The first time I cried in public, I sobbed my way through the streets of Manhattan. It was November and I had been deeply invested in a political campaign that hadn’t gone the way I hoped. Up to that point, I had only cried in private, reserving my tears for bathroom stalls and my bed pillow. But I was devastated, dressed head to toe in black, mascara running down my face, unable to contain my sadness. A stranger would have suspected my heart had just been broken and in a way it had.
Looking back, I find it almost comical that this is what broke me open, cut the seal, but it was a marker for me. I had been holding in so much for so long. The defeat had allowed me to let go, to feel feelings that had been pushed aside and ignored in pursuit of other, more tangible goals. After the tears subsided, I almost felt high, liberated. I felt free to start anew. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the loss or the weeping or some combination thereof, but soon after that I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles. I was determined to connect to my body and heart, to discover myself independent of the institutions and people that had come to define it.
Living in LA forced me to slow down. I rediscovered yoga. I took long walks on the beach. I wrote in my journal. Unaware that a life spent in New York City seeped in judgment and rage had inflamed my central nervous system. I was wired all the time. It took me years to understand that many of my (over) reactions were the result of a jacked system, of too much cortisol.
After extricating myself from a toxic relationship, I found myself at USM, studying for my Master’s in Spiritual Psychology. There are many things I learned at USM, but the most healing aspect of the program came from the tears I shed. I cried and cried and cried. And then I cried some more. I realized that the more I cried, the deeper I healed. Over time, I became more flexible, literally and metaphorically. I began to let go.
In our society, we have a curious relationship to tears. We seem to fear them; often, we don’t know what to do when others begin to well up. Shush, we say, don’t cry now. We reach to touch them, wanting to ease the pain or, conversely, recoil, fearful of what they may trigger in us. We rarely sit with the person, simply allowing them their process, holding space and paying witness. But tears are medicinal. They’re restorative. They soften us and create an opening. They expose our vulnerability and our beauty. Without them, negative energy can fester, causing disease. Our stress can increase levels. We can become divorced from our true self, our core, and our heart center. We may begin to calcify.
Why do we do this? Why do we run from ourselves? Busying our schedule? Creating more stress? Doesn’t it catch up with us eventually–whatever it is we’re avoiding? It seems so human to me–this constant running. Who really wants to feel the hurt and the sadness? But we must address it if we want to move forward, to grow, to evolve.
“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know,” Pema Chodron, the Tibetan monk, once noted.
For me, and I suspect for many others, it’s the knowledge that we matter—that we matter just because we’re here, because we exist. That we have value regardless of our catalogue of interests and desires, regardless of our narrative constructions and the stories we tell ourselves. I’m still learning this, every day in every way. Like anything that matters, it’s a process. Sometimes before we can blossom, we need to grieve—need to process old hurts and stressors. And this takes time and space. It requires a certain kind of slowing down and an ability to sit with oneself in silence. But isn’t it worth it, however uncomfortable it may be, to sit with our feelings, to let them flow? What’s the alternative, really? What choice do we have? Because in the end, isn’t that what we crave most of all—a sense of peace, of acceptance? And how else do we get there, if not through our own unfolding?