To Live in This World

The joy in life lies in connection — in sharing and laughing and loving, in seeing people clearly, as they are and where they are, and loving them with abandon. In being seen, and understood, and forgiven when necessary.

We are taught again and again that everything is in flux. The earth is spinning underneath us but we are spared from feeling that reality; maybe it would be better if we did. If we felt with every rising of the sun and every setting that we were different, just in a day,  and that everything was different. Our cars depreciate the moment we drive them off the lot; we know this, we accept is as fact. The trees bloom in front of us every spring and blossom all summer, but every fall the leaves start to fall off and every winter when we look up, if we look up, we see the branches are bare.

People change. People we love without measure grow away from us sometimes, or stop seeing us or loving us, or maybe they never did in the first place. We have another birthday. We sing Auld Lang Syne again and say cheers, and Happy New Year, and this one will be the best one yet. We sign congratulations cards when people graduate, or get married or have babies and we also sign condolence cards when necessary, but we are still shocked when those we love die. As if we didn’t consider the possibility. As if, perhaps, we thought they might be spared. As if we had all the time in the world.

Our houses need work, our hair needs to be cut, our lawn needs to be mowed. It’s a constant lesson — everything is changing, don’t miss this moment, but somehow we don’t want to include ourselves or those we love in the mix. It’s painful to acknowledge, but it can also be so inspiring. If you can’t bear the thought of people you love with your entire heart heading off for parts unknown, I have two things to say to you. Love grants a person the freedom to be fully themselves. If someone you love wants to travel, or to leave you, or to forge a whole new path, your hands are open, your arms are open, and the door is open. Not because it won’t pain you to your very core to watch the back of them disappear, but simply because love is not a prison. And two, if you love the people in your life, give them reasons to stay. I don’t mean in a clingy, don’t leave me and don’t pursue your dreams because I can’t live without you, way. I mean, make sure you aren’t taking your loved ones for granted. People do it all the time. They don’t realize how much they love until the object of that love is done — is packing, and crying, and driving away.

The best thing in life that I know of is love. I don’t just mean romantic love, here. I mean Love. Loving people feels really good. Giving of yourself, and supporting someone else’s growth, or healing, or feeling that life is good, and the world is a beautiful place filled with people who care. Loving people you don’t know, and wanting the best for them is advanced love, but it’s the most natural thing in the world to us if we open to it, if we recognize that we do care. Love people with your whole heart. Your family, your friends, the people you share a bed with and a laugh with, the people who hold you up when things are crumbling. Hold them against your bones and take them in because we all need that, we really do. We want to be seen and understood, we want to be loved. Giving that kind of love expands your heart and quiets your mind and fills you with the feeling of yes.

We all have an expiration date. The more attached you are to people, the more you’ll suffer when they die. Be attached, anyway. Unless you want to move to a cave, you’re going to have people in your life and if you have people in your life, they deserve to be celebrated, as do you. Celebrate them so much that when their time is up, or yours is, you can look at each other and say yes. Yes, we saw each other. We saw it all. The beauty and the pain and the fear and the doubt and the courage. We took our time here and we had out hearts broken so we could let in all the light. That way you’ll be ready to go. Not filled with regret or longing or anger or what if. You will have lived those what ifs. Wishing that for you and sending you so much love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Believe in Yourself

believeinyourselfI was talking to a friend of mine I’ve known since we were kids. I’ve known him so long, I can vaguely recollect his dad, although I haven’t seen him since I was five and neither has my friend. I remember he was tall (although everyone is tall when you’re five), and he had a beard, and in my mind he’s wearing a plaid flannel shirt. I remember he came to our Kindergarten class once and helped us paint a huge mural on the wall and that he encouraged everyone to get messy, which I thought was very unusual and very cool. And then he was gone. I don’t know what happened, and neither does my friend (I’ll call him John), because John’s mom doesn’t talk about it much. She just says his dad wasn’t able to love well at the time. That he was one of “those tortured artists” and that he thought he was doing them both a favor by leaving. She’s alluded to drug use, and she’s also encouraged John to reach out to his father if he wants to. His dad moved to Mexico, and eventually he had two more kids with someone else, and as far as John knows he’s been a good dad to those kids. He has never pursued a relationship with John, never sent birthday cards or called to check in, he’s never contacted him in any way. So you can imagine John has lots of feelings about this.

Thankfully, John’s mother is a very loving, warm, affectionate person, and so is John. But there’s a pain in his heart and a sadness that creeps into his eyes from time to time that you can spot if you know him well and are looking carefully enough. He’s had a history of longterm, monogamous relationships, but inevitably they end because John is afraid to commit for the long haul. Or maybe he’s afraid he’ll commit, and one day he’ll wake up and get on a plane, and never look back. Or she will. So he’ll only go so deep with people, only let them in so much. Not enough to devastate him if they leave. Not enough to know him completely. He told me he can remember his dad calling him buddy and playing catch with him and carrying him on his shoulders to get ice cream. He pores over pictures from when he was a kid and his family was together. But he won’t reach out to his father, because he’s also enraged. He’s enraged because he’s been living with this idea that there’s something unlovable about him at his core. Something that makes it easy to leave him even though his mother has always been there, and his step-dad has been in his life from the time he was eight years old.

Our first experience of love comes from our parents. As William Makepeace Thackery says, “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” And so is Dad. Let’s not get caught up in language and divisiveness here. I don’t care if you replace the word God with the word Love if you want to. Regardless, this is how we come to know and understand the world, and some things are part of our nature, the way we arrive here, the way we’re wired. If you don’t believe that, go hang out in the maternity ward of your nearest hospital. (I mean, don’t do that because it’s not going to be received well if you don’t have a reason to be there, but take my word for it if you need to, not all infants are the same.) Our nature will affect the way we respond to our experiences, but the way we’re nurtured is at least equally as important.

People tend to go two ways. They either repeat what they were taught, or they go in the opposite direction. If you were taught that you’re unlovable, that’s a lie, and anything you’ve learned can be unlearned. I don’t know what John’s father was taught about love. I don’t know anything about his childhood, his experiences as he grew up, the way he was treated by the people in his life. Maybe his dad or mom left him. I don’t know anything about his nature, except that hazy recollection I have of him flinging paint at the wall and throwing his head back to laugh when we all looked shocked that we were allowed to do that, too. I don’t know what drives a person to walk away from their child and never reach out, but I can recognize the perpetuation of pain, and the potential for healing. I’m not suggesting if John got on a plane for Mexico and talked to his dad everything would be rosy and they could hug and laugh and John could come home and marry the woman he loves and live happily ever after. This isn’t a movie. I know lots of people who were left by their parents and many of them never have a relationship again. Some people are wired in such a way that they can integrate that pain and move on and be at peace, anyway. They can forge a new path, and unlearn those untruths, and move in the direction of love, and give love to their children, and maybe even eventually find compassion for their own flawed parents.

If you think you aren’t flawed, have a kid, because they will hold up the clearest and most honest mirror for you. Some people run from what they see, like John’s dad. Other people get to work. Maybe John’s dad couldn’t do it then. Not because John wasn’t worth it, but simply because he didn’t have the tools yet, hadn’t healed himself enough at the time. Hadn’t grown up enough to be responsible for someone else’s heart. Maybe he was incredibly selfish at the time. It’s possible and likely that years later when he had his other kids, he was better prepared. We’re all in a state of flux all the time. Why he never tried to make things right with John is beyond me and strikes me as very sad for both of them. Maybe he’s afraid John doesn’t want to hear from him. Maybe he thinks John’s step-dad replaced him and John is fine. People screw up in all kinds of ways, they project, make assumptions, let fear rule them, live in avoidance or denial, and spill their pain all over the paths of anyone close to them. I don’t believe in “bad people,” I believe some people have been through some horrendous things and don’t heal well. They walk around angry or worse. Lonely, isolated, confused, unable to empathize. Some people have personality disorders. Different people respond to trauma differently. Some people are nurtured so well they can overcome, and some people are not nurtured well, but have incredible resilience.

What I know for sure is that there’s always the possibility to grow beauty from our pain. It’s not a level playing field, and some people will have to work harder to get there than others. You have your nature, and you have the way you were nurtured, and you don’t have to be ruled by either of those things. If you’re anxious by nature, there are so many ways you can work with your nervous system, so many healing modalities available to you. If you were taught that life is cruel and people leave or abuse you, that you can’t trust anyone and the world is an unsafe and dark place, that you aren’t worthy of love or happiness, you can unlearn all of that. You can work with with you’ve got, from where you are, and just go slowly and find a new way. Discover a new world that’s right under the surface of the world you’ve been living in. Or right over it. I know that might sound unreal if you’re in a dark place and if you’ve never known the world to be anything but disappointing, but I can assure you the world looks completely different when you’re coming from love. You might need some help to pull the curtain back. Maybe it’s not a curtain for you, maybe you’ve erected some thick walls. But you can knock them down and let the light in. You can surprise yourself, and you can allow yourself to be surprised. It takes courage, but it’s doable. Anything you’ve built to protect yourself from pain has also blocked you from receiving love. So you’re going to have to un-build that stuff. Grab your jackhammer if you need to, and let’s get working.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is!

We probably wouldn’t have survived as a species if we weren’t somewhat “wired for worry”, and though most of us no longer have to be concerned about sabertooth tigers eating us for lunch,  the mind still tends to get “snagged” on the negative. Someone says something or does something that makes us feel slighted, misunderstood or angry, and we go for a mental spin right into the abyss. Or we sit down to catch up with friends and end up focusing on what isn’t going well, and not on all the amazing things that are.

I think part of it is cultural, too. We’re constantly receiving messages that happiness lies in external stuff, that it’s a destination somewhere out ahead of us and if we just keep plugging away and trying harder and making ourselves “right” eventually we’ll be happy. The thing is, it’s not a destination. There’s no house that’s gorgeous enough, there’s no weight you could be, there’s no hairstyle or other person or car or job or amount of money in your bank account that will bring you to that place we call Happy. You can try if you want to, we have millions of people stuck on that track, but it doesn’t work. It doesn’t feel good, either. It’s the track of, “You’re not good enough, you don’t measure up.” How could that track ever lead to Happiness? The destination if you keep moving forward in that direction is Depressionville, Despair.

It doesn’t work, because happiness is something that happens inside yourself when you stop and realize how much you do have, when you make the choice to stay rooted in that awareness of what is going well, even if life isn’t easy right this minute. It happens when you’re living in alignment with what’s true for you, when you’re living with your heart wide open. It happens when you uncover your gifts and give them away freely. It happens when you lend an ear, or your hand or your shoulder or whatever else you’ve got to someone else. It happens when you’re patient with yourself and your own process, when you have compassion for yourself and other people, through connection, and a feeling that your life has meaning and purpose. You can’t buy that stuff at a store.

Of course, even if you do tap into that, you’ll still have pain in your life, and you have to lean into that, too. Heartbreaks. Confusion, doubt, fear, shame, guilt. Part of happiness is opening to all of it. Learning and growing and saying, “Yes, this too.” (There are some things that will never fall into the category of “Yes”, though. There are some things that will break your heart wide open and then the only question is if it hardens you or softens you. I recommend softening if at all possible). Life is going to keep coming, but when you’re living from your heart and you remember who you are, you have such a solid foundation to receive the everything that life brings. You also know how to give yourself permission to stay in your pajamas all day if that’s what you need to do. It doesn’t all have to be pretty and perfect every minute; in fact, part of being at peace is knowing that it won’t be.

That’s one of the main reasons it’s so important to figure out what you need in order to quiet your mind. Yoga, seated meditation, hiking, something. Because the habit-pattern of the mind is to head into the past or the future. We usually head into the past with longing or sadness. When we think about the future, it’s often with anxiety or fear. Peace is available in the present moment, but if your mind is screaming at you, it’s not easy to tap into it. Your breath is always happening in the now. That’s a powerful entry point to This Moment. Stress comes from being in one place, and wanting to be somewhere else. Wherever you are, you are home. You can breathe in and breathe out, right now, and bring yourself into the present. You live in your body. You live with your internal dialogue. So your inner world is peaceful and loving, or it’s violent and painful. If that voice is full of, “Not good enough!”, stop feeding it because it’s a liar. You are the only you, out of the roughly 7 billion people we have on this planet. That’s pretty amazing. I don’t believe you’re here to be a size 2 or to have huge biceps or to amass as much money as you can. You’re here to shine. When you notice a tree blowing in the wind, when you see the sunlight reflecting off the million different greens, and you feel the breeze on your skin, I hope you take it in. Because those are gifts, just like you are.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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