What is the lesson in abuse, neglect, abandonment, rejection? What is the lesson when you lose someone you really love? Just what are the lessons of life's hard times?
Bestselling author Iyanla Vanzant has had an amazing and difficult life—one of great challenges that unmasked her wonderful gifts and led to wisdom gained. In this simple book, she uses her own personal experiences to show how life's hardships can be re-languaged and revisioned to become lessons that teach us as we grow, heal, and learn to love. The pain of the past does not have to be today's reality. Iyanla Vanzant is an example of how yesterday's tears become the seeds of today's hope, renewal, and strength.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It was happening. I had seen myself on television before, but not like this. I had never been on a mainstream national television show until now. This was special. This was big! This was the culmination of sixteen years of hard work, of three years of waiting for a producer to get back to me, and an entire day of filming. The results: one twelve-minute segment about my life and my work on CBS Sunday Morning. It felt great! Definitely something to celebrate. Instead of throwing a party, I felt awful, dishonest, like a fraud. I guess that's why I began to cry as the music began, heralding the start of the program. These tears were quite different from the tears I cried the day the segment was filmed.
Throughout our many experiences of life, we cry different kinds of tears. What we are probably not aware of is that each type of tear emanates from a specific place in the body, and that each type has certain distinct characteristics. We may realize that shedding tears at certain times will have a particular effect upon us and those around us. What we are probably less conscious of is that each tear, regardless of its origin, or its effects, contains a seed of healing.
Angry tears spill forth from the outside corner of the eye, making them easier to wipe away as they come at unexpected moments and inappropriate times. They originate in the ego the part of our being that presents to the world who we think we are. Angry tears create heat and stiffness in the body, because when we are angry, we usually don't know how to express what we feel. We definitely don't want anyone to know when we are angry, because anger is not acceptable or polite. Rather than display anger, we hold back, and the tears rage forth, shattering our self-image. More important, angry tears reveal to those around us our vulnerabilities. This, we believe, is not a wise thing to do.
I cried angry tears the day the CBS film crew came to my home. I had just moved into a new house. I had very little furniture to fill the empty spaces in my large home. The garage was full of boxes, one of which contained the outfit I had planned to wear. It was an unmarked box that I could not find. I was also angry because my new mother-in-law was on her way to our home, and I had no place for her to sleep. What would she think of me? I thought I was angry because I had waited so many years for the segment to be filmed, and now that it was happening, I didn't feel ready. I realized that I was angry because I didn't have the courage to tell the segment producer or my manager that I wasn't ready to film the show. I wasn't ready because I didn't feel worthy. I cried because one of my favorite news correspondents was coming to my empty home, two days before Thanksgiving, and I couldn't locate four plates that matched. What would he think of me? I was angry because I felt so vulnerable, so exposed, and so inadequate. I was angry because I felt so powerless, and that made me sad.
Sad tears spill forth from the inside corner of the eye, finding their way across our nose, cheeks, and lips. For some reason we always lick sad tears. We know that they are salty, and the things that bring them forth are usually the bitter experiences in life. Sad tears come from the heart. They usually bring a bending of the shoulders and a drooping of the head.
When you are about to be interviewed for a national television program, you must hold your head up. And you must wear mascara. It is hard to put your mascara on when you are drooping and crying. I had found something to wear. It wasn't what I wanted to wear, but it would do. So now I was crying because of the incredible experience of sadness that I felt in my heart. I had worked long and hard to get to this day, this twelve minutes on CBS. There had been many hard times and many hard lessons. Weathering it all, my work had moved forward. My life had certainly moved ahead. In my heart, I knew that moving ahead would mean leaving certain things, and certain people, behind. I knew that this level of exposure would mean advancing to another level. It was no one's fault. It was simply about time. Life has a way of doing that to you and for you. Life will propel you into situations where the things that once worked, no longer work. Time passing, carrying things or people out of our lives as it brings new things and people into our lives, makes us sad. And it always makes us cry. I also knew that once the segment of Sunday Morning aired, if I had not made certain decisions, they would be made for me. That was frightening.
Frightened tears take up the entire eye, clouding our vision, as fear will do. When we are frightened, we cannot see or think. Frightened tears are usually big tears that well up in the eye. They spill over the whole face. Frightened tears come from the soles of the feet. They shoot through the body and create trembling or shaking.
I was scared to death that I would be found out. People would find out that I was frightened, angry, and sad. When you arrive at a certain station in life, people do not expect that you experience certain emotions. People believe you are above "all that," and they tell you so. That is simply not true. All teachers must learn. All healers must be healed, and your teaching, healing work does not stop while your learning, healing process continues. In fact, healing in public is an awesome task that requires you to lovingly point out the defects of others while you are healing your own.
I had no idea what I would be asked during the interview. This was, after all, the award-winning CBS Sunday Morning. They could ask me anything about anything, and I would be obliged to respond. What if I was asked about something that I had not yet healed? Suppose I couldn't get my mouth open to respond? What would people think if I were asked a question on national television about the little challenge I was now facing in my own life? And what if I got angry or frightened with millions of people watching me? Would they know? How would I live with that? What would people think about me? I didn't have time to figure any of it out. I had to get dressed. I had to be interviewed.
Then there are shame-filled tears, which fall when we are alone with our thoughts and feelings. Shame-filled tears come when we're judging ourselves, criticizing ourselves, or beating up on ourselves for something purely human that we have done yet can't explain to ourselves or to others. Shame-filled tears come from the pit of the stomach and usually cause us to bend over not in pain, but in anguish.
There I stood, about to experience something that many people in my position would sell their two front teeth to experience, and I didn't feel ready or worthy. There I stood, about to realize a dream come true, and I was so ashamed of myself I couldn't get dressed. I was afraid, ashamed, and furious with myself that I had not yet mustered up the strength to confront a personal challenge. It had nothing to do with money. It was not about a relationship. Thank goodness, those two areas of my life are finally in order. This was about me. Me, the big-time, bestselling author. I was ashamed that I had come so far only to get stuck on something so small, so trivial. But was it trivial? You cannot trivialize the need to do, for your own well-being, something that you know will upset someone you care about. It is not easy or trivial to say to someone, I love you, but I must leave you. It is no small feat to try to wipe running mascara from your cheeks after you have put on your foundation and powder. Talk about PMS! The Poor-Me-Syndrome was making it impossible for me to get my face together, and the film crew had just entered my half-empty house.
Combination tears are the worst tears of all. They are filled with anger and sadness, with fear and shame. They have a devastating effect on the body, bringing the stiffness of anger, the drooping of sadness, the trembling of fear, and the bending of shame. They make you cold when you are hot. They make you tremble when you are trying to keep still. Most of all, they make you nauseated.
Suppose I threw up in the middle of the interview? Oh great! My imagination had taken a turn for the worse. I was standing in front of the mirror, terrorizing myself. Feeling unworthy. Feeling afraid, and being mad at myself for all that I was feeling. I would have slapped myself, but that would have made my eyes run again. Instead, my angel showed up at the bathroom door. My husband, Adeyemi, had come to tell me that the film crew was waiting for me. As soon as he saw the redness in my eyes, he stretched his long arms out toward me so that I could fall into them. I did. And I cried all over his clean white shirt.
"Come on, now. Don't be nervous. This is no different from anything else you've done. You can do this with your eyes closed." Closed, yes. Smeared with mascara, no. I would have to start all over again. That is exactly how I felt about my life. It seemed to me that, on what should have been one of the happiest days I had ever known, I kept arriving at the place where I would have to start all over, and it pissed me off!
The interview went smoothly. I did not shed a single tear. Terrence Wood, the CBS correspondent and interviewer, along with the cameraperson and the producer, commented on my home. It was, they said, beautiful and peaceful. No one believed we had just moved in. No one seemed to notice, or care, that we did not have what I thought was the appropriate amount of furniture, in the appropriate rooms. Why do we subject ourselves to the hysteria of expecting the worst? I guess it is part of our nature as human beings. I also believe it is the natural outgrowth of postponing the inevitable. You can put off what you need to do, but the longer you put it off, the more hysteria and conflict you will experience. The more tears you will shed. The more anger, sadness, and fear you will create in your own mind. I had something unpleasant to do that I had resisted doing. I had put it off long enough. Now it, and I, were about to show up on national television. I knew that the moment the show was over, I would have to go upstairs and cry in my favorite place. The Jacuzzi.
Of all things to master, why did I have to pick tears? I've learned about tears and through tears. I haven't figured out whether it's a blessing or a curse that I can assess the tearful experience of a person. With a breath, I can feel in my own body what the person is going through. I can process others through their tears, with words and thoughts and images. I had come to the place and point in my life where I now had to do the same for myself. I had to get beyond my own tears to the core of the issue. I knew it was my core issue, my subconscious pattern, that was making it so difficult for me to fire my manager.
After all I had experienced and learned, I had to revisit my own past, which was filled with bitter tears, in order to move into the future. I would have to live through the present, knowing that millions of people would be watching me on television, people who did not know that I could not find the strength to do for myself what I felt I needed to do. It was this feeling that made me feel like a fraud. A fraud about to be found out.
The show had begun with the segment featuring me. Charles Osgood, the host of Sunday Morning, was talking about me. He was telling the world about all the books I had written and how many had been sold. He was revealing to the world how I had propelled myself from poverty in the projects in Brooklyn, New York, onto the stage of the world-famous Apollo Theatre. My husband squeezed my hand. My children beamed with pride. The dog was chewing on the leg of the sofa. It could have been a time of joyous celebration. Instead, I was trying to discern which type of tears were about to spill forth from my eyes and across my face, realizing that, whatever the type, everyone in the room would misinterpret their meaning. Everyone, that is, except me.
How much pain and shame and fear and anger can one body stand? That's a good question, I thought. How much pain can one body stand? I, like many people, have stood years and years, countless years of pain. We have held on to our mother's pain, and the pain of our fathers, not knowing what it was or how to get rid of it. We have held on to our children's pain, our lovers' pain, and most of all on to the pain of those who stand closest to us. Sometimes we're able to cry through the pain. Sometimes we stomp through the pain. Sometimes we move through the pain in fear and in anger, without the strength to cry. When we do find our strength again, we move on to the next thing without taking a moment to breathe or celebrate.
It is the tears that have got us through the darkest days and the hardest times. Many of us have been able to float on our tears to a new and better understanding of ourselves and the things we have experienced in life. Through our tears, we get in touch with those experiences that we have forgotten, hidden, or buried away in the pit of our souls. So one Sunday morning, I sat crying because my soul and my life were being shown on television, and I, the "guru" of faith and hope, wasn't sure it was a true picture.
The unshed tears of our many experiences color and cloud our thoughts. As we try to move forward without allowing the tears to flow freely, we find ourselves repeatedly in similar experiences. I was sitting in that place, a familiar place. A frightening, sad, and angry place. I was trying to suppress the tears of the things I had said and had not said. Tears of things I had done and now needed to undo. Unshed tears get caught in our throats, making it hard for us to speak our truth and honestly express who we are as we move through life. My life was moving, and if I did not find the courage and strength to speak, I knew I would choke out any possibility of the new life about to be born through me.
I've cried many tears for myself and, in the work I do, for other people. What I've discovered is that most tears come from our inability to tell our story. One of my teachers once told me, "Tell your story. Your story will heal you, and it will heal someone else." My story is full of tears: sad tears, shame-filled tears, angry tears, and of late, tears of joy. Watching myself on television, I realized that my story and my tears were not uncommon. Being a bestselling author does not make me uncommon or different. I am still human. I still cry when I am faced with the uncomfortable or the unpleasant. I still cry when I think about the sad parts of my story. I cry when I am angry or ashamed.
Sitting in my own home, surrounded by a loving husband and family, was reason enough to celebrate, and still I needed to cry. I wasn't crying because I had been able to move through my experiences, telling my story in a way that supports and facilitates the healing of other people. I was crying because I had ignored the need to celebrate that fact. Yesterday, I cried because the story was so tragic, so devastating and painful, that all I could do was cry. On this Sunday morning, I was crying because I realized that I still had work to do. Even though I had "made it," I still had healing work to do.
I've discovered the need not only to tell our story, but also to cry at the appropriate episodes. There are the times when we were unable to cry, unable to speak, unable to express ourselves, unable to lift ourselves up. In those times, we need someone else to cry for us. Crying for others and myself has led me to the belief that certain aspects of my story must be told. If I am truly to heal myself and help others in the process, I must tell the parts I am uncomfortable about telling. Not because my story is different or unique, but because I have been blessed to be able to cry myself through to a day and a time when joyful tears spring forth from my heart and allow me to stand straight. Joyful tears move up the spine and across the brain and bring you to a new perspective and a new understanding that the sad tears were necessary, that each tear was a prayer, that tomorrow will be better than today. Joyful tears free you up to celebrate your Self, your healing, and your progressive process.
My story is not so much a story of the things that I have been through and done, but the things that I have grown through, the things that I have learned, the things that I now understand. My story is what some would call "a triumph of spirit." Others would call it "a victory of goodness over evil." I just call it a story, and I tell it because I have learned that the telling helps me continue healing. Telling my story gives me something to celebrate.
I don't know who or what I would be if I had not cried through the many experiences of my life. I know today that it is a life of peace, a life of joy, and a life of healing. What I find most amazing is the number of people who have not yet been able to tell their story. These are the same people who do not realize that they have victories that have gone uncelebrated. I have found, though, that as I tell my story, there are places and pieces that other people can tap into so that they may somehow find the courage to revisit their own experiences, bring forth the tears, and grow into their greatness. Life is about so much more than moving from incident to incident, issue to issue. When we take this path, we find ourselves crying without hope.
That is what I experienced one Sunday morning. I had forgotten to celebrate my strength and my victories. I thought that would be selfish. I had forgotten to embrace myself or pat myself on the back. I had been told that it would be egotistical. I had never thanked my Self for all that I had gotten me through. And now others would be celebrating my victories, and I did not feel worthy or deserving of such praise. I know there are far too many people suffering alone from experiences that are common to us all. Experiences that we have come through with flying colors but are ashamed to talk about and afraid to celebrate. After all, what would people think should we be caught smiling in our own mirror.
And that is all I have been able to do. I've done it in workshops; I've done it in lectures and in my books. I have been able to share with others a process that allows them to cry, and then celebrate. Unfortunately, I became so busy sharing, I forgot to cry and celebrate for myself. I had given everyone credit but me. I had thanked everyone but me. I felt obliged and indebted to everyone but me. One Sunday morning, I decided that the time had come for me to figure out where I had learned how to do that, and why I continued doing it when I no longer wanted to.
I cried yesterday. I cried when I was a child. I cried when I was a teenager. I cried when I was a young woman. And it is the fear, the shame, and the pain of those tears that have allowed me to stand up today, to tell my story and to celebrate my healing. This book is not just my story, it is our story. It is the story of the common things that we experience that we have not learned to express. It is the story of the things that keep us crippled because we hold them down in fear, in anger, and in shame. My prayer is that my story will help people throw away their crutches of dysfunction and addiction so that we can all stand together in a new time, in a new place, with a new understanding that enables us to celebrate the fact that we are still alive.
When Grandma said that God never gives you more than you can bear, she was saying that all the tears you need to grow, all the tears you need to cleanse, all the tears you need to share are available. Do the crying. Do the healing. And do the growing so that you can be all and celebrate all that God created you to be. That's what this story is about, and that's why this book had to be written.
Even as I write, I cry. I cry when I think about what people will say about me, what people will think of me. But because my tears now flow freely, with understanding, I am willing to take the chance. I know that I cannot lose. If this book, this story, these tears can help somebody, then I know that all I have lived through has not been in vain. I pray that as you read this book you will find the courage to cry and the understanding of why you're crying. I pray that you find the lessons beneath the tears, and the ability to love yourself no matter what, and in spite of it all. I pray that tomorrow your tears will wash away the fear or shame or sadness that has prevented you from telling your story.
Yesterday, I cried for the woman that I wanted to be. Today, I cry in celebration of her birth. Yesterday, I cried for the little girl in me who was not loved or wanted. Today, I cry as she dances around my heart in celebration of herself. I pray that your yesterday tears will be wiped, that you will find the courage to celebrate yourself and the lessons you have lived through, grown through, and learned through. The lessons that have brought you to a deeper realization of yourself, of the child within you, and of the constant mercy and grace of God. Now, let's have a party and enjoy!
Copyright © 1998 by Inner Visions Worldwide Network, Inc.
Table of ContentsContents
1. What's the Lesson When You Think You Figured Out the Lesson, and You Really Haven't?
2. What's the Lesson When You Are an Unwanted, Neglected, and Abused Child?
3. What's the Lesson When You Do Not Realize That You Are a Teacher?
4. What's the Lesson When You Don't Realize That Life Is a School?
5. What's the Lesson When You Are Poor, Ugly, and Feeling Bad?
6. What's the Lesson When You Are Raped as a Child?
7. What's the Lesson When You've Been Taught That You Are Unlovable?
8. What's the Lesson When You Don't Reconcile Your Past Before Moving Ahead?
9. What's the Lesson When You Engage in Self-Destructive Behavior?
10. What's the Lesson When You Are a Motherless Child Raising Children?
11. What's the Lesson When You Learn the Lesson, Then Forget It?
12. What's the Lesson When You Begin to Recognize Yourself as Who You Really Are?
13. What's the Lesson When You Lose Someone You Really Love?
14. What's the Lesson When You Have Mastered All the Wrong Lessons?
15. What's the Lesson When You Try to Cheat on a Test?
16. What's the Lesson When You Don't Love Yourself First?
17. What's the Lesson When You Get the Lesson but Don't Know What to Do With It?
18. What's the Lesson When You Let the Past Pass?
19. What's the Lesson When You Do It All Wrong and It Turns Out All Right?