Sunday, November 21, 2010


I'm listening to an online lecture on the Eightfold Path.

I think it's Ajahn Thanasanti Bhikkhuni speaking. She spoke at Harvard several weeks ago. I missed it. (I'm missing a lot of things lately. Good things, things that I want to be a part of. I did something else that morning. Maybe I shouldn't have. But I remember that morning, and I had a great time.)

There's a lot about internal dialogue in this talk— something that at this point in the semester I have to watch carefully. What is our "background noise" like? Ideally, she says, it will be full of "creation, goodwill, harmlessness to our selves." Yes.

First head-shave, maybe 2009
But the thing that caught my ear, early on in the broadcast (about 8:00?) is when she speaks about renunciation. She talks about fasting and "giving up cuddles," two renunciations I have not tried. She also mentioned ... head-shaving!

I hadn't thought of it this way before. Renunciation?
I shaved my head knowing that it felt freeing in social and aesthetic ways. I did it knowing that it adds an edge to the way I look that is both frightening and illuminating for me. I did it knowing that I fit in better with the people I like to fit in with, and get gawked at less by the people whose eyes I don't want to figure into my daily navigation of the world. I did it knowing that it gives me less to hide behind, but also less topographic space to worry about.

If the hair is there, and I'm in public, it should be intentional and lovely. My hair should be somehow welcoming... It should invite conversation. It should allure.

If the hair is not there, I don't have to worry that it's not perfect. And having a shaved head — I don't think there can be a way in which a shaved head on a white woman is perfect, and not jarring to most people, who might think (and actually sometimes say) "Cancer?" or "Sinead O'Rebellion!" as I walk down the street. In shaving my head, I think I accept this.

Head-shaving feels like some kind of renunciation, yes. And liberation. But not neutrality. It protects me from something. It also isolates me from something. It draws me closer to some people, and creates odd, unspoken chasms with others. What have I renounced? What have I welcomed in its place?

The Universe Machine?
So, I missed Bhikkuni in person. Bummer. Now I'm listening to her online instead, and she's still passing along something powerful. I don't think I "cracked the cosmic egg," as my friend Emma is fond of saying. I didn't break the universe. I sometimes envision a really complex machine, something out of Jules Verne, and I'm this little funny-shaped part, and if I don't do my "supposed to" thing, the alarms and whistles start going off and the entire thing comes to a screeching halt and we lose production time.

Or perhaps the machine just embarks on a slightly different project. Because the machine is organic. Perhaps as I am shaving my head or showing up somewhere other than where I meant to, the machine is growing another arm or gear to allow me to do what I do and still exist within the grand scheme and the productive whole. If that's true, in a universe of interconnectedness, not only can't I break the machine — the springs I picture ricocheting across the room are purely imaginary — I can't do even something so weird/bad that I'm really separate. And neither can you.

So, that's all right then.

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