That’s How the Light Gets In

Ring-the-bells-thatDo you ever find yourself in a situation and wonder how you ended up there? Maybe things are happening in your life in a way you couldn’t have foreseen, and if only you’d known, you’d have made different choices? Sometimes when we’re in the heat of a thing and every path looks full of thorns, it’s really hard to imagine any beauty emerging from all the strife, but the amazing thing about most people is our resiliency. We all want to be happy, we all have a song to sing, and the drive to withstand and carry on is strong.

Yesterday my seven-year old son took my 90-minute strong vinyasa flow class. He hasn’t done that in a few years. The last time he did he was four, and about halfway through he sat down and played with his Hot Wheels. Yesterday, he took the whole class. He was totally focused, and whenever I caught his eye he smiled at me. I have to say, it was pretty f&cking awesome. At one point I wondered what would’ve happened if I’d started practicing yoga when I was really little. It occurred to me that I might have made many fewer mistakes along the way, that I might have been in touch with my intuition on a much stronger level at a much younger age. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten involved with that guy who was 20 years my senior when I was seventeen. Maybe I wouldn’t have moved across the country with a man I’d been dating for only six months. Maybe lots of things. I bet high school would have been a lot easier, and college, too. But then I thought that if my life hadn’t unfolded exactly the way it has, I wouldn’t have that particular seven year old boy beaming at me from the back row.

Every experience we have, even the most heart-wrenching and confusing, gives us an opportunity to grow and to know ourselves more deeply. I’m not saying that everything happens for a reason, or that someday, everything will make sense to you. Some things are forever hard to comprehend. I’m saying we always have the power to decide how we’re going to respond to what we’re given, and we have the power to choose how much we’re going to work with our pain, and pursue a path of healing so that we can liberate ourselves from anything that is smothering that song we must sing. Also, you just never know what beauty might grow out of your heartache.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

How to Forgive Yourself and Move On

gainpainSometimes we’re in so much pain we just act out. We find some way to ease the burden or numb it out or deny it in the short-term, and we can breathe again. Maybe part of us feels sick about it, disappointed in ourselves, ashamed of our weakness or dysfunction or poor choice in the moment, but this is a normal part of being human. None of us operate from our highest selves all the time.

When we’re on the outside of a thing, it’s so easy to see when a loved one is heading down a prickly path. When we act impulsively so we can feel better, it might work as far as instant gratification goes, but for the long haul, we’ve probably set ourselves back. As hard as it may be to witness, though, we never know what anyone else needs for his or her growth and healing. Sometimes a person needs to slide down a slick, muddy hill into a tree trunk again and again to “get it.”

If you, or someone you love is going through this, try to have compassion. Very few people consciously want to be in pain. Sometimes we’re working out old stuff. Sometimes we have self-esteem issues and things have to get really intolerable before they can get better. We might be acting on unconscious impulses to play something out in order to master it. We may be in a situation that’s clouding our judgment; being in love can do that. Maybe there are other people along for the ride with us, who will be affected by the choices we’re making and we feel overwhelmed by guilt. Basically, being human is complicated. Being a happy human takes a lot of effort, and a willingness to sit with the discomfort of our pain sometimes.

Do you ever have a day, or a bunch of days when it’s just deeply uncomfortable to be in your own skin? Ugh, that is so hard, because there’s no escape! Maybe you’re feeling abandoned or envious or afraid or angry, or you’re feeling tremendous guilt. Maybe your internal dialogue is harsh, shaming, unforgiving, relentless. Maybe you’re stuck looking over your shoulder with regret and despair. Lots of people do not want to sit with any of that, it’s not as if it’s easy or fun. Of course, there’s no way to know yourself if you don’t sit with your feelings as they arise, but many people run from that work for a good, long while. At the same time, you don’t want to get stuck in an old loop, where you’re feeling your feelings but not moving through them.

Usually being on the run gets old, and the realization dawns that if we don’t do things differently, we’ll keep “getting what we’ve been getting.” Since we can’t change the external stuff—circumstances, what people will say, or want, or do—we have to change the way we respond. If you haven’t gotten to that point yet, where you’re ready to try things a different way, try to have patience with yourself and the people in your life. We all get there as we get there, and we’re never done, we’re always in process. Try to honor your tender heart, and do your best not to be reckless with it. When you are, examine what’s happening within you, how you’re feeling about yourself, and what you hope to accomplish with your choices. Know yourself, but be kind, and have some faith that you won’t always choose the muddy, slick hill that ends with a painful collision with some raw, unhealed place within you. There are tools available so you can calm your nervous system and make it easier on yourself when difficult emotions arise. You can also work on the ability to choose one thought over another, which is often the beginning of forging a new path.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

The Upside of Struggling

struggleprogressDid you know that a butterfly needs that struggle to break free of its cocoon so it can strengthen its wings? If you were to cut open the cocoon to release it, you’d rob it of the ability to fly. Our own adventure through the birth canal squeezes the fluid out of our lungs so we can breathe. Nature shows us again and again that it is through effort that we empower ourselves.

And yet, it’s heart-wrenching to watch those we love struggle, strain, or make a complete mess out of things. From the outside, it’s so easy to see when someone is trapped in a cycle that continuously brings them pain. Freud called it the “repetition compulsion”; Albert Einstein famously said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Jung on this, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Anything within us that is unhealed will run the show. Anything we’ve repressed, denied, run from or tried to numb out will push back four times harder. It’s my belief that we’re all longing to heal, to open, to uncover our gifts and share them freely, but sometimes in order to do that, we have to lean into our pain first. A fearful unwillingness to do that, an aversion to being with what is, leads to our suffering, so sometimes a person is struggling and straining and avoiding and acting out. Brilliant people do this; it’s not about intelligence. I say that because it’s so easy to throw our hands up and say, “S/he’s so smart!! Why does s/he keep picking unavailable people to date?” Or , “Why is she stuck on her career path when she has so much going for her?!”

This is especially difficult when we’re watching our parents, partners, siblings, grown children, or close friends. Of course when you love someone, you want to save them from pain, but sometimes in our efforts to love people, we rob them of experiences they need for their own growth. In an effort to “save” or help those we love, the tendency can be to step in and try to solve the current problem, try to diffuse the stress or end the struggle, but struggle is important. It’s not until a person has come to the conclusion that what they’re doing isn’t working, that change is possible. You can’t convince a person with logic. You can’t cajole someone into wanting to take better care of themselves, or you. You can’t make someone happy. You can’t convince another person to fall in love with you, or to be compassionate or kind or caring or patient. People are these things, or they are not. Sometimes the struggle is what gets them from a place of despair, to one of peace. There’s a saying attributed to Buddha, “The obstacle is the path.”

When you think back on your life, I’ll bet you’ve learned a lot more during those times when things were not going your way, when things did not turn out as you’d hoped, than you did when everything was rainbows and unicorns. Scaling the mountain makes us strong. It shows us where we’re scared, where we have strengthening to do. It shows us the way we’re showing up for ourselves, it sheds light on our limiting beliefs, it pushes us to be our best selves. So while it’s almost always motivated by love and good intentions, trying to save other people usually has the opposite effect. You can’t save anyone but yourself. You can love other people, that’s beautiful, but you can also unintentionally enable them to continue to do things the way they’ve been doing them. You can reinforce behavior that ends up hurting them and you, by sweeping in with your love and concern, when maybe, they’d be better off weeping through their anguish, frustration, confusion and loneliness, so that they could resolve to start doing things another way.

Sometimes the best way to love people is to believe in their own ability to realize how incredibly special they are, and to allow them their own process. You can also offer tools that have helped you, and in that way you might help them help themselves. For me, healing came through yoga and seated meditation. I hear from people every day who’ve found peace by learning to open to how things are, instead of clinging to how they’d like things to be, but you can’t manage another person’s path, and you can’t know what anyone else needs for their own growth and ultimate happiness. You sure can love them, though.

Sending love to you,

Ally Hamilton

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

Make the Shift, Part 2

The-greatest-weaponWhen you’re looking to make a significant life shift, awareness is the beginning. If things haven’t been going well, you need to figure out where you are now, and what it is that’s been driving your choices and actions. If you aren’t happy, if you aren’t at peace, if you aren’t living a life that feels good to you, my feeling is you haven’t been listening to your heart. Maybe you can hear it, but you haven’t been heeding it. Maybe you’ve been reckless with yourself. Maybe you’re feeling so badly about who you are, or you doubt that you’re lovable at your very core, and you’ve been flailing around, either trying to prove that you’re right, or prove that you’re wrong.

There are all kinds of reasons we cut ourselves off from our own intuition. It could be that you grew up in an unsafe environment, and learned to push down your feelings. Maybe you were taught that how you felt had no impact on the people or the world around you. Sometimes we’re given the responsibility of caring for other people at an age when we really need nurturing ourselves. It’s totally plausible that you could reach adulthood with no idea at all of what you want, what lights you up, what excites you and scares you, what it is that gives you a feeling of purpose, meaning and gratitude. That happens all the time.

Maybe you grew up and were taught that everything you did was magical. If your parents fought your battles for you, or stepped in to solve things every time you struggled, you might not have the tools to see things through when they aren’t coming easily. Dreams rarely do. You might look around at someone else’s life and think they’ve had all the breaks and that’s how they’ve gotten where they are. But for most people, blood, sweat and tears are involved. Persistence and perseverance, and the willingness to fail and not let that deter you, over and over again. Sometimes we don’t believe in ourselves and our ability to bring our dreams to fruition.

It could be that you’re living your life to please other people, or to fit in, or toe the line. Maybe that’s what you were taught, and you have a loud inner voice asking who you think you are to consider doing something great. You might compare and contrast yourself to everyone around you; that’s what we’re taught to do culturally. If you’re having a crisis of confidence, or your self-esteem has taken one too many hits, it’s really hard to pick yourself up and get moving. And it’s impossible if you don’t realize that’s what’s happening. Sometimes we just feel stuck and lost and hopeless, and we don’t know why.

So there are a lot of reasons a person might drown out their own intuition. Make themselves so busy there’s no time to hear it, or numb it out with drugs, alcohol, relationships, or shopping. Run from it or reject it, because to listen to it would be to acknowledge that things have to change. Fear might be stopping you in your tracks, or it might have you on the run.

Whatever it is that’s been motivating you, it’s time to sit down and get quiet so you can take a good look at it. It sounds so simple, and it is. It’s just not easy. When I started meditating, I can tell you it was anything but easy. I would sit, and close my eyes, and notice my breath, and start to scan my body. And every time I’d get to my heart, there was a physical pain. It was as if my heart was encased in steel, or some kind of vice grip. And tears would stream down my face, and I didn’t even have a name for them. I couldn’t have told you what the tears were about, or what the grip was about, I just understood if I wanted it to loosen, I was going to have to sit there and allow all those feelings to arise, and I was going to have to lean into them. This went on for months. I’d sit, and sometimes rage or frustration would come to the surface. All these months, all this sitting, and still? But at the same time, I began to develop the awareness that I was not my thoughts. I began to witness my experience, to simply hold this space for myself to release, to let go, to have some compassion for myself. And after awhile, and what seemed like an ocean of tears, the grip loosened. The feeling of steel around my heart went away. I started to breathe in a way I hadn’t before.

The combination of the physical yoga practice and seated meditation is powerful. If unconscious forces and tendencies are driving your life, you’re probably in a lot of pain. Meditation is a way to stop hiding from yourself. To bring everything into the light so you can look at it with a little distance and decide what you want to feed. Your physical practice is a place where you can do that feeding, that nurturing. You can learn to choose one thought over another when you learn to focus your mind–that’s what the focal points in your practice are about. The ability to direct your energy is key, because where your awareness goes, your energy flows. If you keep dwelling on what went wrong, you’re feeding it. If you shift your attention to what’s going well, what you do have, you start to feed that. A foundation of gratitude is a platform from which any of your dreams might flourish. A foundation of despair sucks everything down with it.


Make The Shift – Session 2 (meditation / vinyasa flow) **

In week 2 of our Make the Shift Challenge, (the class is above), you take what you now know about where you are, and you start to make choices. Do you want to feed those feelings and ideas that are weakening you, or do you want to focus on those thoughts and ideas that strengthen you? You use your breath to stay connected to the present moment, to stay engaged with what’s happening right now. But you do this with your awareness of your tendencies and habits, especially the ones that are bringing you down. And you kindly kick those to the curb as you feed a loving voice.

In addition to the class, your homework is to watch what you’re feeding yourself in all areas. To become more conscious about what you’re eating, reading, watching, listening to…it’s all food for your mind and your heart. And to feed yourself well. Sending you love. Ally Hamilton

** New subscribers: get the first 10 days of your monthly subscription free ($15 billed monthly after trial) when you use coupon code MAKETHESHIFT. Subscribe here.


hemingway2When we refuse to accept the truth, we set ourselves up to suffer. There’s no doubt that there are times we’re confused and things are unclear, but sometimes we know the truth of a thing, and just don’t want to face it. This can happen professionally and romantically, and it can happen internally, too. There are truths about ourselves that are not always easy to accept and integrate. Denying what’s real for you and rejecting essential parts of yourself is a prison full of pain.

Finding the strength to deal with reality as it is, especially when it isn’t unfolding the way we’d hoped it would, is no small feat. Falling in love with someone, for example, only to realize too late that you’ve fallen by yourself, is a painful journey. Trying to cajole, manipulate, sell yourself or dance like a monkey to get the other person to see how wonderful you are is the surest way to make yourself feel small and to dishonor your gorgeous heart, but we don’t always have the strength to pick ourselves up and walk away. Sometimes we think if we just stick around and accept less than we really want, we can turn the tides, but you weren’t put here to convince anyone else of your worth. Your lid isn’t going to fit every pot. Why try to force it? If it doesn’t fit for both sides of the equation, it’s not a match. Maybe you got caught up in an old dynamic. Maybe it isn’t love, maybe it’s dysfunction. Maybe it started out as something good and took a turn along the way. Whatever the case, you don’t want to let your self-esteem take a pounding for too long, or you’ll end up with some serious healing to do.

This happens in the work realm, too. People accept a position because the money is great, even though the day-to-day experience is soul-crushing. Maybe your boss lacks any sense of boundaries, or makes demands on you that aren’t reasonable by anyone’s estimation. Maybe you’re just out of school and think this must be how things are, or, who are you to walk away from a job with security? Your life is made up of moments that turn into hours and days and weeks and months, and before you know it, years have gone by. If you’re in a situation that crushes your spirit, you have to find an alternative, or you’ll die on the inside.

Anything real that you refuse to face will own you. If you reject certain aspects of yourself, deny them, push them down, or flee from them, you just exhaust yourself, deplete your energy, and sentence yourself to a life full of pain. You also put your pain in the driver’s seat. It will rule all your choices, behavior and actions, the way you think about yourself and other people, and the way you move through the world. If you deny the truth of another person, if you refuse to accept things as they are, you’re sure to suffer. And if you allow yourself to be mistreated because you’ve rationalized your way into a corner, you’d better bust yourself out.

Life can be short and precious, or long and painful. I’m pretty sure those are the options, and I say that because when you’re on fire, when you know who you are, when you uncover and share your gifts, when you love the people in your life with your whole heart and see them and accept them for who they are, when you look around every day and take in all the beauty around you, you realize you’re here for one awesome, shining flash of time, and you’d better make the most of it. You’d better soak it all in and give it all up and immerse yourself in this gorgeous life for as long as you get to be here. Option two is that you numb out or run or deny or allow yourself to believe you’re unworthy of love, and you repeat patterns that take you down paths of misery and anguish, leading to your depression and belief that you can’t count on anyone, including yourself. Option one seems better to me.

Sending you love and a big hug,

Ally Hamilton

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

Define Your Terms

happinessgandhiI’m a big believer in “defining your terms”, especially when it comes to loving relationships, and by that, I don’t necessarily mean romantic ones, but rather any relationship that demands your vulnerability. If you love someone, you’re vulnerable; there’s a chance you could be hurt, either because we all have these bodies with unknown expiration dates, or because people grow and change, and not always in a way that merges. This happens romantically, to be sure, but it also happens in familial situations, and with close friends. Sometimes we have ideas in our heads about how things should be, or how people should be, or how a relationship should look and feel. That “should” can really bite us in the a$$, but sometimes we get hurt simply because we’re using the same words to describe different things.

My idea of what it means when I say, “I love you” to someone may not resemble your meaning. Does that seem crazy? Does it seem obvious to you what it means when you say those words? To some people it means, “I love you when you do what I want you to do.” Or, “I love you when you want what I think you should want.” It can be conditional, or about control and manipulation. For others, it’s a statement of possession, “I love you and now I own you.” It’s not so simple, and to complicate things further, sometimes what we think we mean, and what we actually mean are not in sync. Looking at yourself honestly, examining your patterns, and being truthful about what’s happening within you are essential if you want to be close to other people.

Your experiences and frame of reference and ideas about things shape the way you move through the world, the way you interact with people, and the way you define your terms. If the love you’ve known or have come to understand involves unflinching acceptance of those closest to you, you may assume your loved ones will respond in kind, and they may, or they may not. It depends on their own history and their own outlook. So many misunderstandings are the result of poor communication, assumptions and projections.

Someone does something, or does not do something, and we assume this must mean what it would if we did or did not do this same thing, and that’s just not a fair assumption. You’ll never know where someone’s coming from unless you ask them with ears that are willing to hear, and a heart that’s willing to understand and accept what’s real for them (that doesn’t mean you have to agree). Sometimes people ask questions but they only want to hear one answer, and it doesn’t really matter what the other person says or does; with enough desire, obsession and reworking, the answer will be twisted and expanded or pared down or shoved under a rug, so the “right answer” will emerge. We kid ourselves, in other words. This can happen when we fall in love, or when we have a friendship we can’t bear to lose, or when a family member is moving in a direction that scares us. Sometimes we just don’t want to accept the truth of a thing, so we intentionally reject any definition that challenges our own.

Knowing yourself is the key to knowing other people, because in order to know yourself, you have to integrate all parts of your being–the stuff that’s pretty, that you’d gladly share in a status update, and the stuff that isn’t so pretty, that you’d be embarrassed to share. If you can accept yourself without being rigid or unforgiving, you’ll be able to do the same for others and you won’t be scared to explain what you mean when you say, “I love you,” or to show it. Fear is responsible for so much that goes unsaid and undone, but what’s to fear? If you speak honestly and from your heart, you either will, or will not be embraced. What’s the point of living a lie? Knowing yourself is liberating to you, and to those closest to you. Defining your terms honestly, without trying to shove your ideas down someone’s throat is a beautiful gift.

I get so many emails from people who don’t bother to talk because they “already know what the other person will say,” or from people who are in despair because their partner isn’t loving them the way they want to be loved. If only their partner would change, they say, all would be well, but we have no control over what other people will do, or say, or want and we never know what life will put in our path. The only true power we have is to express ourselves calmly and with compassion, to face reality as it is, and to choose the way we respond to what we’ve been given. If you’ve been deeply hurt, betrayed, neglected or abused, you really want to examine what you expect from the world, and the other people in it. Define your terms for those you want to bring close to your heart. We’re part of a mystery, but you want to take the mystery out of it when it comes to your ability to say what you mean, and to share your deepest desires. The rest of it will unfold.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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


lovelistenOne of the great gifts of an intimate relationship, and by that, I do not necessarily mean a romantic one, is that it constantly offers us the opportunity to grow; anyone you’re close to will challenge you to show up as your best possible self, for you and for them. That’s part of the joy and the pain of having people in our lives who know us and see us clearly. These people may be your parents, your siblings, your best friend, your children, or your partner. The most intimate and enduring relationship you’ll have in your whole life, though, is the one you’re having with yourself.

The thing about intimacy is that it demands honesty. There’s no hiding if we want to be seen and heard and known, and those who truly love us want us to shine. This means there will be times when we have uncomfortable conversations, because no one shows up as their highest self in every moment. We all make mistakes, say things and do things we wish we hadn’t, or get ourselves worked up over imagined or real slights or wrongdoings. Sometimes we want to hide from ourselves. Maybe there’s some tendency that doesn’t serve you, some way you’re moving through the world, or thinking about yourself or other people, some way you’re showing up for yourself or not. When we love people, we also hold them accountable, not in a cold, shaming way, but in a loving, compassionate one, “I know you and I see you, and this is not the best you can do.”

When we love, we have to want for the other person what they want for themselves, even if it’s at odds with what we want for them, what we want for ourselves, or what we wish they would want, and I believe it’s also our job to kindly hold up a mirror when someone we love is not making choices in service to their highest good. That’s intimacy. Clear seeing, and the ability to communicate when things are not clear, “Help me understand what’s happening with you. Help me see how things are for you right now.”

This isn’t the shiny, glossy stuff we’re sold in the movies. If you’re close to someone, you’ve seen them crying until their nose runs, or you’ve seen their face twisted by anger or despair or frustration. You’ve seen them in the midst of struggle, when they’re triggered and trying to come back to center, and you’ve seen them at their best, too. Maybe you’ve seen them lie to themselves, or watched them lie to your face out of fear or an inability to say the hard thing. Love isn’t always pretty. For a long time now, I’ve tried to practice unflinching acceptance of the people with whom I’m closest. Just let me see the truth of how things are for them, then I’ll deal with the truth of what that means for me. That’s a practice in and of itself, but I believe it’s worth exploring. This does not mean I allow myself to be disrespected or abused, although there have been times I’ve let the lines get blurry, because compassion for someone else can turn into abuse of oneself if you aren’t careful. I’m certainly not recommending that.

Sometimes we really fight reality. We want to stuff everything into neat little boxes that are all labeled, “My Plan.” Sometimes we try to stuff people into those boxes, too, but you’ve probably noticed, since you are a person, people don’t like that very much. Sometimes we dance like monkeys and bend over backwards and try to sell ourselves or other people on the idea that, “everything is okay”, when really, we know it is not. Sometimes, as we all know, the truth hurts, but I’d take the truth over a lie any day of the week; I’d rather deal with a painful truth than a pretty lie. I want to stand on solid ground and know I can trust myself.

The only way that happens is to know yourself, too, to do your best to see yourself clearly and understand what’s driving you, what’s blocking you, what’s lighting you up. There’s nothing wrong with getting some help if you need it, because sometimes we’re so close to a thing, we can’t see clearly, and sometimes we’ve grown up in situations where we pushed our needs and wants down, and focused on survival. You may not have a clue what you want. Maybe you’ve spent your whole life responding to what other people want, or you’ve been “shoulding” yourself for so long, you wouldn’t recognize a cry from your intuition if it was in surround sound.

I really think you have to start there — self-acceptance, self-compassion, clear-seeing, and sometimes you’ll be terrified by what you want, or paralyzed by it, or maybe even ashamed or disgusted. That is totally fine. Feelings are not facts, and you don’t have to act on every feeling you have; in fact, you’ll probably create a lot of pain and turmoil for yourself if you do. However, anything you reject within yourself is going to push back four times harder. The truth wants out. There’s a drive within all of us to heal, if we open to it. Underneath the layers of pain, confusion, darkness, doubt, rage, grief, loneliness and despair, you will find love. That’s what healing is in my opinion–it’s a return to your natural state. Love, acceptance and compassion thrive on truth, that’s how you make that stuff blossom.

Chasing happiness is like sprinkling yourself with that “flower food” they give you with cut flowers. The flowers aren’t rooted. Maybe that stuff will make things look pretty on the outside a little bit longer, but if you want to feed your soul, you have to find your roots and plant them in soil soaked in truth. Once you accept what’s real and right for you, it makes it inevitable that you want to do those things for the people you love. You want them to know you can see them and that you understand them. You don’t have to agree with how someone feels or what someone needs in order to accept that’s how it is for them, you just have to be willing to face it, and then you figure out how to love them and still honor your own tender heart. There are no boxes in this thing. Love has open hands, open eyes, open ears and open arms. May we all be strong enough and brave enough to love ourselves and the people in our lives.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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