Some people have noticed in recent days that there is an overflow of emotions that they express and see in others. Just as Joseph cries and Issac and Sarah laugh in our Torah, so too, we can exhibit the overflow of emotion at times of struggle and also in our lives when things are ‘normal.’ We are born crying, if we’re healthy. As babies, we yawn several times a day. After a couple of months we can also smile and laugh. When we learn how to speak we often talk on and on in an elevated and excited way. When we rage sometimes our whole body shakes. When we were little, we do not inhibit ourselves. Yet some cultural aspects in our families and society oppress these shows of emotion and we learn to hold ourselves ‘together.’ I think it keeps us apart though, from our fullest selves and from each other.
I have already heard with dismay one of my children say, ‘I wanted to cry in class but I didn’t want to be embarrassed so I held it back.’ So perhaps we save our tears for being alone but the act of crying in front of another can help us feel less alone and can even help the other to feel the same. The other day in the hospital ward, I was with a lady who was born in Israel. Due to her condition, communication was challenged. I asked her if I could play her some music as part of our Spiritual Care encounter. She motioned, ‘yes.’ I played her ‘Yerushalayim shel Zahav,’ a melody I knew from my privileged education at Jewish schools King David and Mt Scopus, as well as my involvement in Netzer. Tears began to form in her eyes. Mine too. I told the speech therapist who was also in the room that these songs are very evocative, and despite it not being her heritage, culture of background, she began to tear also. These were tears of longing, of understanding of the patient’s suffering, of connection, of healing and hope.
A staff member at our son’s school is gravely ill. The other day my son, who has had a lot of contact with this staff member, and I were praying, ‘Ana El Na Refa Na La,’ our Torah’s ancient prayer meaning, ‘Please God please, heal her please.’ I shed some tears and my son looked at me, momentarily unsure how to proceed. He lay his young head on my shoulder and comforted me; a role reversal for us, but he had in that opportunity a chance to grow his empathy. It also normalised tears for him. He could see that I could feel loss, cry and still be ok and be there for him.
At this time, many of us feel it more than ever: the desire or pressure to be ‘strong’ which may translate as stoic. Whilst I don’t support alarming young ones around us, I think it’s important for our self-preservation to also have spaces where we can allow our feelings of fear, anxiety, worry and apprehension come to the surface. If you don’t already know about it, I’ll introduce you to a process called Re-evaluation Counseling or RC for short, also known as Co-Counseling. it is a system which allows us to heal up from past hurts and disappointments and claim more of our thinking by releasing those hurts through the release of laughter, tears, shaking, yawning, elevated talking and more. You can learn more at RC.org and in many places in the world including Melbourne there are often introductory classes where you can learn some skills. In the first instance I really recommend meeting in person or online with someone who you think has good empathy and listening skills and just swapping time with them. Just put on a timer for five minutes. It is the ‘Counselor’s’ task to listen and the ‘client’s task’ to allow laughter, yawning, tears, shaking, sweating or elevated speech to unfold.
I remember getting in trouble as a young child for having fits of laughter both in synagogue (it didn’t help that I would sit right near the front) and in junior school. I think I was just processing events in my world and although I can see it was disruptive, it was also natural and I don’t believe I was doing anything ‘wrong.’ My child got hurt today and I laughed. She was hurt by this and I explained to her that not every laugh is out of joy, just as not every tear is out of sorrow. In the hospital, there are often moments of laughter, even when a loved one is close to death, because many emotions and expressions of those emotions can come flooding through us at any point in time.
There are many things in the world of today and in our own private world that are worth crying and laughing over. We are most at risk of being numb to our emotions than feeling too much. It is my belief that we will be emotionally healthier if we allow an increase in emotional feeling, expression and sharing. It will also generate an increased sense of passion for causes if we allow ourselves to feel what we truly do about disappointments in our big and individual worlds.
You may wonder if yawning is in the same category as laughing and crying in terms of expressing emotion. Yawning is not only a way of increasing our oxygen but is a powerful release mechanism. According to concepts in releasing entrapped emotions, “Yawning relaxes the whole body and mind, cues the unconscious and helps open the communications gap between conscious and unconscious processes and becomes a cue for the unconscious to tune in to making dramatic changes in the mind/body systems.”[i]
All of the above ways to express our emotions can have a releasing effect on our bodies and minds and I believe are part of self-care, self-knowledge and self-improvement. If you see me yawn, cry or laugh in front of you, I probably don’t need anything from you but your acceptance. Let’s let our emotions show, our feelings be expressed and normalise tears and laughter in almost every climate.