Doubt is a Dream-Killer

Even after I fell in love with yoga and watched it transform my life, I thought I’d never teach. “I can’t teach, I have a huge fear of speaking in public,” I’d tell myself and anyone else who thought to suggest such a thing. I did have a huge fear about it, but I held on to this idea of myself and my limitations so tightly it strangled me. It made me unable to see the possibility of something else, and if I hadn’t been put in a situation where I felt I needed to sub a class for a teacher who didn’t show up one day, I probably never would have realized I could do it. Our ideas about ourselves are powerful, they shape our lives. They encourage us or they crush us. When you start to tap into what your gifts may be, they pull on your heart like the moon pulls on the ocean. It breaks my heart to think so many people stop themselves from just opening to that pull because a loud voice inside is saying, “You can’t.”

This shows up all over the place for people. You like someone but are afraid to express it because they’d never go out with you. You want a job, you know in your heart you could rock it, but are afraid to send your resume because so many other people are more qualified or well-suited than you. You have a dream, but who are you to do something great? That voice that has your ear (if any of this speaks to you) is a liar. It’s the voice of fear. The fact is, you may ask someone out and be rejected. You may apply for a job and not get it. You might pursue a dream and find out it’s ten million times harder than you thought it would be. None of that really matters. What matters is living with a voice inside your head that tells you you are not good enough. That you don’t measure up. That you can’t or you shouldn’t. That’s a voice that will kill your hopes and dreams before you even find the courage to pursue them. That’s a voice that will keep you down.

If you aren’t feeling good about yourself, it’s really important to figure out why. Whatever that why is for you, it’s a place where you still have some healing to do. Do you think you aren’t lovable for some reason? Or are you replaying old tapes? Did you get fired and let that crush your self-esteem? Did you grow up in an environment where you never measured up? Figure out the source of that, I can’t or I shouldn’t, the source of that belief that the person you like wouldn’t like you. The feeling that other people aren’t seeing you, getting you, or welcoming you into their mix. Then do the opposite of what we’re taught. Move toward the source of that pain and take a serious look at it. Hold it up to the light because it isn’t real. Maybe that person you’re afraid to approach would fall madly in love with you. Maybe you’d get that job. Maybe your dream would come to fruition.

Even if none of those things happened, your inner world, the place where you’re going to live every single day of your life would be a loving place to reside. A place where you believe in yourself and have compassion for yourself, because being vulnerable is a brave undertaking. Putting your heart out there in any direction involves risk, but not doing those things involves greater risk. It’s the risk that you could live your whole life and never give yourself the opportunity to fly. That would be the saddest thing. Failing is part of life. You get up, brush yourself off, and start again. Not trying is a prison. As much as any other collection of 37 trillion or so cells that have come together to form a human being, you are the only one of you there is, or ever will be. Take your particular 37 trillion cells, and live your heart out before it’s over.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Choose Hope.

choosehopeI watched some raw video from the Boston Marathon yesterday, instead of just reading about it, which is what I’d intended to do, and so I heard the awful screaming of people in shock and dismay. The shaking voice of the man taking the video and the way his breath was shallow, and my own heart-rate went up listening to him. We all sound different in that state. I learned that the one and only time I watched the birth video a girlfriend took during my labor with my son, which was scary and violent and full of moments I wasn’t sure we were going to make it through. All you can hear after the birth is me sobbing and asking again and again, “Is he okay?” in a voice I do not recognize as my own. But it’s the exact same voice I heard yesterday in someone’s video footage and it went straight through my heart. Panic, fear, despair and shock take such a toll on us and we really are all the same in our humanness and vulnerability.

When things like this happen and we look around at the state of the world in general, it’s easy to say, “It’s just too much. Everything is broken and violent,” and to feel hopeless about it all. I went to a screening of a powerful film I’ve seen three times, “Children of War” by filmmaker Bryan Single. He spent the better part of three years in Northern Uganda, filming the work of Jane Ekayu (you can check out her website, childrenofpeaceuganda.com) and other counselors working with children who were abducted from their homes and forced to become soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army. They targeted children 5-15 years old because they’re the most tender and the easiest to control. I can’t tell you what these children have been through. Some were forced to kill their own family members. But human beings have an incredible capacity to forgive and heal and people like Jane who care and take action make all the difference in the world.

I realize when we see violence like this it’s natural to want to crawl into a hole or distract ourselves. I saw people yesterday getting angry at those expressing sympathy and bringing up other places in the world where violence is a way of life. One is no more or less distressing than the other. I experienced some of that myself in December, when I wrote about Sandy Hook Elementary and someone said there’s no reason to weep if it doesn’t affect you directly. It’s all direct. Sometimes people don’t feel the impact of how awful something is until it hits close to home; there’s no reason to have contempt for someone who suddenly realizes the heartbreak of violence and destruction. Realizing is the thing, whenever and wherever it happens. What’s happening in Iraq directly affects us all. And what’s happening in the Congo. Do you want to know the truth? It doesn’t matter where it’s happening. Borders are meaningless and something we’ve made up. Skin color is meaningless. We are one people on one planet, and we are all connected. The root of almost all of our problems is that we’ve separated ourselves from each other. If one of us is suffering, we are all suffering.

The thing is not to give up. Not to decide it’s broken and too much, and what can one person possibly do, anyway? You can’t fix everything, that’s for sure. But you can do something. I mean, anything, really. Any way you can extend some love and some hope and some care, matters. It can be the smallest thing. You can hold a door open for a stranger, that matters. You can let someone merge while you’re driving, that matters, too. You can treat everyone you encounter with kindness. If you feel really inspired, you can pick one organization and volunteer. Give your time and your energy and your heart. A secret thing you might not know is that spending your energy trying to uplift someone else will make you feel incredible. Like your life has some meaning and that won’t just be a feeling you have, that will be the reality. We can heal and we can care about each other, and we can impact the way the world around us looks and feels. But hatred won’t get us there. “Us vs. Them” won’t get us there. Demonizing people who are severely troubled or mentally ill won’t get us there, either. Focusing on what’s different won’t do it. But do you have any idea how much is the same? We all love our children. We all breathe the same air. We all have dreams and hopes and fears and nights we cry ourselves to sleep. We could all use a hand reaching out in the darkness sometimes. And we could surely use a lot of people who don’t give up and numb out. I think we have a whole bunch of them on this page.

Sending love to all of you, and to anyone, anywhere, who is suffering,

Ally Hamilton

Don’t Give Up.

A few weeks ago, someone messaged me on the fan page and said he was going to end his life. I can’t really explain the panic I felt, especially because his message was a few hours old by the time I saw it. He shared some details of his life over the last few years and why he’d come to the conclusion that it just wasn’t worth it. He’d suffered some devastating losses, enough that it was understandable he felt hopeless and defeated. I wrote back immediately and gave him the Suicide Prevention Hotline number (800-273-8255), my number, and also contact information for three therapists I know and trust. I begged him to write back and let me know he’d received my message and also told him there have been times in my life when I’ve felt like giving up, too. Not for many, many years, but I certainly entertained those thoughts at one time in my life. When things feel so dark you really can’t think of a reason to lift your head off your pillow, the thought, “What’s the point of it all?” is natural and understandable.

Yesterday, someone wrote in a thread, “Why can’t we talk about the miraculous sometimes, too?” and then she wrote back and rescinded her question, saying that it “all leads back to joy.” But it’s a legitimate question and there are days when I just write from my heart and send out a hit of love. Or I hope I do. I write about the shadow emotions a lot because I feel in the spiritual community there’s so much focus on being positive and spreading the light. I think it’s alienating for many people. There is so much light. There’s a limitless well of love within each of us, but to uncover that well there’s usually some digging required. A lot of people feel alone in that digging, like there must be something wrong with them and sometimes they give up. Numb out. Run, deny, try to push it all down. Or they become bitter and think other people must have it easier. The truth is some people do have it easier. We don’t all go through the same experiences. There are some people who will suffer losses that are so knifing, so brutally painful you have to hope they’re going to be able to put one foot in front of the other, and that’s usually when some well-meaning positive person will come along and smugly assert that, “everything happens for a reason,” and forget that the foundation of a true spiritual practice is compassion. There’s nothing comforting in telling a person who is trying to remember how to breathe in and breathe out that their loss has happened for a reason, or that they should focus on all the good things in their life, or that one day they’ll understand why. Some things will never, ever be okay. Some things will never make sense. There are some lessons that will never elicit gratitude. Growth, yes. If you get through it. Deeper understanding, insight and compassion? Yes. Gratitude? No. Not for some things.

It’s my belief a spiritual practice ought to be there for you whether you’re moving through beautiful, joyful, miraculous times in your life, or you’re going through blinding pain that makes you want to give up. I don’t worry about those of you feeling gratitude. I love you, but I’m not worried. I do want to reach out to those people in darkness and say you’re not alone and offer a hand. A blog post. A yoga class, a hug. An email. Whatever I’ve got. Because I really think that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to love each other, support each other, and share and grow together and I think that is pretty miraculous. When I look at my life today, it’s hard to imagine I ever wondered what “the point of it all” was, because it’s very clear to me now. The point of it is to love your heart out. To connect. There’s an insane amount of joy in all that. I’ve been emailing with the man who was feeling desperate a few weeks ago. He’s talking to someone and getting support in many areas. Sometimes we need help. It’s not easy, this business of being human. But it is pretty amazing.

Sending you a ton of love,

Ally Hamilton

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

What’s Up, Monkey?

Sometimes life can be brutally painful. We lose someone we love beyond our ability to put it in words, way too soon. Loss like that is violent and shocking, even if it happens slowly. Or we have our hearts broken in a relationship, sometimes over and over again by the same person. If betrayal is in the mix, it’s even more painful. Or we lose a job we really loved or wanted. Or we simply can’t seem to get any traction going in any direction in life, with relationships or work, or even with how to be in this world. Maybe there’s an abusive background. A family of origin with addiction issues. A history of broken promises, emotional or physical violence. You get the picture.

Whatever you’re coming out of, you have a choice. You have the choice to ask for help if you need it. Healing is often confrontational and painful and lonely and confusing, and having someone there to hold your hand or offer an ear or a shoulder can really make all the difference. Someone who will kindly hold up a mirror for you, and make sure you’re examining your inner landscape clearly and thoroughly, because you can’t let go of those things that are blocking your ability to give and receive love without understanding them first and without allowing yourself to mourn and to grieve for what was, or what could have been. Your understanding is your path to liberation, your willingness to open to all of those emotions we’re taught to push down is the key. You actually want to pry the lid off and invite them all to come flooding in so you can swim in that stuff for awhile, and scream your heart out if you need to, and shed your tears, and exhaust yourself until there’s no denial and no fighting of reality left in you. There’s just facing it, as it is, and as it was, so you can open to how it could be. Your awareness and acceptance and compassion for yourself clear the path toward a new way of being.

Starting over is also lonely work. The old way doesn’t work, and the new way hasn’t become clear yet. Some of your closest family members and oldest friends may not like your new adventure. They may feel threatened and angry, like you’re rejecting them in an effort to take care of yourself, which really has to come first if you plan on being happy in this life. Socrates has a beautiful quote, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Even if you’ve been hurt and disappointed, neglected or abused, abandoned or ignored, you have the choice to live in fear, hardened and bitter and full of rage and blame, or to do the brave thing. To let go of the old handlebar you’ve been hanging off for far too long. The one that burns your hands with its heat and its pain and its why and its unfairness, and to reach out for love. To make yourself vulnerable in that space between the one and the other. To use all the strength and hope and courage you’ve got to propel yourself forward and reach out with your open hand and your open heart for that bar in front of you that’s full of promise and something new. Something different. To open to the possibility that you might do all that and slip right off the bar and land on your face and have to get back up again and start over. But that if you keep reaching and you keep trying, eventually the way will become clear. And then my dear monkey, the bars become rather fun.

Wishing you the courage to let go and reach out, and sending love, as always,

Ally Hamilton

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

Whatever Your Truth, Own It

tellingthetruthIf you’re involved in something that requires you to lie and deceive you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. I say this to you because I get so many emails from people who are having relations they have to keep hidden. Sometimes they’re email flirtations, and sometimes they’re full-fledged affairs. If you’re in a relationship that can only happen behind closed doors, that requires you to lie to people who love you and trust you, you are in the process of breaking your own heart, your own spirit, and your own ability to trust yourself. You’re going to have to do something about that, or the world of pain you’re in will become less and less livable, and please believe me when I tell you I understand that life is complicated, and sometimes we find ourselves in situations we never would have imagined.

People lie for all kinds of reasons. They fear the outcome if they tell the truth. They don’t want to face the consequences of their own feelings. They aren’t ready to make changes. They want to do what they want to do. They’ve figured out a way to justify what they’re doing. They’re angry. They’re unhappy. They feel powerless, stuck, paralyzed to do anything but stay where they are and seek happiness outside the bounds of their commitments. When you sacrifice your integrity and your ability to respect yourself, you lose the ability to move freely. Life becomes a prison of your own making.

When you don’t feel good about yourself it permeates everything. If you’ve been in so much pain for so long that you finally look for relief through desperate acts, it’s really time to withdraw and regroup. I understand if you’ve been in a loveless relationship for a long time, a hit of passion can go directly to your brain and cloud everything until you can’t see or think about anything but your next fix. The real fix is going to happen inside, not outside. It’s heady and intoxicating to be wild for someone and to feel those feelings of being wanted. It’s fine to desire that, it’s human, but you don’t want to experience those things in a way that’s ultimately going to make you feel badly about yourself.

We have all kinds of stories we tell ourselves. This person really loves me, it’s just the situation is a mess. That may be true. In which case it’s time to clean up the mess or walk away. Allowing yourself to participate in a set of circumstances that are hurtful to you and would be to others if they knew, that’s simply not going to lead to happiness or peace. That’s not living in alignment with your own truth and your highest self. Being able to speak your truth and own it is the key to your freedom, and to living with your heart wide open in a way that feels good. Having someone look you in the eye and break your heart is painful indeed. But you know what’s worse? Having someone lie to your face and betray you in their heart. Wishing you the strength to embrace your feelings, put an end to situations that cause you or others harm, and live your life in a way that makes it possible for you to be free, if you haven’t already.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If It’s Making You Miserable, That’s a “No”

relationshipstatusYesterday I got a phone call from one of my close girlfriends in New York. She’s divorced with a young daughter and recently re-entered the dating scene. It’s been six years since she’s dated and times have changed. I’ve experienced some of this myself over the last year, as those of you who follow the blog may recall. There’s all this online dating, okcupid and match and let’s hook up (I may have made that last one up), and texting and tweeting and instagram and seriously, isn’t dating complicated enough without having to distill your thoughts into 140 characters or update your relationship status so everyone knows you’re getting some? Or you were and now you’re not? Or you may be but aren’t sure?

Anyway, she called me because she went on a date with this guy and as far as she could tell it was a home run. They went out to eat and talked for hours, walked through SoHo holding hands and ended the night with a hot make-out session on her couch. He talked about how she’d have to meet different friends of his, and things they’d do together this summer. She felt totally confident they’d be going out again. He texted her when he got home and said he hoped she had sweet dreams and knew he would be. Said he’d call her the next day to make a plan, and that he couldn’t wait to see her again. And then, crickets. It’s been almost two weeks since their date and no contact from the dude. Of course it’s especially crushing because it was her first foray out of the gate, and because she sent him an email a week later “checking in” and heard nothing back. So she wanted to replay the whole night with me to see if she was missing anything because she feels rejected and her feelings are hurt. I got the whole play-by-play in such minute detail, it was as though I was there on the date. She wondered if he’d seen the picture of her ex that she hadn’t put away yet. If it scared the guy off that her ex still works for her dad. If maybe he thought she was conflicted and that she might reunite with her daughter’s father. If she had talked too much about the demise of her marriage even though he expressly asked, and had shared the story of his own divorce. If she had moved too fast by making out with him for so long, or not fast enough because she sent him home without letting him scramble her eggs. You get the drift.

I listened to all of this and when she was done I said I thought it had nothing to do with her. I know her. She’s funny and smart and kind and a total head-turner. She’s confident and sexy, and there’s just no way she’s not hearing from this guy because there’s anything lacking in her. I said all of that, of course, but also just listened because it doesn’t matter if I know all that, it only really matters if she does. I don’t know what’s going on with the guy. Maybe there’s someone else in the picture. Maybe he’s great at first dates. Maybe he got scared. Maybe he likes head games. Who knows? But she’s suffering and watching him update his statuses with pithy remarks and tweet about basketball games and post pictures with friends out to lunch. Of course I told her I thought she should stop “following” him everywhere and get back to the business of being awesome.

It’s incredibly hard to walk away from situations we don’t understand. Especially when it seems that a real connection happened, but we’re not always going to get answers. Some things will be left undone, unsaid, unknown. It won’t all be wrapped up in neat little packages of digestible information. Some people are in incredible pain, in lonely desperation with no idea how to move forward. Some people make a mess of things because that’s where they happen to be when you cross paths with them. Try not to expend too much energy in an effort to figure it all out. Just trust that it won’t be a mystery when it’s right. You won’t be wondering and suffering and having crazy conversations with your friends dissecting every sentence you uttered, searching for the mistake. The hole inside you you must have exposed. The dumb thing you said, or the fact that you snorted when you laughed. You won’t second-guess yourself. When it’s right, you’ll just be happy. (Assuming you were happy already.) Tired, but happy.

Wishing that for you, and so much more,

Ally Hamilton

Throwing Pans is Not Your Only Option

Last night in class I ended up with a roomful of people who had clearly been doing yoga for a long time. When we got to the first Warrior I, I said, “You all look like you’ve done this pose a million times, but you’ve never done it before in this moment. Don’t take it for granted, because that’s how people end up divorced.” Everyone laughed, but I was serious. (Not that I minded the laughter one bit). It’s so easy to think, “I know this person. I have their number down,” and stop paying attention. Stop learning and listening and being open to the evolution of the person next to you on your path. As if they’re frozen in time. As if there hasn’t been any growth or change since they said, “I do.”

Yesterday I received an email from a sweetheart of a guy. I asked if I could share his story anonymously, because I get emails like this all the time. He said he’s in love with this woman, but he’s not going to pursue it because his parents got divorced and he just doesn’t want to go down that road. He said he knows he’ll never find anyone as perfectly suited to him, that they have an amazing time together. There’s laughter and love and affection and intellectual compatibility, but he knows how it will end. I asked him how he knew. He said he just knew. That’s just fear, and I so get that it can be paralyzing. We only have the frame of reference we have, and our experiences shape us and inform the way we think about the world, romantic partners, friendships, and “our place in the family of things,” as Mary Oliver says.

Your past does not have to own you and neither does your pain. Your pain is running the show if you let go of someone you adore because you’re too afraid that someday you’ll be throwing a pan at her head the way your dad did at your mom while you watched in the grip of fear and powerlessness and rage. You do not have to live your life as that scared kid and throwing pans is not your only option. (Whatever “throwing pans” may be for you). You are not the same person you were last year, and neither am I, and neither is anyone you’re going to encounter today. We are always in process, everything is process. You respond and you grow, or you react and you suffer. A reaction comes out of your past. It happens when you feel triggered and your heart starts racing, your breath is shallow, and the whole scene, even the air between you and the other person, is charged. We get triggered when a current situation brings up a painful past experience. When someone says something or does something that’s the equivalent of stabbing a searing knife into the most tender place we’ve got. If it isn’t healed, it owns your a$$.

It’s easy to underestimate our capacity to grow and change and embrace new ways of thinking and being, but we are all capable of those feats. We’re built for them, because everything is in a state of flux, it’s the nature of all living things, of life itself. You are not your mother or your father or your wounds. You are not your thoughts, either. “You are the sky, everything else, it’s just the weather,” as Pema Chodron says. If you’re willing to walk right into the center of your fear and have a seat and open your hands and open your eyes and open your heart, you will find that it won’t kill you. It will hurt. It will be wildly uncomfortable and confrontational and if you allow it to, it will open you and soften you so you’re ready to give and receive love. It’s not easy, but it’s a lot easier than watching someone you cherish walk out the door because you did not believe in your own ability to forge a new path for yourself. To use your past experiences to inspire you to move in a different direction.

You are capable of incredible love. It’s the very essence of your energy in my opinion. It’s the real “charge” in all of us. You may have static in the way of fear and abuse and neglect and heartbreak and disappointment and despair and rage and bitterness blocking your channel, but that stuff is your path to freedom if you explore it. You can’t get to the love if you’re not willing to examine the pain. You’ll never outrun the pain and you can’t numb out enough to deny it. Or you can, but that actually will kill you. It will kill your spirit and your yes and your ability to continually uncover your gifts and share them. It may even kill you in a literal sense if you try numbing out to the degree that’s required if you really don’t want to feel the reality that you’re owned by your fear. Move into your fear so that eventually you can wrap your arms around the people you love without entertaining the idea of pans for even an instant.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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