What a hair cut taught me about letting go

I use to have dreads. Not just dreads, very long dreads. Not just very long, but down to my knees dreads. I had always loved the way they looked and felt from others and finally in my late 20’s I decided to go for it and start growing my own. Over the next decade they became a part of me, part of my vanity, my self-expression, and my identity. I was attached. And I paid a price for that attachment, as I came to realize. For this, let’s be real- hairstyle, I was paying with my health, my fun and freedom, and my relationship. At the end my dreads weighed about 4 lbs., almost half the weight of my head and I was carrying that around on my neck day after day. I couldn’t swim under water, stand directly under the shower head, or get stuck in a rainstorm without committing to days of a wet mop soaking my clothing and pillow as my “hair” dried. After I cut them off my husband admitted that as much as he had loved them, our nighttime cuddling had suffered because this mass of knots was always between us. So when my mom started to lose her hair from intense chemotherapy- I decided to leap and we shaved our heads together.

We are all attached and as long as we are in bodies there will always be that which we can liberate ourselves from; belongings, outcomes, people, our injuries or illnesses, non-nourishing habits, being right, the many roles we play, our ways of thinking and perceiving, and all the stories we tell ourselves that can keep us small, stuck, and unable to move forward with our evolution and our lives. We even get attached on the mat- to postures looking a certain way, to following our instructor’s directions, even to what we get out of practicing and the expectations of how we will feel afterwards. And so we pay the price with our health, our happiness, our relationship, our growth. The harder we hold, the more we suffer; with stress, fear, feeling disconnected, limited, enslaved , even out of control, and unfulfilled. So Yoga asks us to practice letting go, non-attachment, non-hoarding, and non-greediness in the Yama, or ethical restraint, of Aparigraha. We are asked to embark on the never ending task of untethering ourselves from the bounds of attachment to start to experience even the tiniest bit of spaciousness and freedom in this, as far as I can see, never ending, living, breathing, art of letting go.

Now don’t get me wrong, some attachments are healthy and even necessary. A newborn needs to attach for survival. Our muscles must attach to our bones for us to move. And this process of loosening our grip is hard. It’s a tangled, messy,and sometimes painful investigation of who and what we cling to, how we define ourselves, and the cost for holding on for dear life. If letting go was as easy as taking a razor to hair we would probably do it a lot more often, and discover as I did that the anticipation was much more difficult than the act itself. I admit I still miss my dreadlocks and some of who I was with them, but the ability to dive under waves, have my husband hold me close, run a brush through my hair, and to feel so light and free was well worth the loss.

So what do we do? We keep noticing. We keep practicing on the mat, on the meditation cushion, and in all of our experiences of slowing down and tuning in. We strengthen our muscle of self-awareness every time we turn inwards. We start to learn in this intentional witnessing where we are white knuckled in not only in our yoga postures, but in all of the postures of our lives. Slowly but surely we start to recognize the sensations and experiences of both contracting in our clinging, and opening as we soften. The sacredness, the transformation, the power is in the noticing itself. Then we get to choose when the price of holding on is just too high and then consciously decide how, and when, we will release. For me living a spiritual life doesn’t mean that all my attachments disappear, or that I am somehow less evolved for having them. It does mean that I dedicate time daily for this internal listening, for receiving my own intuitive guidance, and then imperfectly aligning my steps with my emerging truths. So I invite you to notice, and to share, where are you clutching, hoarding, and greedy? What price are you paying for holding on? What could life look like if you decided to try letting go?