“He who sits in the house of grief will eventually sit in the garden.”
Hard times, more than any others, reveal to us the truth that the signature of our humanity is our emotional nature. What differentiates us from stones and butterflies is the degree to which what happens to us affects us on an emotional level. We don’t just experience things — get a divorce, lose our house, watch our dog die from eating poison — we have feelings about these events. It is the depth and nuance of our feelings — of our joy, sorrow, anger, and fear — that give texture to our humanity.
Sorrow and grief are the emotions that apply when we experience loss, and crying is the body’s mechanism for expressing grief. It may seem self-evident that we should cry when we’re in pain, but it’s surprising how much we resist our tears. Often it is only when we’ve been overtaken by them that we finally discover how terribly aggrieved we are.
We live in a culture that’s afraid of grieving; we don’t know how to cry. When our lives fall apart in one way or another, we usually try to take control of things and solve them, forget them, or deny them — rather than experience them, accept them, or see the meaning they may hold for us. That’s because underlying many of our responses to difficulty is the unstated assumption that we should be able to engage in life, liberty, and the unbridled pursuit of happiness without ever having to grieve — over anything. It’s almost as if we believe that pain, suffering, and challenge are bad and should never be a part of our path.
The truth is that pain is one of our greatest teachers, hurt can be a birth, and our sufferings are the portals to change. This being true, we need to know how to grieve, to mourn, to shed our tears, because grief is the cure for the pain of loss. Tears are the medicine of grieving.
When life is hard, when you’re in a crisis, you should cry not because you’re weak but because crying holds the power of healing. Tears, in fact, are the vehicle for transformation. When you cry, your loss moves through you to the point of exit. What was holding you up and eating you up, what was stuck inside your body, gets released and moves outside your body. Your physical structure is quite literally cleansed and, like a blackboard sponged clean, is available to receive the imprint of whatever wants to come next. That’s why, when you have cried, you will be reborn, free to begin again.
Hard Afternoons on the Couch
It has been clinically demonstrated that when you suppress sadness you also suppress positive emotions. What we don’t feel on one end of the emotional spectrum, we don’t feel on the other. As a consequence, people who try to be happy all the time, who suppress what they perceive to be the “negative” emotions of sorrow and grief, actually, over time, become more anxious and depressed. Crying is not a sign of weakness; we shouldn’t staunch our tears. They’re a healing balm, a river to the future.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a bunch of really great cries in my life — days, afternoons, and nights when I took to the couch or my bed and literally wailed about the hardships of life. I’ve cried over sweethearts who left, lovers I couldn’t get rid of, bad decisions, feeling forsaken by God, people who didn’t “get” me, wrecking my dancing shoes, selling my house, feeling isolated, wretched, and unloved, and feeling the impending sorrow of death. I have cried because of my stupidity, my naïveté, and my lack of courage, because of tornadoes and earthquakes, because of money I lost and money that was stolen from me (a lot of both).
At times I’ve been surprised by the magnitude of my tears, by the amount of sheer wailing and letting go that certain circumstances called for. I’ve been shocked, almost worried that such a big cry might have been some sort of hysterical emotional excess, some kind of performance. But the quiet integration, the fragile and yet sublime peace that followed each vintage cry was the measure of the healing power of those tears.
I’ve always felt better because of having cried. I have felt reglued, reborn, strong, silken, vulnerable, permeable, powerful, radical, formidable, tender, pure, loving, exquisite, invincible, clear, new, real, whole.
When you stop and think about it, there are things worth crying about every day. So cry, for God’s sake. Cry your heart out.
You and Your Tears
Here are some questions to answer as you contemplate the healing role of grief and tears in your life. Perhaps you’ve never been aware that crying, along with being a spilling over of feeling, actually has a curative effect. It is not a mistake; it is a necessity. Bearing this in mind, you can use these questions to help shepherd you on your own healing journey.
• What’s the old ache in your heart that you’ve never wept over? Something that happened in your childhood, that you’ve talked yourself out of crying about? Something other people told you that you shouldn’t cry over? Something that happened last week? The death of your dog? The loss of your job? Devastating words from your boss? Cutting remarks from your son or daughter? The $200 raise in your rent? The client who just ripped you off?