Going Gray: A Spiritual Practice

“Don’t regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.”

~ author unknown

 

BeFunky Collage copy

 

Last week, on March 7, I celebrated two huge anniversaries on the same day. March 7, 2010 was the day I walked into my first 12-step meeting and began a life-changing journey of recovery from codependency. These years have been a spiritual unfolding into profound sense of freedom and empowerment from within; such a beautiful parallel to the work I have done and continue to do with Freedom Yoga. I’ve learned to set boundaries, let go of people pleasing, and, above all else, be true to myself. This work has enabled me to become disentangled from who or what others say I should be, so that I can bravely reside deeply in my center point, the place of authenticity – the real me – where I find my voice, speak my worth and my truth, and let my gifts shine through.

Without these eight years of recovery, I know I would definitely not be celebrating the second big milestone in my life, and on the very same day, too: March 7, 2017 was the last time I had my hair colored. This is so huge for me. I can’t believe I’ve made it this far, actually. The decision to begin growing in my gray – and whatever color was actually present – was something that I had been agonizing over for years. With all the work I had been doing on letting my genuine and real self come to the surface with Yoga and recovery, I gradually began to experience more and more dissonance with continuing to keep my red hair as vibrant and gray-free as it was when I was in my 20’s.

Everything about the way I practice, teach, and live Yoga calls me to be as real and natural as possible and yet, coloring my hair felt like I was continuously rejecting who I am now, who I have become. I’m such a different person now than I was when I was 20, 30, or even 40. I’m 52 now, with plenty of lines etched into my face. I’ve had so many moments of expressions that this is how my face looks now. Why is the outer appearance of the gift of living for this many years and more considered to be something I should “fight” or not welcome? I love myself now and I love where I am now. Though my stylist is fabulous and I loved the way she made my hair look, the incongruence and inner tension of it being artificial was finally too much to bear. I was ready to really let more of the real me grow in and be seen.

It caused me to really do some serious pondering. What is beauty, really? Gosh, if I do this, what if I turn out to be ugly? Does beauty actually have to do with hair color? And what’s so wrong with gray hair, anyway? It is an outer sign of wisdom and experience, of a lightening that occurs as we soften from the hard edges of youth into a flowering of our true essence. Why is there such an obscure societal pressure for women to cover this up? Why is gray labeled as “distinguished” in men and when a woman goes gray she is seen as “letting herself go?” Why are men allowed by society to age, yet, women are expected to keep looking younger as they age? This is so very bizarre. And why is “young” considered to be a preferred state? Especially, as the quote above says, if age is a privilege denied to many, that means getting old is a privilege afforded to the very few.

So, one year ago, I decided to take damn scary plunge, stop fighting aging, and start embracing this privilege I have been given. Is it possible for me to welcome aging as an outward sign of the wisdom I have collected and integrated during my 52 trips around the sun? God, what if I look terrible, old, ugly, used up? I know, inwardly, I am none of those things, yet, will I be able to look in the mirror as the grays come in and see beauty in there somewhere? I had to find out.

This process of allowing and accepting who I really am has not been easy. This business of growing in my gray feels like a massive transformation that I am working hard to stay open and present to. Unbeknownst to me, I had so much of my identity wrapped up in being a redhead. Letting go of that has been really hard; however, it has been one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done because it has brought me closer to my real identity. Who do I say that I am? There are only two answers: 1) I’m Spirit embodied; the specific and unique self-expression of God/Source/The Divine; truly birthless and deathless…or 2) I’m something separate and apart from Spirit that is marching toward my demise. One answer is true and the other answer is illusion – truth looking like something else.

When I am rooted in my deepest truth (answer #1), I know that I am the Changeless One being this thing called “Carie” for a little while. And the Changeless One always and forever manifests Itself as what looks like constant change, impermanence, and ever-newness. My skin is different, my body is different, my inner world is vastly different, and, of course, my hair is different, too. It just doesn’t make sense to me anymore to chase parts of myself that have changed and are gone, trying to artificially re-create them, and yet be so resistant to embracing what is actually here, now.

Of course, I miss my vibrant red hair, but truth be told, it had lost its natural vibrancy a long time ago. It’s interesting to see a different me in the mirror with such a lovely softness around my face. My eyes feel brighter. I have grown to really love it, actually. My hair now feels like something of a crown, an outer sign of the inner work I’ve been doing for so long, and continue to do. I’m looking forward to it all growing in. It feels so good, like the real me is so much more on the surface of myself than ever before. But I have to stay with it, this process of allowing and acceptance. I do catch myself saying, “You idiot, what are you doing?” Then I smile and realize I’ve gone off to answer #2, take a few breaths, feel the truth, and get myself back to answer #1.

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