Are You in a Cage?

bytheoceanposterWhen I was 26 years old, I stopped into a pet store one day to buy dog food for a friend’s dog, and I saw this tiny, sickly puppy in the corner of an enormous cage. His brown, pink-rimmed eyes were huge in his tiny head, and he was shaking uncontrollably. And although I’d never seen it in a dog before, he had a runny nose. He was one of the most pitiful creatures I’d ever seen, and of course I fell in love on the spot. On the front of the cage there was a sign. They’d originally been asking $2500 for him, but then he’d been slashed to $2000. Then $1500, $1000. By the time I got there, they were asking $500. They sent him out the door with me for $250. Two days later I had him at the vet, who told me to take him back to the pet store. He had bacterial pneumonia, and the vet didn’t even want him in the office, because it’s highly contagious. I begged him even though he was adamant. Said I’d already fallen in love with my dog, and taking him back to the place that had neglected him wasn’t even an option. I think I even appealed to whatever it was within him that had inspired him to be a vet in the first place. I know I cried. He put my dog on intravenous antibiotics in the basement, in a cage between cardboard boxes full of puppy pads, and dog food, and Frontline. There was a leaky pipe nearby, and it was pretty dark down there. I know because I visited my dog every day for hours, for the 10 days he was there. The vet told me not to get my hopes up because he was almost definitely a lost cause, but I brought my dog home on the tenth day, and he was my best friend for the next ten years, until he died suddenly one morning, two weeks before I had my son.

Pretty frequently I get emails from people who are in the corner of a huge cage, shaking with a runny nose. Not literally, of course, because that would be weird. But metaphorically. Sometimes the cage is a relationship, or a job, or a way of thinking about themselves or the world. Whatever it is, they’re in there, shaking, as their light dims. Their belief in themselves dwindling like the price on the front of my dog’s cage. Sometimes the person says nothing is really wrong. The job is not bad. The partner is loving and kind. The way of thinking is what they were taught, and how they’ve always been. They think they must be crazy. But. There’s something inside them that’s saying no. No, life should not feel like a cage.

All kinds of things keep people shaking uncontrollably as their light dims. Fear. Guilt. Shame. Sometimes it feels like people are asking permission. Is it okay for me to go to the basement with the leaky pipe (because healing is lonely, dark, painful work) and heal what needs to be healed so I can get out of this cage and live a life where I get to breathe, and it doesn’t feel like there’s this huge weight on my chest, smothering my heart? And I mean, of course it is. If you don’t leave the cage, you die. Maybe not literally, but your spark dies, and you may as well be dead at that point. But, other people will be hurt. Yes, that sucks. That’s brutal, and it would be a beautiful thing if we could all live our truths and never cause anyone else pain. Except, I’ll tell you, I’ve learned and grown the most from the painful times in my life. We can never ever know what another person’s journey is supposed to look like. We can only manage our own, kindly, honestly, and with compassion. And if you don’t follow the road marked My Truth, your heart breaks and you lose the will to do much of anything.

No one will ever thank you for your pity. No one deserves to be loved half-way, or even most of the way. Including you. The road marked My Truth is hardly ever well-paved and well-lit. You have to cut through the brush with no map, and the only thing you can really carry with you is belief in yourself. You won’t be stuck in the basement forever. But you do have to get out of the cage. Sending you love and a huge hug, Ally


The-biggest-lie-on-theYou will not be happy when you lose 10 pounds, or have a different job or a drive better car, when you meet the “right” person, or when “things calm down”. You will not be happy when your biceps or bank account or boobs are bigger, or when your waistline is smaller. You will not be happy if you take medication to grow the hair on your head, or when you wax hair off in other places. You are either happy inside, or you are not happy inside. Nothing outside will fix that for long. You surely can’t buy it.

We have a crazy system set up around us (consumerism and distraction), which simply reflects back the system that exists within us (there’s a void inside I need to fill!). If you don’t wrestle with life’s big questions, and by that I mean, “Is this all there is? What am I doing here? Who am I?”, then those unanswered questions own you, and you’ll have to keep dancing around distracting yourself from the discomfort of not having worked them out for the rest of your life, convinced that happiness lies in external stuff, and wondering why you can’t get there.

Peace comes from understanding and accepting that one day your body will give out and you will exhale for the last time. I hope it’s one day way way off in the future, and that you have the time between then and now to figure out what lights you up from the inside. Because that’s where you find happiness, or inner peace, or the ability to face reality as it is, which is not always as we’d like it to be. It happens inside you as you develop the ability to love yourself, to find your purpose, to uncover your particular gifts and give them away freely, fully, with total abandon. To show yourself some compassion and kindness, to do the work to heal. If you pin your happiness to certain events going or not going the way you’d like, you are nothing more than a victim of circumstance, and there’s just no power in that. We can never control circumstances, we can only work on the way we respond, the amount of power we give to those waves of life that are challenging. We can swim against the current which is exhausting, or we can embrace the zen proverb: Let go or be dragged. Sometimes we just have to realize what we know. Your happiness is good for you, and it’s good for everyone else, too. Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton

Grab Your Weed Whacker!

Your-mind-is-a-gardenThere’s a powerful quote from the Upanishads, “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.” Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen. This is why the quality of your life will largely depend upon the quality of your internal dialogue. I say that, recognizing life will bring all kinds of circumstances, some people will have a very painful path to walk, and ultimately, all of us will have to grapple with life’s big questions (Who am I? What am I doing here? Is this all there is?), on our own. No matter your path, you simply can’t evict that voice, that voice is your constant companion. Every thought you have creates a chemical reaction in your body. That’s your soil, and it’s either going to be full of lies and poison, or it’s going to be full of love.

In a garden, weeds steal water, nutrients, and space from your plants. Some give off natural herbicides killing off other plants in close proximity. Left unchecked, weeds will overgrow your garden, and “choke out” anything in their path. Here are a list of weeds to watch out for: Fear, envy, laziness, unexpressed rage or grief, shame, guilt, bitterness, pettiness, prejudice, insecurity and doubt. If you feed those weeds, you can bet they’re going to choke out any potential for the light to reach your plants. Or plans. I’m not saying it’s realistic to expect you’ll never grow a weed, I’m just saying be vigilant about grabbing your weed whacker as fast as you can. The best one I know is gratitude.A list of plants you really want to grow in your garden: Self-knowledge, love, truth, acceptance, inspiration, trust, joy, integrity, dedication, perseverance, forgiveness, loyalty and thankfulness. If you feed these plants, you will be amazed by the incredible garden that springs up within you and around you. Growing a garden of love takes time and patience, and pretty constant tending. It’s not going to happen overnight. In fact, depending on your path, you may have to spend years uprooting certain weeds. Too much water in your garden, and your thoughts become diluted, your seeds won’t take root. “Too much water” in this instance might include too much seeking out of other people’s opinions. No one can advise you about the growth of your own particular garden, because no one but you has ever worked with your exact fertilizer, weather conditions, schedules of pollination, and so on. No one else has weathered the exact storms you have, or felt the gentle breezes of your experience. So no one else can tell you how best to grow your garden. That’s your work to figure out.

If you avoid digging your hands in your own dirt because the thought of it makes you too tired or too scared, then get a picture in your mind of a garden that’s been overgrown by weeds. It looks constricted, right? Full of thorns and brittleness. It’s wild, and there can be a lot of beauty in that, but it’s not an easy place to grow anything. If that’s the garden of your mind, that’s where you live. In a creaky old rocking chair that you barely have the energy or desire to rock. Because life is exhausting when you don’t root down into your dirt so you can rise up out of it, when you let the weeds take over everything. Rooting down just means that you’re willing to sit in the center of your pain and let it open you. Growing a garden of love means you are going to examine your thorns and bleed a little. You’ll be amazed, but the flowers that spring up from those drops of blood will be the most gorgeous ones of all. Those are your Freedom Flowers. You won’t get those unless you understand your terrain, and traverse it well and deeply–let the rainy days nourish you, learn how to bend when the storms come so you don’t break, trust that the sun is going to shine again. And when it does, know that it will open you further, feed you, and encourage you to blossom, to extend yourself, to reach for the light.

You are not here to feed rage or fear or doubt. You’re here to release those feelings back into the earth. To let your tears wash them away. To pick your mind up again and again, and redirect it to all the beauty within you and around you. All the love. All the peace and happiness and satisfaction that happens when your garden is full of I Know What I Am Flowers. And I Know Why I’m Here Plants. That’s a garden you’ll want to hang out in, because it will never stop amazing you. Your colors will be so vibrant, so deep, other people will want to come and sit in your garden with you, and just take it in. Maybe take a seed or two of yours home with them. And you won’t mind because you’ll know you have so many. More than you need, more than you can ever use. And you’ll want to help other people grow their gardens. And if you’re a smart garden, you’ll ask for some of their seeds, too. So you can grow those incredible Compassion Flowers, Empathy Plants, and Connection Trees. And you’ll think, even with all of life’s storms, this is a beautiful, rich, mysterious experience. I wonder what will happen next? And you’ll just sway in the breeze, open, content, aware and full of gratitude. I’d love to come sit in your garden right now, whether you need help weeding, or you have your My Heart is Open flowers on display. Sending you some love seeds if you need them, Ally Hamilton