“Did what?” you may ask. Why, shaved my head, of course. My hair was, as one friend put it, “One of my defining characteristics.” I had long, shiny, luxurious brown hair that tended to curl and frame my face gently. I looked at my hair as my best physical feature and I was proud of it. I spent a considerable amount of time and money on caring for it, this bunch of dead cells that sat atop my head. All in the name of vanity. What was I covering up? What was I hiding? Who was I without those lustrous locks? And what would other people think about me?! All these and more were questions that arose in my mind when thinking about shaving off my hair.
The story begins 15 years ago when I first got into scuba diving and I would look at the shaved heads of the male dive masters with envy as I painstakingly disentangled my hair from my gear, yet again, after a dive. I was attracted to the ease of it. Imagine how simple life would be without all this hair to worry about. But the vanity stopped me. I couldn’t fathom looking so weird! Years passed and the idea faded out of my existence.
Then about a year ago a girlfriend came back from India with her head shaved and a look of serenity and peace on her face. She didn’t look weird, she looked beautiful and so much more like herself. Her light was more visible without any added distractions. I admired her courage but didn’t really think about taking the step myself. And then, within the past couple of weeks, it seems as if all of the circumstances aligned to make shaving my head seem the most natural and obvious step for me at this time.
The seed was planted recently when I was unable to get an appointment with my regular hairdresser – I was distraught. And I’m not overstating the case right now. I was preparing to leave the country for an undefined period of time and I wanted to look my best. My hair was a big piece of that picture. I spent considerable time and energy sourcing other hairdressers and vetting them to see if they had what I was looking for. I eventually found one I was happy with and had a good haircut. I spent money on the cut and then spent more money on the products I purchased to try and make my hair look the way it did when I left the salon (all in vain, might I add). Over the next couple of months I spent hours blowdrying my hair, tying it back, worrying about it, and fixing it. I started to become conscious of how vain I was in regards to my appearance. In the past I had considered myself not very vain about how I looked. In fact, I had actually experienced vanity about not being vain (um, yeah, welcome to my world!) My previous self-image was unraveling as I realized that how I looked had become a priority to me that was beginning to take pride of place. In my quest for self-knowledge and liberation I knew it would serve me well to nip this excess of hubris in the bud before it got out of hand.
Simultaneous to these realizations that I was just as image conscious as every other human being in the world I was planning a trip to Thailand to take part in a one month yoga teacher training. This is the culmination of ten years of desire for me. I have felt the call to deepen my own practice while at the same time sharing my passion and love of the practice with others for a long time. A big part of this coming experience for me is the release of the past five years of illness and limited mobility. My life has been defined by my physical limitations for the past few years and I am finally feeling better and stronger and more like myself. I know that my practice during the next month will be an opportunity to release the muscle memory around my illness and to allow my body to complete the final stages of healing. As I realized that I would be cleansing my body of the last vestiges of illness I also became aware that the hair that I took such pride in was simply long strings of dead sick cells. They carried the memory of my illness and I spent much time and resources in making them look their best! I didn’t want to carry any physical memory of being ill around with me for an indefinite period of time. I wanted to let it all go. All of the fear, and uncertainty, and weakness, and anger, and confusion, and the fear, the fear, the fear. I wanted to let it all go.
And when I serendipitously saw my beloved friend Denise I knew that performing the mundun was the best course of action for me at this time. I knew that I could release everything that I was and everything that I was still grasping on to. I could liberate myself and simplify my life at the same time 🙂 I have to be honest, there was a highly practical aspect to my choice as dealing with long hair while practicing yoga all day and being in the ocean wasn’t appealing. The symmetry of the plan appealed to my love of efficiency and we set the date. I was surprised at how excited I was and I was also pretty sure that once I had done it I would experience “Buyer’s Remorse”.
In preparation I did some research into the meaning of the religious ceremony in India and discovered that it was performed on children between the ages of one and three. It was partially done for hygienic reasons and partially to mark freedom from the past and a symbolic release of dependence on the mother. All of this was in alignment with what I wanted to accomplish. The morning of the ceremony I luxuriated in the feel of my hair as I ran my hands through it and allowed it to cascade over my face. I washed my hair and anointed it with oils. I gave thanks for every event in my life that had brought me to this point and I gave thanks for this opportunity to experience a new facet of myself. I prayed to Ganesha for guidance as I faced the obstacles in my life and I reminded myself of what is important to me and how it feels to reside in my center. I celebrated Denise’s part and we shared a lovely meal together before we got started.
I decided to donate my long hair to a non-profit that makes wigs for people dealing with debilitating diseases so the first step was to put my hair in a ponytail and cut it off all in one go. The next step was to use a pair of clippers to shave the hair that was left on my scalp. While Denise was doing this I focused on my breath and on being present with the trepidation, the release, and the ease that I was feeling. The final step in the dehairing process was to shave my scalp with a razor. Throughout the process I felt happy and light. It felt good to be letting go. After my head was completely shaved Denise and I chanted the names of the Divine Mother in acknowledgment. In completion we took the hair that was shaved from my head and scattered it in a flowing body of water to symbolize the final release of the past and the return of all that is to the earth.
And then it was done! I was bald! And it feels good 🙂 My head feels physically lighter and the scalp has been highly sensitive. I get a little surprise when I look in the mirror or catch my silhouette but that is fading. I love not having to think about what I’m going to do with my hair or when I have to wash it next. This is definitely the lowest maintenance haircut I have ever had! And most importantly, I am able to relate to myself as something other than the way I look. I am not my hair. I am not my image. I am not the memory of my illness. I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God created me.