The significance of headshaving is complex. Certainly it’s a symbolic act of renunciation, of cutting ties with the world. But it also felt like a kind of liberation, and after my head was shaved, I felt light-headed and clear, like a weight had been lifted. I could feel every cool and ephemeral breeze and glint of warm sun against my skin. When I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my skull for the very first time, I recognized myself. There I was. Where had I been all this time? It was like my face had opened up. Suddenly, there was no place to hide, but there was no need to hide, either, and this was a powerful feeling. I felt strong and lean, and my friend said I looked taller, too. Hair seemed immediately extraneous and cumbersome, and in the shower, I was delighted to realize that I no longer needed shampoo, conditioner, blow dryers, and product to keep the stuff in line.
Having no hair also made me feel like a baby, and that’s what I am: A bald baby priest, who doesn’t even know how to put on her robes, and needs to ask for help at every turn. It’s a sweet feeling, and a relief from the normal responsibility of always thinking I have to know things.
The ordination ceremony was a beautiful mix, formal but also intimate and friendly, and I felt relaxed and able to enjoy it, to laugh and also to feel moved to tears. Lots of friends, family, and the wonderful sangha. I’ve had many thoughts about ritual over the years, lots of skepticism, resistance and doubt, but now I feel a deep and growing appreciation for ritual’s ability to mark moments in time, to strengthen intention, and to forge bonds within community. It doesn’t always work like this. Sometimes ritual can feel superficial, or pompous, or exclusive, and I have at times felt excluded and resentful and embarrassed. But not this time. This time felt fine.
I feel deeply grateful to my teacher, Norman Fischer, for all this. He’s truly a great teacher, and he’s got a great website (okay, full disclosure: I edit the site), with hundreds of wonderful talks that you can download for free or for a donation. And if you’d like to see the range of Norman’s teaching activities, from Zen & Jewish meditation to his workshops at Google, check out this video that recently aired on PBS’s Religion & Ethics program. And don’t miss the extended interview, which is in many ways even better than the program, because he talks at length about the benefits of meditation practice, about renunciation and happiness, and about the psalms.
And last but not least, I have an essay in the July/August issue of More magazine about ordaining and sewing Buddha’s robe, so check it out!
Okay, I’m off to Japan in a week, and I’ll try to post again from there. Thanks for all the comments, emails and encouraging words. I appreciate them all.