Our Collective Undoing

Uncertainty is the name of the game in life. This whole business of being human – arriving on a spinning planet in a vast galaxy with no idea how long we’ll have here, no clue how long anyone else will have, no idea what happens after this – none of these are easy parameters to deal with and integrate. We don’t know what kind of sudden loss we might face on a “normal” Wednesday or whether we’ll wake up in the morning. We don’t know if the person we adore will continue to adore us, we don’t know if our children will be okay when we drop them off at school (back when we used to do that), we don’t know if we’ll realize our dreams, no matter how hard we work. It’s a wonder any of us get out of bed in the morning and keep showing up, but that’s the very thing about human beings, we are a wonder.

In the face of all that vulnerability, we do get up. We brush our teeth and get dressed (pajamas count at this point) and we start the day. In “normal” times we might make a pot of coffee and start tackling our to-do list whether it’s written or not. Pack lunches for the kids, check! Get them up and make them breakfast, check! Drive to school in the nick of time, check! If it’s Monday, maybe we head to the grocery store after school drop-off and buy groceries for the week. Maybe Monday nights we go to yoga and put our mat in the same spot we like. The point is, we have our routines, our plans, our checklists, our habits, our schedule, our deadlines, our expectations and off we go. These are the things that help us forget our vulnerability, because in “normal” times and on most days, things go (mostly) the way we expect. Things go according to our plans, dammit, and this helps us feel okay on a spinning planet in a vast universe where we don’t know what the hell is going on.

In the last several weeks, all the things we count on to forget our vulnerability have been taken away from us. You can’t go to the grocery store unless you’re ready to suit up, mask up, glove up and wait on line six feet away from the nearest other person just to get in the store ten people at a time, and all of that reminds you of your intense vulnerability, so there went any comfort from your grocery routine. Maybe ordering online is better for now, you think. You can’t go on your hike because the trails are closed and you can’t go to the beach, either. You will survive this, these are small sacrifices you understand you have to make to care for the vulnerable members of your community, and yet these things help you with your mental wellness, but you’ll figure it out. You can’t meet your friend for coffee and a walk because you can’t see friends right now and there’s nowhere to have coffee and walking is really like some weird game of keep-away with strangers that is no fun at all. Hugs with anyone outside your house are not possible and if there’s no one in your house with you, there go hugs for awhile and here comes a lesson in skin hunger. Basically, what you have right now, what you get to acknowledge and roll around in and possibly avoid marinating in for a bit with a Netflix binge or three, is your vulnerability and the intense recognition of the fact that you are not driving the bus and you never, ever were.

If you make plans and your plans happen, that is called good fortune. If you have a checklist and it’s reasonable and realistic and your day goes the way you hoped it would, that is called hard work and good fortune. If you love someone and they love you back and this goes on for days and days and weeks and months and years, that is called enormous good fortune, it is called two people choosing each other again and again day after day, it is called hallelujah, and even then, one of you will be left at some point. There is no way through this life without loss and suffering, not a single one of us escapes it. There is no such thing as a “normal” day or the luxury of “wasting time” – the only sure thing we have is a lack of surety.

We all know this on some level. It’s tough to swallow, acknowledge and honor every day, but it’s real and it’s true and you can count on it and you know this in your heart of hearts and in your gut. You know this. All the plans and routines and regimens won’t change it. You can be totally ripped and gluten-free, you can do burpees or run miles or do nine hundred chaturangas a day (not recommended) and still, you can’t escape it. All the lists and deadlines in the world won’t stop it. What is different about the last several weeks, what makes this time unprecedented and unchartered as everyone has said and said and said again is that we are all going through this intense realization at the same time. Usually we experience this individually. We lose someone we love, and for us it’s like the world has stopped spinning and an entire universe has disappeared and it doesn’t seem possible people are out in the world having a good day. Our world has stopped. For a time our perspective changes and we remember how fragile we are and how fragile life is and how thin is the membrane between being here alive and being out in the ethers. We understand it for a time, but that is not easy to hold onto because it hurts, it’s painful, it makes us feel small and powerless and not in control. So eventually we “get back to living” and we make plans and lists and find a routine and a new footing and this person is still gone and sometimes the grief knocks us off our feet in the middle of a plan or a deadline and we remember again, but we get back up.

What’s different about this experience is that we have had a collective undoing, a group lesson in vulnerability and not being in control and it’s painful and it hurts and grieving and mourning make sense and there are no normal days and that is always true. There are angry people out there screaming about their rights being violated, but that anger is just the emotion on top of the pain and the rights they’re speaking of are gifts they can’t access to feel better and to feel in control. Some people deal with their vulnerability better than others. Some people try to suit up against it and armor themselves against the world, but that never helps in the long run. Your heart is meant to be broken again and again so it can keep softening and opening and you can know more and care more and have more compassion and understanding, awareness and patience and love for yourself and others. Does this mean we shouldn’t make plans or assume we’ll see our children at pick-up or pursue our dreams or try to meet our deadlines? Of course not. We are wonders after all and we should never give up on ourselves or each other or on life’s ability to surprise us with joy and adventure we never imagined. But somewhere in there, we ought to keep remembering, this is a gift, this is a gift, this is a gift.

May we all remember.

Sending you so much love and the hope that you are being gentle with yourself,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt


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

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

You often hear people explain their experience as being “on the outside looking in,” but really, I think we’re on the inside looking out. There’s no other way for us to participate in the world around us, or process what’s happening except through our own particular lenses, frame of reference and past experience. That’s beautiful if your interior world is full of love, because in that case the space between you and anyone else disappears. It fades because you’re part of what’s happening, you’re co-creating the moment, you’re not in your head. You’re not busy categorizing or judging what you’re moving through, deciding if it’s good or bad or desirable or what you expected, you’re just in it. Love allows for that kind of liberation and immersion. There’s no fear of getting it wrong, no nagging, stifling voice of “what if” stopping you or making you question if you’re worthy of the joy or the acceptance. When we’re full of love life seems doable and everything is an adventure or a discovery or an opportunity to get lost and find ourselves all at once. To give whatever we’ve got, all the way, and with our hearts wide open. We can do that with other people, or on our own as we hike, windsurf, or get on a yoga mat. We become part of everything. No one is going to be in that state in every moment. We all have fears, insecurities and doubts, and life is always there to present us with opportunities to examine that stuff. Sometimes heartbreaking things happen out of nowhere and take our breath away and send us reeling. But short of that, if you do that inner work of healing, you can be in that state of love quite a lot of the time, and you can catch yourself more quickly when you start spiraling down the well of fear. Your inner voice is the thing that stops you from buying into that “not good enough” frame of mind when you’re loving yourself, not the voice that makes you want to run and curl up and fade away to nothing.

When we’re in fear, it’s easy to feel a separation, a huge distance between ourselves and other people, between our experiences and someone else’s. I think when we feel lonely, misunderstood, discarded or shamed, when we’re grieving or more confused by life than we’ve ever been, it’s not that we’re trying to get into a place where others are so we can feel better or accepted or acknowledged or loved, it’s that we’re trying to get out of this well we’re drowning in. This dark, cold place that echoes with the cries of “What’s wrong with me? Why do I suck so much? Will I ever get it together? Why has this happened?” Sometimes people internalize the things they were told growing up. I saw a quote awhile back that said, “The way you speak to your children becomes their inner voice.” If you grew up hearing you were stupid, worthless, unwanted or an accident, or that you didn’t measure up or always made mistakes, or that you were a disappointment, or any number of other hurtful ideas that reflected your parents inability to express love and not your worthiness to receive it, you may have an incredibly harsh inner dialogue you’re living with. Life does not have to be like that, but you’re going to have to work hard to stop feeding that fearful, unkind voice, and start feeding a loving one. You’re probably going to need some help with that. The lens you’re looking through and the inner voice that speaks out about what’s happening are either wildly distorted, or fairly clear. If you’re in pain, if you’re feeling isolated, and very deep within yourself, don’t believe everything you think, as the saying goes.

There have been times in my life when I’ve felt so far from the surface of things, it was like a slow dark drowning. I used to have an incredibly harsh inner voice. Of course you want to run when the voice you live with is unforgiving and relentless. You want to deny or numb out or keep yourself so busy you can’t hear it, but you can’t escape yourself, and you can’t escape your pain –not in any good or sustainable way. At some point, if you want to be at peace, and you want to be able to connect and share and feel part of everyone and everything else, you’re going to have to turn and face that voice. Not everything you think is true. No matter what has happened to you, what kind of pain you’ve been through, what kind of anger you may be holding, there’s something stronger than all of that. It’s your heart. It’s been there, pumping for you from the moment you began forming as the you you are right now. You are as worthy of love as anyone else, and your heart has a song to sing that is all its own. You don’t want to be stuck in your head, forever analyzing and categorizing and judging your experience. You just want to be in it. You want to open your mouth and let the song of your heart spill out. So get busy if you need to, because as Mark Strand says, “Each moment is a place you’ve never been.” You don’t want to miss too many places. Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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