searching for wholeness
More dramatic, are the times in life we cry, when we are struck with joy by a piece of music, feel awe at the beauty of a landscape, or are overwhelmed with emotion by the kindness of others. Then, there are those outrageous moments of complete abandon when our sides ache and tears roll down our cheeks from the laughter that comes from the very core of our body. Clearly the salty water that flows from our eyes is an important part of the human experience.
Often, people report that a good cry can make them feel better and more at peace. In one survey, 85% of women and 73% of men reported feeling less sad or angry after crying. As a result of this kind of information, psychologists and scientists are doing research to discover what the content and purpose of tears may be. Some of this research has been conducted by William Frey in an effort to discover the chemical make up of tears. Frey compared tears induced from sadness with tears caused by cutting a raw onion. He found that the tears caused by emotional stimuli contained more total protein than those that resulted from irritation. Frey proposes that the emotionally based tears contained high levels of cortisal, which is the primary hormone released during stressful situations. This suggests that we may be literally releasing toxins from our system when we cry, and that crying itself may support our overall wellbeing. Psychologists intuitively have understood the healing power of tears and often encourage people to allow their tears to flow freely, unobstructed by any internal sensors that might shut them off.
In the eastern system of health, the element of water is associated with the emotions. Our emotions are meant to be fluid, flowing like a river, freely over all kinds of terrain. When feelings or emotions which are frozen or crystallized in our body, come in contact with the fire of life, they melt and overflow into streams of tears. The shedding of such tears becomes a release or letting go of that which has been too much to sustain within the body. When we consciously or unconsciously prevent this natural outpouring, the excess emotional expression, must find another path to free itself, or revert again to a solid state until another opportunity arises.
It is also a noticeable truth that tears of sadness or pain, frequently create a need to make physical contact. Parents will often hold and touch their children when they cry. In spite of the fact that our culture has encouraged a “hands-off” attitude when it comes to touching others, when someone is hurt and tears flow, it is not uncommon to see people embrace or touch the person who is crying. This simple, yet powerful connection seems to encourage the tears which may come even more intensely when we are touched with care and compassion. It might be that our natural inclination to touch, helps the whole process of emotional release through tears.
About a year ago now, my mother died. Although, she had been in great pain for many years from severe osteoporosis, we had no clear warning that death was imminent. However, her pain had been unusually intense, and I decided to stay with her through the night. She slept fitfully most of the night and then seemed to relax and in the early hours of the morning she died. I remember waking my father to tell him that her long suffering was over. We held each other and cried for a long time. Throughout that day and the days that followed, I felt numb and out of step with the world. While I was reading a recipe, driving the car, or mindlessly watching television, tears would roll down my cheeks with out any conscious thought of where they were coming from. At times, I wouldn’t even be aware that I was crying until I felt the wetness on my face. It seemed as if my body was just letting go, whether I knew it or not. I thought of the miraculous nature and design of our bodies and how, sometimes in spite of us, they act on our behalf, and for our good.
Yet, regardless of personal experiences that support the healing quality of tears, most of us shrink from the thought of others seeing us cry. Tears of sadness, pain, and hurt often cause us to turn away, shielding ourselves from the unwanted gaze of others. We hide our face in our hands, pretend we have something in our eye, make strong efforts to choke them back, and feel embarrassed when we cannot. Not only are we uncomfortable with people witnessing our tears, we may feel equally disturbed when others cry in our presence. It seems strange that something with such strong potential for healing should be so troublesome.
Poets speak of the eyes as being the windows of the soul. Our eyes tell the story of our true feelings and give people access to the deepest places within. Having someone look closely into our eyes is an intimate experience that can make us feel known and accepted or uncomfortable and invaded. Our tears of sadness or hurt, reflect the fears and scars that we spend a lifetime hiding. They are visible evidence of our vulnerability to life. Tears have been equated with weakness because they reveal the soft spots of our soul, and can make us feel unprotected. Deciding whether to stay strong and hold it all together, or let go and show our tears without restraint is not the question. Certainly, there are times when it is helpful to control our feelings and hold back the tears, just as there are other times when “crying our heart out” is equally appropriate. What is most important is that we find a way to honor the truth of our feelings and listen to the call of our heart. We are learning through science what we may have known in our bones for centuries. Tears are a way to mend the pain and suffering of life. They are neither something to be ashamed of nor something we must force or flaunt. Tears of joy and sorrow, tears of awe and pride can make life richer, giving us a natural expression of the pool of emotions that flows through our being. Our tears can draw us together reminding us of our humanness and connecting us on a level deeper than words.
When Princess Diana died, the whole world seemed to cry. Time stopped as we watched a country, in public grief, shedding tears openly and freely. Cameras were not allowed to show the private tears of her children, but commentators made it known that even these brave and strong young men, who so boldly walked behind Diana’s casket, broke down and cried during the ordeal of the funeral. This event, possibly more than any other in history, has taught us that healing occurs when we weep together. It may well be, that as we learn to allow ourselves the privilege of our own tears, we will touch our soul in a way that illuminates the sacred connection we have with all people on earth. If tears can bring us to such truth, they will be shed well.
Paula Becker is President of Burnsville Counseling and Healing Center. The work of the Center is dedicated to deep and profound healing of body, mind and spirit. For information or to make an appointment please call 952-435-4144.