This weekend, I was listening to a powerful conversation between Alanis Morisette and developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld.
I was first introduced to Neufeld’s work by my friend and mentor, Lianne Raymond – she’s long studied his work and shared many life-changing insights from it with me over the years.
In this interview with Alanis, one idea in particular struck me and called out to me to be written about, and shared with you.
“So often, happiness
is on the other side
of tears that have not yet been shed.”
He speaks about the irreducible necessity of “having our tears” – of crying about our losses, about what didn’t go the way we hoped, about the limits we’ve come up against and been thwarted by. The tears must be shed, he explains to us, so that we find our way from frustration to sadness, to the renewal that comes afterward.
And, he offers us this seeming paradox: happiness is on the other side of our tears.
If you aren’t sure how radical that is, just consider how often, when you want greater happiness in some troubled area of your life, you think to yourself, “Okay, first step is to cry.”
There’s so many ways we chase happiness in our culture – the goal setting and health regimes, the seeking for new or different relationships. Of course, some fraction of that is worthy and useful. But much of it – we each know – turns out to be a futile pursuit, a run on a racetrack that takes us right back to where we started.
What I hear in Neufeld’s words is the hint that happiness often doesn’t come out of the discovery or achievement of some next thing. It lies on the other side of the tears we need to shed about things that have already occurred. It comes out of going into our grief to complete what has unfolded, so that there is truly room for “next.”
I recently was chatting with coach Laura Riordan, who created a model called “Sustainable Mom” to help mothers design an approach to their parenting that is not endlessly depleting and exhausting.
The first major step in her process is helping moms to grieve the loss of the life they had before, to grieve the loss of the woman they were before motherhood. Only then, she has found, can they go on to design the next chapter of their lives with clarity.
I almost fell over when she told me that. The grieving immediately resonated with me as a necessary piece, missing from every method for creating work-family balance or maternal self-care I’d encountered. Yet I had never seen or recognized what was missing – the need to grieve is often a blindspot for me, too.
Most of us are taught that tears are to be gotten done with as quickly as possible, or not shed at all, so we all carry ungrieved losses around with us.
If you feel like you’re futilely trying to change something, if it feels sometimes like you are trying to slap pretty wallpaper over a decaying wall, perhaps it’s time to take a break from the striving and looking forward – and instead look inward at the disappointments, and allow the yet uncried tears to come out. What if we could let go of our fear that’s a bottomless well and trust there’s a finite and restorative process waiting for us there?
It is impossible – gloriously impossible – to know what you will find on the other side of your tears.
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Above image by Paweł Czerwiński