How to Stop Spiraling

pematimesSometimes our minds take us for a very unpleasant ride. We start thinking about worst-case scenarios, about all the horrendous things that could happen, terrible tragedies that could befall us or those we love. We imagine conversations that might take place, making ourselves sick as though this interaction were real, and happening now. You can raise your blood pressure with your thoughts alone.

Maybe it’s because some primal part of us is still on the alert for predators. Negativity bias has been studied at length. Our ability to recall negative experiences is greater than our ability to remember positive ones, and this has been a major survival skill we’ve needed from the beginning of time. How to stay out of harm’s way, and how to use our past experiences to recognize and try to avoid danger in our future? Is there a saber-tooth tiger around the next corner? Are we going to have to run for our lives? Will we be able to find enough food to feed our families? Whatever the reasons, the mind can get snagged easily on the negative, even though most of us can go to the store to buy our kale, and are unlikely to find ourselves on the wrong side of a hungry tiger.

It’s not just mortal peril we obsess over. We’ve extended this sense of imminent danger to include ways we’ve been slighted, wronged, betrayed, and disappointed. We can focus on all the things we don’t have yet, and wonder why other people have them. We can dwell on all the ways we don’t measure up, all the mistakes we’ve made, all the dire consequences we’ve brought down upon ourselves.

If you find yourself spiraling in this way, chances are you’re feeling vulnerable, and one of the best ways to disrupt the cycle is to turn your attention to your breath. I know that sounds absurdly simple, and it is. It’s just not easy to catch yourself, but when you do, when you become aware that you’re in the midst of self-created agony, try placing one hand on your heart, the other on your belly. Slow down and deepen your breath, seeing if you can fill your belly first, and follow the inhale up into your chest. If this is new for you, being horizontal might be helpful, but you can definitely do this at your desk if you need to. Hold the inhale in for a beat, and then exhale slowly, emptying your chest first, then your belly, and hold the breath out for a beat. Focus on a complete out-breath. Then inhale again. Repeat the cycle several times. If you feel very anxious, see if you can go for sixty breaths. In this way, you’ll calm your nervous system; you have the power to do that. By focusing on your breath, you’ll train your mind on something real, something that is happening in the now. You’ll become present.

With presence, you can start to choose different thoughts. You can remind yourself of everything you do have. Maybe you have dreams, gifts to share, ideas that are particular to you, and grow from your own experiences in this life. Maybe you might remind yourself of some of your good traits, some kind things you’ve done. You might think about all the ways things could go right. You could imagine a conversation you want to have, and you could envision it happening with love and compassion. When we come back to the now, we also give ourselves the power to choose one thought over another, and then we can pick the thoughts that will strengthen us instead of weaken us. We can imagine for ourselves and for our loved ones, all the amazing scenarios that might unfold.

Your life is made up of moments. Worrying about what might happen in the future won’t change anything, it will just rob you of this moment. Dwelling on what’s already happened won’t change anything, it will only rob you of this moment. In this moment, there is the potential for whatever is real for you right now: joy, peace, grief, heartache, rage, envy, shame, fear, hope. There’s enormous power in being with what is, and in not allowing yourself to spiral into your past or into your imagined future. When you “stop the tape”, you give your mind a rest, and everything works better with rest. Then you might find some clarity, and an easier time figuring out what the next right step is.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

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

Don’t Wait

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

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

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

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

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

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Make the Shift, Session 3

Yoga-is-99-practice-1We expect to encounter resistance when we’re being forced to do something we don’t want to do, but it’s a curious thing when we experience blocks in those areas where we’re looking for movement; where we want to shift or change or grow. The thing is, all change, no matter how positive, has an element of loss attached to it. In order to open to something new, we usually have to be willing to let go of something old, especially when we’re talking about our ideas or opinions or ways of doing things.

Change is not easy for most people. And yet, there’s no escaping it. Everything is shifting all the time. You are not the you you were five years ago, and neither is anyone else. You can’t predict the future any more than you can rewrite the past. All you can do is open to things as they are, and as they unfold, and develop a strong center. That’s internal work, there’s no way around it.

It’s completely understandable that we’d like to be able to count on some things. That we’d like to create some order inside all of this chaos. Some people long for that more than others. Controlling people are usually people who’ve been hurt, abandoned, traumatized or disappointed in some essential way. Of course they want to pin things down, and sometimes they want to pin people down, too. But we’re on a spinning planet, we have our bodies with their unknown expiration dates, we have our loved ones in the same situation, and there’s just no telling what’s coming down the path. At a certain point, you have to open to the ride, and let go of the things you can’t control. You can work on knowing and accepting yourself. You can figure out what lights you up, and what it is you have to offer, and you can get busy offering it. You can work on how you respond to what you’re given.

There’s enormous power in that. When we become accountable for the energy we’re spreading, when we take ownership of our lives and decide we’re going to move in a direction that feels right and good, we wouldn’t expect to come up against resistance. But if those ideas are new to you, I can almost guarantee that will happen. When you get to the point when you have to start doing things differently because the “old way” hasn’t been working out too well, it’s likely your system will revolt. Resistance isn’t always obvious; it can feel like boredom, anger, frustration, lethargy, a desire to numb out, an inability to focus, or a need to distract yourself. If you aren’t used to putting your feelings into the mix, if you haven’t been following your own intuition, a mere decision that you’d like to start doing those things isn’t going to be enough.

Rewiring our systems so we can start to live in alignment with what’s true for us, and in a way that feels good, takes determination, discipline, and a deep desire. It’s also nice to have some support, at least one person who’s rooting for you, when you can’t find the energy to root for yourself. It’s very painful to come up against all the ways you’ve been sabotaging yourself, and to uncover the reasons why. It’s inevitable you’re going to discover, or finally acknowledge some deep wounds that you’ve been carrying with you, if you haven’t been able to show up on your own behalf all these years. Before you can get to that strong center, you really have to lean into your pain, and integrate all parts of yourself. Anything you reject creates a chasm within you. A wall of shame or guilt or doubt. You really have to access your whole being. No one else is you. That’s such an incredible thing, isn’t it? Seven billion of us, and only one you. Of course you’re worth fighting for; if you don’t show up as your whole self, with all the gifts you have to offer, the world loses a gift only you can bring.

Anyway, my point is, resistance is perfectly natural, but you don’t have to let it stop you. You can lean into that, too. You can notice your lethargy, and drag yourself off the couch in spite of it. You can head out the door and walk around your block one time, with the intent of noticing just one thing that inspires you or surprises you or makes you feel happy to be alive. You can sit and meditate, and observe whatever arises calmly, with the understanding that it, too, will change. You can do your yoga practice, and feed a loving voice. You can commit to yourself, to your healing and your ability to nurture yourself and your dreams, and the people in your life. You can stay the path, even when the sleet is hitting you in the face, hard, and some voice inside your head tells you it would be easier to turn back and numb out. And you can tell that voice kindly, but with conviction, to screw off, because you know in your heart this is the way to go if you want to feel the sun shining on your face anytime soon.

Make the Shift, Session 3

This week, our third week, we deal with resistance. We face it head-on, and we move right through it. Grab your journal, your pen, and your yoga mat, and head into session 3, yogis. Rooting for you, and sending you love,


Worry-does-not-emptyThis is the thing about the mind: If you don’t get a hold of it, it will head into the past or into the future, and pull you right out of the present moment. Worrying is nothing more than creating a state of anxiety about an event that may or may not come to pass. Worrying will not magically add money to your bank account, or have any effect whatsoever on any situation in your life, except that it will make you sick. Sick with tension. Being tense doesn’t help anything, either. It just makes it hard to eat or sleep. Sleep deprivation will also wear you down and make your thinking muddy. So why do we do it?

When we worry, it’s an attempt to control or predict a future outcome, or it’s an attempt to manage another person’s path. We run every awful scenario through our heads and rehearse our possible reactions. And in so doing, we both over-estimate and under-estimate our power. Of course if you love someone and they are in trouble, worrying about their well-being is natural, but it’s not going to help them. Using your energy to be a source of strength is a lot more helpful. Extending an ear, a shoulder, a hug, tangible support if you’re in a position, are all much more useful than your worry. And sometimes we can love people who are on a path to hurt themselves, and at a certain point, if they’re determined enough, there’s not much we can do but be there. We can’t save other people.
There are times we get ourselves completely worked up over a non-event, a non-issue. Obsession has a very similar set of side effects as worry. When we boil ourselves over a past event or a predicted outcome, although the event isn’t taking place in the present, it might as well be. Because when we fixate on something like a conversation that didn’t go the way we wanted it to, or one we’re anxious about having, we create a set of circumstances in the body that are not much different than they would be if this feared or unfortunate thing was happening right now. Or than they were when the past event happened. Your blood pressure doesn’t differentiate between an actual event or an imagined one if you get yourself worked up enough. Next time you’re “boiling yourself”, notice your shallow breath, your tensed shoulders, your clenched jaw, your furrowed brow. Your body is in a state of stress, and your mind has created it.

Sometimes logic helps. If you catch yourself spiraling, see if you can pull yourself out of it with a few questions: Is the way I’m thinking going to help in any way? Is it a productive way for me to think? Is it going to help me grow and open and learn something about myself? Am I in a state of resentment and blame? Is this a good use of my time and energy? If you come to the conclusion that no good will come from your train of thought, then you have to break out of the groove of it. Something physical usually helps a lot. For me it’s yoga, the movement and the breath, the awareness of sensation, the quieting of my mind, and the opening of my heart. But for some people it’s running, or wind-surfing, or gardening, or hiking. I do think moving your body and breathing deeply are key. If you can’t move your body because you’re stuck at work, then breathe deeply and consciously. If you can get out in nature, or even walk around the block, that is almost always soothing to the soul. Sometimes a dance party to the right song in your living room, or behind the wheel of your car is enough to shake the obsession off. But try to stop the tape and come back to now.

If you’re worrying or obsessing, put your hand over your heart so you can feel it beating, sit up as tall as you can, and take a really full inhale. Hold it in, and then let it all out. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Because you are so beautiful, and you have so much love within you, and that is available to you right now, in this moment. If you’re struggling to keep a roof over your head and food in your refrigerator, I fully get that asking you not to worry is not only unrealistic, it lacks compassion. And if you’re in that place, my heart really goes out to you. But short of that, I just thought I’d invite you back to now. Because we could hang out here together, recognizing that life brings all kinds of ups and downs, all kinds of joy and pain, all kinds of darkness and light, and worrying about any of it won’t change a thing. But being present for the ride is exhilarating. Wishing you a gorgeous day, everything that you need, and the knowledge that you are not alone. Sending love, as always, Ally Hamilton