Chapter Nine: Affirming Your Power
Not cutting your hair during the period of your Vow is a very unusual aspect of the Nazirite tradition. In almost every culture hair is symbolic of personal power. The shaving of the heads of monks and nuns is a sign of surrender to God or Buddha. Samson’s strength was linked to the length of his hair. One would expect the Nazirite to shave off her hair rather than grow it; to give up her power rather than celebrate it. But this is exactly what the Nazirite is to do: celebrate the power of Self.
Growing your hair is affirming your power to see through mochin d’katnut into mochin d’gadlut. It is celebrating your capacity to turn from selfishness to selflessness, from self to Self. This is what the Jewish sages call the power of teshuvah.
Teshuvah means turning. It is the power to turn from mochin d’katnut to mochin d’gadlut. This is a very radical notion. The Nazirite says that she has the power to turn all by herself. She does not need the help of an intermediary. No priest, no guru—nothing between her and God. Can this really be so? Or is this a subtle trick of the narrow mind? The answer lies in the nature of growing hair.
The Nazirite Vow is written in the negative: you do not Vow to grow your hair, merely not to cut it. The reason the Vow does not obligate you to grow hair is because you really don’t have the power to grow hair at all. Cutting hair is a decision you can make, but growing it, as any bald person will tell you, is not a matter of will. Humbling isn’t it? You are powerless to grow you own hair. It grows or it does grow based on forces beyond your control.
The same can be said for breathing and pumping blood through your body. If you had to decide to do these things, if you had to do them deliberately and consciously, you wouldn’t know what to do. You would die.
The same is true of seeing, smelling and hearing. While you can close your eyes and block your nose and ears, when they are open and unblocked you cannot decide what you will see, smell or hear. You simply see, smell, and hear.
The same can be said of thoughts and feelings. You cannot control thinking and feeling. Thoughts and feelings simply pass into and out of your field of awareness. You can test this if you like.
For the next ten seconds do not think of an elephant. Oops, too late. As soon as you read the word “elephant” the thought of an elephant popped into your mind. Try this: in the next ten seconds make yourself murderously angry. Can’t do it. You are not in control of your thoughts and feelings. In fact, you may not be the source of these at all.
The “you” I am referring to is the mochin d’katnut, the narrow mind, the small self, the ego. Mochin d’katnut is like a flashlight scanning a dark cave. It sees only that which comes into its narrow beam of light. There is more to the cave than the flashlight can see at any given time.
You have the sensation of thinking or feeling when a thought or feeling passes through mochin d’katnut’s narrow field of awareness. You mistake awareness of a thought for thinking that thought; awareness of a feeling for being responsible for that feeling.
The truth is thoughts and feelings arise and fall of their own accord. You grasp some and miss most. Mochin d’katnut doesn’t understand this. Mochin d’gadlut knows it intuitively. The “you” that is the source of thoughts and feelings, the “you” that grows hair, pumps blood, breathes air, etc, is not the narrow you at all, but the spacious you that is God.
Once again we find ourselves dealing with the issue of control. Mochin d’katnut craves it; mochin d’gadlut knows it to be an illusion. When we refrain from cutting our hair during the Nazirite period, we become of aware of the fact that we happen, we don’t make ourselves happen.
It is common in certain circles to believe that you create your own reality. This never made any sense to me. Reality creates me, not the other way around. When the conditions are right, “it” rains whether I want it to or not. When the conditions are right I will die whether I desire death or not. Wishing doesn’t make “it” so.
The whole point of not cutting your hair as a Nazirite is to remind you every time you look in a mirror that you are not in control. You are a happening, and all that is happening is God.
Who is reading this paragraph right now? You could say “you” are, meaning mochin d’katnut, the narrow self or ego. But if that is true who is aware of the “you” that is reading? And who is aware of the you that is aware?
If you allow it, mochin d’katnut has an intimation of mochin d’gadlut. At the very periphery of its awareness, narrow mind suspects there is something more spacious of which it is a part.
This spacious something is mochin d’gadlut, No-mind, Christ Consciousness, Krishna Consciousness. This is the “you” you are before and after and behind the “you” you think you are. This is what the Buddhists call your Original Face. And it is the same for everyone.
Mochin d’katnut is like one face of a multifaceted diamond. Each face is unique, but the diamond is one. The diamond itself is mochin d’gadlut looking out at the world through its many faces. This analogy, like all analogies, is imperfect, for there is in fact nothing outside the diamond at which to look. Mochin d’gadlut is looking at itself. When God sees the world God only sees God.
Abstaining from cutting your hair heightens mochin d’katnut’s intimation of mochin d’gadlut. It is a reminder that you are not in control, and that you are part of a greater whole that embraces all things. It is symbolic of growing your own power; not ego power, will power, or brute psychic force, but Self-power: the capacity to let the Self shine through the self. It is the power to be humanly holy. It is the capacity to be like God.
Being like God is living out the principles of holiness God reveals to Moses in Exodus 34:7: compassion, grace, patience, love, trustworthiness, forgiveness, and justice.
Not cutting your hair is not interfering with your capacity to be compassionate, gracious, patient, loving, trustworthy, forgiving, and just. Two tools from the Jewish tradition that can be of help to the contemporary Nazirite in this regard are Cheshbon haNefesh and Gemilut Chasadim.
Cheshbon haNefesh, literally soul accounting, is a nightly moral inventory of the day’s events. Each night before going to sleep, you take out a journal and list the things that happened to you today. What did you do? With whom did you meet? Who did you talk with via telephone, videoconferencing or email? Examine each event and see to what extent you engaged the other with the seven qualities of holiness: compassion, grace, patience, love, trustworthiness, forgiveness, and justice.
Make a note to yourself about how well you did in each area, and remind yourself how you could do better next time. I use four pens with four different colors of ink for Cheshbon haNefesh. I use black to narrate the events of the day; blue to highlight where I did manifest the one or more of the seven qualities of holiness; red where I failed to do so; and green to list those things I need to do differently tomorrow.
Among the green notes I make to myself are reminders of the people I need to thank and or apologize to tomorrow based on what I learned about how I lived the day under examination.
The second tool for growing Self-power is Gemilut Chasadim, random acts of kindness. This is how a friend of mine engages in this practice. It comes from an email she sent me, and I use it with her permission. It knows of no better description of Gemilut Chasadim in the context of the Nazirite Vow.
“When I take the Vow I get up each morning and say to God, ‘I dedicate myself to Your service. Show me what needs to be done today and I will do my best to see that it is done.’ Then I go about my day, meeting all my obligations to family and job, but with my eyes opened to where I can be service.
“The amazing thing is this: all day long I see things that I can to be of service to others. Little things. I am careful not to volunteer to major projects as part of the Vow. I don’t want to get carried away or add to my stress level. I am talking about simple things like getting lunch for someone stuck at her desk. Or holding the elevator as someone is rushing to catch it.
“But there are other things like picking up someone’s kids after school because they have an appointment. Once I actually met a tourist couple on the street—this was a weekend end and not a workday—they were lost and trying to get to the museum of Natural History. I escorted them there personally. We took the subway, which was a new experience for them as well.
“The point is this: when I place myself in the service of God through service to others I find I have the time and energy to meet my own obligations plus these new things without any sense of stress or strain. It is as if this is the reason I was born. And I thought it was to draw up spreadsheets for our next roll out.”
My teacher David Reynolds once told me “You are the way God takes out the trash.” And I thought I was the way God wrote books. “That, too,” David said. “You are the way God does all the things that God does through you.”
I am the way God grows hair. So are you. And for the period of your Vow you begin to realize this by not cutting back on where you can be of service to others. This is what cutting your hair is: cutting back you power to be of service; cutting back on Self in the interest of self and even selfishness.
For the period of your Nazirite Vow avoid cutting back on your ability to be a service. Don’t think in terms of scarcity: “I don’t have the time to help, or the energy, or the knowledge.” Think in terms of abundance: “Where can I give away help today?”
What happens when you place yourself in service to others? Certainly you feel good about yourself. There is nothing wrong with that. In addition you discover how many people have put themselves out for you.
When you are being miserly with your time and energy, you want to believe that everyone else is being miserly as well. When you stop being miserly, you discover that people are gifting you all the time. Realizing the enormity of the gifts you receive leaves you feeling humble and grateful, and ever more desirous to give back as best you can. This is the joy that arises when you stop cutting your hair and grow the power of giving that is the hallmark of the spacious Self.