The other evening I had an argument with my husband. The argument itself wasn’t profound, but the topic raised some sadness in me about my life and forced me to confront change. At that moment I felt sad about moving on from my role as caregiver to my four, now grown, children. And I began to cry.
The history of crying in my life is a bit uneven. As a young child I am pretty sure I cried the typical amount. Because crying was about as popular as the plague in our household, I created a technique for myself that would prevent me from shedding a single tear in front of my family members. I would repeat a mantra over and over in my head to keep me from crying. I can only imagine what my face looked like in those moments — I’m guessing it wasn’t very pretty. But it was damned effective. The only time I cried was alone in my room, and mostly under the covers with a pillow over my head.
I wanted confort, but didn’t know where to find it. When we were given an adorable cockapoo dog, Jocko, he became my crying buddy. Whenever possible, I would cry to Jocko, telling him about all my woes. He seemed to listen with great care and tenderness. The perfect comforter! He would gaze at me with compassionate eyes, listen to every word, and never try to talk me out of my sadness.
As a young adult, I often shared a bedroom with others, so I developed the habit of hiding in the bathroom to cry. Bathrooms are not the comfiest of rooms, but they were safe and I could run water to cover sobs when needed. At times I had a cat, but most of time he would flee at the first sign of tears.
As soon as I could, I brought dogs back into my life and continued to cry either to the dog, or if s/he wasn’t available, then alone in the bathroom. Being comforted by a dog isn’t exactly the same as being understood by a human, but it was the next best thing.
Last August, our oldest dog passed away. For a few months we had our daughter’s small Havanese with us (who sadly wasn’t much more of a comfort than a cat), but of late we have been dogless. So when I needed to cry the other night, I wasn’t sure where to go. The bathroom I would normally use was too close to where my husband was sleeping. I started crying in my office, but that just didn’t feel right. Then I remembered that my meditation cushion was quite comfortable and, though the room was cold, there was a space heater nearby. So I wrapped up in a blanket, went into my meditation space, lit the candles on my altar, and lay down on my meditation cushion to cry.
As I lay there, I was reminded of the many times that I had sat on that cushion. I sat on that cushion when I was concentrated and I sat there when my mind wandered non-stop (which was much more common.) I sat on that cushion when I was exhausted and dozing off, and I sat on that cushion when I was raging angry with myself or someone else. And every time I sat I tried my best to stay present for the benefit of myself and all beings. It wasn’t that I had been mindful all those sitting times — far from it — but I had been trying to be mindful and awake and compassionate. It was my intention that I remembered and felt at that moment.
Curled up on the cushion crying, I began to feel held by that energy of intention which felt very much like the compassionate care of a dog or another being. But because it was coming from me, that energy also had the ability to truly understand the sadness that I was feeling. For one of the first times in my life I truly felt comforted and held in my tears.
To love, in the context of Buddhism, is above all to be there. But being there is not an easy thing. Some training is necessary, some practice. If you are not there, how can you love? — Thich Nhat Hanh
As a result of this experience, I realized that we all have the ability to comfort ourselves. When we sit still and really look into our deepest intentions for caring, we can see that we have the desire to care for ourselves and all beings. Our deepest intentions might not always be obvious, but they are there. We might have the intention to bring health to our lives, or to work in a vocation that helps others, to teach, or to be an example of mindful living through our own practice. Marshall Rosenberg calls these intentions “universal needs.” We all have them. In Buddhism, this part of ourselves is called our Buddha Nature. It’s the part that is already awake. In other traditions it has other names. Getting familiar with this part of ourselves can be a benefit to ourselves and those around us. Because when we know this part, we know that even when those around us aren’t able to give us the comfort we need, we can always find it right here within ourselves.