In my last post, Why Don’t You Cry About It? Part 1: The Fear of Letting Go, I talked about how I took-on the belief that men aren’t supposed to cry, I outlined the many ways that my defense mechanisms have kept me numb, and I shared a call to action for men all over the world to wake up and re-learn how to express and release our feelings.
Today’s post is about how I am actively unlocking the power of tears in my life. It’s about what’s at stake if I choose to stay numb, and what’s possible if I choose to re-awaken my senses and feel the world again.
I invite you to read my story, knowing that each person’s path back to authentic emotional expression is unique. Yours might look very different from mine. And there’s no right or wrong way to do it. But it all begins with having the courage to be willing to push your boundaries and try something new.
I arrived at a little movie theater on Whidbey Island just after the sun set on a clear, brisk winter evening. Down the road, I could see gusts of wind shaping the cresting waves of the great Puget Sound. Soon, the new moon would rise above the swaying pine trees just beyond the village.
I walked up to the old ticket booth and caught eyes with the woman behind the glass. The film I had come to see was 12 Years A Slave, and I had chosen to come alone. I bought my ticket and walked in. Sitting down, I remembered all that I had heard about this film. It was “intense,” “overwhelming,” and “difficult to watch,” friends had told me. “But really important to see,” they had added. The lights dimmed.
At various moments during the film, I felt angry, sad, frustrated, ashamed, and overjoyed. By the end, my body was charged with all of these different feelings. When the final scene faded to black and the credits started rolling, I could feel my heart beating loudly. As the lights came up, everyone around me started talking with one another, standing up, and moving toward the exit. But not me. I was frozen in my seat.
Sitting in that chair, I knew I had a choice: I could jump back into my head and let my defense mechanisms deflect and diminish my feelings, as I’d always done before. Or, I could slow down and stay present to the feelings that were alive in my body. for once, I chose to stay.
I could feel tears welling up, heart racing, body shaking slightly as I released into sensation. And yet, my mind’s defenses were right there talking to me the whole time, desperately trying to pull me out of my body to ‘protect’ me against the vulnerability of my emotions. Again and again, I consciously chose to remain present to what I was feeling.
The more I breathed deeply, the more the feelings amplified. When I looked up again, I was suddenly alone. The theater was totally abandoned and silent. The melodic music from the credits had long since faded. I took one more breath as I slowly stood up, walking down the long aisle, out the old wooden doors, and into the black night.
Making it back to my apartment, I opened the door into the cold, empty living room. It was 55 degrees inside, but I didn’t turn on the heat or flip on the lights. Instead, I lit a small candle and sat in the middle of the room gazing into the silent darkness. I allowed myself to stay in my body, letting the feelings build up within me. More breaths, this time from a deeper place within. Suddenly, I felt a drop on my hand and realized that it was a tear.
As I continued to breath, I opened my mouth and started allowing myself to create sound. It felt forced, at first, but soon I couldn’t stop. I was giving voice to the feelings inside. Then I sort of naturally began exhaling sharply from my stomach, mimicking the felt-experience of weeping. Before I knew it, I wasn’t faking it anymore. I was there. Tears flowed down my face as I wept, kneeling in the middle of my living room. And they just kept coming, like waves crashing against the shore. I couldn’t control them, and yet I remained calm and present.
I cried for a long time, before finally opening my eyes and slowing my breath back to a normal rate. My whole body was humming, vibrating with sensation. Grounded. Powerful. I felt alive like never before. And something was lighter. So much of the tension in my chest that I had become accustomed to had lifted. I felt as if I had been holding my breath for years and that now I could finally breathe again. And I remember feeling a sense of absolute fearlessness.
In that moment, I was so clear about my life’s purpose and so grounded in the wholeness of my physical existence that I felt a sweeping sensation of love emanating from my core; literally overflowing out into the room around me. It was a fiercely passionate, fiery kind of love. The kind that is concerned with fairness, justice, and freedom.
The kind that enables a person to stand up for what they know is right, no matter how dangerous the circumstances. The kind of love that cherishes the audacious beauty and grace of humanity in the midst of the most inhumane circumstances. And the kind of love that is at the core of the man I aspire to be in the world; at the heart of who I truly am.
It felt really damn good to finally awaken that sleeping dragon within me, once more. To give it space for its fullest expression. To learn to trust my body and open my heart. I was born to transform this great fire in my chest into powerful, creative, healing work in the world. We all are. We’ve just had the shit beat out of us by a society that normalizes violence and necessitates emotional numbness and physical disembodiment.
It’s time we look within and remember who we truly are. We are powerful, sensitive, brilliant, embodied beings, capable of extraordinary feats of strength, intelligence, beauty, and creativity. These capacities are already within us, laying dormant beneath layers of ancient defenses that have kept us living small. Locked away with the feelings we learned to imprison deep inside us.
The key to unlocking the fullness of who we are lies in the power of our tears. It is rooted in our willingness to explore our personal edges, let go of our need for control, and just be with our feelings. As we begin the long journey of returning to our senses – of feeling the world again – we must also learn to move our feelings in healthy ways. Otherwise, the tension that builds within can throw us right back into numbness. Or worse.
It’s a scary thing to start feeling again. There is so much pain in this world, it can bring us to the very edge of our sanity. But there is also beauty. All around (and within) us. Beauty that gives meaning to our existence. Beauty that we cannot see when we do not feel. Beginning to rediscover this beauty, now, is one of the most incredible experiences of my life. And, as I continue to reclaim the power of tears, I know I’ll be able to navigate the pain that inevitably accompanies it.
But right now, all I am present to is a deep feeling of joy humming in my heart, just like it was that night in my dark apartment. The joy of knowing that I am unlocking more passion, more confidence, and more love each time I choose to stay present with my breath, with my body, and with my feelings. The joy of feeling alive again.
I would never have guessed that these tears, which i’ve associated with so much pain, would also be the source of my greatest power. But it’s real. I’ve experienced it. And I’m never looking back.
With fierce loving compassion,
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Beautiful pieces, Dan, both of them. You powerfully describe the impact of “the boy code” that we all (well, most of us) learn during our pre-adolescent years, refine (or refuse to) during our teens, and (if we are like you) begin to deconstruct during young adulthood. It took me many years before I could reach the place you are standing now. When I was growing up during the forties and fifties, the influence of World War Two was overwhelming. Almost all of our fathers had been “in the war,” and returned locked inside emotional armor that imprisoned most of them for the rest of their lives. Many of us blamed our fathers for having been “emotionally absent,” but they came by it honestly. What we now know as PTSD was the armor they developed as a defense against unbearable reality, and it infected the entire culture. What we learned from the boy code was simply assumed to be a life lesson in being male. I was in my late thirties before I even recognized that tears could be a good thing–and still only in private. It was not until I learned that, as Robert Bly used to say, “grief is the way into feelings for men,” that I began to soften half a lifetime of armor and to move again.
Beautiful, Larry! Thank you for sharing these heartfelt insights, discovered over a lifetime. It is truly a gift to even imagine doing this work in my life right now. And it’s only possibly because of those, like you and Bly, who came before and lead the way. Let’s keep growing and evolving the movement, together~
The beauty of your writing……….the sheer giving up………of so much inside you…….so congruent with your passion for right and good……..truly functional………
Your effort is surely a game changer for men ……and therefore, the basic nest for men and women as well. It introduces a fertile ground for true loving partnership rather than ‘capture’….for both sides.
would love to explore this more with you in person.
I am overjoyed at witnessing you selfrealizing ~ so truly powerful ~~~ the strength in softness.
With much love and elevation, my friend,
Thank you for these beautiful words/reflections, Norm Jean. Very resonant! Yes – much love to you, too~
Beautiful. I also highly recommend Francis Weller’s work on grief work as a path to true joy. There’s lots of interviews with him online. Start with the five (or four) gates to grief.