rather fun.

Wishing you the courage to let go and reach out, and sending love, as always,

Ally Hamilton

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

Whatever Your Truth, Own It

tellingthetruthIf you’re involved in something that requires you to lie and deceive you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. I say this to you because I get so many emails from people who are having relations they have to keep hidden. Sometimes they’re email flirtations, and sometimes they’re full-fledged affairs. If you’re in a relationship that can only happen behind closed doors, that requires you to lie to people who love you and trust you, you are in the process of breaking your own heart, your own spirit, and your own ability to trust yourself. You’re going to have to do something about that, or the world of pain you’re in will become less and less livable, and please believe me when I tell you I understand that life is complicated, and sometimes we find ourselves in situations we never would have imagined.

People lie for all kinds of reasons. They fear the outcome if they tell the truth. They don’t want to face the consequences of their own feelings. They aren’t ready to make changes. They want to do what they want to do. They’ve figured out a way to justify what they’re doing. They’re angry. They’re unhappy. They feel powerless, stuck, paralyzed to do anything but stay where they are and seek happiness outside the bounds of their commitments. When you sacrifice your integrity and your ability to respect yourself, you lose the ability to move freely. Life becomes a prison of your own making.

When you don’t feel good about yourself it permeates everything. If you’ve been in so much pain for so long that you finally look for relief through desperate acts, it’s really time to withdraw and regroup. I understand if you’ve been in a loveless relationship for a long time, a hit of passion can go directly to your brain and cloud everything until you can’t see or think about anything but your next fix. The real fix is going to happen inside, not outside. It’s heady and intoxicating to be wild for someone and to feel those feelings of being wanted. It’s fine to desire that, it’s human, but you don’t want to experience those things in a way that’s ultimately going to make you feel badly about yourself.

We have all kinds of stories we tell ourselves. This person really loves me, it’s just the situation is a mess. That may be true. In which case it’s time to clean up the mess or walk away. Allowing yourself to participate in a set of circumstances that are hurtful to you and would be to others if they knew, that’s simply not going to lead to happiness or peace. That’s not living in alignment with your own truth and your highest self. Being able to speak your truth and own it is the key to your freedom, and to living with your heart wide open in a way that feels good. Having someone look you in the eye and break your heart is painful indeed. But you know what’s worse? Having someone lie to your face and betray you in their heart. Wishing you the strength to embrace your feelings, put an end to situations that cause you or others harm, and live your life in a way that makes it possible for you to be free, if you haven’t already.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If It’s Making You Miserable, That’s a “No”

relationshipstatusYesterday I got a phone call from one of my close girlfriends in New York. She’s divorced with a young daughter and recently re-entered the dating scene. It’s been six years since she’s dated and times have changed. I’ve experienced some of this myself over the last year, as those of you who follow the blog may recall. There’s all this online dating, okcupid and match and let’s hook up (I may have made that last one up), and texting and tweeting and instagram and seriously, isn’t dating complicated enough without having to distill your thoughts into 140 characters or update your relationship status so everyone knows you’re getting some? Or you were and now you’re not? Or you may be but aren’t sure?

Anyway, she called me because she went on a date with this guy and as far as she could tell it was a home run. They went out to eat and talked for hours, walked through SoHo holding hands and ended the night with a hot make-out session on her couch. He talked about how she’d have to meet different friends of his, and things they’d do together this summer. She felt totally confident they’d be going out again. He texted her when he got home and said he hoped she had sweet dreams and knew he would be. Said he’d call her the next day to make a plan, and that he couldn’t wait to see her again. And then, crickets. It’s been almost two weeks since their date and no contact from the dude. Of course it’s especially crushing because it was her first foray out of the gate, and because she sent him an email a week later “checking in” and heard nothing back. So she wanted to replay the whole night with me to see if she was missing anything because she feels rejected and her feelings are hurt. I got the whole play-by-play in such minute detail, it was as though I was there on the date. She wondered if he’d seen the picture of her ex that she hadn’t put away yet. If it scared the guy off that her ex still works for her dad. If maybe he thought she was conflicted and that she might reunite with her daughter’s father. If she had talked too much about the demise of her marriage even though he expressly asked, and had shared the story of his own divorce. If she had moved too fast by making out with him for so long, or not fast enough because she sent him home without letting him scramble her eggs. You get the drift.

I listened to all of this and when she was done I said I thought it had nothing to do with her. I know her. She’s funny and smart and kind and a total head-turner. She’s confident and sexy, and there’s just no way she’s not hearing from this guy because there’s anything lacking in her. I said all of that, of course, but also just listened because it doesn’t matter if I know all that, it only really matters if she does. I don’t know what’s going on with the guy. Maybe there’s someone else in the picture. Maybe he’s great at first dates. Maybe he got scared. Maybe he likes head games. Who knows? But she’s suffering and watching him update his statuses with pithy remarks and tweet about basketball games and post pictures with friends out to lunch. Of course I told her I thought she should stop “following” him everywhere and get back to the business of being awesome.

It’s incredibly hard to walk away from situations we don’t understand. Especially when it seems that a real connection happened, but we’re not always going to get answers. Some things will be left undone, unsaid, unknown. It won’t all be wrapped up in neat little packages of digestible information. Some people are in incredible pain, in lonely desperation with no idea how to move forward. Some people make a mess of things because that’s where they happen to be when you cross paths with them. Try not to expend too much energy in an effort to figure it all out. Just trust that it won’t be a mystery when it’s right. You won’t be wondering and suffering and having crazy conversations with your friends dissecting every sentence you uttered, searching for the mistake. The hole inside you you must have exposed. The dumb thing you said, or the fact that you snorted when you laughed. You won’t second-guess yourself. When it’s right, you’ll just be happy. (Assuming you were happy already.) Tired, but happy.

Wishing that for you, and so much more,

Ally Hamilton

Throwing Pans is Not Your Only Option

Last night in class I ended up with a roomful of people who had clearly been doing yoga for a long time. When we got to the first Warrior I, I said, “You all look like you’ve done this pose a million times, but you’ve never done it before in this moment. Don’t take it for granted, because that’s how people end up divorced.” Everyone laughed, but I was serious. (Not that I minded the laughter one bit). It’s so easy to think, “I know this person. I have their number down,” and stop paying attention. Stop learning and listening and being open to the evolution of the person next to you on your path. As if they’re frozen in time. As if there hasn’t been any growth or change since they said, “I do.”

Yesterday I received an email from a sweetheart of a guy. I asked if I could share his story anonymously, because I get emails like this all the time. He said he’s in love with this woman, but he’s not going to pursue it because his parents got divorced and he just doesn’t want to go down that road. He said he knows he’ll never find anyone as perfectly suited to him, that they have an amazing time together. There’s laughter and love and affection and intellectual compatibility, but he knows how it will end. I asked him how he knew. He said he just knew. That’s just fear, and I so get that it can be paralyzing. We only have the frame of reference we have, and our experiences shape us and inform the way we think about the world, romantic partners, friendships, and “our place in the family of things,” as Mary Oliver says.

Your past does not have to own you and neither does your pain. Your pain is running the show if you let go of someone you adore because you’re too afraid that someday you’ll be throwing a pan at her head the way your dad did at your mom while you watched in the grip of fear and powerlessness and rage. You do not have to live your life as that scared kid and throwing pans is not your only option. (Whatever “throwing pans” may be for you). You are not the same person you were last year, and neither am I, and neither is anyone you’re going to encounter today. We are always in process, everything is process. You respond and you grow, or you react and you suffer. A reaction comes out of your past. It happens when you feel triggered and your heart starts racing, your breath is shallow, and the whole scene, even the air between you and the other person, is charged. We get triggered when a current situation brings up a painful past experience. When someone says something or does something that’s the equivalent of stabbing a searing knife into the most tender place we’ve got. If it isn’t healed, it owns your a$$.

It’s easy to underestimate our capacity to grow and change and embrace new ways of thinking and being, but we are all capable of those feats. We’re built for them, because everything is in a state of flux, it’s the nature of all living things, of life itself. You are not your mother or your father or your wounds. You are not your thoughts, either. “You are the sky, everything else, it’s just the weather,” as Pema Chodron says. If you’re willing to walk right into the center of your fear and have a seat and open your hands and open your eyes and open your heart, you will find that it won’t kill you. It will hurt. It will be wildly uncomfortable and confrontational and if you allow it to, it will open you and soften you so you’re ready to give and receive love. It’s not easy, but it’s a lot easier than watching someone you cherish walk out the door because you did not believe in your own ability to forge a new path for yourself. To use your past experiences to inspire you to move in a different direction.

You are capable of incredible love. It’s the very essence of your energy in my opinion. It’s the real “charge” in all of us. You may have static in the way of fear and abuse and neglect and heartbreak and disappointment and despair and rage and bitterness blocking your channel, but that stuff is your path to freedom if you explore it. You can’t get to the love if you’re not willing to examine the pain. You’ll never outrun the pain and you can’t numb out enough to deny it. Or you can, but that actually will kill you. It will kill your spirit and your yes and your ability to continually uncover your gifts and share them. It may even kill you in a literal sense if you try numbing out to the degree that’s required if you really don’t want to feel the reality that you’re owned by your fear. Move into your fear so that eventually you can wrap your arms around the people you love without entertaining the idea of pans for even an instant.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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