Weathering the Storms

Between-stimulus-andSometimes life feels like a huge storm that sweeps in and throws us off center, carrying us up and spinning us around until we can’t tell north from south. This can happen when someone with whom we’re close is in pain, and we feel helpless to stop their suffering, and end up suffering ourselves. It can happen when we lose someone we love and are faced with that gaping hole where a whole world used to be. It can happen when unexpected events turn our plans upside down, and it can happen when we, ourselves feel pulled to make changes.

The reality is, we are in control of so very little. The only thing you can really control is the way you respond to what life puts in your path, and even that takes enormous effort. We can make a practice out of choosing the thoughts that strengthen us, rather than the ones that weaken us. We can make a daily, hourly effort to see all the gifts around us, whether they exist in the fact that our heart is beating for us, or in the sunlight streaming through the window, or the rain pattering on the roof. Maybe there’s a gift in the eyes of a stranger, or someone who knows you and sees you for who you are. We can think about what we say before we say it. We can try to align ourselves with the truth in our hearts, and move from that space. We can share our gifts, we can give away our love, because we’ll never run out. When we love people, we can tell them, and not as a throw-away thing, but in a way that makes them understand we see them, really. These are all things we can do.

We’ll never control what other people do or say or want or need, nor should we try. Everyone has to do his and her own journey. Most people just want to be happy. A lot of people attach their happiness to external events, markers, or milestones. It’s not surprising, it’s what we’re taught culturally. Sometimes people feel frustrated or enraged or in despair because they just can’t seem to grab that brass ring. They can’t get that great job, or meet the right person, or look the way they want to, or get life to bend to their will, and so they lash out, or shut down or numb out or run away, thinking maybe a different direction or path or person or house or job or car or diet will finally solve it. But it’s an inside thing, and you don’t need to pick up and go anywhere. You really just need to sit down and get quiet. Mostly, we have the answers. We know what we need, but we are not always ready to accept what we know.

One of the greatest and best things we can all work on, is non-reactivity. There will always be storms, after all. Things will happen that we don’t expect or want. People will always surprise us, sometimes in good ways, and sometimes in ways that rip our hearts out. If you work on inner steadiness, no one can take that from you. This, to me, is one of the most powerful and amazing gifts of a consistent yoga and seated meditation practice. The ability to connect with your breathing, slow it down, and feel it happening, is both simple and profound. It’s a way of reminding yourself that you are here, right now. You have that, and because you’re present, you can see how things are with you. You can scan your body for tension, and when you exhale, maybe you can soften a little. Maybe you can relieve yourself of the illusion that you’re in control and have life by the reins. When you do that, you grant yourself the greatest power you’ll ever have. Fighting reality is exhausting. Creating constructs where you’re in the center of the world, and everything is happening to you and around you is not going to bring you any peace or strength. Recognizing that you’re part of something so much greater, that you’re connected to everyone and everything around you, is a much more expansive and accurate way to perceive reality.

Most people are not trying to hurt you, or me. Most people are trying to piece together some happiness for themselves. Having a breathing practice gives you the power to pause when things or people around you get intense. When you’re on your yoga mat, and you hold a lunge pose for eight, ten, twelve long deep breaths, you train your nervous system and your mind to breathe through intense sensation. Rage creates intense sensation in the body. Loneliness does as well. So, too, do fear, resentment, bitterness, jealousy, envy, joy, excitement, and gratitude. All of these feelings create chemical reactions in the body. Most people have an easy time holding the emotions and sensations that feel good (although not everyone has an easy time receiving love, embracing joy, opening to contentment), and most people struggle with the emotions and sensations that hurt like hell, such as grief, despair, and hopelessness. The thing about feelings is that they don’t last forever. Storms come and go. People may also enter and exit our lives. It’s incredibly likely things will not go according to our plans. For so many people, an uncomfortable feeling arises and they want to flee, or to numb out, or deny its existence.

If you can’t sit with uncomfortable and painful feelings, there’s no way to know yourself. Knowing yourself is at the heart of every spiritual practice. Otherwise how can you know which way to turn? How can you discover what scares you, what’s holding you back, what frees you up? How can you recognize your unconscious drives if you numb out every painful feeling that fights its way to the surface? How can you feel good about the way you’re leading your life if you lash out whenever you feel threatened or angry or envious or unheard? You don’t want to be a storm yourself, but that’s what it’s like when we can’t stop and breathe and lean into our painful feelings. We’re just an unpredictable storm barreling through life, leaving pain in our paths. Not intentionally, but just because we don’t trust ourselves. We think if we do that, if we stop and give our rage a chance to catch up with us, it will overwhelm us, but it’s the running away or pushing it down that does that. Creating some space between your feelings and what you decide to do with them is brilliant. It’s powerful. That’s a skill you can put to good use so you can direct your energy toward ideas, people, and pursuits that will uplift you, and not the stuff that tears you down. As always, you’re welcome to try a little yoga online with me if you’d like. You can sign up for a 15-day free trial, here: You have nothing to lose but your feelings of being powerless in the face of life’s storms. Life does not have to be that way.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

We Need Space

Between-stimulus-andBecoming less reactive and more responsive is a huge part of the yoga practice. Learning to sit with intense sensation calmly can really be a life-changer; so many people move through the world as victims of circumstance. If things are going well, they’re happy, if things are not going as planned, they’re miserable. If someone says something or does something thoughtless, they’re sent into a tailspin. Life can, and probably will be an up-and-down experience if you don’t find a way to open to both those things that feel good, and those things that are disappointing, enraging, heartbreaking, or unexpected.

You cannot control what another person will do or say or want or need. You can’t control what life will put in your path, but you can choose the way you’ll respond to what it is you’re given and there’s so much power in that. A lot of it has to do with creating space between an event, and your response to it. A reaction is generally coming out of our past. You’ll know you’re reacting if things feel charged and out of control. A response is coming out of our present. Something is happening, and we’re responding to the thing itself, in present time, without dragging history into the mix. When we feel “triggered” and exceedingly vulnerable, the tendency is to act defensively, to fight for ourselves, but if a loved one has upset you inadvertently, wouldn’t it be nice to have the space to give them the benefit of the doubt? To pause and consider the source? To examine your own feelings and see what’s come up for you, before you lash out and say or do something you’ll regret? If a stranger cuts you off on the freeway, do you really want to give that person the power to raise your blood pressure? If your boss says something thoughtless, do you want to allow that to ruin your afternoon, robbing you of hours you can never have back again?

There’s a beautiful concept at the heart of Imago Therapy. The idea is that a relationship happens in the space between you and another person. Not just romantic relationships, but also the space between you and your children, your siblings, your parents, friends and colleagues, and the person who brings the mail to your house. The space between you and anyone else. The idea is that you get to choose what you put into that space. You can decide to fill it with your frustrations, disappointments, anger, resentment, boredom, or you can fill it with your kind attention, your love, compassion, patience and willingness to truly listen and see.

In order to make choices we’ll feel good about, we have to create a little breathing room between what has happened, and what it is we’re going to do (or not do) about it. If you’re in a “fight or flight” state, there’s no choice, you’re fighting, or you’re fleeing, but if you have a practice where you breathe when you feel challenged, the breath creates the space. Your ability to notice sensations in your body as they’re occurring, for example, can be enough to slow you down, so that instead of hurling something hurtful at your partner, or yelling in frustration at your child, you turn your attention to your shortness of breath, your racing heart, the feeling of the blood rushing to your head, and maybe you even get to the place where you can speak out about this stuff as it’s happening. You might say, “My heart is racing and I’m having a hard time breathing, this is probably not the right moment for us to continue this conversation, I need a few minutes.” (If you’re talking to your kids, a simple, “I need a time out” will do ;)). Just like that, you have some space and time to observe what’s happening within you.

Maybe you’ll realize this present-day event is reminding you of something very old, maybe it’s hit a nerve. It could be that something in the interaction made you feel disrespected or unseen or unheard. Even the best people say or do thoughtless things sometimes, no one operates from her highest self in every moment. If someone truly loves you, they’re not going to hurt you intentionally, but when we feel disappointed or attacked, there can be a tendency to ascribe blame, or to assume intent. Space gives you the chance to recognize what’s happening within you.

It might not seem intuitive that twelve deep breaths in standing frog would set you up to breathe more deeply when you feel enraged, but it does translate. An intense sensation in your quadriceps is not so different from an intense sensation in your chest. Rage creates sensations all over the body, right? The shoulders tighten, the jaw clenches, the heart races, the blood boils. These are all sensations. If you have a mind and a nervous system trained to deal with this kind of experience calmly, you also have the power to stay centered, to be aware of yourself, to know yourself, and to be accountable for what’s happening within you. Then you can decide what to do about it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

What You Allow

Last week I received an email from a colleague. It was pedantic and rude, written by someone so arrogant he didn’t even realize how offensive he was being. I have a strong feeling it’s not an email he would have sent to a male colleague, but I could be wrong on that; it’s possible he talks down to everyone regardless of gender.

Thankfully, I’ve been at this rodeo long enough to know it’s never smart to write back when you’re in a reactive state, and believe me, the email I was writing in my head was fiery. I went about my day teaching and picking up my kids from school, going to the dog park with our energetic, mouthy puppy, but every so often, in he crept, Mr. Let Me Enlighten You and every time, I got pissed again and started firing back in my head. I let him have it eight ways from Sunday. Then I’d catch myself, shake my head and laugh at the balls of this guy, and come back to laughing in earnest with my son and daughter, taking in the gorgeous day, feeling the sun on my shoulders.

It’s always our choice whether we receive the gifts people offer or not. Sometimes someone is sending you the gift of outrageous rudeness, and why would you want to sign for that?! That’s a return-to-sender in my book. I never did write back, nor will I, because some things simply don’t deserve the time and energy required to respond. His arrogance is probably a shield against some deep insecurity, but that’s his work to figure out, not mine. I have nothing to prove to anyone, but I went through half a dozen drafts in my head and I let him steal way too much of my day. My meditation teacher S.N. Goenka calls this “boiling yourself.” The event is over, but you re-live it in your head and get yourself as worked up as if it were happening in the now.

It’s really hard to hold your center when you feel insulted, attacked, misunderstood, dismissed or otherwise pained by the comments or behavior of someone else and that’s especially true if it’s a person you love. (Thankfully not the case in my scenario from last week, ha). When loved ones are in pain and their pain spills out all over our lives, it’s incredibly challenging to love them without being held hostage by their suffering. Life brings everything and not all of it is easy. In fact, some of it will break your heart boldly and without warning on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or a gorgeous Tuesday morning. Life is under no obligation to give us what we want. Some people will face loss and pain that is incomprehensible; it’s not a level playing field. Not everyone handles the everything that life brings in a way that makes sense from outside the experience.

Some pain is so knifing, people run from it. Try to numb it out, push it down, avoid it at all costs. You cannot make a person feel ready to face their trials, doubts, fears, weakening tendencies or past history. That’s inside work. When you love a person who’s in self-destruct mode, it’s the most challenging thing in the world to disengage if you must, but it’s an essential lesson in life — we cannot save other people, we each must save ourselves. Or not. You cannot manage another person’s path. You can’t take a person by the shoulders and shove them into the cave of their own despair, telling them to sit there and feel it all and let it wash over them until the heat of it is released. That’s a task they choose or they don’t. All you can do is manage your own path. Do your own healing, return to your own love and joy and inner yes. If a person you love is flailing about it pain, you can do everything in your power to support them, but you do them no good if you get down in the mud and flail about with them. That’s not going to help them, but it is going to hurt you. Keep coming back to love. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself, and everyone in your life. Direct your energy.

Sending you love, and wishing you love,

Ally Hamilton

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