Like most of us I spent a huge part of my life with concerns over my physical appearance. As a teenager I was painfully skinny, had bad teeth, wore glasses and had a face full of acne. To say I had one or two self-image issues would be an understatement. I bought the Charles Atlas course hoping I could transform myself into a muscle-bound hero, and various creams for my spots, but I never got over feeling ugly.
In my twenties I drank way too much alcohol and as I hit my thirties I “progressed” to discovering the joys of cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy(!) My health-regime wasn’t doing too well, and my lifestyle reflected the lack of respect and care I had towards myself.
Things changed as I discovered yoga and I adopted and explored a healthier and more holistic approach to my life. But I still had hang-ups about the way I looked.
Around 30 years of age I had began to notice that my hairline was going north and that my hair was getting thinner. I was horrified! I didn’t want to be a baldy guy!
My hair became a kind of mini-obsession and I would check it for signs of impending doom, becoming very creative with a forward combing action. I didn’t want anyone to see or comment on my thinning hair and was very sensitive about the subject of hair loss coming up in conversation with my male friends. This low-level anxiety went on for years, until…
One day I heard a guy with a big nose talk about how he used to hate people calling him “Big Nose”. He would get into fights and arguments, and people knew it was a way to push his buttons. This had been his experience ever since he had been a kid.
And then one day he looked in the mirror and realised, “Wow, I really have got a very big nose.” From that point on he was ok with it and would even joke about it. What had changed? His attitude. From resisting reality to accepting reality his struggle ended.
When I heard this story I realised that all of the tension I felt over my hair was down to me. It had nothing to do with my hair, but everything to do with my perspective on it. I went out and got a very short haircut, came home and gazed in the mirror at my now very visible forehead. “OK,” I thought, “this is it, I don’t have any hair at the front of my head.”
I found myself laughing at how absurd I had been for holding onto a vision of what it would take for me to be happy and feel good about myself, and at how much mental energy I had spent judging something that I really had no control over.
We tend to do this in many areas of our lives. If only this or that situation (body stuff, bank balance, relationship, job etc) would change then I would be happy.
Yet the truth is that the sources of this unhappiness are the voices of judgement in our heads. If we can detach from the thoughts then we find peace and contentment (samtosha in Sanskrit). Interestingly we are then able to find solutions we wouldn’t have been open to previously.
This is where yoga and meditation have so much to offer. By the physical practice of yoga asanas the tensions held within the muscles and cells are released, and by the mental practice of meditation the peace within is revealed and stabilised. The result is a life that flows gracefully and with a purpose in harmony with the natural flow of life.
So for me it came down to a simple choice. What did I want most? I wanted happiness and contentment regardless of what was happening in my life, more than a temporary happiness based on things that come and go (like my hairline). My meditative and yoga practice was crucial for me in experiencing that inner peace all of the time.
There is an ancient saying that when the student is ready the teacher appears. So, ”Thanks for being there, big nose!”