Crying is a secret sacred place, a place of solitude.
It’s not a space we navigate with much finesse; there are few maps on how to cry.
Many conflicting feelings arise around tears -fear of looking weak, of being too emotional, guilt for making others feel bad, relief at sharing pent-up thoughts, joy at being seen in our truth. To cry is to render your heart naked, undefended & utterly exposed to the world. No wonder it is shrouded in so much terror, secrecy and shame.
Only human beings cry.
Other creatures do have tears, that is, their eyes release liquid in response to dust, wind & other irritants. But only humans -with their unique ability to feel into what’s possible- can cry from actual emotions.
Why do we cry?
There are many ways to tell the history of tears. Here’s one possible narrative…
With water being such a coveted resource, and eyesight being our main defense against harm, why would evolution ‘waste’ good liquid and compromise our vision. What is the benefit? Nature must get a payoff for every cost.
I suspect, when humans gathered around the fire to share stories with their tribe, an emergent system arose wherein any member experiencing suffering, sadness, ecstasy or any strong feeling would be exposed with one unmistakable indicator of emotional intensity: tears.
Feelings are internal and can often be hidden, but tears are external and thus seen by others. They are explicit visual ques that indicate: this individual needs help. A bleeding cut on your body says “pay attention, do something to heal the wound”. Similarly, tears say the tribe is bleeding through the tender heart of one member, “pay attention, go and help”.
There must have been a time when tears flowed freely from human beings, a time when they were a clear signal for support. Every new baby cries. Often their howls and tears are the only way we can discern their needs. Children cry honestly when they require something important. But at some point those real tears get decoded by another as something other than an S.O.S. They get shamed, even punished. And in that moment the inherent dignity of tears are lost. From then on, our tears get pushed down and cast out as a native form of communication.
We now live in a world where tears are rarely seen as noble, rarely held as sacred, rarely honored as the most authentic expression of a soul longing to be heard.
Tears…your tears, are the way your body shows you what’s important to you. Holding them back is a form of self-deception and a withhold of your deepest truth. When I feel that familiar proto-tear sensation rising up in my throat, I know I always have a choice in that moment: to cry or…to lie.
Every uncried tear is a lost epiphany, a missed lesson, a moment that failed at aliveness. Each time you cry you release ancient tears from all the moments you didn’t let yourself cry in the past. No tear is ever wasted, each one holds in it’s liquid infinity, 1o years worth of therapeutic salve. Knowing this, I now look forward to opportunities to cry…once the portal is open, I let as many drops out as I can. The more I cry, the more alive I feel.
Tears teach us what we actually care about, they point at what matters the most, they take us back to a place of innocence & transparency. Tears lead us home.
Crying, as I see it, is beyond judgment. Funded by any number of emotions tears are neither good nor bad. They are simply our response to the intensity of being alive. I suspect that wise, enlightened hearts live most of their lives only one thought away from tears.
To cry freely is to fly in the face of cultural imperatives and stand for your right to be expressed. This takes immense power & courage. It’s much easier to hide your tears than to feel them; to suppress your sadness than to share it. It takes a true warrior to cry.
There’s even a romantic glamor in it. To be moved is to be tender-hearted. Cynics never sob. Only one who feels epic emotions and cares deeply about something has the ability to cry. It feels dramatic, poetic to be SO alive. Tears are the most appropriate response to life & love, when they’re fully experienced.
Recently a friend and I shared some painful stories about historic heartbreaks. The space was safe enough for both of us to feel into some un-felt feelings and let them surface. As soon as her eyes welled up, mine followed in empathic resonance. As is the case with all shared tears, we found each other again, but at a new level of intimacy. There’s nothing like the ancient fellowship of tears.
Next time you feel the intensity of life moving through your body via strong sensations that take discipline to attend to and concentration to hold, I invite you to surrender to the urge to express. Let go of the facade, “I’m fine” or “it’s no big deal”, leave out your apology. I invoke you to consciously make space for your true feelings to occupy the stage; give them the microphone and listen to them speak. They rose up from your unconscious mind to teach you something. Honor them with your listening.
If you can abandon yourself to the truth of your experience, you might feel that familiar tension at the back of your throat, that proto-tears state. I highly recommend you take yourself on a journey through that secret land of tears. Go for a swim through your own emotions. With practice you can map this sacred terrain, where crying is your compass for what’s good, true and beautiful. Become a cartographer of your own heart.
And every time you cry, remember this: you are embarking on a series of revelations. So keep your mind wide and your heart open. You say who you are by what makes you cry…
Staying with your somatic sensations while having an emotion will take you to places beyond your imagination. You’ll meet parts of your heart you never even knew existed. If you are willing to hold the possibility that tears might be your most profound teacher, then crying will become an education about the contours of your own soul. But I must warn you, this practice ultimately becomes a love story -between you and reality itself.
So prepare to fall in love -with all your current, future and past selves.
Let the tyranny of tears invoke your most tender truths.
And let’s choose crying over lying, at last.