The Restorative Power of Tears

The Restorative Power of Tears

When we assume that an emotion is negative or unwholesome, we strand ourselves from the life-giving impact that it could have for us. Such distancing can be draining—we use up a significant amount of life energy when we cage, muzzle, or otherwise suppress an emotion.

The more we label our difficult emotions as negative, the greater the odds are that we’ll tend to overvalue our “positive” emotions, making too much of a virtue out of being happy, upbeat, optimistic. We may try extra hard to be nice; we may become driven about positive thinking—trying to affirm our way into a more abundant life. Or we may try to camouflage the lines on our face that indicate anything less than happiness. We may buy into sunny-side-up spirituality (leaving ourselves with egg on our face and a big bill). We may confuse emotional flatness with equanimity and emotional dissociation with transcendence; we may try to be nonjudgmental, forgetting that judging comes with having a mind. And we may get negative about our negativity!

The pressure to be positive cuts us off from our darkness and its riches, including what can be mined from becoming intimate with our difficult emotions and the negative states into which we may funnel or enlist them.

By turning toward your painful emotions—especially those you tend to label as negative—you will start to feel a more embodied sense of wholeness, a sense of internalized reunion and communion. Instead of abandoning or trying to transcend what is unwanted, disowned, ostracized, or otherwise cast aside in you, you can include it in your being, intimately, until it is no longer a distant “it” but rather a reclaimed you.

The Importance of Crying

Crying ought not to be something we outgrow. Deeply felt tears can be profoundly healing—at any age.

Crying keeps us from drying out. It is easy to slip into aridity, hardening ourselves against the painful or hurtful aspects of life. We may find a certain safety in such ossification, greening our deserts of abstraction with oases of distraction, but still sadness stirs in us. We can put a lid on it or keep it in our darkest recesses, but still it arises, calling for our attention, our care, our recognition. The more we suppress crying, the shallower our lives become.

The most painful part of crying is right before its onset. As soon as our tears are flowing and our throat is open, we hurt less, unless we’re fighting and tightening up against our undammed tears. Even if waves of deeper hurt arrive once we’ve begun weeping—as when the details of a betrayal freshly seize us—the pain pulses through us with less obstruction than before our crying started. There is hurt, but it is the hurt of contracted tissues expanding and stretching from the pressure of what’s seeking to flow through us; the more we resist it, the more it hurts. When we don’t resist it, the sheer pain of it subsides fairly quickly.


Generate a sad face. Breathe more deeply, close your eyes, and remember a time or times when you felt especially sad as a child. Let that memory fill you, examining it in as much detail as possible and feeling it with your whole body. If possible, place your body in the position it was in at that remembered time. Feel your body as if you were that age. Notice how your heart feels, your throat, your mouth, your tummy, your back. Is there anything you feel like saying? What might you say if it were entirely safe to do so? Keep your face in sad mode, eyes still closed, without any pressure to cry. If some tears come, fine, and if not, no problem!

Let your tears come, and not necessarily quietly. Let them flow, flood, storm; let them shake and wake you. Let your whole body cry, weep, sob. Drop below any shame you might have about crying so openly, letting your heart break, knowing that what is breaking is not your heart but its energetic encasement. If you feel like a child or infant as you cry, let it be; keep your mind out of it. We have so much unattended hurt, so much muted sorrow, so much life force tied up in keeping our tears, new and old, from fully surfacing. But surface they must, if we are to truly come alive.

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