We often hear people talk about facing challenges, adversities, and changes “fearlessly.” I once read, that courage is not the absence of fear. Rather it is being able to acknowledge and be in the presence of fear, but proceed with courage at the same time. When we allow the voice of the Self to be heard, change is often in the air which then causes fear to arise. In yoga, one of the spiritual ethics known as“niyamas” is “tapas.” The Sanskrit definition can mean “fiery discipline.” It can mean intense, committed discipline needed to burn off the things that impede us from living in a true state of union with ourselves and the divine such as our habituations, our attachments, and our aversions. Tapas can also be the friction and resistance we feel in the presence of change when our egos feel threatened. For me, locking my hair is my tapas. I will tell you the story of why.
After about 20 years of wanting to have locked hair, turning 40 seemed to present itself as the most optimal opportunity to do so. If I didn’t do it now, then I would probably never follow through with it. The question that kept arising was, “but why now and not before?” How did I wait 20 yearsand suddenly decide to lock my hair? The decision was far from impulsive and the issue was no longer about hair. The clarity that emerged from the process of making the decision was this:
1. I have always made decisions based upon receiving approval or avoiding rejection from others.
2. Change is scary
3. I am very attached to my hair.
Numbers 2 and 3 I can roll with. Number 1? No way. No more. Something has to give. Now, I am just angry. I was always told that people with tattoos, piercings, and locked hair couldn’t get jobs. In fact, I had tried so hard to fit myself into boxes so that I could carry out the vision of others, that my own passion and purpose was long forgotten. Even though the ripe old age of 40 has gotten me reading glasses, my meta-perspective has become 20/20. I call BS. I was suddenly flooded with a barrage of thoughts that if many of the decisions I had made in my life were based upon receiving approval or avoiding rejection from others, then what would my life look like if I had made decisions from my heart’s space? If I had a mic, I would drop it. I’m not sure what was scarier. This major record stopping realization or the process of taking my waist long hair and letting my friend backcomb and weave it into a feral looking state of frizz.
As she lovingly tended to my hair over a two day, 16 hour process, she told me that locks take time to mature. She, after all is the wise woman in the story who has been through the same transformation herself and has emerged as an empowered being worthy of matriarchal status. She said they go through developmental stages, much like human beings. Infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and mature adulthood. Every stage brings its share of trials and tribulations. This story is no longer about hair and it was no longer about being angry about my decisions. In fact, many of my decisions were profoundly transformative. One led me to the love of my life, which led me to my two angels on earth. This was an opportunity to transition into a new chapter of mylife, holding both my fear and mycouragewith compassion and lovingkindness. My hair would be a visual representation of this messy and sacred process. Making decisions based upon the projections of others is what kept me safe in the world for many years. It served a purpose. It satisfied my need to feel loved and accepted like a quick fix, while numbing the pain of knowing that I was not acting in alignment with my true essence because the risk of abandonment was terrifying. However, what ensues in this pattern of conditioning and habituation is far more destructive. The abandonment of the Self leads to patterns of incessant self-doubt and lack of self-agency.
When I headed into work the weekend after my hair was done, I felt waves of fear as I drove into the parking lot. “Will people notice?” “Will my supervisor accuse me of not following the dress code?” I had many people tell me that I shouldn’t have done it, while an equal number said it “suited me.” I even had a co-worker shake her head at me disappointinglyas if I had violated some major rule and say, “I can’t believe you did that to your beautiful hair.” In that moment, the same inner sensation of rejection I felt as a 5 year old on the playground when someone didn't want to play with me, rippled throughmy belly and chest with sensation until it dissolved back into the abyss of consciousness. My 40 year old eyes can spot a projection a million miles away now. There was no longer a charge nor an impulse to change it back. It didn’t matter if my hair was validated or invalidated. There was only a sense of liberation. I had finally made a decision based on what I wanted while befriending the fear rather than trying to be fearless. Even though the tapas can grow into a fiery inferno, I am safe with knowing that I have the balm to cool the flames, as it has always been inside of me.