Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Less There is of Me

As you probably know I've got an exhibition coming up next month, for the entire month, at the Oolong Teahouse in Calgary, Alberta. 

When I first began planning this exhibition way back in August I had intended to include this triptych but when I partnered with a photographer for the exhibition I decided against it. 

I did this piece very early on this year - in February I believe. It's a series of photos I took as I shaved my head, removing my then blue and pink hair. 

From the age of fourteen until I was 24 I regularly dyed my hair various colours. It was blue for nearly four years straight and then as I entered the working world and could afford to, I did it rainbow for Pride and kept it that way for at least a month. I dabbled in other colours - green for Hallowe'en, pink and blue for the fun of the contrast of it, and blue as the general default. 

My hair was very much part of my identity. I have had various nicknames and many of them had something to do with my hair: Blue meanie, Kool-aid, Rainbow Bright, Peacock... 

When I moved to the UK I knew I was going to be in a distinctly more conservative culture. While looking for work I felt it was important that I gave a good first impression as I know the assumptions people can make when they see brightly coloured hair or tattoos. So I grew my hair out and made sure I was as presentable as possible. I figured, once I'd secured a job and proven myself to be the highly productive employee that I am, I'd then be able to dye my hair again. 

This didn't end up happening though. Partially because the CEO where I first worked in the UK asked me not to and partially because I was sort of enjoying the freedom of having natural hair. Dyed hair requires a lot of work and upkeep and moving to a new country, adjusting to a different culture, starting a new job and also cultivating a new relationship were all very time-consuming things. 

For nearly four years my hair remained uncoloured until late last year when I found myself working somewhere that absolutely embraced and encouraged my creativity. I'd always associated my brightly coloured hair with this creativity and I decided I'd give it another go. I was eager, absolutely and entirely, to have my 'natural' look back. The look I'd identified with so strongly for most of my teenager and young adult years. 

But as soon as I rinsed my hair and saw the colour in the mirror I felt a pang in my chest and a sense of disconnect. I realised that the colour of my hair said nothing about who I was as a person. It was not a statement of my personality or energy. My external presentation may in some ways reflect that but it was not definitive of it. 

And then I had an incredible moment where a lot of the Dharma teachings I'd read and studied about ego and what that means clicked with my experience. 

I suddenly appreciated that a sense of 'me' was actually very artificial and that when I thought in terms of 'this is who I am' in relation to something physical I was limiting myself. I was forming an idea about who I was based on the appearance I chose to put out there. When I didn't have such ideas I felt a great freedom and flexibility. I felt a chance to grow and change and be different every day because every day I am different based on experience. 

It was liberating! Incredibly so! And suddenly something I'd once heard as a quote attributed to Leonard Cohen made a lot of sense to me: 
The less there is of me, the happier I am. 

Because when we think: 'This is Me' we put a lot of importance in it. We give it meaning and if it has meaning we think it really matters. But a lot of time the stuff we apply this meaning to doesn't actually matter at all. But we take ourselves too seriously and then we hold on to things best let go. 

We cling to an idea that people won't know who we are, or that we won't know who we are, if we don't have brightly coloured hair or we don't smoke or we don't dress in a particular way or we don't meditate a certain amount. 

But we were never one way to begin with (This is one of my mantras) and when we realise that it's incredibly liberating. 

It's a paradox as well - people change, people never change. Both are equally true. But what we realise is the things that change can be very superficial and the things that never change are inherent in our nature, our personality. But even these things change because they can deepen or weaken depending on how we choose to live our lives. 

By not clinging to an idea of who we are or who we want people to see us as (no one can truly know another person anyway) we allow ourselves to just be, as we are, in the present moment. 

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