Watch out for Selfish Cider

whenyouwelcomeA number of years ago, a close friend of mine was dating a man in the “spiritual community.” I have to admit, the first time I met him I got a bad vibe. He seemed arrogant and pretentious, and I was worried for my friend. But as you do in those cases, I kept my mouth shut and hoped for the best. Telling your friend you don’t dig the guy she’s mooning over is a recipe for trouble, and a great way to alienate someone who’s probably going to need to lean on you in the not too distant future. Plus, it was only a dinner, and I was hoping I was wrong. Maybe he’d been nervous, or didn’t do well in social situations. Maybe there was a whole side of him she was seeing that I couldn’t have glimpsed in such a short meeting.

About six months later, he went to an ashram. She called me a few times from Chicago, saying she had an intuition that something was off. He happened to be passing through L.A. on his way back home, and she asked me to have lunch with him, which I agreed to do. At lunch, he told me he had “connected” with a woman at the ashram, and had a deep, spiritual experience. When I asked him if he meant he’d had sex with her, he laughed and said, “Yes, if you need to be so crass about it.” When I asked him how he thought my friend was going to feel, given that they were in a monogamous relationship, he said he was a “mysterious and enigmatic creature”, and that he’d had to “honor the truth of what he was feeling.”

This was not, and is not, the only time I’ve encountered this kind of thinking amongst those who talk about being on “the path”, and it’s one of the things that gets me fired up. “Honoring your truth” doesn’t mean you’re justified in doing anything you want, it means you acknowledge what you’re feeling and communicate it when necessary. You sit with the feelings without acting on them, especially if doing so will hurt other people. If it turns out your feelings are an expression of a deeper truth, then you make changes so that you’re free to act on what’s pulling you, whether it’s another person, a new job, or a different way of being, but you act with compassion and consciousness. Sometimes it means you understand it’s just not something worth doing, that the cost will be too great.

Sitting with your feelings without acting on them is a sign of emotional and spiritual maturity. It’s a recognition that you are not your feelings, that feelings are not facts, or as the beautiful Pema Chodron puts it, “You are the sky; everything else is just the weather.” Lots of emotions feel overpowering, especially rage, jealousy, lust and despair. But you don’t have to be ruled by those feelings, and you really can’t be if you’re trying to live your life in a conscious way. I get sad about this, because I think many people who are seeking some healing run into this kind of thinking and either follow it, or are turned off by it (as am I). It’s twisting a beautiful practice into something ugly, and it’s a good reminder to be discerning about where you look for healing and guidance if you need some, and not to think one stinky apple ruins all the cider! Sending you a ton of love, as always, Ally Hamilton

Just Love Them

You-cannot-save-peopleIt’s a tough reality to accept, but you cannot save a person from themselves, and you cannot save a person from his or her path. You can love people with your whole heart, all the way, but you cannot protect them from pain. It might be the kind of blinding pain life can bring with no warning and no fairness and no logic. Just an event that changes everything forever. And all you can do is show up, and hold their hand, or carry them if they need that, or cry with them, or feed them. Basically, all you can do is love them. Or it might be the kind of pain they’re bringing on themselves. Either way, you are powerless, except inasmuch as you can express your love, your concerns, and your willingness to help. You can lend an ear, a shoulder, or anything else you’ve got. But at the end of the day, we are all going to have some heartbreak to face in this life, and some people much more than others; it’s not a level playing field.

If a person you love is bent on self-destruction, my heart goes out to you, because you are going to suffer. Sometimes it’s like watching someone step out in front of a speeding train. You want to throw your body over them, or yell, “Stop!!”, but really, you never know how someone else’s journey is supposed to unfold. It’s impossible to say what another person needs to learn certain lessons, what they need for their own growth. If you have to love someone from afar in order to love yourself well, then by all means, build yourself a little bridge. Or a big one. But there’s no doubt, deeply loving anyone takes courage. Opening your heart and making yourself vulnerable and saying, “yes, see this here, and this, and this…I am all too human and I lay myself bare before you and ask you to love me and accept me, anyway,” and realizing that you may very well be hurt. Because even if you have the most extraordinary love story anyone has ever heard of, we humans are mortal. Loss is part of the equation.

Love, anyway. Love with your heart wide open and your mouth full of YES, your arms outstretched. Because there is nothing greater you can do with your time here than to spread as much love as possible with every day you’re gifted. Don’t try to save anyone; that can’t be done. You will never “make” another person happy, but you can certainly love them and love yourself and love this life with all its pain and gorgeousness, all its surprises and disappointments, all its confusion and mystery and unbelievable light. Sending you some love right now, Ally Hamilton

Sit! Stay.

The-most-common-wayYesterday someone asked me to talk about boundaries. For some of us, learning how to create, protect, and sometimes defend a healthy boundary is a lesson that is difficult to learn and involves lots of trial and error. But if you want to be full of love, you’re going to have to figure out how to take care of yourself. And if you’re a peacemaker, a people-pleaser, or some combination of both, you’re really going to need to work your a$$ off. Because the word, “No” probably doesn’t come easily.

I talk about compassion quite a lot. I believe it’s an undervalued, under-exercised feeling that could go a long way toward healing on a personal and a global level, and it’s totally natural to us. In many ways, we are taught to repress our compassion, to be tough, to go for the jugular in this dog-eat-dog, “survival of the fittest” world. Please don’t get me started on the total lie at the center of this premise (dogs don’t eat each other, hello?), or the “boundaries” topic will go right out the window. Recognizing your own humanity, and that of everyone you encounter, understanding we are all human, and will all make mistakes, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes are all beautiful ways to become more responsive and less reactive. More understanding, and less judgmental. More loving and less angry. Compassion gives us the space to see it’s not about us. A person can only be where they are.

And these things are important to realize especially when someone spills their humanness all over your life; when a person whose own damage or unconsciousness or rage or darkness or fear causes you pain. When you forgive people who have hurt you in some way, you unhook yourself from their journey. You take back your power. But if you continue to participate in a relationship that brings you heartache and pain, you really have to look at why. Sometimes the why has to do with some deep-rooted feeling that you are not enough. That somewhere deep within you, you’re just not lovable. If that speaks to you, I really wish I could crawl through your laptop and give you a hug. Because we are all worthy of love. And you are the only you who has ever, or will ever, walk this earth. Just by your existence alone, you are unique and beautiful, and you matter. You have a song to sing. So if you doubt any of that, you’re going to need to figure out why, and get busy doing the work of healing.

Sometimes you’re dealing with a family member, and cutting them out of your life is not desirable. This is where boundaries come into play. How can I love myself, and also love this other person without sacrificing my heart, my well-being, my self-respect, and my sense that how I feel, matters? If you’ve learned to value and prioritize other people’s needs and desires ahead of your own, if you’ve made your happiness dependent upon the happiness of another person or many people, you better get the gloves and the hoe, because this is going to be back-breaking, sweat-in-your-eyes kind of work. I’m not talking about the normal sacrifices and compromises we make willingly and happily for those we love, in a healthy give-and-take relationship. I’m talking about being held hostage by someone else’s instability, mental illness, addiction, or rage. In that case, you’re going to have to dig to the root, and these are the kind of roots that are deep. You’ve been soaking in some very stinky, toxic fertilizer, and it’s time to re-pot yourself in the dirt of “I Am.” Because you are.

You are here to shine, and sometimes that will mean you have to erect a fence around your trunk so the dogs stop peeing on you. Yes. I said that. The dogs are not bad. They’re just being dogs, and doing what dogs do. Dogs are awesome. But they’ll keep peeing on you if you let them. So sometimes you’re going to have to build that fence, and kindly let them know they have to relieve themselves somewhere else, but you will be here to offer shade if they need it from time to time. If you change your rules, the dogs will catch on eventually. I didn’t start this paragraph with the intention of writing about trees, fertilizer, or dogs, but there you have it.

Sometimes the people who hurt us the most are also the ones who matter most to us. That’s a rough combination, and my heart goes out to you if you find yourself in that situation. I know parents whose kids are struggling with drug addiction. How do you maintain any boundaries there, when every cell in your body is set up to take care of your children? To sacrifice on their behalf without thinking twice about it, without thinking at all? But a lack of boundaries in those heart-breaking situations never helps. Enabling and loving are two separate things. How you feel and what you need, matters. It is okay to say, “That is not okay for me.” You can feel compassion for all the people in your life, and all people, period. But if someone is hurting you and you’re letting them, that’s not compassion, that’s an affront to your very being. Your number one job is to protect the expansion of your heart. So you can give love freely, fully, and with abandon. So you can set yourself on fire with the burning of your inner yes, and you can shine as brightly as possible in every direction. In some instances where there’s a history of pain, you can still feel compassion, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on it, especially if doing so will damage your ability to take good care of your heart. A feeling is a feeling. You don’t have to act on every feeling you have, but you do have to take care of yourself. Sometimes love has to say no. Sometimes it has to say, I love you too much to allow you to damage yourself by treating me this way. And I love myself too much, too. Love is truthful. And love gets a hammer and nails when necessary, and builds that fence. Sending you a ton of love right now, and a shovel if you need one. Ally Hamilton

Nothing Can Stop You

willingtolearnLast year I volunteered once a week in my son’s Kindergarten class. Sometimes I’d do yoga with the kids which was awesome, and other times I’d read them a story, which I also loved. One day when I showed up, I was handed a book to read, and about midway through I realized it was going to be some story about a prince saving a princess, and I just could not finish the book. I made up a different ending where the prince and princess worked together to solve their problems, and in the end, he went one way and she went the other, and they stayed great friends for life. Because, honestly, the stories we’ve been telling are just so lame. They’re set-ups. And we do it all day long. We are taught that we have to compete to survive. We are taught that we don’t look right or feel right. We are sold an idea that if we could just get it together and make enough money and diet enough, and live in the right house and drive the right car, and eat at the right places, and work out enough and get ourselves to make everything on the outside as perfect and shiny as possible, we’d meet the “right” person, and well, then, we’d be happy! And do you know what I want to say to you? Those are all fat lies. And this is the stuff we grow up on, and feed ourselves, and feed our children.

So unless you were home-schooled, or your parents kept you away from television and radio and fairy-tales with stupid endings, or you grew up in some nirvana where these things didn’t exist (let me know where that is if you did), at a certain point, you are just bound to come up against it. “It” being the lies at the heart of this thing. Because you can do all that stuff. You can live in a huge house and drive an expensive car, and meet an amazing person, but if you are not happy on the inside, and if you have not figured out that you are here to spread love and kindness, you will still be miserable. Because there’s a void when we are not living in a truthful way. The void can be filled temporarily with any of those highly-coveted items from the above list, but the feeling of satisfaction, elation, and “rightness” won’t last. You are the right person.

It’s much easier to think if you work hard enough and stop sucking so much, then you’ll be happy. Because it gives you something to do, some sense of control. That’s a lot easier to deal with than the reality that there are life’s big questions that you will have to wrestle with if you want to be at peace, that nothing is certain in this life, and that one day you will die. I think I’ll take, “working hard and not sucking behind door number one, please!” But you can’t because door number one is a closet full of illusions. At a certain point, if you open to your own sensitivity, your own intuition, you’re going to realize there’s another door. It’s at the end of a path that’s painful to navigate. It’s hard to see where you’re going because it’s dark, and you probably won’t have many tools at your disposal as you leave the land of Should. It’s likely that many of the people closest to you will tell you to wait, to come back and sit down and stop being crazy. The only way to buy the lies is to numb out. There are so many ways to do that. Alcohol, drugs, sex, over or under-eating, shopping, the internet…doesn’t it seem obvious that we’ve found a million and one ways to distract ourselves? What are we so scared of? Why are we afraid to sit still? To breathe? To open? To remember who and what we are?

There’s so much love within each of us. They say we use 10% of our brains, and I think most people use 10% of their hearts and their intuition, too. Any questions you have about yourself, your purpose, or what it is that’s going to feed your soul and set you on fire, are inside. If you’re willing to work, no one can stop you from healing. If you’re willing to see clearly, to keep your eyes open even when you’re confronted with your deepest pain, to lean into the darkest places you’ve got and open to them, receive them, embrace them, so that there is no longer any need for secrets, then no one can stop you. Door number one only seems easier. It’s sleep-walking through life, and people do it all the time. Behind the second door is your happiness, your peace, and your healing. I really hope you find the determination and courage to head toward that door. Because when you heal yourself and open up to all that love within you, you won’t be able to help but spread it. Sending you a big hug and a lot of love right now, Ally Hamilton

Please Do Not Feed the Fears!

Please-Do-Not-Feed-theUnless we’re talking about the good kind of fear that stops you from being reckless with yourself, or makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up because you’re in danger, fear is nothing more than a bully. I’m talking about the kind of fear that stops you from doing what you know in your heart you must. The kind of fear that tells you you’re not good enough, you don’t have what it takes, you can’t do it. That kind of fear can kiss my a$$, and it should kiss yours, too.

Fear puts the mind and the heart in a grip. It shuts down our vision so we can only see what isn’t going well, what could go wrong, all the reasons why we are stuck. Fear travels with doubt and resentment and envy, with a healthy side of criticism. Fear is not kind, and neither are people living in fear, because fear puts you on the defensive. Sometimes when we don’t get what we hope for, we become afraid. “I had a vision of how this thing was supposed to go, how I wanted it to go, and now what do I do?” And the mind starts racing with how awful everything is, how nothing is going right, how things are easier for other people (because fear feeds that comparing and contrasting mind). If you want to shut yourself down and close yourself up and do life in such a way that you’re always wearing blinders and feeding yourself can’t, then fear is the way to go. But, seriously, who wants to live like that? Shut down and numbed out and hopeless and frustrated? Alone and angry and confused, waiting for that magical time when “things will get better”?

Things are not going to get better unless you open to love. And you cannot do that if you are wrapped in a tight little ball with your fists clenched and your eyes scrunched up, and your head full of shouldn’t. Or stories about why you can’t. Why you’re incapable of change. Or so numb you really can’t feel anything. So addicted to distraction the weeks fly by, then the months, then the years, and oh crap, now it’s too late. Anyone who is not suffering from afflictions beyond their control can heal. I’m going to say that again. Everyone. Can. Heal. Love requires courage, participation, and ownership of your own experience.

Love is not for those who won’t be vulnerable, because when you open your heart, there is always the possibility you’re going to get hurt. But you know what? I’d rather have my heart broken fully, deeply, right through the center then live my life asleep and curled up in a ball in a corner wondering what, exactly, I’m doing here. I’d rather be awake with my heart open wide and my head full of Yes, than numbing myself out to avoid my pain. The pain is the path to healing. The pain is where you head. You walk straight into the center of it, and you do not come out until you have faced that sh&t down. Or it owns you. Those are your choices, there is no third, “Can it be a little easier because I don’t want to work that hard?” option.

I refuse to allow any person or any circumstance to rob me of my purpose here, and I hope you do, too. Because anything else is a pure waste of your time, and you aren’t given enough to waste. This is your beautiful, complicated, confusing, joyous, sometimes deeply lonely, other times amazingly incredible life, where sometimes you have your heart broken, and sometimes you feel it expand so much you think, it’s going to come right out of your chest. “This love is so much, so full, so deep it’s going to carry me up above the trees, and over the ocean, and oh, wait, it IS the ocean.” Why, why, why would you deny yourself love like that? Because of some fear? Totally not acceptable. I hope you got a taste of the love I’m sending your way. It has a side of a$$-kick, I know. But sometimes that’s the kind of love we need. If you just need a hug right now, I’m down for that, too.

Ally Hamilton

It’s Not You, It’s Me (for real)

Until-you-make-theSometimes the best way to figure out where there may be room for some deep inner healing is to examine patterns in your life. Patterns frequently show up in romantic relationships. If you have not experienced peace and steadiness in your personal life, maybe it’s the time to look back and see if there’s a theme threading through your history. Are you always trying to save people? Are you attracted to partners who are unavailable in some way? Do you go after people who don’t treat you well? Or, are you the one sabotaging your chances for love? Do you run? Do you “check out”? Do you keep finding yourself in the very situation you were trying to avoid?

If you’re getting a yes to any of these, or you recognize other patterns, chances are, you have found the thread that can lead you back to some very old, very deep pain. It seems to be a human tendency to try to “rewrite history”. Even in day to day life, the mind will get snagged on a conversation that has already happened and try to re-do it, to come up with the “perfect” thing to say. But, there’s no potential in the past, it is done, it cannot be rewritten. It’s good to examine it, though, particularly if you feel you might be dragging your past into your present.

If you can identify the “original why” of any patterns you detect, you can take the unconscious repetition out of your future. (Not that it’s easy, speaking from my own experience). Grooves that we repeat are known as “samskaras” in yoga. But your past does not have to determine your present or your future. If you can bring the source (or sources) of your pain into your consciousness, into your awareness, you take the power away from that inner wiring that may be attracting you to the very situations bound to result in more pain. You can “catch yourself”, identify that “old, familiar feeling” that can be mistaken for love (this feels so reminiscent, this must be it!! uh, no), and sit with yourself instead of acting out. Acknowledging and leaning into your pain takes the “heat” out of it, and that old fire that pulls you to act, even when you know you’re heading straight into a brick wall, will start to subside and cool.

Loving yourself is soothing for your soul, it’s a salve, and it’s a relief. The process of rewiring your system will probably be uncomfortable at best, and it’s very easy to slip back into that old groove as you try to head toward something different. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you “must” head into another brick wall. Your awareness alone is huge, and beating yourself up will just make the crash even worse. Eventually, the wall will lose it’s power over you. There are other paths to take that lead toward love. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton