It’s hard to express our vulnerability. This is especially true of men. Boys are told from a very young age that crying is an expression of weakness. Real men don’t cry–they just suck up their pain and keep going. How many young boys have felt shamed by their fathers when instructed to, “stop crying, your acting like a baby,” or asked the dreaded and emasculating question, “what are you, a little girl?”
This code is especially evident in the uniformed services; i.e., military, police, fire service, emergency medical services, etc. Professionals in the uniformed services are actually given formal training to subjugate their emotions so they can maintain a “command presence”: the embodiment of emotional stoicism. Because of the nature of their work, it is necessary for uniformed service professionals to keep their feelings in check when they are on a call. Someone has to stay calm, cool, and collected in order to take charge when their is clear and present danger. For example, an EMT can’t work quickly and efficiently to save lives if they take time to indulge their emotions at the scene of a horrible car accident where people are in shock and in need of life saving assistance. Likewise, a police officer can’t show fear and trepidation when staring down a dangerous felon in a life threatening situation. After countless repetitions of these types of encounters, one can become conditioned to feel “nothing at all.”
Unfortunately, the repression of feelings entailed in assuming a “command presence” sets up a pernicious dynamic that leads to serious physical and mental health consequences for uniformed service professionals. Many of them will be afflicted by the long term effects of complex trauma.
I have encountered a number of uniformed service professionals who felt so disconnected from themselves and life that they were driven to the brink of suicide. A cop I recently worked with told me that his life had become so painful that he took out his service revolver, placed the barrel in his mouth, cocked the hammer, and placed his finger on the trigger. At the moment of truth, staring death directly in the face, something appeared to him … the thought of his kids. In that moment, he chose life. He chose life when the love of his children overwhelmed his desire to die. And for the first time in many years, he began to cry.
Pema Chodron writes, “Bodhicitta is our heart–our wounded heart. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die. This love is bodhicitta. It is gentle and warm; it is clear and sharp; it is open and spacious. The awakened heart of bodhicitta is the basic goodness of all beings.”
A Zen Master’s oldest disciple had died, the one who had been with him the longest and whom he had designated as his successor. At the funeral, while giving the eulogy, the Master broke down and cried.
Later, a visiting monk said: “Life and death have no beginning and no end. Why do you cry?” The Master said: “He was my oldest disciple; if I don’t cry now, when am I supposed to?”
Deep within all of us is this love that will not die … that sweet spot that produces the gift of tears … the tears that cleanse our soul.