I sat in the hairdresser’s chair, elevated enough so that I could see my reflection in the mirror before me. I asked her to take a photo from the back to show my long tresses, flowing in waves and soft curls almost down to my waist. This was going to be a big change, and I wanted to have a visual memory of it.
For almost my entire life I’ve worn my hair long, with the exception of two short periods in my childhood that I decided to experiment – which turned out poorly – and four years in college where I wore my curls about chin length. I’ve strongly identified myself with the image of long hair – but is it Who I Am?
Recently, I’ve been revisiting this image, and the attachment I have towards aspects of myself, superficial or internal. The need to be the expert and to know what I’m doing. To shy away from getting dirty. To avoid taking risks. And, on a surface level, a woman with long hair. I’ve limited myself by these ideas of who I am.
Our True Self
I decided, that’s enough! I want to be free of those limitations, and allow myself to be whatever I AM in any given moment. To be truly free, according to the yogic tradition and many other spiritual paths, we must let go of our attachments and identifications. We come to recognize that we aren’t long hair or short, a businessman or a nature nut. We’ve simply grown attached to and comfortable with those thought-forms about ourselves. The Truth of who we are is not limited by what we think – except when we believe it.
Our True Self, with the capital T, is what is ultimately Real. According to yoga philosophy, the capital “R” Real is defined as the unchanging and eternal. It always was, is, and shall be. Even the most enduring of these labels in this lifetime – our gender – is not something we can claim has always been or shall be (especially not nowadays!). What will remain after this body passes away?
The Inner Witness
What remains, and that we’ve always been, might be called soul or spirit in Western minds. In the East, it is described as consciousness, or the Inner Witness.
You or I can have thoughts – “oh, I love my long hair! It’s who I am.” We then identify with those thoughts and believe that is who we are. But hair grows, and it can be cut short or grown long – it fluctuates and changes. How can it be who we are?
However, what is constant through any thoughts we have is the Witness part of ourselves, watching those thoughts. We can have emotions, like joy or despair. While we deeply feel these experiences, there is always a part of ourselves that observes the emotion we feel, watching it from a place beyond it. The same can be said of our physical sensations.
In the weeks leading up to my appointment with the hairdresser, I watched my ideas of who I thought I was from the Inner Witness. I observed my hair, its darker roots mixed with wiry gray, and the lighter, sun-kissed ends of golden brown. Yes, it’s my hair. But it’s not Who I Am.
Another image came to me about my True Self – the Inner Witness – and my hair. It was a painting on a canvas. There I am, painted with fair skin and long, wavy/curly brown hair. But I’m not the painting. I’m not the paint, or the canvas, or even the brushes. I’m the Painter. That’s my True Self, and the Witness of whatever paint I choose to use on that canvas. I can create whatever I like with my hair, my thoughts, my actions. I am the Painter.
With that realization, I knew I was ready for the change. I looked down and closed my eyes, wanting it to unfold without watching. My stylist cut off the main length of my hair and handed it to me, curled up in a cup. She proceeded to cut, layer by layer, my hair into and almost shoulder-length style. My curls came alive, bouncing up in ringlets. I sat under the dryer, waiting to see what would appear on the canvas.
I was concerned – would I regret my decision? Would I go home and cry, and wish I could paste it all back on? Or would I be joyful, delighted by the new look, playful and free?
The Same Me
My reaction surprised me – nothing. I felt neither joyful nor regretful. Hey, that’s a cute new hairdo. No big deal. I can wear it this way, I can grow it out.
I am the same Me that I was before. The hair didn’t change that.
I knew that I am the Inner Witness. I am the Painter, my hair now short on a new canvas. Because I was clear about the Truth of Who I Am, I was now free to have my hair any way I wanted it. I’m not defined by my hair, but am the Infinite Divine Self I’ve always been.
You, too, are the Painter. You are the Inner Witness. Choose to paint whatever you like. But know your True Self to be the unchanging presence, watching and creating it all.