I cried yesterday. The day before that. A few days before that. And I cried last week. Since the pandemic started, I have cried every few days. Before Coronavirus, believe it or not, I cried almost every day. The tears are often from a place of sadness, empathy or joy. This week, I was interviewed for a podcast and asked about my mindfulness practices. I listed off several, including crying. The hosts were intrigued and continued to interrogate me further about it. I shared that the way yoga is the language of my body and meditation is the language of my mind, crying is the language of my emotions.
Our culture has trained us to associate crying with weakness. I feel otherwise. This belief that crying is a sign of weakness is often reinforced by public leaders, professional athletes, school teachers, business people, heroes in movies and more. Our societal norm to suppress emotions is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of weakness. It is convenient to believe that we are logical beings who sometimes experience emotions. The truth is that we are in fact emotional beings who try to use logic to justify our emotions.
It takes courage to first acknowledge that to be human is to experience emotion. It takes more courage to allow ourselves to express emotion regularly.
Imagine lush trees, clean cut grass, spring flowers, birds chirping and all of the beauty that nature has to offer. Now compare our instinctive reaction to rain versus sun. Our conditioning is to see rain as undesirable and sunshine as desirable. However without rain, the full beauty of nature does not exist, and what would be left is only desert. Rain is required for anything to grow and that includes all of the food that feeds humans.
Like rain, I have discovered that crying is required in life.
Crying gives me access to the full beauty and experience of life, and it is what leads to growth. Before I had started to let myself cry often, I was in a desert. Most things die in a desert.
In my capacity as a leader, I feel responsible for others. In the business that I lead, the communities that I participate in and for the family and friends around me, there are many people that I have the good fortune to interact with, find inspiration from and likely influence. I have to know how to take care of myself, before I can even think about taking care of others. Crying is how I can start to work with my emotions. This enables me to show up clear, grounded and calm for others. This is even more true in a business and professional context. Earlier this year, I was fortunate to attend an event titled One Last Talk, where a few brave speakers deliver a prepared talk, as if it was their final talk. It is a brilliant concept and offers a safe space for people to express their deepest vulnerabilities. As you can imagine, it is an emotional evening, as people share stories about themselves that have never been shared before. The host that evening often got emotional and I was disappointed that instead of acknowledging how touched they were, they continued to apologize for crying.
Imagine a culture where we feel pride, not shame, when we tear up publicly.
When I eat, which I have been doing more often these days living at home with my parents, I need to digest my food which leads to regular bowel movements. Anything different would be considered unhealthy and likely cause for concern.
To cry is to digest and process emotions. It is healthy to cry. Movies and books have an ability to draw me in and can capture my undivided attention. When I relate to the characters, I begin to feel their wins and losses. It is then that I start to empathize with them and often tears will start to flow. A few months ago, I found myself watching Alladin on a flight and was in tears throughout. While a good movie can bring many of us to tears relatively easily, this is especially true on an airplane and there are physiological reasons why. The higher altitude and cabin pressure reduces oxygen levels, which leads to dehydration, causing difficulty in regulating emotions. This is why babies and kids cry (even louder it seems) on planes.
There are different depths of feeling for others that I have observed and experienced. Sympathy is to see someone’s suffering, like a doctor might. Empathy is to feel someone’s suffering, like a close friend might. Compassion is to feel someone’s suffering such that it compels an action. That action might be as simple as a thought, an expression with words or more. Compassion requires empathy and empathy requires feeling.
When I cry, I know I have felt something.
Research has shown that women cry on average twice as often as men. Scientists say this is because men have larger tear ducts, creating a higher threshold before eyes swell up to the point of tears overflowing, and that women have different hormones that make their bodies produce more tears. While this all may be true, I believe that in general, women empathise with others more often than men do and that our social conditioning does not encourage men to cry. As men, we can practice greater empathy. And all of us can learn to hold space for others to cry. My sister is my best friend. Several years ago, she had a major concussion that changed her life forever, and ours. Her journey has become a source of inspiration. As an artist, her work is impressive and her latest project is a graphic memoir called Brave. It is a story of empathy told through the lens of living life with a concussion. In the early years of her concussion, we lived together and she would cry often. I did not feel comfortable with her crying and would encourage her not to cry. “Don’t cry, there’s no need to” were my words to her back then. My words would now be “cry, cry it all out, that’s the bravest thing that you can do”.
An activity that we do over and over again is what I call a practice. It may be a meditation practice, a cooking practice, a Netflix practice, an Instagram practice, or in this case, a crying practice. As we grow in a practice, we need more tools, not less. For example, I had believed that I was good at yoga if I did not yoga blocks. However, during my yoga teacher training last year, I learned that advanced yoga students use blocks, straps and bolsters all the time. Crying itself is a “yoga block” in navigating the emotional experience that is life. There are several tools that I use to support my crying practice. I call these positive crying triggers. These include reflections of my sister’s journey, specific memories from childhood, certain yoga poses like pigeon, kirtan music and mantra, pretty much any rags to riches story, spontaneous and random displays of kindness, unexpected generosity and more. For example, I started to tear up a few days ago during one of the daily live meditations that I host for friends. The topic was appreciation and the reflection about the people that I feel appreciation towards was profound and intense for me in that moment. The debt of gratitude that I feel for our healthcare heroes in this time is so strong. When I think about it, see a newspaper ad about it or hear people recognize them, I start to cry.
This display of kindness, from both our healthcare heroes and from those who publicly acknowledge them, is so beautiful and deserving of tears from all of us.
In this time, there is immense suffering in the world. Suffering from a health pandemic, where people are losing their lives every day. Suffering from an economic crisis, where people are losing their jobs and businesses every day. Suffering from a social crisis, where people who are already the most vulnerable in society are getting pushed to the brink of survival. Suffering from a mental health crisis, where we are experiencing heightened emotions of anxiety, concern and stress. In this time, it is expected for us to feel. And to cry is to feel. My hope is that each of us start to cry more. It is only once we take care of ourselves that we can start to take care of others.
A bit more to share: Year Zero:
A series of recorded conversations between friends about the future of humanity, as we transition from B.C. (Before Coronavirus) to A.C. (After Coronavirus). This week, my friend Zack and I spoke about The Future Of Work.
I am hosting live meditations weekdays at 9:30 a.m. EST on Zoom. Details and guided meditation recordings are available on FindFocus.Live.
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