Humans shed three types of tears. The first two; basal (for lubricating the eyes) and reflex (for dealing with irritants such as dust or smoke), have fairly obvious biological explanations. The third type is the tears we cry for emotional reasons. Tears of the first two types are composed primarily of water, but emotional tears contain a number of chemicals that do not exist in the lubricating or irritant-removal tears. Some of these chemicals help to relieve stress, others help our body return to a state of balance. Tears are thought to be part of the parasympathetic nervous system that helps to bring the heart rate, hormones and neurotransmitters back into a state of homeostasis (balance) after a period of arousal or a difficult time. In other words, tears help to calm us.
But, what of the tears shed by the Bakka or others who mourn for humanity? Being a weeper that mourns for all of humanity may be a sign that compassion, empathy, and human kindness exist in our hearts. There is much to be mournful for when looked at through tearful eyes. Who can turn aside and not be tearful when faced with the image of a child sitting in the rubble of Syria with their parents dead? Who can repress the tears when faced with the image of a dead child on a Greek shore after another refugee boating crisis?
Some researchers think that tears may be a form of communication. We weep when we cannot express with words the depth of emotion that we are feeling. So, when we witness someone in pain, or the earth suffering, our tears may be a heartfelt way of communicating a very deep sense of empathy, not only to others, but to ourselves as well. Thus, by attempting to block such tears we may be cutting ourselves off from deep connection and understanding.
Tears may also be a way to signal vulnerability and a desire to be cooperative. In evolutionary terms tears may have indicated an unwillingness to be aggressive. After all, as someone noted, it is difficult to fight when you can’t see through the tears.
Tears then may be so much more than simply a visual sign of sadness, or overwhelming elation. They are also poignant communication devices and a recognition of the human need for cooperation and a willingness to help one another.
Tears for Mother Earth
In Māori (the indigenous people of Aotearoa – New Zealand) cosmology when it rains it is a sign that Ranginui (Sky Father) is weeping for his beloved Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) from whom he has been separated. The tears of Ranginui are a sign of love.
Western-styled societies have also been separated from Mother Earth. It is little wonder that those within these societies who recognise the separation feel a sense of suffering arising from this alienation. When someone talks honestly and openly of this alienation their tears flow like rain and often elicit in their listeners a similar weeping. It is good to allow this weeping to flow – to feel the suffering of the world.
One person who has thought much about feeling the suffering of the world is Joanna Macy who terms it “honouring our pain.” She places it within a process she calls The Work that Reconnects1 and recognises the pain, and feeling the suffering, as important parts of the continuing process of healing. We must not try to side-step it she claims.
“We are capable of suffering with our world, and that is the true meaning of compassion. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings. Don't ever apologize for crying for the trees burning in the Amazon or over the waters polluted from mines in the Rockies. Don't apologize for the sorrow, grief, and rage you feel. It is a measure of your humanity and your maturity. It is a measure of your open heart, and as your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal.”2But is all we did was feeling the suffering of the world, and the attendant compassion, we would go nowhere, we would be paralysed. In Tibetan history there is a prophecy known as the Shambhala Prophecy that is helpful in this regard. The prophecy tells of the Shambhala Warriors who arrive at a time when the Earth is in great danger. They bring with them two weapons. One is the weapon of compassion – the emotion that provides the motive behind acting. The other weapon is the weapon of wisdom – the understanding of the immensely interwoven connections of life, and alluded to in the above quotation.
If we wish to act like Shambhala Warriors then we need both weapons. So, let us not shun our tears. An Indian proverb says that before we can see clearly we must shed tears to clear the way. So, go ahead. Clear the way. Have a good cry. (And that apples to all male readers as well – perhaps more so)
1. Joanna Macy & Molly Brown, Coming Back to Life, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, Canada, 2014.
2. Joanna Macy, The Greening of the Self, filmsforaction.org/articles/the-greening-of-the-self/ accessed 2 November 2016.