I’ve cried two times in public this week.
Not like a single, tasteful tear either. I’m talking several tears, displayed shamelessly in front of strangers.
The first time was in Yoga. We were headed into Savasana (which for all of you yoga-newbs is the final resting pose, i.e. time to just lay on your back contemplating your existance) and the instructor was talking about gratitude. She spoke about true thankfulness to our bodies, for carrying us through life and enduring all the hardship that entails. And as someone who has critiqued and torn apart every part of my body at various times over the years, I was overwhelmed by that statement. I felt gratitude wash over me, for my health and for the vessel that I was given to carry my soul. So…tears.
The second time was in church. The song that kicked off the service was just so beautiful and spiritual. Everyone had their hands up (including me because I’m definitely cheesy like that) and I was moved by the emotion and energy of the room. It stuck to my skin like a cool fog of grace and love. And again…tears.
These two events are not isolated occurrences either. Since I decided to embrace the “Feel what you need to feel” motto I have expressed a lot of emotion in a multitude of settings.
I’ve cried and cracked up on the train. I’ve vented to strangers on planes. I’ve danced in the pouring rain. I’ve blasted 90s punk music and jumped around the living room. I’ve held books to my chest with my eyes closed to take in a passage that just intoxicated me. I’ve randomly grabbed my friends in embraces and told them how much I love and appreciate them. I’ve cried out in anger. I’ve stopped mid-run to sit in the woods and stare at the sky. I’ve opened my heart. I’ve spilled my secrets. I’ve let myself be wide open.
I decided to do this because the act of trying to dull my feelings was just far too exhausting and debilitating to maintain. It did nothing but conquer up feelings of misplaced shame and guilt, just for being myself. I also realized that I only subscribed to the belief because it was something other people tried to force upon me, not because it was good for me.
Even if you aren’t the most naturally expressive person in the entire world, I’m sure you can relate to this affliction on some level.
From a young age, societal forces convince us that emotion is a weakness, a human frailty you’re supposed to repress.
So, we hold ourselves back. We deafen our senses, silence our cries and stuff everything we feel so deep inside of ourselves that we clog up like an artery about to combust. We become ticking time-bombs for mental breakdowns, anxiety attacks and harmful habitual coping mechanisms. Instead of embracing fear, rage, devastation, joy and desire, we try to convince ourselves they don’t exist.
But they do. And it’s OK that they do. They’re supposed to.
Feelings are the sustenance of your soul. You need them to survive. And without them, you starve.
You can’t fill the places in your heart intended for deep emotion with superficial, short-term and shallow substitutes.
No amount of Instagram likes will ever eliminate loneliness or deep-rooted insecurities. No amount of money or professional prestige will ever quiet the screams of unresolved grief. No amount of frequent flyer miles from lavish trips abroad will help you run away from heartbreak, rejection or abandonment. Losing your ability to process and confront your most challenging emotions only makes you feel more lost.
And if feelings are the food of the soul, then relationships are the dinner table to which they are set and shared.
Feelings need to be shared. They need to be experienced with the people that you care about, or even just strangers who share a similar imprint on their own souls and can bring you a remarkable amount of comfort and solace. Your story needs to be heard. Your grievances need to be aired. Your fears need to be witnessed. Your most exhilarating joys need to be shouted from the rooftops.
You are in fact entitled to an audience, even if that audience is simply one best friend, your mom, the God you pray to or heck, even just yourself. At the bare minimum, you deserve to be your own audience.
And I know that seems inherent. Of course, you would bear witness to your own emotions…right? Well, no. The reality is that we don’t always listen to our own hearts. Sometimes we even lie to ourselves about how we are feeling, because we convince ourselves it’s easier that way.
But it isn’t. It’s never easier. This I can tell you for certain.
So how does this choice to embrace your emotions, and wear them openly on your sleeve like treasured battle wounds, change your life?
Well, I can tell you how it’s impacted me. (And keep in mind I was already pretty high on the “express yo self” spectrum before this realization, so just the mindset in itself can be all you need to feel the difference.)
Welcoming all of my emotions, the good, bad and the ugly, has brought me an immeasurable amount of inner peace. They’re an accepted house guest in my mind. Instead of opening the door begrudgingly and divvying them up to different rooms of my home, trying to figure how I can avoid them in the hallways, I welcome them with open arms.
I bring them in the door and sit down with them for a hot cup of tea. We chat about why they’re taking residence in my heart and mind. I try to understand them. I make an effort to experience them. They become a friend to me, even if they cause me pain. Because I know there’s a reason they’re there.
This analogy makes me feel sort of like I’ve stepped into the animated movie “Inside Out,” but you get the picture. When you stop ignoring the way you feel, you start to better understand yourself. And when you start to better understand yourself, you become far more confident, courageous and self-aware.
You also become a better friend, partner, family member, etc. Expressing gratitude, love, longing, admiration and pride for the people in your life can sometimes fall into the ‘too much emotion’ bucket that society tries relentlessly to remind you of. When I started going out of my way to tell the people I cared about how much they meant to me, it made those relationships a hundred times stronger. That action alone rooted me to my life, and to the community of incredible people I had in it, in a way I hadn’t felt since adolescence.
Showing how you feel brings you closer to everything you experience in this world.
It helps unclog the stuffed up emotional arteries I mentioned earlier.
For me, instead of repressing my fears, frustrations, anxieties and sadnesses over and over until I imploded, I started to let them out right away, and not just to one person or in one way, but in many.
I shared them with friends, family, colleagues and teammates. I wrote about them. I cried or laughed or prayed. I sat in front of the Hudson with my headphones in and let myself feel them. I took them in waves. I still do. If I feel like I need to leave a room and go take a serious breather, I do. If I feel like I need to rant, I go for it. If I feel like I need to be alone, or need to be surrounded by people, I make plans to reflect each desire.
I sleep when I’m tired, cry when I’m sad, laugh when I’m happy, yell when I’m angry and beam with light when I’m feeling grateful and confident. I don’t mix them up and falsely match once reaction with its incorrect partner. I let it happen, and I feel so satisfied with myself for that.
So lastly, the most amazing thing this mindset can bring into your life is what happened for me next; self-acceptance.
Not only does expressing yourself openly and without hesitation help you process your emotions in a healthy way, but it also grants you internal peace with your life and sense of self. It makes you feel like it’s OK to be who you are. It makes the hard times and the good times in your life appear so much more vibrant and genuine. It makes them thoughtfully constructed components of the blueprint of your life, because you know how the emotions they brought you changed you for the better.
You chose to experience those feelings the way you needed to, and that’s unbelievably empowering.
Of course, making this change is scary on many levels. But it’s worth it. It does wonders for your mental health, relationships and self-image.
It shakes you. It serves you. It saves you.
The power you’ve always needed to conquer the most terrifying emotions of this world with grace and fortitude lies within you. Within your heart. So grab ahold of that power, and throw it up into the sky like a firework. Let it burst, and stand beneath the shiny fire like the unrivaled force that you are in your own life.
As for me, I’ll keep crying at yoga and laughing with strangers on the train, lighting up my own little spark each time, right there with you.