Let the Breaking Open You

So much of what we’re going to feel as human beings is uncomfortable. Longing, loneliness, rage, bitterness, resentment, insecurity, doubt, fear, shame, guilt, jealousy…none of these are comfortable, and we aren’t taught how to sit with these feelings, how to lean into them and breathe. For so many people, the impulse is to do something, to fix it, to push it down, to make it go away, but these are just natural sensations. That’s all loneliness is, it’s an uncomfortable sensation in your heart. It hurts, it aches, but it’s temporary and if you open to it you might also open to the understanding that you’re longing for connection. Maybe some part of you feels invisible or unworthy of love, and what you want more than anything is for someone to see you and know you and embrace you; that’s beautiful and understandable. Maybe there’s some healing that needs to happen within you before you can truly allow yourself to be vulnerable with someone else, but if you run out the door, or open that bottle of wine, or pick up the phone, or try to shop the feeling away you miss an opportunity to know yourself and not knowing yourself is the loneliest thing there is.

If you’re enraged and you allow yourself to feel that feeling, if you loosen your grip on the story around why you’re angry, you might start to feel something underneath that rage. People get angry when they feel misunderstood, wronged or discarded. Those are some of the most painful feelings we have. Avoiding them doesn’t diminish them, it strengthens them. Alienating yourself from other people won’t lessen those feelings, either, it will increase them. What we resist, persists as the saying goes. Intense sensations are markers for places where we have healing to do, places where we really ought to sit down and dig our hands in the dirt. A lot of people get so freaked out by the discomfort, they run like hell and wonder why the pain never goes away for long. Life is not something to “get through”, it’s something to experience fully.

It’s human to crave the things that feel good and to try to avoid the things that don’t, but that is also the root of all suffering and it’s wildly unrealistic. No one has a life full of only good things and if they did, they wouldn’t be able to distinguish them from anything else. There’s gradation, it’s not a level playing field. Some people will suffer the “normal” amount, and some will suffer so much it makes your head spin and your heart hurt. In the end we are all going to die. That’s about the only thing we know for sure and even that is shrouded in uncertainty. The body will die, but what about the energy that is you? What about your spirit, or your essence or your soul, or whatever you want to call it? I don’t believe that dies, I think it lives on in the people we’ve loved and the places where we’ve given our hearts. You might think that’s wrong, and you might be right. No one will know for sure until they exhale for the final time, so I don’t see any use in arguing about it. This life is full of unanswered questions, suffering, confusion, heartache, longing and things that just make you wonder why, but it’s  also full of beauty and love and the kind of joy that makes your heart expand if you let it, of laughter and connection and moments of absolute bliss. There’s piercing beauty in suffering, too, if you examine it carefully enough. Even if you’ve lost someone and you have no idea how you’ll go on, there’s beauty in having loved like that and there’s enormous power in opening to things as they are.

There’s a funny thing about opening to your pain as well as all the obvious beauty in life. Your heart may break, but you can let the breaking soften you. You can also let it harden you, but you’ve probably noticed human beings are not born with shells. We are not born with armor. We don’t thrive when we hide or develop a thick skin. We are born with the strength of being able to love and feel and express, to recognize it when we love, to see when we’ve been given a gift, and to open it slowly, and with gratitude. It’s very easy to lose the thread.

Opening to love does not mean you embrace everything. Some things cannot be embraced. Some things will break you, but just as human beings aren’t born with shells, we aren’t made of glass, either. Rumi on this, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” You can glue the broken pieces together with love and kindness and time, with patience and compassion, and with the ability to hold even more light. When life breaks you, let it open you.

Wishing you the strength to face reality as it is, and sending so much love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Time for a Re-Frame

We-may-overcompensateThe feeling that you have no power over your life or your circumstances can be crushing. Doubting your ability to have an impact on the world around you, feeling you’re defeated before you’ve begun or that you are somehow to blame, that some deep part of you is simply unlovable, these are all beliefs that can make it very hard to act on your own behalf. If you grew up in an unsafe environment then this may be part of your wiring. We usually seek the familiar even if what we know is abuse or neglect. If it’s familiar, it feels like home, and we all want to be able to count on something. The devil you know is better than the one you don’t, or something like that. As a result, there are people who’ve known nothing but abuse. Who truly believe the world is an unsafe place and you can’t count on anyone, that people will let you down, or leave, or hurt you when you need them to love you, when you need that with all your heart. You can only know what you know, after all. Your frame of reference is what it is.

The thing is, sometimes the frame is really bent. So bent, the glass has bubbled in places and when you look through those raised parts, everything is blurry. Sometimes the glass has cracked and you see two realities, one right on top of another and it’s hard to figure out which one is the real one. Sometimes the glass has shattered in places and you can get these small glimpses of the truth, tiny portals into other worlds that you can almost feel and want to believe are real.

What I can tell you is that you are worthy of love. You’re made of love, that to me is fairly obvious. We come into this world and we need to be held and dressed and fed and rocked and sung to, even if the person caring for us can’t carry a tune. We need connection and affection and to know that how we feel matters. If you’ve never had any support for those feelings, if the people who were supposed to love you weren’t able to do that due to their own limitations (and perhaps, their own history of abuse), it’s not easy to wrap your head around the simplest ways of taking care of yourself. The idea of caring for yourself might never have crossed your mind. I meet adults all the time who have no idea what makes them happy, what lights them up, what they want to do with their time or energy. Sometimes people are stunned just to find someone is listening to them. Someone is asking questions about who they are and what they want and how they feel. You matter. You, reading this, if there’s any doubt in your mind, you matter. Your thoughts, the way you move through the world, your smile, your tears, your ability to love and to be loved, it all matters.

When you feel small and insignificant and like the world is a cold and dangerous place, it’s perfectly natural to want to order it, to try to make sense out of chaos, but you can’t control other people, nor do you want to try. You can’t manage what another person will do, say, feel or want. You can only keep your own side of the street clean. That’s your power. You can manage how you show up, and what you do or say. There’s a lot of strength in that, and that’s something to hold onto if you’re feeling like you’re somehow invisible. You have as much right to love and respect as anyone else. Rage is an understandable feeling if you were not loved the way you needed to be or deserved to be; there are few things more painful than believing you’re unlovable. That’s enough to make anyone lash out, or try to control — to keep people around by bending over backwards, by putting their needs and wants above your own to an unhealthy degree, to selling yourself and trying to be exactly what other people need, instead of simply, your gorgeous, true self.

The world is a beautiful, complex, often painful place to be, but the other thing that exists here, other than suffering which is part of being human, is the potential to explore your capacity to love. Your frame may be bent or broken. Your glass may be foggy but there are all these methods available for unbending your frame, or building a whole new one from scratch. Eventually, if you do the work to heal and tap into that limitless well of love you have within you, you won’t need a frame at all. Or glass. You’ll just be moving from love, and that opens a whole new world to you.

Sending you love, as always,

Ally Hamilton

Pick Better Moments

Sometimes a memory will come flooding back to me, whole, detailed, out of nowhere. A fragrance on the breeze, or a song on the radio, or something my kids say as they look up at me, and wham, I’m transported back to a moment I haven’t thought about in years. Sometimes the feeling around the memory is sweet, and sometimes it’s painful, but either way I’m amazed by the experience. Where was I storing that, or has it been continuing on in some parallel universe this whole time? That me that stood on that corner that afternoon, walking one way when I could have walked another. Is part of me still on that corner? Is part of me still having that first kiss, with the sun flooding in through the window, and the shock of realizing that kissing means lips and tongues and a racing heart?

The mind is an amazing thing. What we remember is simply our version of events, the way we experienced the world or another person through our own filter. Did you ever leave a film with a friend feeling one way about it only to find your companion has a completely different opinion? We tell our “life story” to ourselves and sometimes to other people, but it’s just that, it’s just a story; it’s the way we’ve received what we’ve been through. I’m not disputing facts. You were born on a certain day, and this thing may have happened, or this other thing may have happened. People came or they went, they showed up for you or they let you down. Whatever happened, happened, but we choose the things that are the highlights. We grab onto those moments that stand out for us as significant, and we give them weight and life and energy. We weave them into the tale of this is who I am, and why I am the way I am. Sometimes the story weighs us down or closes us off or prevents us from discovering our potential for love or joy or freedom or happiness.

Sometimes people hold on to the wrong pieces. Sometimes a person decides the painful pieces are the ones to highlight. The wrongs are brought to the forefront and held up and fed and magnified until the person is feeling what they felt then. Until the past is fully present in the present, and is very likely to screw up the future, too. We are all human. There have been times I’ve met people and I thought they were more than human, only to find that no, everyone who looks like a human is human. So there’s that. People who look human and think they’re floating above the surface of the earth are the ones to watch out for because that’s a distorted perception. Everyone makes mistakes. No one operates from her highest self in every moment. You will hurt people unintentionally, simply because human beings are complex and always evolving, and how you feel at one time may not grow or expand; you may think you want one thing and realize you want something else. You will almost certainly say and do and think things you’ll wish you hadn’t at some point.

If you can accept that about yourself, then you’ll be able to accept it in other people. If you believe you never make mistakes, and if a person is upset with you it’s due to their own negativity and not attributable to anything you could have done, then you’ll probably be very unforgiving and also very lonely. If you expect perfection from yourself, you’ll expect it in others as well and you’ll be disappointed all the way around, or you’ll be deluded. I know people who believe they’re always right. It’s such a sad stance. It’s a sure way to avoid intimacy and true friendship. If you can’t own your humanness and figure out how to say the words, “I’m sorry, I blew it” and mean it, and look at what happened so you can do it differently next time, if you can’t embrace your vulnerability and your culpability and your capacity to screw things up, you’ll also never discover your capacity to love. The two go hand in hand.

I know too many people who waste too much time holding on to anger, to grudges, to ways they’ve been wronged. It’s a cancer to do that, it eats away at you and life is too short and too precious, and there’s so much love that could be happening. Family members stop speaking to one another over the craziest, most meaningless stuff. Money. Something someone said twelve years ago at a wedding, drunk and full of salmon. How much time do you think you have, and how much of it do you want to spend digging your heels in being “right”? Do you want to be right and alone? Right and missing moments you can’t ever have back again? There are no winners in a fight between friends or family. There’s just pain. Pick better moments to feed. If a person has been nothing but abusive, they can’t be in your life, so I’m not talking about that. But if you have a loved one, and their worst crime is that they’ve been human, let the anger go. Love feels a lot better.

Sending you some right now,

Ally Hamilton

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

What to Do with What We’re Given

Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen. We all have pain to varying degrees, we’ve all suffered loss, despair, and disappointment. Some people have lived through abuse and neglect, and losses so knifing you have to wonder about the resiliency of the human heart, and how strong it is. It’s not a level playing field, and it is a sad reality that horrendous things happen to beautiful people all the time. Maybe you believe in karma, maybe you believe in chaos theory, maybe you don’t know what you believe. Regardless, I don’t know anyone who would argue that life is easy.

You can’t change what’s happened to you, and you can’t control what life will put on the path in front of you, but you can work on how you’re going to respond. Your past does not have to define you, or determine your future. You define yourself and you co-create your future with your choices and your actions. If you’re grieving, grieve. If you’re enraged, move into that heat so you can let it burn off to an ember, and eventually to ash so you don’t have to carry the burden of something huge and painful that you’ll never get your arms around anyway.  Rage is not a fabulous traveling companion, it demands everything of you, and blocks out any hope for joy or peace. Face reality as it is, even if everything in your being is crying out with the why of it. Denial is a traffic circle and so are resentment, blame and bitterness. Those are all natural feelings, but after you explore them, you really want to take the exit to acceptance or you’ll just drive in circles until you’re sick, and of no use to yourself or anyone else.

If you’ve lost someone and you don’t know how you’ll be able to live without them, see if you can open to the gift that it is to have loved that deeply; there are people who will never experience that. If you’ve lost the life you thought you were going to live, consider that eventually, you may find the strength to help other people who are looking in the face of a loss like that. If you don’t help, who will? Who else could ever understand? There’s beauty in that. Would you rather not have those skills? Would you gladly trade them in for a life where you never needed to understand what that feels like? Of course, but we don’t get to choose. We just get to figure out what we do with what we’re given.

You have this gorgeous heart. The more it breaks, the more it opens. I’ve had my heart broken in all kinds of ways. There are certain things I’d really love to give back, and to not understand. It took me years to see the potential for something beautiful to emerge in some instances, but your pain can strengthen you if you let it because the best things in life are giving, connecting, sharing, offering, loving. A person plunged in darkness will not accept a hand from someone who hasn’t been there, but if you can swim out into the center of someone’s despair because you know the way, and you also know the way out, that’s powerful. That’s when your pain turns into your light, and that’s a gorgeous thing you can share.

Some things will never be okay. I think it’s important to accept that. That does not mean that your future has to be devoid of beauty or joy or gratitude. You can hold both: the pain of your loss, and the softness and light in your heart, and you can let that light lead your way.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

People Who Don’t Make it Easy

I moved into my house seven years ago. My dog was six at the time, and he’d seen me through heartbreaks and good times, and a move across the country, too. He was my best friend. He was the kind of dog who could turn people who weren’t dog lovers into friends, with one exception.

I have a neighbor across the street, I’ll call him Walter, although that isn’t his name. He’s kind of like the crotchety mayor of the block, always standing in front of his house monitoring the comings and goings of everyone around him. He’s the kind of guy who’ll run out and yell at neighborhood kids to get off his lawn. I don’t know exactly how old he is, but he’s over seventy for sure. About three weeks after I’d moved in, I came home to find a notice on my front door. Apparently, my dog had been barking and someone had called the police. I was pretty bummed out and wondered why whomever it was hadn’t just told me upon my return. I’d only been gone an hour, and my dog had never been much of a barker. I’d lived with him in apartments in New York City, and in a tiny house with a neighbor right on the other side of the wall. No one had ever complained about barking. The next few times I left the house, I drove to the corner and walked back. No barking. So I chalked it up to a one-time thing and went about my business. A couple of weeks later, I came home to a second notice and a warning that if there was a third incident, mediation could ensue and my dog might have to be removed from the premises. At that point, I put baby gates up when I left the house, so my dog would be in back, unlikely to be heard from the street if he did bark. A few weeks later, I left to lead a yoga retreat. I had a friend stay in the house to watch and walk my furry friend. One day when she came back, she found, you guessed it, another notice. Strike three.

When I got back, I went right over to Animal Control to speak to someone in person. As it turned out, I found the guy who’d been out to the house. He said he hadn’t heard barking when he’d pulled up either time, and that it wasn’t until he knocked that my dog made any noise, which one would expect. I asked him what my recourse was since none of the neighbors on either side of me were complaining, and the person calling in wouldn’t reveal him or herself to me. He said he couldn’t tell me who it was, but I could guess, and deduce it from his reaction. Kind of hilarious. “Bill?” I asked. “No”, he said. I made up three or four other names and kept getting that no, until I came to, “Walter?” Silence. I wasn’t surprised. The officer suggested I try talking to Walter, since mediation would only follow if he pursued it. He said maybe Walter was satisfied just to have caused some trouble. So I went over to Walter’s, understanding I wasn’t supposed to know he’d complained. I just asked him directly if my dog had been bothering him. Immediately, he called my dog a “problem”, said he’d been barking and that he had called the police three times. I asked him why he hadn’t just talked to me, and said I was confused because no one else around me was hearing it. I wondered if it could be the dog on the other side of Walter’s backyard, but he was adamant and unfriendly, although he didn’t pursue mediation. Things were strained from then on, even though I would always wave and say hello. It’s no fun to have tension with someone you’re going to see every day.

A few months went by, and my dog had become a favorite on the block. People would stop and pet him on walks, and we had settled into the ‘hood nicely, but Walter was impenetrable. I’d try to talk to him when I was alone, but he’d basically grunt at me and that would be that. One day, I saw Walter walk out of his house with a person I could only assume was his very elderly mother. She was hooked up to an IV and also had an oxygen mask. Walter had his arm around her, and was holding her up as they made their way to the car. She couldn’t have weighed more than seventy pounds. I hadn’t realized Walter was living with and caring for his elderly mother, and that he’d lived in that house his entire life. At that point, I tried harder to cultivate a friendship, but he just wouldn’t have it. Sometimes it seemed to me my friendliness was embarrassing him, but since I couldn’t get more than monosyllables from him, there was no way to approach the topic. A few years went by this way. My beloved dog died one awful morning, and Walter’s mother died, too. I had two kids. You know who finally “broke” Walter? My son. Because even Walter could not resist a two year old enthusiastically waving and yelling to him from across the street. Sometimes I’d bring my boy over to say hi to Walter, and little by little he started talking to me. By the time my daughter came along, it was on.

Today, several years later, Walter always waves and says hi to us, and very frequently crosses the street to hang out in the front yard. He doesn’t yell at neighborhood kids anymore. We have a new dog, and Walter even likes him. About six months ago, around 3am one morning, I awoke to a very loud crack and an explosion of light that shook the house. I was shaking, and went to the front door not knowing if my house had weirdly been struck by lightning, if we were having an earthquake, or what was going on in my half-awake, fight-or-flight state. I didn’t know if I should be grabbing my kids and running for the car, or what. There was Walter, crossing the street, saying, “You’re okay.” Turned out there was a problem with an electrical transformer right outside my house. It’s nice to have neighbors who care and are paying attention. Sometimes the people who don’t make it easy to be friends are the ones you want to watch. Underneath his gruff exterior and short fuse, it turns out Walter is a pretty cool guy. I’m glad I didn’t give up on him. He was just lonely and sad, watching his mother slip away from him. Most people have pain underneath the surface. Dig a little before you give up, you just never know what people are going through.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Your Life Belongs to You

You cannot please everyone; if you must, go ahead and try, but when you’re done you’ll find you’ve gotten nothing for your troubles but exhaustion, despair, and resentment. People in your life may want all kinds of great stuff for you and from you, but no one else has to live your life. At the end of the day, when you’re looking in the mirror as you brush your teeth, you’re either staring at a friend or a stranger.

When we live our lives to please others, we lose all sense of self and the result is a deep feeling of disconnection. If you don’t know who you are or what you want, it’s not at all easy to chart a course and it’s very likely you’ll get caught up in someone else’s plan. If you know yourself and you’re in touch with what’s true for you, but are still unable to allow that pull to move you, it’s even worse because that’s a conscious betrayal of your true self.

All kinds of things create conditions where people are susceptible to self-sabotage — fear is a huge one, so is guilt. If I say how I feel, or do what I know in my heart I must, this person may be hurt or disappointed or angry. They may not approve of me anymore. There’s also the fear of making big changes, that stops a lot of people dead in their tracks. If I talk about the huge elephant in the room, I can’t then try to sweep it back under the rug. I’ll have to act, and I have no idea what that means for my life, or for the people in it. Sometimes it’s easier to blame other people than it is to take responsibility for the way life looks and feels. I’ll keep telling myself I can’t act because this other person would be devastated.  When in reality, you’d be better off just sharing the truth for their sake and yours. You can’t sabotage yourself and expect to be at peace.

When you decide your life is your own, and you are responsible for your feelings and your actions, things get a lot easier. Harder at first, if it’s new to you, because you’re leaving your coping mechanisms in a heap on the floor behind you, and having to sit with the discomfort of creating a life that feels good to you, but easier in the long run because your inner compass is lit up. You have to be true to yourself. If you spend a lifetime pushing down your own dreams, hopes and desires so that you can measure up to someone else’s idea of how you should be, or society’s idea of how you should be, that’s a lifetime you missed. You are not here to be a martyr. You’re here to uncover your gifts and share them. You’re here to shine, but in order to do that, you really have to drop the facade that your life belongs to anyone but you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Choose The Thoughts That Strengthen You

When we cling to the past, it’s because we have little faith that the future might be beautiful, that it might surprise us, or that we might surprise ourselves. Sometimes the present is so uncomfortable, we simply know of nothing else to do but try to travel backward in time. After all, what was back there is familiar, even if it was painful. The future is not something we can predict or control, so for many people the idea of opening to it is terrifying. There are many, many people who’d rather hold onto their rage, resentment or grief than to nothing at all.

The truth is, the only potential the past has to offer is the chance to learn and grow from it; you can’t rewrite it or undo it. Holding onto anger, bitterness or heartache won’t get you anywhere good, it really, truly won’t and it’s not about being right or wrong, either. You may be totally right. You may have been wronged eight ways from Sunday. Your story may be rock-solid and still it doesn’t matter because what does it get you? You get to be right, and miserable, alone with your rightness. Being angry doesn’t feel good. It’s an absolutely normal emotion, we’re all going to feel it at times, but it’s not a good baseline feeling. You don’t want anger to be the bed you sleep in every night.

Whatever has happened, has happened. Those experiences may well have shaped you, but there’s no reason they have to define you. You get to choose. I hear from a lot of people who’ve decided all women are crazy, or all men are liars, or the world is a cold and unfair place. I understand the pain underneath a stance like that. You really have to suffer to wear that kind of armor, to steel yourself against intimacy, against being known or seen or understood, against the world at large, against the possibility of love, against your own humanness which makes you undeniably vulnerable. Binding your own spirit is an incredibly sad way to move through life, though, and it also denies the world of those gifts you alone have to offer. If you’re crushed by bitterness, if you’ve hardened your heart and turned your mind into a tight fist that won’t open to the potential that something beautiful might spring out of all your pain and knock you off your feet and split your heart open so you can feel love again, then you’re wasting a lot of time, and your time is precious and finite.

The noise of the mind can be deafening. Thoughts can be habitual, obsessive, and very weakening. Blame is a lonely person’s game; if you’ve decided things are as they are because of past events, the actions or inaction of people you loved or wanted to love, then you strip yourself of power. Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen. You can choose to feed your past and keep it growing right into your present, and you can plant those seeds for your future, too, but you can also feed a loving voice. You can forgive those people and those events of your past, and I do not say that to you lightly. Some people get so incensed at the thought of forgiving a person who’s wronged them, but you don’t have to tell anyone. You don’t have to call and say, “Hey, you know that thing you did? It’s fine, now.” Forgiveness can be a totally internal process. You might simply start to open to the idea that most people don’t set out to hurt you, any more than you’ve intentionally hurt the people you’ve hurt. Everyone works with the tools they’ve got, and some people could really use a whole new toolbox. It’s not a reflection on you. People can only be where they are when you encounter them. Some people are damaged by life, or have true sickness of the soul or the mind, some people have been so neglected they don’t understand what love is. Some people have had the love beaten out of them, and haven’t figured out how to recover just yet. So maybe you could open to that and let go a little. Put it down because it’s heavy and it’s blocking you. It doesn’t mean you allow yourself to be abused or mistreated. If that’s happening in your present, you need to get out and get busy healing, but if it’s old stuff, liberate yourself.

Of course this stuff will show up from time to time when you’re depleted, when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable, when something triggers you, and then you’ll have to work for some amount of time. Maybe an hour, maybe an afternoon or a few days, but if you keep feeding the love and opening to the possibility of something beautiful, you’ll have to spend a lot less time with thoughts and feelings that weigh you down.

Wishing you peace, freedom, and thoughts that strengthen you,

Ally Hamilton

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