Make Better Mistakes

failureexperienceOften people think of their weaknesses or mistakes as failings or short-comings, when really, they’re just places where there’s still some healing or growing to do. If you notice patterns in your life, repeated choices you’re making that aren’t serving you, it’s actually a good thing, because we can’t change anything that’s happening outside our awareness, and many habits fall into that category.

A habit can be a habitual way of thinking about yourself that weakens you, such as, “No one likes me.” This idea may be so ingrained, you’ve come to accept it as the way of things, but if you dig a little, and get yourself some support, you’ll find you can choose a completely different thought. You could flip that idea around and say, “I’m longing for connection. I want to be seen and known and cherished, and that’s a beautiful and natural thing to desire.” Or, “I have deep doubts about my worth, and it’s time to figure out when and why that began.” Then you can get to work figuring out how to let down your defenses and reach out more. How to move outside your comfort zone, and let some love in.

The thing is, when we look back and try to organize our lives into lists of successes and failures, we really lose an opportunity to grow. I hear people describe shame when they get divorced, for example, because they feel like they failed, but usually, so much growth comes out of a situation that falls apart. Obviously no one would ask for heartbreak like that, but it isn’t a failure. It might even be a triumph, if you looked a piercingly painful situation in the eye and decided to release your grip on a story that wasn’t and isn’t yours to write. Perhaps you and your ex needed to release each other, so something beautiful and truthful could emerge. That isn’t a failure.

Maybe you quit a job with financial security to pursue your dreams, and everyone told you you were nuts. Maybe you had to downsize and simplify, but now you’re happy. Now you wake up excited about the day, and grateful to be alive. Not a failure.

Maybe you’ve had a series of romantic relationships that have ended badly. Maybe you have intense fear of commitment, or you find it hard to stay with one person because the grass always looks greener. Maybe you’ve hurt people because you’re in pain. The real issue isn’t what’s happened, it’s what you’re going to do about it. As long as you keep learning and growing and understanding more about yourself and other people, as long as you’re doing the best you can to be true to yourself without hurting anyone else, you’ll do fine. I think it’s a realistic goal to try to make better mistakes as you go along. It’s not that you’re looking for this moment when you’ll be “done”, because that doesn’t happen until your final exhale; it’s that you’re taking the information from each situation, regardless of the outcome, and learning from it. If you’ve hurt people in the past due to your fear or your anger or your confusion, you grapple with all that stuff, so that you don’t continue to hurt people out in front of you in those same ways.

Sometimes we set completely unrealistic goals for ourselves, or we have some very definite picture in our heads of how things should be, or how things should look or feel. Things are as they are. You can’t change what other people will do or want or say or need, but you can certainly work on how you respond. Getting down on yourself won’t get you far. Beating yourself up, or putting yourself down are two sure ways to stay right where you are, feeling awful. Apologize when you have something to be sorry about, be strong enough not to use people for your comfort, and move forward with the intent to take what you’ve learned and show up for yourself, and the people in your life, in a different way. That’s a realistic goal.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can check out my books here.

How to Stop Spiraling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

You Are the Steward of Your Own Ship

If-you-feel-lostSometimes it’s really hard to stay centered. Maybe someone has said or done something hurtful, maybe you’re being ignored, left to figure out what’s happening on your own, in the dark. It could be that things are shifting rapidly in your life, or that you’re feeling stuck. You might be wildly in love, or going through a heartbreak. Maybe you’re under incredible pressure at work, or you’re trying to figure out how to make ends meet. You might feel judged, rejected, or invisible, or perhaps you’re the object of someone’s intense desire.

Any and all of these situations can throw us off balance, and again and again, it comes back to how much we need reassurance, affirmation and love from other people. There’s nothing wrong with wanting connection in life, with wanting to be held and seen and cherished. If you need those things because you doubt at your very center that you’re worthy of love, then you’re in trouble, because if one person says or does something that leaves you feeling rejected or discarded or “stung”, you can bet you’re going to spin for awhile.

Our time, attention and energy are the most precious gifts we have to offer. We don’t get a do-over; there is no roll-over plan for wasted moments in this life. Other people can’t make us feel anything, unless we let them. To feel love, you have to be receptive to it, you have to be ready to receive, and to give, to open and to trust. If you feel insecure, ashamed, or rejected based on the actions of another person, some deep part of you is in doubt; somewhere within you, you must not be sure of yourself, otherwise why would it bother you so much? I’m not saying it’s a minor thing if someone pushes you away, or doesn’t bother to treat you with respect, consideration, and compassion, I’m just saying you don’t have to receive the insult. If you know you’re doing your best and you’re trying not to hurt other people, then you can feel centered and at peace. It won’t matter so much if other people say nasty things behind your back, or to your face, because at the end of the day, you can face yourself, that’s what matters. Of course we care about the opinions of those nearest and dearest to us, and if one of those people tells you it’s time to do better, I’d take that into serious consideration, but ultimately, you have to trust yourself.

It doesn’t feel good to be held in someone’s contempt, and it’s even worse to feel unseen, but you are the steward of your own ship, you decide your course each day. You’re a human being, so some days you’ll come up against the rocks, or the seas will be rough, or you’ll be thrown overboard and pulled under by the current. As soon as you can, grab your compass and get back to it. If you need to dock on an island for a bit so you can explore the source of your pain, fear or doubt, by all means, get on that. Otherwise, try to direct most of your time, attention and energy toward sharing whatever you’ve got to give. As long as you’re approaching life with an open heart, and doing your best to be accountable for the energy you’re spreading, you won’t have much cause to doubt yourself. I wouldn’t let someone rob you of an afternoon, a few days, a week, or more, because time is too precious, and you won’t always know or understand another person’s pain, but you can bet we all have some.

If you’re off center because of great circumstances, enjoy every moment. Just don’t lose yourself, and don’t forget about your family and friends.

It’s not possible to understand what’s driving a person unless he or she tells you. People do things that are confusing and hurtful when they’re in pain. That’s where they are on their journey; it’s no reflection of anything lacking in you. So if you’re going through tumult around that kind of storm, try to get back on your feet.

We can be rocked by circumstance, thrilled when things are going our way, and depressed when they aren’t, or we can keep coming back to steadiness. You might call that steadiness “knowing yourself”, or inner peace.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

You Define Yourself

growhorizonThere’s no point trying to make someone “see the light.” First of all, you can never be certain that your ideas or opinions about how things should be are right for anyone but yourself (barring the obvious instances where something is clearly not okay, like when a situation puts someone in emotional or physical danger). We never know what other people need for their growth, nor do any of us have a crystal ball, and for most people, strength comes from having been tested. Even if you can see clearly that a loved one’s course of action will end up causing them pain, you can’t know if that very pain will be the thing that causes them to break open and love themselves at last. Sometimes we need to crash into a brick wall again and again before we decide, “Okay, I’ve got that lesson. Next!”

Some people are blinded by anger and their need to be right. It doesn’t matter what you say, your logic won’t help, and neither will your patience or compassion. If someone is determined to make you the enemy, to blame you for their unhappiness, there’s nothing you can do, except decide not to participate in the madness. If you engage, defend yourself, try to point out those instances that prove your perspective, you’re still not going to get anywhere, because if a person needs you to be wrong so they can be right, they will invent the story that backs up their point of view. Trying to communicate is futile, but you can go ahead and exhaust yourself for awhile if you must.

When people are attached to blaming others for the state of their life, they’ve made themselves powerless, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It does not matter what anyone has done to me. I take ownership of my own life. I decide what I’m going to do with what I’ve been given. I rise up, or I allow the past to ruin my present and future. It’s up to me, and it’s up to you. It’s up to all of us. Is blaming other people easier? I don’t really think so. I know it can feel that way for awhile; if we point fingers at other people, we can avoid looking at those places where we still need to heal for a bit longer, but eventually, we’re just on a mountaintop, by ourselves, shouting into the wind. People can spot bitterness a mile away. You may gain sympathy, but what kind of payoff is that? I’d take empathy over sympathy eight days a week. You define yourself as a victim, or a survivor, it’s a choice.

Sometimes a person is so hurt and so confused and so unable to face their own self-loathing, they just spew venom. You don’t help by standing there with your arms open so you can get covered in it, you do them a disservice that way, and you certainly dishonor your own tender heart. Sometimes you have to leave people on that mountain so they can spit it all out until there’s nothing left but their pain. They might die on that mountain, screaming into the ethers about how wronged they’ve been, or they might climb down that mountain eventually, ready to start again. You can’t control another person’s journey. You can love people with your whole heart. You can wish them well. You can offer tools that have worked for you if they’re even remotely open to listening, but if they’re in the blame/rage/shame cycle, it isn’t likely they’ll be able to hear you, anyway.

I know it can be brutal. If someone is close to you by blood, or through circumstance, it can hurt so much not to be seen clearly. That doesn’t even feel good from a stranger, but you know yourself. As long as you know you’ve done your best and you’re doing your best and you’ve apologized when and where it made sense to do that, as long as you know you’ve shown up with love, and in the best way you know how, then you can look yourself in the eye when you’re brushing your teeth at the end of the day. Life is too short and too precious to spend a lot of your time and energy trying to rewrite someone else’s story. You have your own horizon to look toward, and you get to choose the path as you walk toward it, and you also get to choose the way you walk it. That’s enough, and that’s a lot.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, please find my books here <3

Pick Different Moments

Dont-try-to-make-life-aSometimes people write to me with awful stories about things they’ve been through that would break your heart- childhood abuse, neglect, abandonment, violence at the hands of other people, feelings of being powerless, worthless or invisible. Is that fair, when there are people who start out in a loving environment with every advantage, and two parents who want nothing more than to nurture their tender hearts and natural curiosity? Of course not, it’s not a level playing field. We’re given what we’re given, and our power lies in how we decide to respond.

“Why me?” is not where it’s at. Why not you? Why not any of us? Life is full of the kind of knifing heartbreak that can bring you to your knees without warning, and it’s also full of the kind of beauty that can rob you of breath and language and everything but awe and gratitude. If things are good in your world, cherish the people who are gifts to you and share the gifts you’ve been given. If things are not so easy, or have not been good in your world, my heart goes out to you. Sometimes it can be very dark and confusing and alienating and lonely. Sometimes you go through the kind of grief that makes it hard to imagine the muscles in your face will ever make their way into a smile again.

Here’s the thing–everyone has pain, and everyone suffers. Talk to people if you don’t believe me, even the ones whose lives look perfect on the outside. The only way to avoid pain in this world is to detach to such a degree, I don’t know what the point is of being here at all. Some people have more pain than others. Some people have endured loss that makes it hard to breathe, or put one foot in front of the other. You can look back on your life and make a list of all the things that have gone wrong, and of all the people who’ve disappointed you, or abandoned you or betrayed you. You can take your list and use it to explain why you are the way you are. I did it myself for years, so believe me, I get the desire to make it someone else’s fault. Blame lets you off the hook, you don’t have to work on yourself, you can just sit there in your anger and your righteousness and point fingers. It gets old. Also, if you’re over twenty-five, it’s time to stop, and even that is kind of late.

Your life is yours. Whatever has happened, has happened. You could also decide to look back on your life and make a list of all the people who taught you about love. Maybe you had a great teacher who cared, who saw something in you. Maybe you found solace in certain books, or when you went for long walks by yourself. Maybe you learned something about beauty from being out in nature. Maybe your best friend has been like a rock of hope and loyalty in your life. You could make a different kind of list, and use it to explain why you are the way you are. Why, against all odds, you believe in yourself. How it is that you know how to love, even though the people who were meant to love you when you arrived here, didn’t have the tools to do it. You could pick different moments to highlight.

Healing is hard; it requires your willingness to be brave and to look unflinchingly at any patterns, habits, and stories you might be carrying around with you that are keeping you stuck. It means you take those fingers you’ve been pointing at other people, and you point them back at yourself, but not in an aggressive, unforgiving way, in a kind and curious one. You take your power back. You don’t give it to the people with whom you’re angry anymore, you unhook your journey from theirs. You embark on something new, but first you have to go back and make sure you understand what happened. You go back with compassion for yourself and mourn the loss of whatever it is that was taken from you–your childhood, your innocence, your belief that people could be good and loving and trustworthy. You look at that stuff and you grieve for what it is that’s been lost to you, but after you’ve spent yourself, after you’ve examined your pain, and let it wash over you and through you, you pick yourself up. Now you understand your tendencies. Now you know yourself. You don’t have to live in your past unless you keep feeding it.

Your present is full of potential, and believe me, there can be beauty in it, and love and joy and laughter. You can use your pain, your understanding, your insight, your compassion, to help other people who are still stuck and suffering. If you want to feel that your life has meaning and value, find a way to help someone else. It’s the most fulfilling thing I know. You can shine a light, offer a hand, a shoulder, an ear, your kindness, and in that way, you help them, and you make your suffering a thing of value. It meant something, it was worth something; it made you who you are, but not in a way that closes you, not anymore. There’s beauty in that. We’ve all felt alone in this thing at times, but we aren’t.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Don’t Make an Ass out of U and Me

The two things that are most likely to cause trouble between family members, partners, close friends, colleagues, strangers, and pretty much anyone who interacts with anyone else, are assumptions and projections. We all have our experiences, and they shape the way we think about things, people, and the world at large. They also inform the way we respond to the data coming at us; we can only know what we know, we can only have the frame of reference we have. A big part of maturing has to do with the awareness that your way of seeing things is only that — your way — and with the understanding that your frame of reference may be severely bent, the glass may be distorted or warped, and you might need an entirely new prescription.

If, for example, all you’ve known is abuse, fear, loss and grief, then your experience has taught you that the world is an unsafe place, and no one can be trusted. You’ve also learned that your feelings don’t have an impact on the world around you, and that they aren’t important. What’s important, according to what you’ve known, is that you don’t upset the apple cart, that you learn how to maneuver, or how to be invisible, or how to be invaluable, so that you can survive. This is an extreme example of a warped frame of reference, but hopefully it illustrates my point. If that’s the kind of life experience you’ve had so far, you can bet it’s going to affect the way you respond to people, the way you move through the world, and how much value you place on your own feelings, needs, wants and dreams.

If your experience has been that love is conditional, something you have to earn, and something that can and will be withdrawn if you don’t measure up, that’s also going to bend your frame and affect the way you operate; the way you are in relationships, at your job, with your friends.

If your experience has been that people are loving and kind and interested in how you feel and what is exciting or inspiring to you, that will certainly affect the way you think about people, and the way you lead your life, so your perspective is hugely important, and so is knowing that you have one. A lot of people assume how they feel is how everyone feels, especially if they’re young. Usually, enough time teaches us that people have wildly different ideas about everything, but for many people, this feels like a judgment against them. If someone is making different choices or has different opinions, they’re rejecting me and my way of thinking about things. All it really is, though, is a different framework.

We can be so quick to judge and assume, and put people into the “us” camp, or the “them” camp, and it’s so sad, because fear drives a wedge between people. It’s hard to drop our stance and just listen, just explore how someone else looks at the world. We can cling to our ideas and beliefs like our lives depended on it, we can insist we know what someone else is thinking, so there’s no point trying to talk. We can make all kinds of assumptions about what someone is feeling based on nothing — a face they’re making, the fact that they didn’t say hello when they walked by.

We tend to move through the world and respond to it as if it is all being directed toward us, individually. This makes sense when we’re young. As babies, we don’t differentiate between ourselves and our mothers; it takes us awhile to understand we’re separate, which is kind of cool–we come in knowing we’re connected, we’re not “just us”, but as we grow, we discover autonomy, which is also good. We think about what we want, or where we’re headed, or what we’re contributing, or not; about our relationships, and our jobs, and keeping a roof over our heads. We think about dinner, and a conversation we had with someone we’d like to do over again, but sometimes we forget we’re connected to everyone and everything around us. We forget that “our story” is overlapping with everyone else’s; the threads are intertwined. We are not at the center, with everything else in orbit around us. We spend so much time on the inside, looking out; we’re in there with our internal dialogue, our expert on everyone and everything we encounter, and we process things through our own filtering system. Sometimes we need to flush the system with new information.

I think a big part of healing has to do with wiping our lenses clean, especially if they’re blocking us from living life in a way that feels good, full of meaning, joy and inspiration. Recognizing that everyone has something unique to offer, everyone has a story, and that maybe, the way we’re thinking about things or other people, is not the way they actually are; to understand that what we think and feel may be greatly impacted by what we’ve known. That’s part of being accountable, and of knowing yourself; it can be the key to liberation if you’re suffering, too. Sometimes we’re just stuck. There are many ways to clean, repair, or release your frame of reference if you need to; seated meditation, yoga, therapy…you have to figure out what works for you. (I’m a big fan of a combination of all three).

We can never know the interior world of another person, unless they’re willing to show us. We can make all kinds of assumptions and projections based on what we would do or say in similar circumstances, but that’s like expecting someone from another planet to believe and accept what we do, it’s not any different. If you want to know what’s happening with someone else, ask, care, listen.

Sending you love, and a big hug,

Ally Hamilton

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

Leave Nothing in the Tank

The tendency to look around comparing and contrasting our lives, accomplishments, and troubles against someone else’s is not always easy to break. Those feelings of being on the outside looking in, of thinking other people seem to be having an easier time, of wondering whether we measure up, can be brutal. I get so many emails from people in pain; people who have a dream they don’t pursue because some voice inside doubts they could ever pull it off.

Fear and doubt are perfectly natural feelings, it’s what we do with them that determines whether we live our lives in alignment with what we know in our hearts will bring us peace, happiness, joy and meaning. Sometimes we’re so scared, we just toe the line, but life isn’t linear, there’s no quid pro quo. You can do everything “right”, and still, your life could be turned on its head on a random Wednesday morning, without warning. We’re here, and we don’t know how much time we’ve got, or what happens next. We’re here and we have the capacity to love each other, which makes us vulnerable. We’re here, and some of us are dealt one set of cards, some another. You’ve got, what? Somewhere between seventy and one hundred-and-eight years if you’re lucky. That’s not a lot of time, in the best-case scenario. How much of it are you going to allow to pass you by because you’re scared of being judged? Scared you’ll never meet your potential? Scared it will come and go before you can get it together?

Envy is a terrible feeling that suggests we are less than. When we’re envious, we’re also assuming a lot. Things may look easy from outside a person’s life, but everyone has pain, and everyone struggles. You may encounter someone who’s worked through a lot of their anguish, and has figured out how to live life in a way that feels good to them, but maybe if you’d met them five years ago, you’d have thought they were a mess, or maybe things look shiny and perfect from where you’re standing, but the reality is completely different. It really doesn’t matter. I mean, it would be great if we could all wish the best for each other; it’s not like someone else’s success diminishes your chances of realizing your dreams.

I suppose we ought to define our terms; to me, success is having people in your life who see you clearly and love you for who you are, people you can have entire conversations with through a glance alone, people you love with your whole heart. It’s also finding personal meaning and purpose, figuring out what it is that lights you up, and then pursuing it, because even the pursuit feels right, the journey itself is enough. On any given day, if the rug were pulled out from under you, you could say you loved with everything you had, you left nothing in the tank; I think if you have any or all of these things going on, you’re a success.

We’re slammed with messages all day, every day about what society defines as successful. Tons of money, a huge house, a really fast car, a “perfect body”– it’s all external stuff.  The truth is, you’re either happy on the inside, or you are not. To me, tapping into that well of love within you, and sharing it wherever you go, makes for a happy and successful life, and if you’re coming from that place, you can celebrate other people’s good fortune, even if it looks like what you want for yourself. You can let other people inspire you to put yourself out there more, to shine your light even more brightly. You can let fear stop you, or you can let it inspire you. We’re all made of the same stuff, but no one else, not a single person, is just like you. Only you can offer your particular gifts, and you don’t have all the time in the world. You’re not going to look back on your life and think, “Mine was pretty good, but that guy over there really had an awesome time.” You won’t care anymore. You’ll only know if you gave everything you had, if you pursued your dreams, if you loved the people in your life the best way you could. You’re not going to be counting your pennies or thinking if only your corpse could have a six-pack. Don’t waste too much time. It’s precious, and so are you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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