Saturday, January 15, 2011

In the long run

Photo courtesy of
Bing images
Tears.  Crying.  The two words usually strike mortal terror in the hearts of most people.  At the very least, they cause discomfort when witnessed.  I have a habit of filing away little tidbits of thoughts in my Drafts section of Healing Morning blog for future reference.  I leave them there, sometimes for months on end, waiting for those thoughts to percolate and sift through my mind before coming together in a cohesive concept for a blog post. 

Several years ago, there was a commercial for some facial tissue company on television.  It was an unlikely "man on the street" scenario of a set of big easy chairs on a busy city street, backed by a pretty park.  The concept was for everyday people to sit down and discuss their reasons for using that particular facial tissue.  Since these tissues are most often used to stem and blot tears, these commercials concentrated on that topic.  One woman's comment stuck with me.  Paraphrased here, it was something along these lines:

"Yes, I cry.  I'm not afraid to admit it.  I will cry again, many times in the future.  But my tears do not diminish me, or weaken me.  They make me stronger in the long run."
What a powerful statement, yes?!  I found it so refreshing, as the general consensus of crying openly is looked upon as showing signs of weakness.  I have never agreed with that particular consensus and am more inclined to agree with the statement above.  When, in the hazy mists of the past, did it become standard choice to equate tears with weakness? 

From a good health standpoint, crying is a cathartic release and is much healthier for our bodies than stuffing down our feelings and ignoring sharp emotions.  Doing so can lead to all manner of health concerns, ranging from migraine headaches, to high blood pressure, ulcers, skin disorders, digestive problems, autonomic nervous system disorders such as arthritis and more.  Yet we persist in doing that very thing...suppressing genuine emotions like sadness, physical and emotional pain, fatigue. 

Another piece of this current puzzle I've been piecing together fell into place last week while I was watching one of the cable news stations.  A brief story ran mentioning that men who are exposed to women's tears for more than three minutes' time experience a dramatic, albeit temporary, drop in testosterone levels.  I found this to be of profound logic.  Think about it:  testosterone is the hormone which governs that "manly man" alpha male persona.  It also governs aggression, physical energy and sexual drive, and is an integral part of the biological makeup of man.  Women also have this hormone, although in much smaller amounts. 

What I found riveting about this study was the simple fact that merely witnessing a woman's tears causes this brief dip in testosterone levels. This would, in turn, soften that man's normally stoic demeanor, allowing him to offer comfort more easily.  Certainly most men readily admit that seeing a woman cry makes them extremely uncomfortable.  They don't know how to deal with tears, as the main requirement, as all women know, is not a physical act.  It is being present emotionally.  Men do much better with actions.  They want to identify the enemy and go out and bash its brains in, then they feel they've conquered and addressed the issue at hand. While this is somewhat of a stereotyping scenario, I am talking in general terms here, so I think stereotyping is acceptable in this sense. Tears, literally, "unman" men.  I don't necessarily find this a negative, to be honest.  I find it quite interesting that this chemical reaction was built into our physiologies.  God/Universe/Spirit, in that infinite wisdom, somehow knew there would be those moments when blazing testosterone wouldn't get the job accomplished, so a way was created to reduce that hormone, however momentarily, and allow for softer emotions and a more gentle approach to occur.

And obviously, this was a one-sided study, with only the chemical reaction of men being studied.  I daresay that women have some sort of chemical reaction when being exposed to tears as well. 

Tears are part of life.  We are emotional creatures, after all.  We feel...and in doing so, we experience and we grow.  Tears can be induced by a wide range of emotions.  Sadness, fear, pain, happiness, surprise, raw grief, nervousness, extreme hilarity....they can all prompt tears.  I have read some fascinating studies that revealed that different chemicals exist in different tears.  A study I watched on a television show over 20 years ago showed that subjects who watched sad movies had a high concentration of oxytocin in their tears.  Oxytocin, as most of us know, is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for maternal and partner bonding.  Not surprisingly, tears prompted by anger had higher content of testosterone.  Tears prompted by laughter had higher levels of serotonin.  In light of these findings, it is dramatically clear how truly healthy shedding tears really is.

I admit that I'm not a fan of crying in business settings.  I don't want to be viewed as weak or helpless in that environment, so it is very rare that I succumb to tears in the workplace.  Even though I know that some people can't help reacting to stressful situations with tears, it is a harsh truth that this reaction is viewed as exhibiting weakness.  This is unfortunate, but it is a widespread unspoken attitude in the business world.  No small surprise, then, that so many people in the corporate world suffer from heart disease, obesity, and a whole host of other maladies that are exacerbated by that stuffing down of genuine emotions.

Am I saying I never cry at inappropriate times?  Of course not.  I do it fairly often.  I'm the biggest softhearted thing walking the planet, because some of the most random things will make me tear up.  Hearing our National Anthem will do it instantly.  Watching the Olympics and seeing our athletes win a medal is another one.  Goofball moments of absurdity with friends will have those tears of hilarity streaming. Commercials on TV can sucker punch me without warning.  Songs on the radio, or the fragrance of a perfume or cologne worn by someone I love who has passed, old photographs, walking in the mountains, seeing someone in my family smile...the list is endless.  I have no problem at all with those types of tears.  And I agree with the lady in that commercial I mentioned at the beginning of this tears do not diminish me.  They make me stronger in the long run.

Logic indicates that that commercial was slickly produced by a savvy marketing and advertising firm, with actors carefully chosen and scripts thoughtfully written to tug at our heartstrings and produce a memorable snippet.  It worked, as I've remembered that commercial for a good ten years now.  The fact that it was a manufactured moment doesn't take away from the strong truth of the statement above.  Tears are not a sign of weakness, not 100% of the time.  And even if they are, that's not necessarily a negative or reason to condemn.  It is not possible for every person to be strong every single waking moment of their life.  Balance.  I come back to that word constantly.  Balance and contrast.  Without them, we would be one dimensional, flat personalities with no depth, no color, no flair or richness to differentiate us, one from another.

So, I will take tears as a part of the price paid to be that richly textured human being.  I will smile at the fact that there is genuine beauty in a woman's tears casting a brief softening effect in the hearts of men.  There are balancing moments where a man's traits complement us as women in equally profound ways.  While obviously it is just as unhealthy to dwell eternally in a tearful state as it is to eternally suppress tears, I think there is a way to find balance here.  Simply being aware of the results of this interesting case study shines light on the fact that tears are meant to be shed, and are meant to have an effect, both on the person shedding those tears, as well as on the people nearby.

It bears repeating: 

Tears do not diminish me.  They make me stronger in the long run.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

By any other name

Photo courtesy of
Bing images
The New Year always brings reflection and contrast to mind.  There's the typical frenzied rush to start up gym memberships, to start new diets, and to make those exhausting resolutions.  I have talked enough about the fact that I choose to not make New Year's resolutions.  What I have been giving a lot of thought to these past several days, is outward trappings.  I've also written a great deal about this very thing in past blog posts, talking about social masks that we incorporate into our daily existence.

We always compare.  There's this thing we do, and it's called "comparing our insides to other peoples' outsides".  Meaning that we compare and find fault with ourselves.  We're comparing what we feel inside to the nice, shiny, spiffed up social mask that someone else is wearing, failing to remember that those people are doing the same thing...that they're feeling insecurities on the inside as well.

Shakespeare said it quite well, I think:

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
We can pretty ourselves up, buy beautiful clothing, use fancy cosmetics, hair styles, hair color....even choose plastic surgery, to change our outward appearance.  We can change our name, change our location, reinvent ourselves and try new career paths.  It is human nature to want to feel and look our best.  We're given this one physical body, this one physical vehicle, after all, so of course we want to feel good in it. 

Wouldn't it be dramatic, if, one day we all woke up and found the face and body that greets us in the mirror to be truly beautiful?  I think of how my family and friends view me.  We all know that through the eyes of love, beauty is always what is beheld.  The true test, then, is to shower ourselves with that same love.  That's the tricky part, yes?

Loving self.  What a concept.  And what a difficult objective.  I focus on this as a daily goal, loving myself and accepting myself.  I also admit to not quite meeting the mark on a regular basis.  There is an absolutely breathtaking Scripture that has always brought tears to my eyes on this concept:

Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  - Luke 12:27
This passage in the Christian Bible is one that I have always found to have such strong, straightforward good sense to it.  We spend so much time worrying about those outward trappings, when in reality, we are imperfect and flawed in the most beautiful manner.  I have said many times that I find perfection to be rather static and sterile, and that I much prefer that which is unique and flawed.  That would describe every Soul walking the earth today...we are all unique and flawed.  I think it is those imperfections and quirks that give each of us our own particular brightness. 

Do I mean by this post that we should all stop attempting to better ourselves, or stop wishing for more?  Absolutely not! Dreams and striving for better is another thing that makes us beautiful.  Mankind is meant to evolve.  To grow, to smooth off rough edges, to expand, to pursue new experiences.  There is, however, valor in standing still and contemplating, for short or long periods of time, just being.  Simply that.  Like the lilies of the field....just being who we are.  Without ornamentation, without artifice, without social masks or anything to detract from the purity of who we really are.

Is this possible to actually do?  I think it is.  I see myself this way in the eyes of those who love me.  I have also been given the gift of seeing myself through the eyes of a stranger (One Wish, Healing Morning, 12/15/2009).  I see myself each morning as I meditate and make a conscious effort to be still, be in a quiet moment with myself and God/Universe/Spirit.  I see myself clearly in moments of anger where I react in a manner that I am not proud of, and these moments definitely help me polish up those rough edges quickly!  I see myself in my work....when I write something that I am happy with and proud of, it gives me a moment of such pure clarity that my Soul simply resonates and sings.  I see myself in my hopes and dreams for a better future, both for myself and the people I love, as well as for the world at large. 

It is a complex mix, this thing we call the true Self.  Countless books have been written on the psychology of it all.  We can make it difficult or simple, and on any given day, just existing can be both of those.  Yet the commonality is that we are, in essence, energy.  Light, housed in a physical form.  Always working to find a moment of peace, of happiness, sometimes working so hard at this that we lose sight that it shouldn't be difficult at all!

Photo courtesy of
Bing images
Look at that rose.  Or that lily.  Take the names and labels and pedigrees away, and they are simply flowers in a field, growing and beautiful by their very nature.  Is it so hard to grasp this concept and apply it to ourselves?  It seems it should be very easy to achieve.  The reality is that life is busy and we rarely slow down long enough to even contemplate such a thought.  I, of course, contemplate these types of thoughts often, because it's just the way my mind works.  It's the way I see the world...through a filter where, to me, beauty is a constant. 

The thought that we are everything that we need to be, at this moment, both inside and out, is an arresting one.  That which we call the Creator knows this, knew this before we were even born into this physical existence.  The disconnect comes from our own minds and thoughts.  Pondering this concept for this article has reminded me that it really is very simple.  Stop.  Breathe.  Be still and look within.  Quiet your mind, cease everything for a short time, and absorb the fact that at this moment, you truly are imperfectly perfect.  You are not lacking.  You are not less than anything or anyone. You are all that you should be, right at this moment.  In the eyes of others, and on a cosmic level, you are a blinding light of pure energy that is stunning to behold.  You are that any other name.  You are that lily, clad in raiment that is unique to you, and as such, you are balanced and in harmony.  It is a strong, clear thought to embrace today and everyday in the future.