When I’m interviewed about courage (or anything else), it’s common for the interviewer to ask about any particular tips, tools, tricks, or advice that I have for how someone can…practice more courage. Feel more fulfilled. Experience more joy.
This is a delicate question to answer. There is no one tip or trick, that applies to all people, everywhere, of course. I typically end up answering with whatever seems to be the particular “thing” that I’ve been jiving with, lately, knowing that they really all seem to feed into the larger whole.
It’s never incorrect to say, one day, that “presence” is the practice, or to say on another day that “seeking laughter and joy” is the tool to use, because they all feed into the practices of attending to life and living in a conscious way.
But lately, the tool that I’ve been sharing most, is this one: crying.
Confession: I actually cry, quite a lot.
Most people’s misunderstandings and stereotypes about crying can jump into effect when I say this. If you cry quite a lot, does this mean that you’re not happy? We’re a culture that often equates crying with weakness.
But what I mean by saying that I cry is this: I cry, consciously. I cry with intention. I cry as a form of connecting to my joy. I cry as a way of opening my heart. I cry as a path to liberation from what would otherwise be bottled-up feelings within me, feelings that would otherwise stifle the creative impulse.
Crying, as a practice, is one of the most lusciously, fully-alive experiences for me.
Where I used to associated crying with victimization, I now associate it with freedom and liberation, of the highest order.
Crying As a Practice
Before this, I used to hate crying–within myself, or seeing anyone else. I felt condescension towards people who cried, precisely because I hadn’t yet reconciled the ability within myself. It was positively Freudian–Defense Mechanisms, all of that.
But then I started doing this really powerful, heart-opening work, and as part of that work, I was asked to cry–whenever and wherever it came up. I was invited to make it conscious, as part of a path to healing.
My first fear was that instead of crying consciously, I would becoming a “disgusting, wallowing vat of despair.” (That would be an exact quote from my inner critic).
I judged crying as being about “drama” and “attention-seeking.” I intensely disliked the discomfort I felt when others cried and I sensed that their tears were about trying to manipulate me into feeling guilty, so that they could get the result they wanted.
If that’s your context for crying, too? You feel me. And yes, there are people who use crying in this way, and it’s not responsible–but that’s not what I’m referring to, here.
To move beyond these internal judgments, I just had to…cry. “No way around, but through,” Robert Frost says, and I agree.
I needed to be conscious about crying, to take it on as a spiritual and personal growth practice.
How to Practice Crying
Mostly, I needed to notice that little second where something within me would tell me not to cry, and just not follow that impulse.
- When a sad moment happened in a movie, I needed to notice the impulse to fight it and keep calm, and I needed to cry.
- When a friend hugged me or said something I had desperately needed to hear, I needed to notice the impulse to fight it and keep calm–I needed to cry. (Yes. In front of someone else).
- I needed to go to powerful, life-changing workshops where no one would care whether or not I cried.
- I needed to book more sessions with my “counselor/coach/guru-man,” Matthew, and there I would need to cry.
- When devastating news occurred, I just needed to…cry. Right there, or wherever I was, or in the nearest restroom if necessary.
This practice of crying on the regular evolved until I would start actually “making” myself cry.
In order to heal and forgive things that had happened in my past, I would find time each day to sit down and think of them in a deliberate way, until I was good and worked up about them–and then I would (on purpose) do the crying over those hurts and wounds that I had not really been allowed to have, at the time.
This was immensely healing.
If I knew that I was holding a lot of space for others, juggling a lot on my to-do list, and otherwise feeling overwhelmed, I could make myself cry–listen to a song that always did the trick, or 9/11 footage, or something devastating.
The crying would connect me back to myself, to my humanity. The release I’d feel afterwards was of the kind that no person, no self-helpy book, and no external circumstances could provide.
When we cry consciously, with the intent to release that which is pent-up, and with the intent to express our truest emotions, the crying is catharsis. It’s bliss.
Fast-Forward to Today
I make a point of crying, as needed. I cry when I’m moved to my core. I cry when I hear about generous deeds. I cry when I watch the documentary, I Am. I cry when I’m on the phone with Tanya Geisler and she delivers just one perfect sentence, oh-so-casually, where I realize just how clearly she sees me and it feels so damned good to be so truly seen.
I cry when I hear about the tragedy of Newtown, CT, because if I weren’t crying all of that grief and shock and anger would stay stuck within me, rotting.
Crying is one of the healthiest presence practices I’ve adopted.
If you’ve been holding your tears back, especially if you’ve done it for awhile, I can’t help but entreat you to try conscious crying.
A quiet room, 20 minutes. Cry it out, on purpose.
Try that on as a meditation for one week, and you will emancipate your soul–I promise.