Boys don’t cry

‘Now I would do most anything to get you back by my side.

But I just keep on laughing, hiding the tears in my eyes,

‘cause boys don’t cry.’

The Cure


Can you think back to a time where you sabotaged your chance at something which was important to you, such as a relationship or an opportunity, because you were hiding your ‘tears’ behind a fake smile? There are times for putting on a brave face, for not letting everyone around you know the exact minutiae of all your feelings. It’s part of being an adult, yet we can get into the habit of putting on a false smile to ourselves and to those close to us. There is something very vulnerable about tears, whether we’re actually crying or expressing our hurt and pain in some other way.

We can put ourselves under a lot of pressure to be positive – after all, positive people tend to be more popular, successful, healthy. And it’s true that a positive outlook on life does come with many benefits. However, there is a world of difference between a positive outlook which is based on reality, and the false good cheer we can feel compelled to resort to. To paraphrase the Ecclesiastes, there is a time to laugh, and there is also a time to cry. Participants in the eight week MBSR course often report becoming more comfortable with the full range of their emotions, rather than the narrow ‘approved’ range of emotions they might have allowed themselves before. At the same time, they talk about being increasingly able to take a step back in challenging situations, get a bigger-picture view, and to calm themselves down in the midst of challenging situations. Regular mindfulness practice will take some of the extreme edges off our emotions, but that doesn’t mean emotions aren’t still intense. In fact they may be experienced more intensely, and yet, at the same time, we feel less overwhelmed by them.

Grief which is not expressed can fester in our lives, like the worm in William Blake’s poem ‘The sick rose’:

O Rose thou art sick!

The invisible worm

That flies in the night,

In the howling storm,


Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy,

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.

Men in particular have often been brought up not to cry, and may not feel comfortable shedding tears. There are other ways to express grief, or at least to be present with it whenever it arises. Music can be especially powerful, and the best music is often tinged with sadness. It is helpful to know what our feelings are; how we can best live with them. Mindfulness helps us become more familiar with, and less anxious about, the full range of our emotional life.

Weekly practice idea:

What is your attitude to grief, to expressing when you feel hurt? Where do you sit on the scale between complete repression, and letting it all hang out (perhaps inappropriately at times)? Where would you like to be?

Anja Tanhane



One of my favourite books in my early 20s was called ‘The Sacred Tree’, and it described the American Indian philosophy of finding balance in our lives. The book was written as part of a collaborative project involving representatives of forty American Indian tribes. A part of their world view which really spoke to me was the concept of the four directions – East, South, West, North – which represented different aspects of our lives. The key to a happy and harmonious life was to find a balance between all four directions, rather than favouring one over the others. For example, the fiery passion of the South can be balanced by the intellectual strength of the North. Likewise, intellectualism on its own can become cold and uncaring, drawing up pedantic rules for others to follow rather than looking at what is actually happening on the ground, and this cold intellectualism in turn can benefit from the warmth and passion of the more emotional South.

Many people who learn and practise mindfulness report it helps them find greater balance in their lives. It’s easy to read books on how to improve your life, and many of these have good ideas and strategies. However, we are still 7 billion individual human beings, with very different lives, and what might be good advice for one person might be inappropriate or even harmful for someone else. Continue reading “Balance” »