Crying. “Honouring Our Pain.”

<written March 19/10>

When I was a child, my older siblings used to call me a “crybaby.” They were right; I was! Of course, they teased me unmercifully & delighted in making me cry. Ah well, eh? They had their reasons for resenting me, hmm? Families are complicated critters…

Eventually, & it took me a humiliating-to-admit number of years, I finally learned to not cry in the face of the teasing. I became “tough.” Being tough – & resilient – is good, on the whole, I think, & my toughness & resilience have served me well, & will very likely continue to do so.

But we are human beings, are we not? Along with our toughness, our thick skins, we need to be able to feel deeply in order to be truly human. (Perhaps if we all felt more – allowed more deep & disturbing feelings in, there would be fewer wars & less violence in general, hmm? Oh there I go again – always aiming for the stars; don’t mind me…)

I do know I’ve been learning again to cry, & how good it makes me feel afterward. The old (or more recent) scars & wounds are still there, but magically, the pain of them is vastly diminished. I feel lighter. Free-er.

Joanna Macy says we need to “honour our pain.”(1) When we simply “stuff” it – push it down, pretend it isn’t there, it sickens us from the in-side out. Dulls us. Saps our energy.

Lots of us harbour plenty of old pain. Childhood wounds. Relationship heartbreaks. Ancient resentments. It’s good to let loose all this old…shit. Let the pus out of the wound(s), as it were. A good cry – even a wrenching howling session – would probably do wonders for most of us!

As Macy & John Seed learned in their despair & empowerment work, we actually free up energy when we speak out loud about our fears & our despair.

In Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa,(2) a book I’m reading at the moment, author Antjie Krog talks about the tears of a woman testifying in front of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose crying has a huge impact on those who hear her testimony. Krog says “The academics say pain destroys language and this brings about an immediate reversion to a prelinguistic state – and to witness that cry was to witness the destruction of language…was to realize that to remember the past of this country is to be thrown back into a time before language. And to get that memory, to fix it in words, to capture it with the precise image, is to be present at the birth of language itself. But more practically, this particular memory at last captured in words can no longer haunt you, push you around, bewilder you, because you have taken control of it – you can move it wherever you want to. So maybe this is what the commission is all about – finding words for that cry of Nomonde Calata.”(3)

When I re-read those words, I came/come close to tears myself (confession: I still don’t cry very easily). So many people I know had (I pause as I write this, looking for the definitive adjective)…awful…horrid…painful…nasty…soul-destroying things happen to them in their childhoods. Some of us can recall & articulate some of these so-painful things. Many have spent a lifetime repressing the memories (which chews up a fair chunk of our energy & vitality, as it happens).

Women often seem more able to articulate & thus wrestle with these ancient wounds, whereas men are often unable to do so. (For a variety of good reasons! I recommend that everyone on the planet read the book Becoming the Kind Father – A Son’s Journey(4) in order to understand why so many men have so much trouble getting in touch with their feelings & their pain. It’s a wonderful, wonderful practical & compassionate book.)

We don’t & really cannot let the pain & baggage go until we articulate it.

It is such a catharsis to say out loud something like (in my own case, to make this very personal indeed & no, I had no intention of saying this when I sat down to write this; the words are simply flying right off the end of my pen!) “My father didn’t give a rat’s ass about me.”

I can say that now with so much less emotional freight attached to it (& no, as it happens, that isn’t the only childhood wound, there was other stuff too. But for me, that was the most crushing thing, the one I pushed down the hardest, for sooooooooo many decades…).

Phew. Didn’t know that’s where this little essay was heading!?

Well. Your friendly local anarchist (that’s me!) says, have a good old wrenching cry from time to time. It will make you feel ever so much better.

As Joanna Macy advises, we need to honour our pain.(5) This does not make us weaker, it actually makes us stronger. More resilient. Maybe even a little more fierce…but in a good way, I think….

Flonda Scott Maxwell said, “You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”

Reality is a little fierce these days. I reckon we need to be a little fierce to wrestle with it! (Fierce, but kind. Compassionate. Caring. Active…)


p.s. There are two authors who write wonderfully well & whose wise & compassionate words help unleash the tears for me when I know I need to cry but the tears aren’t coming. Rachel Naomi Remen’s awesome book Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories That Heal is … awesome!! The essay called “In Flight” will do it for me every time… Elizabeth Lesser is another emotion-unlocker for me (you must read Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow). I swear by both these books & their respective writers. I wrote about my introduction to Ms. Lesser in the essay “Lonely & Terrified: Just Another Bozo on the Bus.”

p.p.s. I’ve been “sitting on” this essay, but figured it was time to post it. Weeks after writing it, I’ve now come in contact with two books by Alice Miller – hooey!! Did these books ever jump into my arms! & right at the right time. From Rage to Courage and The Body Never Lies – The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting. Haven’t read the 2nd one yet, but am sure looking forward to it!

'Quote of the Day' with this post: “The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are.” – Joseph Campbell


(1) There are several posts on this blog about Joanna Macy, a Buddhist scholar/writer & activist I greatly admire.

(2) Times Books/ Random House, 1998. Such a great book!!

(3) Pages 53 – 57.

(4) Becoming the Kind Father – A Son’s Journey, Calvin Sandborn, New Society Publishers, 2007.

(5) Embracing Pain - 4-minute Tim Wilson film featuring Joanna Macy. You can find it here