When I worked at the community clinic in Massachusetts I had a piece of paper posted on the wall with this quotation, "In yoga, crying is the highest devotional song." It was important for me to impress upon others that tears are welcome with me, that crying is a healthy action for processing joy and grief, and that there is something sacred about our tears. Occasionally after an especially tearful session, I would point to the quote and say that our session was truly productive and an honor to partake in. Yesterday my son and I were talking about crying, focusing on what crying is like after having been actively engaged in healing our inner worlds and learning to express emotion in a healthy manner. He was able to describe his experience with the elusive quality that emerges when our tears bring us from a place of sadness into a sense of joy. I have written about this in a passing way previously, but I have a desire to share my thoughts in more detail.
Years ago, after I had been engaged in psychotherapy and practicing meditation for a few years, my therapist asked me where my sadness was. That moment is frozen in time for me, when I had an awakening about who I am and about how my history had impacted my inner world and sense of self. In that moment I realized that the constant sense of background sadness I had carried with me all my life was gone. I had described myself as sad for as long as I could remember (inside this was an inner grounding) and in that moment I knew I could no longer say or think this of myself. Suddenly, it was clear that if I wasn't a sad person, who was I? All this being said, it seems obvious that I have cried "my share" of tears during this lifetime. Tears rush readily to my eyes when I am moved emotionally. Years ago, my tears often felt heavy within me, an endless stream that seemed to flow too readily. It wasn't until my mid thirties that I found that endless stream drying up, feeling less heavy. By the time I had reached my early forties I had experienced a dark night of the soul passage, a time when my latent sadness washed fully through me and I found myself on the other side of that internal well of tears; I had flushed out the residual sadness during that final passage.
After that time, crying became a more infrequent experience and it held an altered quality to it. Now my tears come rushing readily and with great force, the expression of whatever loss or frustration brings them on seems to pass readily as I cry. And somewhere along the way I began to have an altogether new experience of crying. There would be times when I would cry for a particular loss, the tears intense and the release profound. Through that release, as I stayed with the emptying experience, I would find myself moving more deeply into my being and sensing a more expansive emotional state just beyond the edge of that sadness. That deeper emotional state became some elusive mixture of intense grief and immense joy, a portal into an expansive sense of being, a touching of the greatness of human life, beyond this physical experience. My tears can lead me into a state of more than myself and yet the fullness of me. My personal loss or loneliness or fear becomes a universal sense of loss and joy as well as a fullness of the emotional experience of purely existing.
Beyond our individual tears and losses there exists an energy of common connection through the emotional experiences of being human. Often we can sense this as we emotionally tune into others emotional state automatically. We are empathic beings, meaning we have the capacity to feel others feelings. Some of us have this ability more strongly and intensely than others. I consider this a gift, although it took me many years to realize this and begin to utilize my gift in service to both myself and others. I love to help others recognize and utilize their own strengths in this empathic process of being.
In our culture, we are rarely encouraged to cry. Often we have been conditioned to hold tears back, to suppress emotion and to distract ourselves from fully processing our feelings well. As we choose to become healthy and emotionally strong and functional, we must learn to cry. Through crying we allow the fullness of feeling and experiencing our losses, often releasing our pent-up emotional content from earlier years of life when we may not have had the safe place to process our sadness. As we release old sadness and pain, we free ourselves internally for sensing the deeper joy of this release. We lighten our day-to-day experiences by no longer carrying old hurts into every interaction we have. We unbind ourselves from the emotional conditioning that may have been passed on to us from the generations before, when our ancestors were less educated about emotional and mental health. Many of us descend from populations of people who misused guilt and anger, that were frustrated by their own emotions and confused about how to do anything differently. How fortunate we are to live in a time when the knowledge of how to do it differently is readily available. Still, we must seek that knowledge and commit to the process of learning new and healthy habits.
Beyond our inner hurts and any unshed tears, we find the joy of living. As I consider the idea that crying is the highest devotional song, I think about how my tears can now bring me into a state of communion with the universal flow. I think about the years and energy I devoted to my inner healing, to comforting and caring for me. I am so happy now that I was willing to courageously face my inner pain and sadness, move beyond it and find an inner light that is always shining. And so today, I find new meaning in the idea of crying as a high devotional song. It is like a prayer of comfort, a call to heal and allow the humanness of the moment. In it, we can find the tears of joy as well as pain, discovering that the difference barely exists.