The Power of the Symbolic Act

As I reach my 33rd year, and with this new moon in Aries, I am thinking a lot about new beginnings.

Something shifted this year. An old life ended, and a new one is just beginning. Bhairava https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/the-terror-of-my-own-universe/ has been my companion for a while. What I feel is akin to falling in love – my heart is ready to float out of my chest into the unknown, but I am terrified. What was before was familiar, but what is coming is unchartered territory. I can’t go back. I’ve been pushed out of a door that shut and bolted itself right behind me, and strangely all I can think of is my hair.

Why do you wear your hair the way you do? It is part of your identity, the person you want to show the world. A good hair day makes you feel good and a bad one can sometimes stop you from stepping out of the house. Women through history have perfumed their hair on special occasions. Even Muslim women who wear the head cover pays attention to her hair, brushing it until it shines. A successful courtesan tends to her hair painstakingly. When a Hasidic Jewish woman gets married she either shaves off all her hair or wears it very short under a wig. When a person completes the Islamic Haj, he or she is required to cut off a bit of hair to signify a new beginning. The power of symbolism is that one simple act can signify a million different things to different people.

Sometimes it’s not about the hair at all. It is an act that signifies something greater.

And there is something romantic, beautiful and strong about this kind of symbolic act.

Symbolism through history has had a strong impact. It is the ring on a finger, the burning of old love letters, the tombstone for a person whose body was lost at sea, the solidarity of standing silently in protest. After intentions are made, a symbolic act gives something just that much more strength. Like Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram instead of his son, a symbolic act can be an act of devotion, of surrender.

The practice of yoga, is amazing for the physical body but it also feeds our souls with posture that signify more than the obvious. There is mountain pose symbolizing the balance of Ardhanaishvara even without perfect symmetry. There is Hanuman Asana, signifying the devotion of the Monkey God as he leaped to Sri Lanka to rescue the beautiful Sita. In Natarajasana, there the peace and balance of Lord Shiva in the face of destruction. Then there is Shavasana, corpse pose, signifying that all things must end. And of course there are the mudras, each a symbol of the intention.

So based on all this, this year, I feel like something symbolic is needed, so I did something terrifying.

I chopped off all my hair.

The process :-)

The process 🙂

The last time I did this I was 19 and fearless. At that age, I fell hard and fast, mourned deeply and then would do it all over again the next week. I didn’t worry if any man would find my short hair attractive and if I didn’t have dates, then I would find something else to do (getting caught smoking by the campus guard and running because we thought it was a ghost perhaps?). We did stupid things, and then we laughed about them. Life was simpler, and so was I.

Without my mane, I feel a bit exposed, vulnerable. A lot more visible are the wrinkles, the dark circles, the freckles that I’ve just recently stopped trying to cover with makeup. More than that, every emotion I feel seen through eyes that can’t be hidden with a flip of the hair. In cutting it all off, I am allowing myself to be vulnerable.

So this is my act of surrender along with an intention to let go of the past and a prayer for the future. This is my goodbye, hello, sacrifice, gratitude, asking for blessing, forgiving and asking for forgiveness, letting go of love and inviting love in, shedding old skin so that a new one can take shape. This is me allowing myself to stop waiting for my father to come home.  This is one book closing so that a new chapter can begin.

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A symbolic act need not be great. It doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone but you. It can be as simple as a new journal or as complicated as a move to a different country. It can be laying your forehead down on the mat in surrender, or holding your hands in a mudra. What matters most is the intention behind it. It is your journey, your choice, your story. Doing something symbolic is, in itself, a form of therapy.

What symbolic acts would you like to bring in to your life, your practice, and perhaps to seal your intentions?

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Pleasure and Meaning

Taking my own photo during a 5 minute break – meaning?

Today, I am at the EA PA Forum (I’m a Conference Producer by profession) where, one of the speakers made a point about pleasure and meaning. According to her studies, we have become a pleasure seeking society, but on the flip side, the pleasure we seek often lacks meaning. In Sydney apparently, the main pleasure seeking channel is cocaine. Well it is, for those who can afford it, the ones we are conditioned to think of as being “successful.” Unfortunately, as one of my beloved Gurus, Michael Ross would say “what goes in must come out and sometimes it hurts when it comes out.”
Listening to this today, I wonder if this speaker is right. Have we got more pleasure in our lives but less meaning? And why do we need extra substances to find pleasure? As children, didn’t the simplest thing fill us with pleasure? When did we lose it? I say we because I am not an island in this case. How bad was I? Well, I’ll share this – the first time my last partner wanted me to meet his friends was for a movie. I flat out refused, and honestly said that I couldn’t meet new people while I was sober. That’s how bad it was.
I thought I was bad, but I know people who need weed when they have to go out and meet people. Meeting people, socialising, a thing that should be pleasurable for us as social creatures, has become something we can’t do without stimulants. So we have alcohol, and drugs, to facilitate meeting 50 people a night. We add them to our Facebook and LinkedIn accounts via our mobile phones right then and there. We promise to catch up for drinks, which we do, when one of us needs something from the other. However, while we are high on some form of stimulant or another, what do we remember of these meetings? Or does it not matter as long as we remember their distinguished job titles? Is the meaning of our lives made out of the most expensive bottle of champagne and the job titles of the people we know?
Currently, I am also reading a book written by Michelle Berman Marchildon entitled “Finding More on the Mat.” Yes, the book speaks about her yoga journey, but she also speaks briefly about how she suffered from post-natal depression and was on anti-depressants. Michelle speaks about how she gave up the anti-depressants because although they stopped the depression, they also made her numb.
Thinking back to the days when I was a stimulant junkie, I remember the part of me that was seeking pleasure, but there was also the part of me that was avoiding pain. What did I find out? Well, for one thing, Michael was right, and sometimes when your body is trying to push out the things that don’t belong there, it hurts, not just physically, but emotionally as well. For another thing, there is something bigger than you, and this thing wants balance. Extreme pleasure is balanced off by extreme displeasure. Some people just live through the displeasure and discomfort, and move on, but others hold it off by adding more stimulants, and more, and more after that. Then one day, you take it all away and the world comes crashing down.
I would love to lead a meaningful life. By that I don’t mean I’m going to get everyone into a debate about the meaning of life. From my elders I have learned that life is pleasure and pain. Life is nothing without feeling. I’m not the kind of person who jumps off planes or rides rollercoasters (I found out the hard way when I got off a rollercoaster and ended up riding the porcelain bus the next half hour), but one thing I would like to work on is to be brave enough to feel. Not feeling things superficially, but really feeling things, and not limiting my feelings to pleasure, but expanding them to include sadness, anger and pain. Hopefully, someday I will be brave enough to let go of my pursuit of pleasure and just feel everything. Why? Because yin without yang creates nothing, light without darkness is not light and pleasure without displeasure is a journey of emptiness.
Some questions that remain; Where are we now as a society? Where is our pursuit of pleasure leading us? What will we do for the pursuit of pleasure? And most of all, where is our conscience? When all the drugs are gone and the parties are done, when there is only silence, how well do we know the people in our lives? And most of all, while our brains are engaged and we’re in the who’s who of social circles, in silence, are we at peace with ourselves? I know I am not, not 100% but hopefully someday I’ll get there.