3 + LESSON: Acknowledging our Tears

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We can imagine what we might learn if as babies our subtle signals were not acknowledged or understood.

Our eye-rubbing. Our hand-nomming. And we can imagine how we might feel if our un-subtle signals, our cries, our wailing, our screams were also misunderstood or ignored.

It doesn’t feel good as an adult either.

As adults when we cry sometimes people can be incredibly unhelpful or hurtful. Shaming, pointing and laughing, telling someone to suck it up, these aren’t so good. But even the well-meaning friend or friendly stranger sometimes misses the point.

And by misses the point I mean, we fail to acknowledge that most of the time, crying is communication.

Wouldn’t it be strange if a baby started crying and instead of checking their diaper or seeing if they were hungry, we skipped straight to hush, hush, calm down? It’s okay. Stop crying. Calm down. Breathe.

Soothing doesn’t mean saying stop. Soothing is listening to try to discover the need, and if possible to meet the need, and if not possible then to at least acknowledge the need and give comfort. Saying “calm down” is not comforting, it’s a command and one that may be very difficult to comply with if we’re upset to the point that we’re crying!

The other way adults often miss the point when crying with each other is by assuming the person crying “needs space.” I’ve actually been at spiritual gatherings or bodywork trainings where attending someone who was crying was forbidden. There was an assumption that a crying adult must be venting and should be allowed to vent until spent, given space to “let it all out.”

It’s true. Some cries are venting and maybe we’ve been hushed too many times or shamed for shedding tears, and being allowed to cry and thrash without anyone batting an eye can be very healing. At the same time, comforting doesn’t have to be suppressing. Instead of “Calm down” we can offer words like “It’s okay to cry.” “I’m listening.” and “Take as much time as you need.” Instead of immediately hugging and hushing someone we can say, “Please take my hand if you want.” or “If you want a hug I’m right here.”

But we’ve been framing this so far as an interaction between people.

What if we’re alone? What if we are being ignored? Then it’s time for Spiritwork.

You need to offer your arms to that frightened, hungry, upset, uncomfortable little one inside of you. Hold yourself. Listen to yourself. How many of the things we just discussed as missing the mark have you done to yourself? Told yourself to stop crying. Told yourself you need to calm down. Failed to really listen to what’s going on in favor of finding some means of silencing the tears. Giving yourself “space” to wail and panic until you’re too exhausted to continue. Generally, if the cry was venting it would deplete itself and we would feel relief afterwards, hence the term, relieving ourselves. If when we’re done we just feel exhausted and numb, it probably wasn’t venting.

No matter whether you’ve ever been nurtured by another person a day in your life, you can nurture yourself. No matter if you’ve only ever been completely dependant on the care of others, you can nurture yourself.

Your spirit is capable of embodying multiple identities. You can be babyself and care-giving-self. You can listen and become the interpreter and understander of all of your different cries. Am I hungry? For what? Exhausted? In Pain? Where does it hurt? We can be patient asking questions, not trying to get “answers” but trying to help discover answers. If we had simple answers, we probably wouldn’t be crying. “You’re rubbing your chest. Is it your heart? Does your heart hurt? Yes? Where in your heart does it hurt?”

Sometimes we’re scared to go there. To ask where it hurts, because one thing we learn in life is that we will bear many hurts for which there are no easy solutions. If only it all stayed as simple as wet diapers and bottles. When a loved one dies… where is the salve for that? When we’ll never be able to touch them again. Never again feel their warmth.

When we’re exhausted, and we know it, but we have to work two jobs to feed our family. When we’re going to vote and petition and rally, but we still feel powerless to stop the wars, suffering, and hatred in the world. What if there’s no fixing it? Why look at it if it won’t go away? If it won’t change anything?

Because if we know what hurts, even if we can’t fix it, we can give comfort. Not telling ourselves to calm down, but real comfort. The kind that makes us stronger. That gives us the courage to take the next step, to get back up, and to keep going.