I wanted to title this blog “Yes, Virginia, Epiphanies Are Sparked Even By Haircuts” (uh-huh, nod to “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”) but then I thought maybe the reference wouldn’t work — during a heat wave in July, no less. Maybe I’d be wrong about that (I mean, did you get it?) but regardless, the point is the reference occurred to me because there might be some Doubting Thomases or Virginias out there who are skeptical that someone could have a life-changing epiphany just by cutting off his or her hair. But once you read the epiphany below, you’ll understand how someone could indeed. Also, this is such a brilliant example of how you never know where your greatest epiphany moments might come from – many, many times they hit you during experiences and circumstances you’d least expect.
The author of this epiphany, Beth Karlin, attended Jen Pastiloff’s Mothers’ Day Retreat in Ojai in May and heard me speak about epiphanies. She ended up having an epiphany soon thereafter. She used the tools I talk about: Listening, Belief, Action, Noticing Serendipity. See, they work! (BTW, we’re doing another Manifestation Yoga and Manifesting Epiphanies Workshop over Labor Day, in case you’d like to join in the fun.)
We’re honored that she wrote the story of her epiphany for us to share here on Epiphany Channel. I’m sure most — if not all — of us can relate to defining ourselves as how the world sees or defines us. Beth’s epiphany is about realizing that we are much greater than how anyone or anything defines us – including ourselves…
“I am greater than the things that define me.
There is an essential ME that expresses itself in myriad ways but is not reliant on any of them to be whole and complete.
I am beyond definition.”
I’ve been thinking a lot the past two days about my hair and why this haircut means so much to me. I mean, it’s cool that I’m able to donate it and do some good in the world just by regenerating cells. And it is nice to shed some length just in time for summer and get a new look going into the next phase of my career. But that wasn’t it – this was bigger than that.
I’ve had long hair for as long as I can remember. The last time I had my hair cut this short, I was in 5th grade and my mom threatened me for months that she would cut my long hair if I didn’t brush it twice a day. I knew she was bluffing – she loved my hair as much as I did. She made barrettes to go with all of my outfits and sculpted it into two perfect braids for every soccer practice and game. She wasn’t bluffing. I cried, pleaded, and fought so much in the chair that people thought I was being tortured and the best haircut the poor girl could give me was choppy and uneven, which she tried to correct with layers. It was awful – I had gone from adorable to wretched in 10 minutes. And to make matters worse, we moved two months later, from the San Fernando Valley down to Orange County,where all the girls were blond and had beautiful long hair (or so it seemed). I hated myself with short hair and vowed to grow it out as quickly as possible and never cut it short again. And I kept that promise for 25 years – until two days ago.
Andi Scarbrough is my hairstylist and she is wonderful. She has gotten to know both me and my hair well over the past few years and she knew this was big. She pulled it together into three ponytails, grabbed the scissors and said, “I know this sounds cheesy but think of something you want to let go of and let it fall away with the hair.” I loved the sentiment but honestly couldn’t think of anything specific, so I just channeled my inner yogi, closed my eyes, and said “let it go” in my head as a mantra when she cut each of the three pieces. Let it go… Let it go… Let it go… Then I looked up. I didn’t gasp. I didn’t cry. I think I laughed. So that’s it. I don’t have long hair anymore. I felt lighter to be sure, but wasn’t that just the hair? She finished the cut and styled it, giving me some advice about making it straight or wavy and I was on my way.
But what did I let go? I wasn’t sure but I was pretty sure there was something there to let go. I’ve had long hair my WHOLE LIFE. It is who I am. It’s my identity. I went to an awards luncheon yesterday with four other amazing engaged scholars, all of whom just happened to be incredible women with long hair. I realized that I wasn’t one of them anymore but I still identified with them as a woman with long hair. What the hell does that even mean? I don’t know but I found myself telling the two who hadn’t known me before how I had just cut my hair, as if to say, “Just so you know – I’m actually one of you. I only did this to donate to charity. It’s temporary.” So did I even give up the hair? I realized that I hadn’t at all. I was still “Beth with long hair”. Now I was just “Beth with long hair who cut it temporarily to donate to Locks of Love because she is so freaking altruistic.” Wow – what a load of crap! Did I need to get at-shirt made? How much work was it going to be to maintain that identity? I was exhausted just thinking about it…. then I went dancing.
I danced the night away last night to 90s hip hop (pretty much my favorite thing on earth) with old and new friends at the Music Center Downtown. It was awesome! And even with my new haircut, I still felt like me. In fact, I started to feel more and more like me. I loved the way my hair swayed with the music and how my exposed neck could feel the evening breeze. So maybe I didn’t need to be “Beth with long hair” after all. Maybe I never was at all. Maybe I wasn’t defined by my hair but by my experience of being me, with any haircut at all. Could that be possible? Could I still be the EXACT same me that I was two days ago even though I no longer had that part of my identity? Yes! Yes I could. And I was. And that’s when it hit me. What was right there to let go… my identity.
I went on a Manifestation Yoga retreat last weekend with Jen Pastiloff and she invited Elise Ballard to come and speak to us about her book, Epiphany. Elise defined an epiphany as “a moment of sudden or great revelation that usually changes your life in some way” and talked about how they come to us when we are open and listening and when we recognize the serendipity of circumstances that point us toward them. I’m in a huge state of transition in my life right now, both personally and professionally, and have been actively exploring what this all means for me and how I want to live my life going forward. I have been open and listening in recent months to a lot of voices that I would have previously considered…frivolous (to put it mildly) and have been embracing these voices and experiences as teachers, believing that the pieces would come together and that I’d “figure it out”, not even knowing what the “it” was to begin with…
But I didn’t “figure it out”, at least not in the traditional academic sense of the world. It came to me in a moment, in a revelation, in an epiphany. “I am not my hair. Long hair was a part of my identity and my identity IS NOT ME.”
What else does that mean? I am not my Ph.D. I am not my love of 90s hip hop. I am not my inability to navigate. I am not my reusable water bottles. I know, I know… cue the Fight Club music (“you are not your bank account, you are not your grande latte…”), but I think my view is slightly less nihilistic than Tyler Durden. I don’t think this makes life meaningless. Quite the contrary – knowing this makes life seem all the more meaningful. I am this beautiful, whole, complete perfect being and anything I do or express or share or give is just an adornment, a decoration. I am simultaneously no different and completely different from every other person on this planet. I AM a beautiful and unique snowflake, Tyler, but my hair didn’t really have much to do with it. Neither did the paper I just submitted last week. Or the dinner party I threw the other night. They are all a part of me but none of them define me. I am beyond definition. I am all of those things but I am equally me without any of them. And the paradox makes perfect sense to me… or at least it’s starting to.
And the cool thing about this is that if all the awesome things about me don’t define me, then neither do the less awesome ones. I am not the argument I got into with my mom driving home from said yoga retreat. I am not the failed attempt to reply to the 132 unread emails in my inbox. I am not my procrastination or my loquaciousness or my impatience. These are things that I do and I accept responsibility for my actions and am actively working to improve how I live and work and relate and connect with the world around me. But I don’t need to hold onto them as if they were me. They are not me. They are things I have done. They are not who I am. I can let them go.
In addition to listening and serendipity, Elise identified two other elements of epiphanies that are vital to their relevance in our lives. The first is that an absolute belief in the moment and the insight we’ve gained and the second is to build off that absolute belief by taking action on it. This is why I am doing something so previously uncharacteristic of me by writing and actually posting this for all the world to see. I know that what I’ve written here is not earth shattering and may even come off as trite to some, but it is something that I have identified for myself as a truth and one that I want to stand in and live by, so by sharing it with you, I am declaring it as such and engaging in the constitutive role of language to make it so.
I am not my hair. My identity limits me to what I am defined as but I am greater than the things that define me. There is an essential ME that expresses itself in myriad ways but is not reliant on any of them to be whole and complete. I am beyond definition.
~Beth Karlin, Los Angeles, CA
(Before and after photos provided by Beth Karlin)