"Hair is powerful to the Algonquin," according to Evan T. Pritchard who has written extensively about the traditions of these Native American people. "It collects the vibrations of the energies around you and is important to purify carefully. Hair also holds the smell of the smoke a long time. This is part of why native people don't cut their hair."

In the sacred dances of Sufi dervishes in Kurdistan, worshippers enter into a trance state tossing their long hair back and forth over their heads. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen master, challenges us to see the hairs on our heads as "ambassadors of truth"; he counsels us to observe them well to discover the messages each hair is sending us.

Throughout human history men and women have cut, trimmed, shaped and styled their hair not only for religious purposes but to express their character, conformity, or social rebellion. Over the years I have alternated between a crew-cut and longer hair; during one period I had a ponytail. When my hair was short I did not have to spend time grooming it. This style also made it possible for me to blend into the crowd.

When my hair was long I always felt more energy and creativity and I found it easy to identify with the big haired men and women of the revved-up musical Hair. For the wildest mop of hair seen on the screen for a long time, watch Brave, an animated feature whose young heroine's red-hair is nothing short of flamboyant.

We reveal a lot about ourselves through our hair styles as I discovered years ago when I was leading a youth conference for some Lutheran churches. At the time I was wearing my long hair combed straight back over the crown. A concerned man approached me and told me that I was putting a roadblock in my presentation by looking arrogant. I asked him what specifically bothered him about my appearance and he responded, "It's the way you are flaunting your receding hairline." This caused me to look more closely at the hair style of my earnest adviser. He had taken the little hair he had left from the top of his head and brushed it down over his brow. The hair styles of both of us spoke loudly.

Now my hair is neither long nor short. I am bald and in no need of inventive cutting or coloring. I feel proudly connected and grateful to the shiny-pated men on my mother's side of the family. When I had gray hair I never wanted to hide it from others even though I agreed with the Greek proverb, "Gray hair is a sign of age not of wisdom."

So there you have it: a brief history of my hair - both the long and the short of it. I now identify with the Buddhist monks from the East whose bald heads signify a simple life of devotion and service of others.

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