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Breaking the Bars of Your Own Cage

The first time I cut my own hair, I was terrified. I had been paying professionals to cut and color my hair since I was thirteen. But last year, for the first time, I went out and bought myself a pair of layering sheers and awkwardly, albeit passably, cut my own hair.

I was less interested in the end product than I was the experience. Standing in front of the mirror, scissors in hand, trying to see the back of my head and watching the blond hair accumulate in the sink basin, I felt the liberation and euphoria of breaking the bars of my own cage. Like questioning a rule I had inherited, suddenly spotting an invisible line not to be crossed, I was suddenly flooded with the unmistakable joy of tossing it out to determine for myself the best path forward.

Where are the invisible rules governing your life? Maybe you've been noticing some lately: Clear expectations about how you should work, or what you should do to earn money, or what your values in this world should be.

Some are so obvious and confining that we spot them early on and rebel against them in spectacular feats of teenage and young adult bravery (and stupidity).

Others are more subtle, worming their way into our subconscious, attached to identities we have even chosen as adults, professions we have embraced or communities that served at one point but do not quite fit anymore. They govern rules about when and how and where we love and express ourselves creatively or sexually, about what we can long for and who we can tell of this longing, about what we wear and how we share our pain and our desire.

Our culture, and sometimes our communities, would confine these conversations and expressions to certain private spaces, sanitized spaces or spaces that are governed by rules bound in time and space: Talk to me of your grief, but only for the first few months. Talk to me of your trauma, but only if your resilience wins out. Talk to me of your pleasure, but only if it fits into one of these boxes. Talk to me of your pain, but only if I can be the one to fix it, or if I have nothing to do with causing it.

These rules are largely invisible, but there are consequences for breaking them. Consequences like furtive glances, snide comments, hurt feelings, or helpful friends that try to point out the folly of your choice, your share, your timing, your problem. These subtle and not so subtle mechanisms try to change you back into someone they recognize, someone who holds up the status quo, someone who reinforces a choice they have made.

But liberation is infectious. Like the feeling I had cutting my hair, or the feeling when I left corporate America to go out on my own, or taking a motorcycle lesson to fulfill a decade-long dream, or traveling to Cuba solo.

My client Meera has given herself a six month sabbatical, walking away from a slew of lucrative offers to teach, write and consult and instead choosing to dedicate herself exploring flow and connection and what wants to happen next in her life. It is the first break she has taken in nearly two decades of work, and she doesn’t know where it will lead, but she has already experienced more magic and spontaneous joy in these months than she has in years.

When people ask her about what is next she gleefully replies: “I have no idea!” and she really means it. The path is being revealed and she is deeply present to the process. There have been a few skeptics, but on the whole her vast network is picking up the scent and asks her again and again, “What is this change we see in you?” To which she responds, “I’m following the sparkle of my life.”

This is an invitation into the sparkle of your life, the magic that comes when you expose the bars that want to be broken and step into your power without them.

One more story to illustrate this from my own life: When I was twenty-one, I decided to shave my head (apparently, I have a thing about hair). I talked about it for months until an exasperated roommate insisted “do it now, or never speak of it again.” In my head, I thought, it'll grow back in a few months, and so that Wednesday night, fueled a cheery set of dorm spectators, I borrowed a set of electric clippers and let them cut big chunks of long blond hair by the scissor-full. I giggle the whole time and refuse to look in the mirror until it is over, but when I wake up the next morning my hand went to my head in horror. The hair was peach-fuzz soft, and about the length of a pencil eraser. It takes the better part of two years to grow back to my chin.

I lost a lot of friends when I shave my head. Not because they had any problem with my hair, but because they simply did not recognize me. Overnight, I went from having plenty of people who would smile and wave at me across campus to receiving blank stares or being looked right through as if I was invisible. So this is what it's like to be on the outside, I think.

I learned a lot from shaving my head, which is why it is surprising, more than ten years later, to feel the familiar rush of liberation and satisfaction gazing into my own reflection after cutting my own hair for the second time. Today, I am learning to take courage and joy from these explorations, continually seeking to unveil the invisible bars of my own cage, and finding creative ways to break them down when I find them.

I invite you into investigate: What are the invisible rules governing your life? It may be that you can do something as simple as cutting your hair today to bend, and then, break them. For me, this practices continues to define a way of holding myself in the world, with curiosity, courage and a little bit of daring.


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