Many people have read the article that discusses the top 5 regrets of the dying. I am particularly struck by this article because it exemplifies the wisdom of many spiritual teachings in a very concise and tangible way. Particularly the notion of telling people how we feel and allowing our relationships to other people exemplify our lives rather than our external accomplishments. Many people on their deathbeds regret not telling people in their lives how they felt and it seems to me that this one regret can easily be avoided by cultivating emotional transparency.
I'm not suggesting people walk around all day spewing their feelings for one another without monitoring their delivery or assessing right timing. I am suggesting that we would all be a bit happier if we expressed ourselves with a more vulnerability and openness. I've actively been working on telling others how I feel and while it can sometimes seem like you're standing there with no skin on, in the end I've felt more liberated and less conflicted because I know that at least I've expressed myself.
Part of telling others how we feel means we grant people the space to do the same. Sometimes people may love what we have to say, at other times they may not like it at all. Expressing ourselves doesn't mean we get to control the reaction of the other person. Many people don't express themselves because they "know" they will or won't get a certain predetermined response. However I've found that people surprise you, particularly when you speak from your heart and allow your cracks to show.
It takes courage to risk rejection, which is really the only reason people avoid telling others their feelings anyway. We're afraid we won't be validated, understood, heard or mirrored. And truthfully, we may not be. However, it's our job to provide ourselves with those feelings not other people. Nonetheless, if you know how much you love receiving those things (being heard, mirrored and understood) you can practice giving them to others as an exemplar of compassionate listening.
It also takes courage to acknowledge our feelings to ourselves, particularly if they seem inappropriate, intense or overwhelming. Cultivating emotional transparency does not mean we cease doing our inner work. There should be a period of quiet reflection to assess whether the feelings we are harboring are best left to ourselves for the time being. Sometimes the wisdom to know when and how to express ourselves comes quickly, at other times we may have to sit with those feelings for a short time and seek to understand the root of those feelings. However, I caution the introverts out there who have a tendency to sit on feelings for too long until the moment passes (I've been guilty of this many times). There is an element of "seize the day" at work with emotional transparency.
I've thought about lying on my own deathbed with a bucket full of regrets, unsaid feelings and time wasted worrying about what I should have said to this or that person and I feel great sadness. However the thought of spending my last breaths reveling in the knowledge that I said what I felt to the people that mattered in my life fills me with a sense of contentment. We are so afraid of being diminished through vulnerability and transparency, when in actuality, the paradox is that we are strengthened by each wall that cracks. I'm working on dissolving my walls, and it's terrifying at times because I wonder who will be left standing with me when I've taken off all of my armor. The important thing I try to remember is that even if the whole world rejects me, I can stand in the cradle of my own being which can hold and support me just fine. And if there are people who care about me enough to witness that with me (and I for them) even better. Please let your cracks show.