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. 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.

And lately, the tool that I’ve been sharing most, is this one: conscious crying.

Confession: I cry with some frequency.

Most people’s misunderstandings and stereotypes about crying can jump into effect when I say this. We’re a culture that often equates crying with weakness. If you cry quite a lot, does this mean that you’re not happy?

But for me, this is true: 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.

Conscious Crying As a Practice

I used to hate crying–my own crying, or anyone else’s, and because I was uncomfortable with crying I was judgmental when other people did it.

But then I started doing the powerful, heart-opening work of getting real about who I was and all that I felt. As part of that work, I was asked to cry–whenever and wherever it came up. I was invited to make it conscious crying, less about wallowing in an emotion and more about using tears as catharsis and a path to healing.

My first fear was that instead of crying consciously, I would just be…a pathetic whiny crybaby. 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 and doing something they wanted.

To move beyond these internal judgments, I just had to…cry.

“No way around, but through,” Robert Frost says of working through the difficulties of life, and I agree.

I needed to be conscious about crying, to take it on as a spiritual and personal growth practice. That’s precisely what I did.

How to Practice Conscious Crying

Practicing conscious crying started with being very present to that that little second where I felt emotion welling up, but wanted to resist the emotion. I had to stop resisting the emotion.

  • When a sad moment happened in a movie, I needed to notice the impulse to cry, as well as my resistance, and I needed to just…cry.
  • When a friend hugged me or said something I had desperately needed to hear, I needed to notice the impulse to cry, as well as my resistance, and–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.

Later, I’d even set aside a few minutes a day for conscious crying. 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 conscious crying over those hurts and wounds that I had not really been allowed to have, at the time that the hurt occurred.

Yes. This we weird. But also? 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, consciously. The crying would connect me back to myself, to my humanity. No coach or therapist, no self-helpy book, and no external circumstances could provide the same release that this one particular practice of conscious crying would give me.

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. It’s like how we “overcome” fear by being with fear–when we move into the things that we resist, they don’t have power over us.

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 school shootings and war and terror and lives taken far too soon, 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.