I used to dream of a long-haired woman
Who offered me words of wisdom and comfort.
Then one day I realized
I could stop cutting my hair.
I’ve been unable to turn away from this poem. The first several times I read it, I viewed it from the perspective of self-limiting beliefs. And then in the midst of yet another reading, the lens shifted to reveal another view: that of the wisdom and comfort that always lives within us, unaltered by occurrence or circumstance, however hidden or inaccessible that wisdom and comfort may seem. I decided to approach this simple, yet profound, piece of verse with two posts rather than one. This is the first.
Self-limiting beliefs. We all grapple with them. None of us are invulnerable, although some of us seem more or less susceptible to these little bombs of inadequacy. But, as Karen Horneffer-Ginter’s gently stark lines reflect, we have the power to set down the scissors and cease hacking at our own hair.
When we are confronted with these often cruel and punishing beliefs, it can be shocking to meet some of the ugly misconceptions we’ve held deep inside. But this same disconcerting awareness can also bring deep recognition and help us understand some behaviors and emotions with a new clarity.
We may feel incredibly deficient, ill-equipped, or unable to be whom and what we need to be in many situations. Perhaps we don’t believe that we are enough…whether that’s loving, wise, smart, good, gentle, strong, inspired, disciplined, committed, brave, attractive, tolerable, likable, or lovable enough. (One of the problems with “not enough” is its uncanny ability to seem true no matter to which attribute it’s been attached.)
Our struggle might be with life or the world or our sense of the divine. Why has this sorrow or that heartbreak happened when we try so hard? Why have we gone through an unfair and undeserved crisis? Why are the things we long for most deeply seemingly out of reach or denied to us? How can we learn not to fear emotional intimacy or life or God?
I was first introduced to this poem when it was read aloud by Wayne Muller as he led a Sabbath retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. At the last line – “I could stop cutting my own hair” – the sharp intake of breath that traveled among the retreat participants was testimony enough of a common human affliction.
What must we do when these hidden places finally receive some light? I believe the answer is trust. We must trust the source – whether that be ourselves, God, our spiritual practice, life itself, or whatever beautiful, bursting combination of forces might be at work – that birthed the insight to also bring forth the healing that renders powerless these limiting beliefs and perceptions.
And surely we must trust and embrace our inherent wholeness. If we are whole, then we are enough. Something that is whole cannot be any of the painful, deficient accusations we throw at it. And we are whole. Intrinsically, perfectly, made of beautiful-white-hot-love, whole. Think about that for a moment. Whole. Each of us is fully and completely whole. And there aren’t many limitations to wholeness.
My prayer this day is that we lay aside our shears and stop limiting ourselves, quit cutting ourselves off from our wholeness and the lives we’re meant to live.
May our growing hair cover us with its grace and warmth.