Traveling to school on the first day of class was a little different than I had expected, and that is one of the most beautiful things about India, things usually don’t go as you planned them to go. Mother India is such a great teacher, and this land and it’s people give you the opportunity time and again to let go of expectation, step into the flow of grace and be open to what is rather than how you want it to be.
My plan had been to spend several nights leading up to the first day of class sleeping at the Jaipur Inn in town, which is a brisk 20 minute walk across the foot bridge (crossing the sacred Ganges River), past motorcycles, begging sadhus, cows, cow poo, dogs, lots of people, up two steep flights of stairs, to a line of auto-rickshaws, to negotiate firmly with the drivers for a fair price to take me about 10 minutes into downtown Rishikesh and to school. That isn’t how it went though. Instead I spent a few more nights at a retreat center. The retreat center is about a 40 minute drive further up the Ganges River into the foothills of the Himalayas, nestled in between sacred mountain peaks, situated along a peaceful gurgling river. The center is a mountain paradise with exotic birds, lush forests, and peaceful surroundings. The first day of class, I awoke to begin my meditation practice in my room with a view overlooking the lush mountain forest blanketed in fog before departing for school in the taxi that was waiting for me in the driveway. The journey to school that day was just under an hour.
It’s interesting how our minds create stories for us of how things should be or how we want them to be. After hearing my description of both scenarios, which would you choose? Looking back and reading my description now, the mountain retreat center sounds and is absolutely stunning and awesome, but that day I was attached to the idea and experience that I had been planning on having of staying in town at the Jaipur Inn. I was so caught up in my head on the ride to school that I almost allowed the stories to take over the fact that it was finally the first day of school, the day that we all had been preparing for, and I didn’t. I saw what was going on and changed it. Instead I began to focus on what was about to happen. The girls and I were about to meet for the first time and Fearless Beauty was really beginning.
The taxi dropped me off on the corner of a bustling street in downtown Rishikesh, and I began my half-mile walk to the vocational center. The sun was rising up over the mountains and the Ganges River, and the quiet side street was full of school children. Thoughts and feelings began to arise as I went over again how I would greet the girls. What was that feeling in my belly, in my heart, in my throat? My old way of thinking would have labeled those physical feelings as nervousness, anxiety, or fear, and that would have probably been debilitating, blocking me from showing up as my “best” self for the girls. Not today though. In that moment, I realized that it was time to use all of the years of practice and study with my teacher to shift. It’s all a matter of perspective, and it was time to change that perspective. These were feelings of excitement and joy. I was about to meet these girls and share something wonderful with them! In that moment my eyes brimmed with tears as I was overcome with gratitude for this very special opportunity to serve knowing also that so many people were there putting their energy, intention, and support towards our project.
As I walked up the stairs to our classroom, I was greeted by Prerna, one of the teachers at the vocational center and now a part of our Fearless Beauty team. As we hugged, she said, “Wow, you’re early, Heather!?”. (Time is a little different here in India, and that is something I will share more about later.) More teachers arrived to share their support and to be a part of our new community. One by one the students arrived, sweetly, shyly, humbly, but all returning my smiles. As the girls arrived, I asked them to form a circle of chairs with me. The circle is an important part of our message and vision of support, empowerment, equality, and sharing.
I knew that learning their names would be a challenge for me so that’s where we began. As each girl stood to introduce herself, I repeated her name a couple of times. On to the next and each time, I repeated all the names before. Learning their names was our first way of connecting and moving through the language barrier. Most of the girls do not speak English or so I thought. Once each of the girls introduced herself, it was time to explain what we were about to do, why we are doing it, and what Fearless Beauty is. As I spoke about empowering women through haircutting and the beauty business, using our hands to heal and using beauty as a tool to go much deeper, I could see their eyes sparkling and soft smiles emerging. I knew that they were beginning to understand. Years of study and practice began to channel through me as I shared with them not only the “hair stuff”, but what it is to awaken as an empowered woman and how with awareness we can use the craft of hairdressing to not only awaken this in ourselves but also to be able to give that gift to others. And so the journey begins with Lakshmi, Aarti, Kalendi, Sheela, Anju, Deepa, Sonam, Rhayka, and Kavita, our first Fearless Beauty class.