Tears are a Blessing

Tears are like the blessing of God on the Earth.
— Sophia, age 5

The heat of midnight tears will bring you to God.
–Mirabai, 15th-century Hindu poetess

If we didn’t have love, we wouldn’t have crying. It’s like a big wave in the big sea inside you pushes drops out of your eyes. They are like magical drops. It’s magical love. It’s not just love in your heart. It’s like an ocean of love.
— Sophia, age 8

If nature valued only the seasons of spring and summer and tried to suppress fall and winter, the planet would be in deeper trouble than it is now. Yet that is how our culture is emotionally oriented and how we are taught to orient to our lives.

We value the smile, the line on the graph that goes up, that which we can see as growing and building. We live in a loss-phobic culture, one that fights and denies the unknown. We devalue that half of reality — the line that goes down, the decay of fall, the dark of winter, and the seed under the ground whose progress we cannot see. The more we avoid the “dark” — loss, mystery, aging, fear, sadness — the more it becomes something to fear, something to avoid entering, something that’s an embarrassment if we linger too long in it.

Thus, despite the fact that we are born with a built-in healing process that allows us to grieve our losses and rest and deepen into our hearts, we are culturally conditioned against this experience through being taught to see crying as a sign of weakness. Weeping is considered something we should not do or, at minimum, as something we should do under certain extreme circumstances for a very short time period before we rise back up to reassure our void-phobic friends and family (never mind our void-phobic selves) that all is well. We have lost the ability to tolerate, let alone worship and reap the wisdom of, the dark half of life. From fruit on a tree to pregnancy, premature reaping leads to less than a full and ripe result. Humans who don’t regularly tap these depths end up unable to fully embody the deep relaxed wisdom that is our birthright.

Out of a collective fear of sadness and its call to depth, most of us were trained, and thus train our children, to look on the bright side, to keep on trucking, to distract or minimize loss, or to mentally “fix” it. As if one could force one’s self to stay on the bright side despite the pull of the body to go inward and down. As if putting our attention off of the losses of our lives makes them go away. It doesn’t. It makes them fester inside and cuts us off from our full, open hearts. It makes us sick, depressed, rigid and unfulfilled.

From some miracle or a penchant for exploring the uncharted territory of human experience, I figured out how to go down into the depths of my being and grieve anything I hadn’t fully grieved before I became a mother. Thus, my 9-year-old daughter, Sophia, sees crying as a beautiful thing and wishes she could teach everyone that it’s not only OK, it’s the key to her happiness, her love of herself and her lack of materialism.

Sophia is in charge of the blessing at dinner at our house, and most nights, it goes on without a hitch. She picks the song, and we sing, sometimes off-key, sometimes with hands folded and sometimes not, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, sometimes getting the words wrong, and generally having a grand old time. But there are nights when Sophia cannot be pleased, when no matter how the blessing goes, it is not right. This is her way of asking for a little time for the sadness she is carrying.

“Mama, you aren’t singing it right. Mike, your hands aren’t folded.” On and on this goes, her attempt to control our folly, until her frustration at our imperfection reaches a peak, and she leaves the room with a storm, generally upset and often crying. We do not help her by trying to be perfect and instead simply let her have her upset. We have learned that how the blessing goes is a barometer of how Sophia’s day at school has gone. Trouble with the blessing is her way of saying “I lost my way today and felt left alone. Help me to remember I’m part of the whole!”

As she moves further and further away, arms crossed, defending her right to her separation, I sweetly call her back: “Come and eat dinner!” After several tearful refusals, she eventually inches closer to the kitchen door, still bargaining to eat on the floor, to eat on my lap, fighting the surrender to humility and grief. Finally, after I have held my ground long enough, she bursts into tears, cries and cries and cries, and sits on me and cries some more. When she’s done, she wordlessly takes her seat and begins to eat.

It’s the same for adults: without this grieving, we might continue to see the world as not quite right, through the filter of our ungrieved losses. We might solidify our stance into a general attitude toward life that if we can get others to behave in certain ways, we will be happy. For Sophia, this is a temporary state, born of the hurt of the day — she knows in her body that her tears are the way back to her own sense that all is well no matter how others are behaving. If she wasn’t allowed it, she might harden her sensitivity, learn to walk by homeless people without feeling anything, learn to take and give abuse as if it was nature’s way.

Crying is a by-product of returning to the whole, of humbly giving up our insistence upon seeing ourselves as separate and therefore safe and protected inside our shells, in order to open to love and to our shared humanness and togetherness. Unexpressed hurt, and curling around that hurt, is what keeps us feeling apart from each other and from God. It is a stored-up argument with things as they are: “I am mad at the world because it hurt and left me. The world should not be like that! I’m taking myself away from it!” To admit we long to return to connectedness is to open and let our pride fall to humility. To risk and once again know ourselves as the whole we need to face the hurt, which often shows up as crying.

Although certain mystical experiences can evoke tears of joy, weeping is usually a result of some kind of loss, whether it is a deep grief about losing a loved one or a momentary grief about temporarily losing connection with one’s at-one-ness with the universe through some painful event. Touching the hurt and letting the tears come softens and opens us. It returns us to an openhearted, present state, dissolving the veils that seem to separate us from the rest of the world. Loss after loss after loss happens to us on this planet, and most of us have not been allowed to feel the deep pain of them. Each loss not grieved then can harden a piece of the heart, send another wall up between us and the rest of creation. As we harden to the hurt we fear, we also harden to the joy that is possible. Crying shakes us open and keeps us current with things as they are by allowing us to move through the temporary pains of the past into the actuality of the present, back to a place of love .

Many of us as adults have lost our way back to our tears, even when the situation and our bodies call for them. As well, most have lost our knowledge of how to be with another in pain. We have learned mostly to stuff our tears or, if we still have the ability to cry, to cry alone. Inside we find a message from long ago that says there is something wrong with us if we are weeping. And if we do start to cry while sharing in another’s company, often we feel we should choke back the tears and keep on with the goal of talking. What would happen if we took a moment to cry and then resumed the conversation?

What if we let our hearts break, like a child does when she loses her first balloon, crying as if her poor tiny heart will break in two; breaking apart — feeling the wanting and feeling the loss — open-eyed, watching the parting? When we allow ourselves to stay in the experience of pain until we reach the bottom of our tears, we find our natural stopping point, and the return is complete. There is nothing stuffed into a dark closet to be frightened of later. The dark is our friend; it rejuvenates us. Experiencing pain and allowing it to shake us open restores our deep sense of connection to the heart of emptiness and thus the fullness of love.


(c) Copyright 2008, Jeannie Zandi, All rights reserved.
Originally published in The Sun Monthly, January, 2008.