Hairy Days Are(n’t) Here Again

1 week in

In January of this year, I decided to grow my hair. This might seem like a minor decision if you don’t know me personally, but I’ve been bald, or near bald, for 15 years.

During that time, I’ve been mostly happy with having no hair. However, last fall, I started feeling the weight of expectations of others about how I “should look” at my age, and in my position, and for my sex. So, with that as my underlying motivation, I decided to see about growing my hair.

The decision was rather fraught. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to start what I knew would be a period of funky looking hair. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let go of my trademark bald head. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give in to what I felt like I should do, after so long of not doing it. I wasn’t sure if all of that was wrapped up with a useless clinging and refusal to change (abhinivesha), or fear, or vanity. I felt guilty for the amount of time I was spending considering my self in this way (a little asmita, anyone?). I ended up deciding that I would just take it 1 week at a time, record my process with pictures, and see how it went.

5 weeks

After a few weeks, my hair was longer and I was getting less happy about it all. I couldn’t tell if my unhappiness was just because of the awkward stage the hair was in, how slow it seemed to be growing, or that I felt less like me. But, I wasn’t digging it.

An interesting social phenomenon was happening by that time, however. People who had never said a peep about my bald head suddenly had all sorts of questions – and I don’t mean from family and friends that I was deliberately engaging about the process, but people I wasn’t saying a thing to regarding what I was doing – about why I was bald before, what was making me grow my hair, and which option they thought looked better. Some I told about my reasons for baldness and for growing my hair. Some I didn’t. But, by about 10 weeks in, I really really was not interested in discussing my hair with people I don’t know that well on a personal basis. I had had it with explaining myself and was tired of feeling like both my justification for being bald and for growing my hair sounded silly in my own ears. And (AND), I just didn’t understand why everyone cared so much about the whole situation.

Just after week 13 hit, I was trimming the sides to keep them from looking funky when I got too close in one area and created an awkward set of bald patches. I was quite annoyed by this (very very) and complained about it for the whole evening to Mr. VeganAsana and a couple of my friends. The next day, I was even more annoyed, and by noon, I had decided that I was just done.

At the end of that day, I came home and pulled out my trusty clippers. I set them on the lowest setting and started cutting. The very first swipe made me smile. By the time I had my head half done, I was feeling so relieved and much more comfortable in my own skin.

So, now I’m back to being the bald me. Who knows if I’ll ever try again, but it almost certainly won’t be soon. I am comfortable with my bald self. I know that some other people would prefer that I cut it out (see what I did there?) but it’s not my job to make everyone else happy all the time. It is my job to feel ok with who I am. And, right now, who I am doesn’t have hair.

Just Because It’s Called the Universe Doesn’t Mean It’s All About U

You know how, when you are having an argument, occasionally the other person will say “I don’t think you are really seeing this from my perspective.”? Well, he/she is correct. You are not seeing things from his/her perspective. Because, as a human, the only perspective you can fully “see things” from is your own. The only way a person can experience the world of stimuli is with the self as center. Sure, you can try to take the perspective of the other, but ultimately, in doing so you are using your standpoint through which to attempt to replicate the standpoint of the other. The only eyes you can see with are yours. The only ears you can hear with are yours. The only brain you can process stimuli with is yours. The only set of experiences through which you can understand what you encounter is yours. Functionally then, you are the center of your perceptual world. Everything else radiates out from you.

However, that perceptual reality leads us to, sometimes, feel that we really are the center of the universe. And by “we” I definitely mean me. Think about the small situations that happen in life where someone – maybe the boss at work – announces that _____ has been occurring and must stop. The first response most people experience, “It wasn’t me!” Or when we flip the channel and catch the weather report and realize it’s going to be really cold tomorrow, it’s pretty rare for our first thought to not be about how that impacts us individually, even though it’s likely a far more serious issue for someone who is living on the streets.

In online communication, it seems like this can become even more heightened. When the conversation with the boss happens, if there are other people in the room, perhaps that reduces the immediate need for self-defensiveness, because it leaves a small window of possibility that maybe the boss isn’t really talking to you. But, if you are sitting at home, alone, reading that facebook message or blog post that seems to be talking directly to you, it’s easy to forget that there are many many readers and that the writer may not have intended it for you at all.

This might explain, to some degree, the level of defensiveness that happens in online discussions, even on sites that are ostensibly about building community. A writer talks about overly self-righteous yogis and individual readers feel accused and respond from that perspective – even if the writer does not know them and doesn’t seem to be saying that ALL yogis are that way. A mother who is using formula feeding for her infant reads an article about the cognitive/emotional benefits of nursing and feels personally attacked. A man who eats based on a Paleo diet reads a blog post about research on health impacts of animal protein and feels that the author is somehow saying he has made a poorly reasoned choice and responds with anger to the post. And the examples go on and on. I can certainly admit that there are times when I’ve read things online that are positions contradictory to mine and immediately had a defensive or angry response about that claims being made “about me,” and yet the claims really aren’t about me as an individual.

Right about now you might be thinking, “So, what, Lorin? This is all very philosophically interesting (or not), but why should I care?” The underlying point here is that, while the individual-centeredness of our perceptual experience may encourage us to slide into this view of self as the center of everything, when we can’t see it happening, and we respond to messages that contradict our own viewpoints with defensiveness and anger, we lose the opportunity to even approach limited understanding the perspective of the other. And without that, we reduce our potential to grow and change, and the ability to create connection.

The Internet gives us an amazing wealth of opportunity to open our mind’s eye to the experiences of others. We can, however partially, get a glimpse of other ways of being in the world that are vastly different from our own. It’s one of the biggest advantages of this worldwide participatory communication medium. Through online conversation, on discussion forums and blogs and community sites, we have a crazily wonderful potential to widen our perspectives through communication with the diverse other. But, it requires us to be open to “hearing” things that challenge us.

Confirmation of our own viewpoints is a nice thing. And, sometimes we need it. But, without experiencing some non-confirming information, and some alternative perspectives, we stagnate. We can’t develop as individuals or as a community. We risk forgetting that at the end of it all, the universe is about the unity, not about the u.

Accept Yourself and Be Beautiful

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power

When I was a child, my mother used to go through these “fits of interest” in a particular activity.  She would get interested in something, say leather work or model ship building or jigsaw puzzles or studying Japan, and it would take over her life.  Soon, we would have a room (or the dining room table) completely devoted to the activity, and have spent much money buying supplies and equipment needed for it.  Sometimes, she would insist that we all got involved – the jigsaw puzzles stand out here – and everyone would have to become a part of the process.  All of her time would be spent in pursuit of this activity, and it could go on for months, even a year or more.  Then, as suddenly as it began, it was over.  The equipment would get dusty from disuse, the books cast aside, items partially finished would linger on the counter, and eventually the next big thing would take over and the prior project would be cleared away to make way for the new one.

I never really understood what was going on with my mother.  She was good at these things she did, and she would get even better in the course of a certain obsession.  But, I was baffled at how deeply she became involved and how much of her (time, money, self) it consumed.  Now, as an adult, I think I get it.  She just wanted to be the best at something, or everything.  She was looking for that accomplishment that would make her “good.”

It’s so hard, for many of us, to be ok with who we are.  I’m no exception to this.  I can talk a good (excellent – HA!) game about equanimity and detachment and acceptance and asmita (egoism), but I have a very hard time really letting go of my urge to be better than I am.  This has revealed itself in so many ways in my life.  Dieting led to eating disorders for me, in a never ending quest to be thinner and better by giving in to the urges of the body less.  In my career, each accomplishment only causes me to think about what the next goal should be.  When I had my children, each childbirth experience was somehow flawed by my failings, and I would be determined that the next would be better.  If I start drawing or painting again, my first thought is that I’m not very good and I need to figure out how to improve.  My yoga mentor, Beth, would probably even tell you that my head leads all through my asana practice.  Oy.

I wish I knew what this was all about.  Why is it so hard to accept ourselves and be beautiful?  Is it all cultural, what we learned from growing up in societies that stress the value of success?  Is it part of our nature as a human animal?  Are we naturally programmed to be in competition with one another like lions compete for control of the pride?  Is it a little of each?  I don’t know.  But, I do know it’s a challenge for most of us, and likely one that is life long.

Maybe, the key is to try to accept the self in the now.  In this moment, be ok with who we are and be beautiful as we are.  Maybe tomorrow we’ll be back on the roller coaster of accomplishment and self-criticism.  But, if in this one instant we can be all right with exactly what we are now – all right with the wrinkles by the eyes, the belly that isn’t a sixpack (but could hold a sixpack), the singing voice that only has a range of 3 notes – all of it – we can really allow ourselves to be beautiful in the now.  And, maybe those moments of now will build up over time and make it all a little bit more possible.