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A lot of people are asking why I cut my dreadlocks.
Hair and resistance have always been a thing for me, as I mentioned in my blog when I first got my locks in 2007, I shaved my head consistently between 1992-1996, and again in 1998-99. I was studying Buddhism and it felt like the right thing to do to remove myself from unwanted distractions and focus on myself. It was very easy and also fun, although I will say it is easier to be a woman with a shaved head in Africa than it is in India (because it is something widows or nuns do).
When I got my dreadlocks, it was a very serious commitment, and I wore them for almost five years. I was going through a big transition, and I was very envious of my friends with locks such as Stephanie Sorensen. They were so beautiful, and I wanted to lock my hair. I had dated many men with locks and, though I was not a part of a reggae scene or anything at the moment, I felt it would signal more of what I was about.
At the time, I did a spiritual ceremony. I lived on the river at the time, so I did a ritual bathing with flowers and my friend Leslie filmed it. Leslie, who had spent a lot of time in Jamaica in the 1970s, drove me to Janet Sellar’s house way upcountry. I had gathered all my photos of all of my friends with dreadlocks and made an altar there. Janet did my locks. Ayla Mellani came with good food, and we made a whole day of it. We made about six hours of video that day, just talking about life. After my locks were done, we took a photo of me with blow dried hair, wearing a Laura Ashley dress, and we burned it. I was going through a big change in my life, and it seemed like the right thing to do. The critical thing here is that I really committed to wearing the locks for life… it was part of my re-commitment to walking my spiritual path, and I also wanted a symbol of resistance against what we know in alternative and Ras-infused circles as “Babylon.”
I was usually warmly received by most people while wearing my locks, and most genuinely by others with dreadlocks. There is an unspoken code between people with dreadlocks. All it takes is a hand to the heart, and you’ve acknowledged each other’s essence in one second.
For some people, though, it was alienating for them. For most of the time, I thought, “Good. Now I know who to stay away from.” I felt that my dreadlocks were, in a way, a self-selecting process of figuring out who “was down” and who wasn’t. I also felt that people put me into a box with them — white hippie Earth Mother — even though I always found a way to work around it.
And so it was with great concern that I found myself walking along about three weeks ago, November 9th to be exact, suddenly thinking that I wanted to cut them off. I felt they were weighing me down–not physically, but psychically. It was starting to limit me. I walked to the U-Club and found John Zibell sitting outside, and we sat in the sun and had a long conversation about it. I felt that I was going through a huge change, finishing my program and getting close to graduation. I have been very much on the fence about applying to academic jobs, so cutting my dreadlocks was definitely not about trying to get a job. I just felt they weren’t “me” anymore. John was supportive of the cut, but considering that he has a kind of modified mohawk, I didn’t want to rush into anything based on one conversation…
Dreadlocks were just another label, and I had gone through a very reflective year, finding my place, moving back to the foothills. In my quest to get “Back to Basics,” as I called it, I experienced a rebirth, with newfound forgiveness, a profound tolerance for everything, and acceptance of everyone. I had learned so much during those years of wearing the locks, and, as trite as it sounds, it is inside my heart and mind, and that is where it will stay. You cannot decolonize your soul with anything you put on your body, although it might be part of the ritual that gets you there.
I also decided that day to stop thinking about my next steps with jobs, stop doing applications, file paperwork for filing fee status, and write my dissertation. When I go through a change like this, everything snowballs. Sometimes when life gets going, you can’t stop it. That weekend, I bought a camper van. Then my university erupted into an international news story related to the Occupy movement…. and I hadn’t found time to cut them yet.
One of the main reasons I was waiting is that I was very attached to them. My hair grows slowly and it had taken so long for them to look good. I was too attached, in fact. I have also been toying with this idea of going on a spiritual retreat for a year, which would be a modified version, because I obviously have to work and take care of home. And so it felt like the time again for cutting and releasing, and taking my energy back for myself, to find what it means to keep walking this path.
I woke up this morning, looked in the mirror next to my bed and said like a little kid,
I cut them! I cut them! I cut them! I’m freeeeeeeeeeeeee.
It’s so weird. I can’t explain it.
I never had anything but respect for locks and honored my choice completely, until I was done. The whole time I wore them, I never understood how anyone could cut their dreadlocks. But now I do. I’m glad I did it while the energy was moving in the right direction. I feel like all kinds of clutter on my head has been hauled off to the thrift store.
Now that they are gone, I can shine as myself.
That is all.
P.S. I did dye my dreads twice. Once I dyed them black in the Peggy Guggenheim Apartment in Venice, Italy (which is actually a misnomer, because the walls are covered in poppies, so it should be the Georgia O’Keefe Apartment). And another time I dyed them red when I went to the opener of the U2 360 Tour at Soldier Field in Chicago.
I guess I need to think it through, as much as I need to share it. This is not easy work. Once you get over that, it becomes very easy and natural. But you have to go through that process first.
I think I’d rather do anything than be an academic. I mean, really. It’s ridiculous.
Once you embrace the reality that you’re really in for hours and hours of deep focus..
And the fact that your advisors are leading intellectuals in their field, and have 20-30-40 more years experience than you do…
And grapple with a way to articulate your ideas that does not sound stupid or naive…
And figure out a way to squeeze in writing and thinking in between the demands of life and paying the bills…
And figure out a way to avoid the next step, which is incessantly screaming out for your attention. Am I still a political science person? Will a theatre department hire me to teach yoga? I don’t do choreography. What about my nonprofit work? Am I qualified to teach religion, because … No, that’s too textual. Don’t I want to practice?… maybe I should leave the academy… or make my own institute… or get a dean job… Can I find the time to write and be a mom? or blah blah blah…
You stop, take a deep breath, and figure out how to do it. You take the plunge.
You are mostly thinking deeply. The writing comes when you sit down, but the ideas require a lot of long walks and you have to argue with them. I’ve found a lot of ideas are coming during my commuting hours this fall. All of it takes time. Time, time, time. You can’t repeat yourself, by singing a song you’ve already written. Every day is the same: new words and new thoughts are required, and they need to be good ones.
Your other option is to give up. You’ve spent four years studying. You played a little, you had your blowing off time, and experiments with other artforms and creativity of all kinds, but when it comes down to it–the life of an intellectual is to be found in the writing up of all of this experience.
You are tasked with encapsulating experiences into a cogent analysis, which can speak to the highest breed of educated woman or man, while also attempting to defend the equality of the masses, or the sanctity of ethics, in some reasonably intelligible fashion (to use a cliché I’m very fond of).
You don’t give up. Mostly, because you want that piece of paper, but in the process you find that–when all is said and done–the honest pursuit of pure ideas remains a worthy one.
There are stacks of books in your office. Which idea to use, how to use it, and whether it is true or not–those are all questions you and you alone must deal with. Maybe if you find a new religion, it will be easier. Probably not!!!
It is difficult. You must know the intellectual playing field, and your own research data. You must ignore the call to play and cheap words, and get down to the tough nuts and bolts of dealing in realities–social, political, and emotional. Remember: you can always quit. You can tell yourself that the lifestyle design people are right. I don’t need this degree. It’s just a piece of paper. I haven’t learned or become anything over these past five years. It’s just a waste of time. Who cares what Whicher has to say about the integrity of the yoga darshana and its relationship to the history of various yogic systems descending from the Naths to the popularized versions by Iyengar and Jois? Ugh!!! Nobody cares. It’s just words. You can get up and walk away. Life will be easier that way. Maybe you should have chosen a different path. Maybe you should have followed your heart.
But this is your path. And you did follow your heart.
In 2004, you got rejected from PhD program applications, and you re-applied two years later, when you had honed your ideas and focus. It is 7 long years on now…
For some people, maybe being an academic is easy. I don’t know. For me, it’s difficult, like serious tapas. Until I surrender and just don’t do anything else, and find ways to keep coming back to it.
You struggle and struggle and struggle, and then you give up. You give in. You sit your ass down and commit. And you work it and work it…
until you can say things like this:
In the previous chapter, I explored connections between embodiment, and release and surrender in the body, related to the principles of moksha and liberation, and how that connects to larger political aims of a feminist consciousness that works from a personal basis. Much like race and gender, spirituality in the postmodern sense is not fixed, but instead a result of continuous tensions between perceived versions of self, spirit, and the field of culture within which the particular spirituality operates. Yogic spirituality as it is in observance today is another kind of identity formation that is both generated and generative. Modern Yoga in the ritual context is a supremely postmodern experience, both separated from Indian tradition and forging multiple identities of its own. Yoga operates as a vector in U.S. society, crossing cultural playing fields, intersecting with whatever it finds in its path. However, to say that it is somehow watered down from its more Hindu context also limits deeper analysis of the functioning of Yoga and beliefs behind it that challenge the current philosophical hegemony.
Luce Irigaray offers cautionary words on the state of philosophy today in Between East and West: From Singularity to Community, when she observes “a philosopher living and thinking life is a priori suspect in our philosophical culture” (1999, 23). Irigaray’s project in this book is to explore, based on her own personal experience with Yoga, how Eastern thinking may generally come to bear on a philosophy of both “singular identity” and “community constitution” for the 21st century (3). Irigaray suggests (while quite commonplace for the typical Yoga teacher, rather boldly for one in the academy) that “to go back and meditate, starting from practices and texts of Eastern cultures, especially pre-Aryan aboriginal ones, can show us a way to carry on our History” (9). While she does criticize her Yoga teachers for not providing enough information on certain topics such as Indian indigenous concepts about differences between the sexes, she notes that “what I live and think today is woven between two traditions, provided that there really are two and that it is not rather a matter of development of human consciousness, more or less present or forgotten” (10).
It seems more important for a feminist scholar to make these claims than any other kind of philosopher. Through her own practice and study of Yoga, Irigaray realized she must turn Western philosophy on its head, reinvigorating concepts as basic as life and breath, singularity and community, and most importantly—our understanding of the other. I shall return to her theorizing later, but her adventurous attempt must not be overlooked as we look to the idea of sadhana and its effectiveness in changing root philosophies of Western lives. At a fundamental level, it is lived practice that is the hallmark of Performance Studies theories of practice, and it is through lived practice that the philosophy of Yoga maneuvers its life logic. As one yogini I interviewed stated rather simply yet poignantly, “Everything you learn in Yoga relates to actual life activities and circumstances” (Samson 2010).
A lived philosophy will always have a greater power and aesthetic than one which is dead. And by dead, I mean one which ceases to function in real people’s lives. In this way, even a description of a lived philosophy may be presumed to be dead. Written philosophy, feminism, and criticism is always trying to catch up to life, reflect back on and change it, but we academics have a habit of overestimating the social importance of our work and words. That is, that it is perhaps less relevant in reality than its impactfulness is on paper. In the case of Yoga, or the Occupy Wall Street movement, a new philosophy is leading the way on the street and in lives. What Irigaray attempts, even though it is difficult to distinguish and tease out East from West in their influence on her philosophical life, is to bring that reasoning into the academy, into a space in which its social impact is acknowledged by those who are tasked with signing off on the cultural relevance of ideas. Yoga, as an idea, has arrived for a substantial portion of mainstream society, but not for philosophy, criticism, or feminism in any significant format thus far.
With that, I rest my case.
This is why I’ve re-made my blog and gone onto a serious social media fast. The ideas are there, but sometimes we dumb them down.
We underestimate ourselves. We let technology become our master.
This cannot continue.
P.S. Cool happening: last night the power went out, and I graded midterms by candlelight and cooked chai tea on the woodstove.
Two words come to mind. As Cal Newport would say: “Hard Focus.”
Photo: Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Massachusetts.
**Unless otherwise stated or credited, all writing, photographs, and artwork on this blog are produced and copyrighted by Amy Champ and may not be used without expressed permission.
class starts in fifteen so i better make this quick.
scratched out an outline for a lecture on human rights in East Africa for a conference coming up in the Spring. typed it up in the computer lab, an intense experience of student focus. sometimes it is refreshing what a change of tools will produce.
tomorrow is a school holiday. we will be at home.
i have a note on my bathroom mirror that says: Loose in the Hips, which means: give it a rest, keep it free, and let life happen. let it go. i sure did. In Sanskrit, we call this aparigraha. It is a kind of acceptance that transcends our own wants, especially grabbiness, greediness of any sort, or wanting something very specific. You can’t hammer on Life. It doesn’t like that! And neither do people.
“establish a mind free of grasping to anything…” (buddha)
when that guy says free, he means it. Buddha was one of our teachers who was not incarnated or a prophet. he was not sent from heaven, although he is seen as an avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. he figured it out for himself. Buddhism is a pretty good system, almost like a math proof. it really works. check it out sometime.
my sister is playing a lot of guitar now and she is surpassing me. mine is next to my white chair and i have been fiddling around with it every now and then. which means: rarely.
i was freaking out, applying to jobs, because it takes toooooo much time, while I’m trying to do everything else, so i just filed my filing fee and decided to focus on my dissertation first. first and only. there is only so much time that a grad student has. i think it will be easier to apply for jobs when I’m done, but that is just my approach. we shall see..
i will figure out what to do next year.