Some of you have followed my writing since I started a little Tumblr blog in 2010 to connect with students and friends who were curious about yoga for depression and body image issues. It was amazing to read your comments and have deep conversations about mental health with you. Thank you so much for your support!
A few of you actually met me through my MySpace blog over a decade ago. I feel like I owe more than a word of thanks to you brave souls. I owe you a drink!
One of the things that I’ve learned through public blogging is that the most vulnerable writing strikes a chord with people. Whether it’s sharing that you walked 2 miles to work with Sharpie on your (my) face or you grappled with judging the softness of your (my) belly, we like to be reminded that we aren’t alone in our struggles in life. We all experience embarrassment, grief, self criticism, and sadness.
Most of us try to present ourselves to the world as cool and collected. We put on a brave face to appear unrattled at work, keep our calm when family is driving us nuts, or answer “I’m great!” if someone asks how we’re doing when we’re about to break down. Or we stay quiet when we feel like the only person in the lecture who has no idea what the professor is talking about, or the only person on Facebook who isn’t happily married or recently promoted.
We hide our negative emotions because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do, and letting our guard down can feel deeply disconcerting. It can be terrifying to wear your heart on your sleeve. I know this because I’m kind of experienced with public displays of emotion.
I’ve cried in hair salons, churches, grocery stores, shopping malls, drug stores, public restrooms, strangers’ homes, planes, and oh so many yoga studios. I’ve also mastered the “sob walk” so I can totally take this feelings party to parks, trails, or a sidewalk near you.
It probably sounds like I’m a wreck, but to be fair, my public crying inventory also includes tears of happiness and laughter. I just decided a few years back that I’d rather be present with overwhelming emotions as they arise than invest the effort and extra pain in trying to suppress them.
Still, when I first resolved to let my emotions show in public when I needed to, it was pretty darn frightening. Would people think I was unhinged and cross the street to get away from me? Would they feel embarrassed for me? Would I be chucking all semblance of dignity or self respect out the window?
It helped me to recognize that when I witness other people’s emotions, my heart feels full of compassion and understanding. I feel humbled to be in the presence of such human moments, so I’m not in the least bit preoccupied with judgment or embarrassment.
I’m actually in awe of their strength.
In yoga teacher training our teacher shared with us this quote early on: “The first person to cry on the mat is always the strongest.” And boy, do I believe it now.
It’s SCARY to let other people see the inner workings of your heart. It takes some beautiful bravery to stand before the world, just as you are, without pretense or mask.
And there’s a powerful liberation that comes with dropping restrictions and fully owning your feelings no matter what. You can choose to share them in the way that feels most genuine to you.
The next time you worry that sharing your tears will be interpreted as weakness, please remember: the first person to cry is the strongest.
Practice tapping into the courage it takes to be authentic and vulnerable in your most human moments. Trust me. You aren’t alone.