Apr 25, 2008
Ask Auntie Suvanna: the Buddhist approach to excess body hair
Ever despair at how to cultivate lovingkindness for Dick Cheney, or ponder the effect of anti-depressants on Buddha Nature? If so, check out Auntie Suvanna, who applies her unique wisdom and wit to your queries about life, meditation, Dharma, family and relationship issues, or anything else that comes up. Why not write to her and tell her your troubles?
I can’t stand my boyfriend’s ear hair anymore. He has little pointy gray hairs growing out of the tops of his ears. He isn’t concerned about it, he says he’s had it since he was in his 20’s. I wonder if one day he will look like a werewolf. Or maybe one day the hair will cover not only the top of his ears but the back and bottom as well and they will grow into convenient but gross natural ear muffs. Should I try to get used to the pointy hairs? Should I make him trim it? Should I seek a bald-eared partner? He doesn’t even know it bothers me. Am I petty? This is serious.
Sincerely Grossed Out
Dear Grossed Out,
American culture is engaged in an ongoing skirmish with body hair.
Dictionary.com defines petty as “of little or no importance or consequence.” In spite of her good manners, Auntie has to say she is finding it hard to envisage ear hair as important and consequential. On the other hand, irritation is at least consequential, so let’s see if we can tackle that. Otherwise you might get more and more pent up, until one day you will blow like Krakatoa, spewing burning rubble all over your boyfriend’s unsuspecting and relatively innocent hairy ears.
American culture is engaged in an ongoing skirmish with body hair. Women, especially, shave, wax, pluck, trim, or laser almost every patch of visible hair on the body. Perhaps deep down we are all Creationists worried about looking like apes… At any rate for overcoming this collective aversion, Auntie suggests doing various kinds of research. Get your facts! I know you would prefer to forget all about ear hair, but you can’t. It’s part of life. It’s part of your life. It arose in dependence on conditions, the conditions of the human form. Fact is, as men age, their hair seems to move more and more from their head to their ears and nose. That’s just the way it is. As the great Buddhist sage Shantideva said, it’s like getting angry at the sky because there is a cloud in it.
You must face — we all must face — right now, the inescapable truth of ear hair.
Though your boyfriend’s visible ear hair is dead, like all hair it is still very much a part of his body. Made up of long chains of amino acids (proteins), it (or at least the root) contains all his genetic information. His ethnic origin, what he has smoked, and what he has eaten – all this information resides in just one shaft of his ear hair. It is but one ground force unit within the battalion of hair that covers his entire body, with the exception of soles of his feet, the palms of his hands, and his lips. It grows at the same rate as other hair, about 1 cm per month, and lasts at least three years. You must face — we all must face — right now, the inescapable truth of ear hair. And as always, however things are, they can always be worse.
Another more drastic and probably more effective type of research would be to spend a great deal of time contemplating in detail the nature of your own body, part by part. Investigate it. See what’s what. Divide it into categories such as solid and liquid, and reflect on each component. In addition to ubiquitous hair you will discover nails, skin, flesh, teeth, veins, nerves, tendons, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, spleen, lungs, stomach, intestines, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, saliva, mucus, and urine. You will find what everyone’s body is composed of, and you will deeply understand ear hair. (Warning: This contemplation may cause nausea, loss of libido, and understated fashions such as coveralls.)
Finally, on a practical note, if it still bugs, kindly ask your boyfriend if he would allow you to trim it. If he agrees, invest in some clippers and have at it. Using scissors around ears is more dangerous than werewolves!
Love, Auntie Suvanna
Ask Auntie Suvanna was written by Suvarnaprabha, who practiced at the San Francisco Buddhist Center until she passed away in September, 2013, after an encounter with cancer. Suvanna blogger her way, with humor and good grace, from her diagnosis until shortly before her death, in Crap! I’ve Got Cancer.