Someone in Sung had some marvelous hats to sell, so he took them to Yüeh. But the Yüeh tribes crop their hair short and tattoo their bodies: they had no use for marvelous hats.
— Chuang Tzu, The Inner Chapters
I had my reasons. Since teenage years I’d wanted to experience the feeling of having long hair. I first started growing it long after dropping out of Bible college while first exploring my authentic self.
As a young adult I knew a Kiowa woman whose longing for her eldest son to follow his cultural-spiritual ways brought her to tears when she saw his hair growing long, ears pierced, and heard him sing his prayers to the rising sun. That had nothing to do with me, but my own spirit responded to hers in a desire to continue wearing my hair long. And at 30 years of age I pierced my ears, which solicited a haranguing from my father.
Rastafarian belief inspires me, and I share in that religion’s wearing long hair as active dissent from social control, tearing down the repressive conventions of Babylon.
The depth of my identity with these values manifested in my agonizing over my partner’s and children’s desire to for them to wear their hair short. I finally decided that my wearing my hair long as a symbol of my dedication to human freedom was more than a little inconsistent with denying my family freedom to wear their hair short.
But I struggled most profoundly with my own decision to cut my own hair short.
At 42 I looked in the mirror and no longer liked what I saw. But I mostly struggled with what other people would think. I had a pit in my stomach in anticipation of comments like “oh, so much better”, “you’ve matured”, or “more professional.” Not one of which were the message I wanted to send; I didn’t have a message. I unfortunately inherited my maternal grandfather’s receding hairline, my paternal grandfather’s bald spot and could no more pull the combination off than sporting Sasquatch roadkill for a hat.
This internal conflict continued for months until I arrived at this: not cutting my hair because of what people might think is just as contrary to my authentic self as if I were to cut my hair because of what people think. Authenticity travels a path without regard to whether others walk in the same direction or another.
In New Seeds of Contemplation Thomas Merton wrote:
…there is no cogito (“I think”) and no ergo (“therefore”) but only SUM, I Am. Not in the sense of a futile assertion of our individuality as ultimately real, but in the humble realization of our mysterious being as persons in whom God dwells, with infinite sweetness and inalienable power. (9)
A spiritual path is not as easy as “do this and not that“. Rather, each step is realized in meditation and self awareness. Much less resisting bad choices in others, much more promoting the spirit of truth in ourselves. In this I concur with Chuang Tzu: “Nothing can compare to simply living out your inevitable nature. And there’s nothing more difficult.”