Strangely enough, one of my fondest memories as a child involves riding in my father’s car as I stared out the rear window through tear-swept eyes.
Street lights seemed faded and turned by rain, and each block curved and twisted as my eyes grew accustomed to a wet and somber viewing, flush with life and a full breadth of pain.
These were the inspiring and yet dark moments of childhood when I found out who I was because I allowed myself the space and time to deeply feel my own feelings, including sadness and grief.
As human beings, one of the first things we do on this complicated and beautiful earth is cry. Leaving the warm and protected nest of our mother’s womb, we cry as we breathe in our first gasps of air while our parents delight in the fact that we are alive.
But somewhere along the way, early on in the innocence of childhood, we are taught that tears are to be kept to ourselves, and that crying is a sign of weakness, immaturity and even selfishness.
But nothing can be further than the truth, as the honest feelings of sorrow and the act of crying is not only necessary, but healing in the most profound of ways.
When I first discovered the beauty of quiet tears that sometimes came on suddenly like a hailstorm, and at others like a petal-strewn cemetery blown clear by August winds . . . I gasped in relief.
I have found that by allowing myself to shed authentic tears, I have been able to cleanse my mind, body and soul in a way that no meditation has. It is also an entirely personal act that can deeply connect one to a spiritual path and calling, if you will.
The following are four steps for how to cry effectively as a meditative tool, and as a sweet path to peace.
1. Surrender Yourself to Sadness
The first step is to embrace your sadness and honestly connect with why you feel sad, while learning to surrender to the raw feelings of your emotions. If it has been a long time since you have allowed yourself to shed a tear, this may be very difficult at first, even seemingly impossible, but you can begin by sitting still and allowing your mind to wander towards a gentle place where you feel safe.
Learning to feel your own blues can lead to a deeper sense of calm and inner peace. This may seem counter-productive toward happiness, but it is extremely therapeutic.
If you have a difficult time getting in touch with your own feelings, as many people have a habit of pushing them away, you can even think of a song, movie or a memory in your past that makes you sad. Sometimes, the death of people that we do not even know makes us tear up and can start the tears rolling.
For example, when Shirley Temple died, I cried for at least half a day as I felt my childhood had somehow passed me by for good. My mother and I used to watch her films together when I was a little girl, and when she passed, I imagined her passing as well. Her death seemed ominous, entirely overwhelming and hard to grasp, as her every sweet film passed through my spirit like a whirlwind of memories that now seemed to be in danger of dying as well.
By allowing myself to cry and even reaching out to my mother, I felt more grounded. Still in grief and unable to watch her films of joyous dimples and song, I know that by spending some time expressing myself in an authentic way, I am more open to a joyous gratitude about the fact that I was able to celebrate and enjoy her at all.
Strangely, it is easier to cry for others than for ourselves, as we become accustomed to blocking out our true feelings as they seem much too raw and painful . The first step is to simply knock down the barrier so that you can allow your feelings to come up.
2. Once you Cry, Let the Tears Flow
If you have allowed yourself to be vulnerable- as well as strong enough to cry, then you are well on your way to spiritual enlightenment. Much of our dissatisfaction, depression and angst that we feel in our daily lives comes from closing ourselves off to our normal feelings, which can cause a great deal of subconscious and conscious pain. And when we do that, we close off a part of ourselves that is necessary for us to grow, heal and be productive.
Although you may feel silly, strange and even selfish as you cry, remind yourself that crying is a natural state of emotion that will help you to feel more peaceful afterwards.
I remember my grandmother saying to me, “There’s nothing like a good cry to wash the pain away.” I also remember the classic adage, “Cry it All Out.”
Don’t wipe your tears away, let them flow instead in any fashion that may take place, and stop worrying about how you will appear, to both yourself and others. Once you embrace your tears as a healthy state of being, you will begin to notice how centered you will feel. And the more you feel comfortable with using your tears as a method of release and focus, the closer you will be towards entering a state of peace never before realized.
As mentioned earlier, if you cannot cry easily, focus on something other than yourself that may make your eyes well up with tears. Perhaps you can even cry both happy and sad tears about the memories of a grandparent or friend who has died. Or perhaps you imagine your child leaving home and going off to college.
Yesterday, in the sweet stillness of morning, I heard some birds take flight near my window and remembered a dear friend who died last Spring from great cancer. One of her favorite things to do was sit quietly at the edge of the water and count each bird that flew by as a blessing. At only 44, she left behind two young boys who I know were nurtured by her ability to see the beauty in almost anything.
Needless to say, tears streamed down my eyes and I allowed them to continue as I could feel her breath against my skin, mentioning that we had now watched five or six birds as gifts for our day to come.
3. Planning a Time and Place to Cry
When we come into this world, the first sound that comes forth from our mouths as infants is that of crying. Just think of it . . . we cry as our parents rejoice and are happy simply because we are alive. But somehow along the way, we are taught that this very natural emotion is weak, one to be shunned at, and perhaps even a sign that we are unstable, overly-emotional and selfish.
One thing you can do is plan a time to cry, just as you would make and take the time to exercise, work and play. This may seem silly and odd, but it is the only way you may can gain the healing benefits of tears- if you are not a spontaneous crier.
First, find a private or comfortable place where you know you can be alone for at least half an hour, and make a definite plan to do this on a regular basis, just as you would make and take the time to exercise, work and play.
If you do not have such a place, try and find a setting in nature where you can walk, take a drive and park your car. Or you can always wake up an hour before everyone else does in your home and set aside this important time. I have found that the quiet stillness of dawn is a particularly magical and effective time for meditation.
Begin by telling yourself that you are a worthy person who is loved, wanted and has always been valuable and deserved of peace since the day you were born. After you repeat a mantra similar to this that is positive- or something else healing about yourself five to ten times times, take ten deep breaths in and out.
The next step is to think of something that causes you to cry tears of joy or sadness. For example, yesterday I cried tears of both happiness and grief when I imagined my youngest daughter one day going off to school. While this is an uncomfortable fear that I have, allowing myself to feel my pain helped me to better deal with my feelings.
4. How to Use Crying as a Meditative Guide
Once you have grown accustomed to crying as a way of opening up rather than shutting down, you may already notice how much lighter you feel. Like singing, dancing, writing and exuberant physicality such as running a marathon or making love, shedding real tears can leave one breathless and exhausted at first, and yet refreshed and enlightened.
While you are crying and afterwards, notice your breath and ask yourself if you feel lighter and happily spent. Wonder whether you have even made a breakthrough of some sort, if in only a physical sense at first.
After you have allowed yourself to relax for awhile, depending upon whether or not your crying was intense or light, write down the first feelings that you feel, and remember that there are no “wrong feelings”, only honest ones.
For example, one of my first crying meditations I remember as a child involved feelings of absolute sadness and grief when my family and I moved far away from the only neighborhood and friends that I knew, to another state. I remember taking a walk to my favorite nearby park and crying privately about how terrible and grief-stricken that I felt.
When I returned home, I felt much more relaxed and was even prod of myself that I allowed myself to have my own feelings, and was then able to better deal with my family as we planned our move.
I wrote this experience down, and in doing so, I set forth a lifetime ritual of being able to meditate through the act of crying, and therefore loving myself much more deeply in the process.
Sometimes it may help to write sad feelings down into a journal before you allow yourself to cry, and to write down your feelings again afterwards, and notice if there is a difference in how you feel. As an adult, I have noticed that my feelings always change after I have meditated through crying.
A recent instance of this happened when a girlfriend of mine passed away. She left behind two boys and a husband who adored her. I was heartbroken and depressed, and was confused and angry that a wonderful mother with children could be here one moment in a state of bliss, and then taken away the next moment it seemed in a fury of darkness and wonder. Often, sadness is first spent in anger as it is often an emotion that is easier to deal with than vulnerability.
Thinking of her loss, as well as imagining that she is still in my spirit gave me the gift of deep and authentic tears, which allowed me to feel closer to her as well a closer to my own spirit.
As you travel towards a path of deeper enlightenment through allowing yourself the gift of tears, notice that the more vulnerable you have the courage to become, the more room you are making for love and peace to come into your life and grow.
In summary, here are five things to remember on your journey:
- There is no right or wrong way to cry, there is only your way and what works for you
- Take the valuable time to cry and meditate, and know that it is not selfish
- Allow your mind to wander into the past for deep-seated memories of grief , so that healing may take place
- Do not be discouraged if tears are hard to come by, just relax into your thoughts
- Remember that you are on a path towards serenity and peace, and that you are strong and worth it
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Editor: Renée Picard