The Secret Power of Tears
How to cry your heart open and Speak Strong in Love


Chillingly unresponsive
I read an article this week about bystanders who ignored an elderly hit-and-run victim. I was hard-heart imageready to move on to another article when it occurred to me – the bystanders weren’t the only ones who were chillingly unresponsive. I had read this article without responding emotionally. I had felt no sadness for a world where people show so little compassion.

On closer inspection, I realized the article had triggered emotions, but I automatically shut them down so quickly that I hadn’t noticed they were there.

A week before, I wouldn’t have thought about my non-reaction. This week I did. That’s because my friend and mentor Jeffrey Armstrong let me in on a secret that has me looking at everything differently. So I paused and allowed myself to experience the emotions this article evoked. I felt my eyes mist over. I wasn’t so chillingly unresponsive after all.

I’ll share Jeffrey's secret with you, but first, I want to talk with you about tears: my tears, your tears, other people’s tears and the attitudes we have toward them.

A culture of dryness
image of cracked, dry dirtWhen you grew up, how open was your family to tears? About as open as a two-year-old is to bedtime?

As a child, I occasionally found my mother weeping on her bed. When she realized I was there, she acted affronted and found reasons to be angry with me. I felt as if I had caught her in some kind of a shameful act.

My husband had a different experience. As a child, he occasionally noticed his mother crying. When he asked her what was wrong, she told him she cried because it was a healthy thing to do. She invited him to join her, and they would “cry together for no reason.”

My husband received a very different message about tears than I did. I’m sure my experience was more common. After all, people respond to tears by saying, “don’t cry.” It’s a culture of dryness.

A war on tears
What did your parents teach you about tears? And how did that affect you as an adult? Did you fight your tears like I did? Did you believe there was no such thing as a situation that granted permission to cry?

I battled my tears at times when any compassionate person would expect to cry. Sometimes I won, and sometimes my tears won.

The tears won the afternoon of my late husband’s funeral. His mother blamed my hormones. image of a fern leak laying over a stoneMy first mother-in-law was a warrior in the battle against tears. She died way too young from Lou Gehrig's disease. I think she really died from a broken heart. I might have too, if I hadn’t had a change of heart about my relationship with tears.

Which side of the great-tear-debate are you on?

Cultivate wetness
Think about all the qualities of water. It flows, soothes, washes things clean and refreshes. If you battle your own tears or tears of others around you, you’re fighting all those qualities. You can end up living in a desert. That’s why it’s worth the trouble to do what it takes to break the dam. It’s useful to have expert help and compassionate friends. I was fortunate to find both.

dreamy image of a person on a rock in the middle of water and their reflectionEven with support, it takes time and commitment to end a life-long habit of stifling tears. And once the flood gates open, you might question what you started. I woke up crying every morning for months on end. I grew impatient, questioning the process and wondering if the flood would ever complete itself. It did, and the peace and joy I felt made the whole ordeal worth while.

The REAL secret
Like all good things, emotional hygiene takes time. After my cleansing, I didn’t think much about tears – until Jeffrey Armstrong told me his secret.

Let me tell you about Jeffrey. I want to be like him when I grow up. His brilliance puts him in the great-thinker category. His accomplishments put him in the great entrepreneurial category. And his heart is wide open, filled with passion and love for all things in life. Knowing him is like a When Harry Met Sally restaurant moment: “I’ll have what he’s having.” I wanted to know how anyone could love as deeply as he does. So I asked him how he did it…and he told me. He said:

     • Ah…crying is the secret.

Crying? That was not the answer I expected. I confess, I wondered if he was being flip. But Jeffrey is not one to say things lightly. So I let his words sink in. As they did, I realized how golden his words were. I had asked a simple question and he gave me an answer that was so simple I almost missed its importance.

As the significance of Jeffrey’s words hit me, I probed further. Jeffrey, who is a mystical poet, obliged my inquiry with poems. One of these poems called me to revisit my relationship with tears.

That poem is called The Art of Crying. I include it here, with permission.

The Art of Crying
©2008 Jeffrey Armstrong.

I have forgotten the art of crying,
My eyes have turned to stone,
Too long alone,
My heart has started lying.

Drops of water upon my head
Are wearing at my brain
Driving me insane.
Words which cannot be said,

Feelings held too long within,
Lie frozen in my mind
I have gone blind,
A prisoner of skin.

The Earth has made me dull,
Unconsciousness and sloth,
Hankering and wroth,
A jester holds my skull.

My laughter is a hollow rock,
O geode my soul,
I lose control.
My master is the clock.

I cannot break the dam
Holding back my love,
Rain clouds high above
The desert where I am.

This fortress I have made
Protects me from the feeling,
I'm safe but someone's stealing
My feelings I'm afraid.

I have forgotten the art of dying,
By trying so hard to live,
I take but no longer give,
And I have forgotten the art of crying.

Have you forgotten the art of crying? (Did you ever master it in the first place?) I expect the bystanders who ignored the hit-and-run victim have. I expect that’s why they were so numb.

I had forgotten too. In my quest to develop the art of writing, the art of running a business and the art of speaking, I had lost the art of crying. Jeffrey’s words changed that.

How to cry your heart open
clip-art image a green leaf with a heart-shaped cut-out in itSo let’s cry our hearts open. Some of you cry easily, and only need to give the tears permission to flow for the floodgates to open. If you’re one of those, give your tears plenty of room to breathe. It might surprise you to discover how much easier it will be to manage the waterworks when you need to, if you allow them free reign when you don’t.

Others will be like me – and need a little patience and practice to win the trust of your more vulnerable self. If that’s you, this next section is for you.

Here’s what I do to open my inner gates.

I put my attention on things that might draw buried tears to the surface. I repeat phrases, sing songs and listen carefully for any signal of response from my inner friend. I embrace sensations and feelings in my body with complete attention. I converse with feelings, reassure them and ask them questions. I seek to identify the feelings, looking for a sense of release that tells me I’ve found the perfect word. At the sign of the slightest emotion, I move clip art image of rain falling on flowersgently in, like a counselor with a client who needs help to open.

What gets me going is thoughts of love denied, love hoped for and love I am grateful for. I can get the process started with thoughts about the harshness of the world and also from thoughts about the goodness in the world.

At first your tears might come with the fits and starts of reawakening. Even if there is no flood, the drizzle that comes is deeply healing and relaxing.

In addition to this contemplative practice, consciously sink into the emotion of the events of your day. Pay attention to your emotional response to your boss, the kids playing across the street, the news of the day and the consistent ministrations from your loved ones. Notice how often you automatically shut off from feelings before you become fully aware of them. I caught myself blocking a feeling of inspiration as I watched a campaign speech that offered me hope. I let go and allowed myself to feel it. I write about daring to hope here.

The payoff
What are the early results of this emotional exercise? Exactly the results contained in Jeffrey’s promise. Love.

image of clam holding a pearl• And humanity.
• And softness.
• And forgiveness.
• And daring to care.
• And strength.

Yes, strength. You feel stronger when you’re not doing battle with yourself. Plus, it strengthens you to know you can heal pain of that comes with daring to love.

SpeakStrong in love
clip art image of couple flying away to a paradiseThe Art of Crying won’t just help you love, it will help you SpeakStrong. Speaking Strong combines clarity, power and love, allowing all three to work together.

And when you find yourself celebrating life with a level of passion you thought was reserved for other people, (yes, Meditatives, I’m talking to you too) you’ll know your time was spent well.

The secret power of tears
Four words from Jeffrey inspired all this. When I’m ready, I’ll ask him how he got so smart and how he gets so much done. I look forward to his answers. When I do, I’ll pass that wisdom on too. But right now, I have an appointment with myself. It’s time for me to go practice the art of crying. I’m actually looking forward to it.

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Meryl Runion and Speak Strong (SpeakStrong) provides Power Phrases (PowerPhrases) and other tools to help you improve communication skills at work and at home. You can read more about her at

Meryl is the author of six books on communication that have sold over a quarter million copies worldwide, including Speak Strong, PowerPhrases!, How to Use PowerPhrases, Perfect Phrases for Managers and Supervisors, and How to Say It: Performance Reviews. You can reach her at 719-684-2633, or by email:

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