Life Lessons in a Snip

A few days ago I got my hair cut shorter than I have, ever (if you don’t count the time I shaved my head). I had been contemplating a short style for quite some time, inching my way closer and closer with tentatives every few months; cuts which took me from shoulder- to neck-length. Cautious would be one term to qualify these attempts. But to me these “snip-ettes” felt bold. As bold as did the changes I was making in my life at the time. I’d had long-ish hair for awhile. The style had accompanied me through a marriage, raising children, a separation, a divorce, seeing my children grow and leave the nest, a new relationship… and its recent end. Each haircut marked a shift in my relationships, and a letting go of an identity. One hairstyle at a time.

So when I arrived in Switzerland for a family holiday soon after the long-time-coming finalization of my divorce, change was fresh in the air, fresh in my psyche and in my cells. It was time. Time to let go. Time for a new cut.

I will not lie. I was nervous. Well, excited and nervous. I reached out to those closest to me and asked my mama to come along for the ride. She did so, enthusiastically. Her enjoyment was only multiplied by the complimentary espresso, French gossip-magazines and repeated requests for her input about the style, cut and color by Maria, the hairdresser/artist/counselor extraordinaire.

Neither my mother nor I were prepared for the transformation that took place. The process, which took most of one whole afternoon (!), had whispers of the magical in it. As Maria aptly put it, the butterfly was emerging from her cocoon.

And what a surprise. The form, colors and magic of a new look, and a new life.

Midwife to this metamorphosis, Maria was full of encouragement, wisdom and humor. I couldn’t have asked for a more skilled and insightful attendant.  In our conversations that flowed intermittently between the snips, hair flips, coloring, plastic wrap, brushing, washes and clouds of vaporized hair products, something gelled (Yes, yes. Pun intended).

One after the other insights and understandings came into focus. Clear as the cut, as bright as my new highlights. Bam, bam, wham. Was it the fumes of the non-organic, non-anything-natural- beauty products getting to my brain? Or was it just one of those moments in life when things click into place, like the pieces of a puzzle do? Who knows. Whatever it was, here they are:

  1. Dare to change. Here’s the deal.  I’ve always had my part on the same side, on the left. It’s the easiest and laziest way to go. Maria’s first move was to change that. One flip of the comb and “poof”, the look was completely different. Maria very matter-of-factly told me that habits need to be broken, otherwise we fall asleep to ourselves. I dared to go with her suggestion and am so happy I did. It was a reminder that when the opportunity to change an old habit arises, it is wise to go with it. So, my friends, shake things up, live it up and flip your part! You will be amazed by what you uncover.
  2. Do something you have never done before. I’ve never had bangs (willingly), or something crossing my forehead. Nor have I ever indulged in a far-out-hair-dresser-doo-wop-day. Other than simply dropping a habit, it’s incredibly liberating and revealing to try something new, to venture into foreign territory. There is nothing more powerful to breathe some new life into yourself.
  3. Be clear, state what you want and the Universe will meet you there. Going in I knew I wanted to look gorgeous, feminine and “me”. I also knew I wanted something short. All of these factors were so alive in my focus that they fell into place. Bam! Stop over-thinking, stop  dragging your feet. Take your time, get quiet, get clear and go for it.
  4. Admit what is present and alive in you. I told Maria, straight up, that I was nervous about this procedure. She met me right where I was and tuned in. Reassuring, without being overly so, she sensed when I was ready to take a leap, and guided me to the edge.
  5. Dare to be drop-dead beautiful. Beauty is pure you-ness, truth and love. Claim all of that and radiate it. This is life calling itself.
  6. Focus on what is beautiful, positive and unique about you. Spend so much time doing so that you have no time left to criticize others. You’ll have so much more to share with the world when you do.
  7. Live life in full color. For the hair make-over we added highlights, streaks of blond (my natural color before some grey and heavy metal city water toned it down). I considered the fact that there were most-likely some funky toxic materials in the white goop Maria was streaking through my hair. After contemplating the potential side effects for all of 5 seconds, I decided I could live with it. Pick your battles. Have fun. And let the color shine through.
  8. No one knows how to take care of you, better than you. Asked if I wanted the massage chair turned on while I had my hair washed, masked (yes, that happens!), and god knows what else, I said “yes” to the offer. All smiles, Maria affirmed: “Il faut savoir se gater, ma belle. Personne d’autre le fera aussi bien” (One has to know how to spoil oneself. No one else will do it as well as you).
  9. Life is too short to settle for less than your heart’s calling. We’ve heard it said before, and I will state it again, do not waste your time being miserable, praying for the other to change, wishing your life were different than it is. Change yourself, switch your perspective, do everything to take care of yourself, to open your mind, your heart, one baby step at a time. Believe in yourself and know you have the strength and courage to transform yourself. Dance to your Soul’s tune; it is part of the Universe’s symphony. Do this, and watch how those around you will join in, dancing themselves alive.

Toxic fumes and flashes of insight aside, here is what I know for certain today: We are Spirit manifest, made of star dust, made of the Universe itself. And just as the stars shine, the sun rises and sets, the oceans sway in tides, just as all elements of the manifest world do their thing, we are here to do just that…to be exactly who we are, as we are, beautifully imperfect and messy. Absolutely, unapologetically, outrageously, radiantly, gorgeous. For today and for all times, dance your dance, sing your song. You are invaluable. You are Life. Shine… shine…shine.

Oh, India…

It has been 5 days since I returned from India. Now, comfortably settled in the familiarity of home, work and routine in Kathmandu, the “high” of travel, and more precisely, the “high” of travel in India, is beginning to wear off.

For those of you who have been to India, you most likely are nodding your head (or bobbing it side to side, Indian-style) understanding without further explanation what this high, what India, what travel in India, are all about. Is it love or hate? Is it trauma or euphoria? Or a blend of both?

When I made my way onto the short flight from Kathmandu to Calcutta I was still talking myself into believing this trip was a good idea. Only a few hours earlier had my plans been finalized. Up until then tickets had yet to be confirmed and, more importantly, my stay at Rikhia Peeth ashram had yet to be cleared. Life in last minute-ness. This is a way that I am well used to, living in Asia, and being a last-minute-gal by nature. This time around, however, it was something that didn’t settle well with me. And so I left for India, and for the ashram, half heartedly.

Any, and every, time I head to India, something happens. By “something” I mean an experience that catches me by surprise. It is normally an event that was not planned, and that had no way– by any stretch of the imagination or logic– to happen. But it does, in India. The unthinkable, the unforeseeable, the unexpected happens. And it happens no matter how diligently I plan.

Whenever I head to India, knowing that I am going to the encounter of the Great Unknown, I do a little ritual. Wherever I am (in a plane, train, jeep, rickshaw, horse-drawn cart) I close my eyes, quiet my half-panicked/ half-exhilarated mind, place my hands over my heart and pray. I give my word to surrender to the flow of life, to follow the stream of the experience no matter what happens. In the same breath I ask for protection and clear guidance. I jump into Life and, like a child to her mother, trust that in doing so I will be held in Her Grace.

It’s funny how perceived experiences of potential danger and the prospect of the unknown can bring us lickety-split into a state of presence and surrender. It’s ironic that we (I) forget to do this more often. Because, in fact, we are on the precipice of the unknown at every moment of our lives. With each breath, with each step, we walk the edge between life and death. In each moment we die and are reborn again.

So, there I was, on the flight to Kolkata, uncertain, praying, and hopeful. As ready for the unexpected as I could be. A smooth and comfortable flight landed us in the West Bengal capital. The air is heavy with heat and humidity. As I step off the plane onto the tarmac my clothes cling to my skin as though I just took a shower, fully clothed. Hot stuff. The discomfort is quickly relieved by the air conditioning in the impressive new airport. I don’t recognize a thing. The airport has been completely renovated since I was last here a few years ago. Dazzled by the modernity I am also taken off guard. Surprised at how quickly and drastically things can change.

In this new labyrinth of hallways and terminals I resort to following signs, and the flow of fellow passengers. Immigration and luggage pick up are smooth sailing. Lifted by the ease of the experience I head through customs into the arrivals lounge to make my way to the Pre Paid taxi counter, confident and relaxed. I need to get to my guest house, about a half hour ride away. I had decided to spend a night in the city and take a day train the following day, rather than rush from the airport onto a night train to my next destination. Whether it was good thinking, travellers luck or divine grace, it was a good decision. The PrePaid taxi counter is deserted. There’s a taxi strike. Until when, no one knows.

With the rest of the stranded travellers I line up in front of the private taxi counter. After what feels like forever I get to the front of the line only to be told there are no more taxis left. “You’ll have to wait an hour Ma’am.” And it is going to cost me four times the price I had budgeted for. Here’s the thing: an hour in India could be anything. It could be the actual 60 minutes it is said to be; it could also be 15 minutes or 2 hours, or 24. So, we’ve got the time factor. And we’ve got a money factor to deal with. I am low on Indian Currency. With the holiday season and money forgery business thriving, it was impossible to get any Indian Currency in Nepal before leaving. And Nepali currency is non convertible. But I am prepared! I have an ATM card and some dollars cash, on me.

Prepared. The ATM machine is empty and the money exchange counter, all sparkling new, is closed. No kidding. India, I love you. Wake me up, shake me up, you do.

Breathe. I can either fight this and take it as an affront to my plans. Or I can go with the flow and trust that all of this is actually in my best interest. Before heading out of the airport doors into the Kolkata night to find some means of transportation, I find my way to the departure level, talk the army guard into letting me through to use an ATM machine (it is working!) and collect some much needed cash. Note to self: Think outside the box. Ask for help when necessary.

Crossing the threshold of the fancy sliding doors, I finally emerge into the Kolkata night air. It is still humid and heavy. It’s intoxicating. Across the way is a taxi stand. Making my way through the sparse traffic, I step onto the pavement and come face to face with a gentle looking older man with heavy grey dreadlocks that fall below his waist. “Taxi, ma’am?”. Yes please. The blue-suit clad baba directs me to the counter where I enter negotiations (well, where the taxi-walla humors my attempts at negotiations) and leave with a signed receipt and a promise for a ride. Proud to be paying only double–not quadruple– what I normally would, I am directed towards an old white Ambassador. I opted for the classic, non-AC, ride.

It turns out the dreadlocked baba is my driver. He ushers me into the car. The big, springy back seat meets the weight of my bag and body with a whoosh of welcome. My eyes accustom to the dark and make out a makeshift shrine to Kali Maa on the dashboard. I exhale deeply. Finally safe. The baba makes his way to the driver’s seat, turns the key in the ignition and mumbles when nothing happens. With practiced movements he grabs a metal tool and goes to take a look at the engine. Apparently the trick to fixing the problem is five taps on something in the engine guts. Hit five times. Try the ignition. This chorus repeats itself a several times. I realize that as he is carrying through this ritual he is getting directions from another driver for the address I have given him. Watching all of this, I start to laugh. The car is not starting and I am not sure the driver knows where we are going. But I am not worried at all. I know I will get where I am going. And in good hands.

The motor finally roars to life, dreadlock baba hops into his seat and we are off into the city night. We chat in broken english and hindi about Navaratri, the festival of the goddess which starts in two days. I ask him about his Kali shrine and his face and voice light up. “My home, Kali temple”. Yep, I thought so.

I journey through the dark night, with Kali lighting the way, and a gentle baba driving me safely to my living quarters. Bumping along through the darkness, in great company, with joy and trust in my heart. The rest of my time in India is an extension of these first few encounters. Unexpected, blessed and inspired. Thrust out of the known of daily ritual, I wake up to the colors, the happenings, to the grace all around and within me. Stay vigilant, Yogatara, a voice tells me. Stay awake. Trust yourself, ask for help and go with the flow that is offering itself to you at every moment.

Oh, India. Pranam.