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.

Letting Go of Me

I’ve spent 45 years cultivating my “self.” I’ve developed pretty strong understandings of my characteristics and beliefs. I’ve established standards for my own behavior and defined what is and is not acceptable for me.

And yet, as a student/researcher of communication, I’ve long believed that the “self” is a socially created construct, which arises from our interactions with others. I’ve thought that standards of behavior, my own or someone else’s, are arbitrary and developed through culture.

More recently, as a yoga student, I’ve refined my notion that the attachment to the story of self (asmita) must be released in our process of becoming more connected with that which is universal. It makes sense to me that the emphasis on the me, the I, is counter-productive in cultivating union.

But… isn’t there always a but? But, it’s hard. It’s hard to let go of “me.” And I look around and see many other yogis having the very same problem. It’s hard not to attach to the stories you have built over time that explain the self. It’s hard not to feel and attach to a sense of personal accomplishment about what you can do (even in a yoga class, which has it’s own irony) or guilt/shame about what you cannot.

It all becomes more tricky, because there is an infinite regress of places where the “me” can pop up. Let’s say that you get comfortable with letting go of attachment to your sense of personal accomplishment regarding asana. Then the next level is to let go of the sense of accomplishment over having let go of the sense of accomplishment. Ouch. And it just goes on from there.

We also live in a world that will require you to create stories of you (what is a resume, after all), and will certainly create stories about you. That doesn’t mean you have to attach to the stories, but it does mean that you likely have to participate in them, and commit to enacting them, which makes it harder not to attach to them.

To some degree, the development of an understanding and set of beliefs about self is part of our humanity. Some scholars would say that the ability to abstractly understand and evaluate the self in relation to others and the world is what makes us human. Letting that go completely may not be possible, or desirable.

Maybe a more reasonable goal is to cultivate awareness of when the story of me is cropping up in a way that prevents us from seeing our unity with that beyond, keeps us from opening up to other possibilities, stands between us and our ability to truly experience the present, and blocks us from being able to understand and empathize with the reality that others are living.