I got my right nostril pierced this past weekend. I have no idea why. I also decided not to tell anyone but just to let people see it when I see them, and I was looking forward to enjoying people’s reactions, yet here I am telling everyone in the most public way possible before actually seeing anyone but my spectacularly supportive husband. I have no idea why. Well, that’s not entirely true. I do know that I have liked the look of subtle nose piercings on men for a long time and that I’ve thought about it a bit over the years. Recently I started thinking about it more seriously—again, no idea why now—and I consulted with a few people whose views I trust, and they were all encouraging. But I had a lot of doubts: What’s it like to have something inside your nose all the time? Will I like having a little sparkle in my peripheral vision in one eye? Do I really want to do 4 months of somewhat cumbersome after-care? And of course the biggest—What will people think? Is it really okay for an ordinary man to have a nose piercing? And the biggest of the big for me—Will I look like an older man who’s trying to look like a young, hip guy??? Ugh, that one really weighed on me.
Perhaps this sounds like a lot of fussing over nothing. After all, what’s the big deal? And as my husband reassured me several times, if I don’t like it, I can just take it out. But people fuss over all sorts of things, some big, some small, and I’m no exception. We all live under the weight of some degree of self-consciousness. Even if we’re generally comfortable with ourselves and our lives, there are always some areas where we feel at risk for others’ judgments, and we can get quite twisted up trying to avoid that risk or manage the fallout from acting in the face of it and turning out to be right about the dreaded response. And even when it turns out we didn’t need to feel self-conscious about something, that usually isn’t enough to enable us to let the self-consciousness go. It’s usually pretty tenacious.
In meditation one day, I had a relatively long period of stillness, firmly in my breath with no thoughts interfering, and I suddenly saw myself with my nose pierced. There was no question. There were no doubts. There was no self-consciousness. It was already done, and it was exactly as it was meant to be. As I felt my mind kick into gear to think about what that meant and whether I could trust it, I stopped and recommitted to staying in my breath. It was a real struggle—that image was compelling, and my mind was hungry to devour it, to take ownership of it, to describe it and label it, to examine it and measure it against all the doubts I had had so it could make a definitive judgment about it. I was able to stay in my breath long enough to quiet all that mental activity down for a while. After that sitting, I realized that if I wanted to make a decision about piercing that I would feel good about, I needed to stop thinking about it. So I put the issue away for several days. Of course it would pop into my mind now and then, but I quickly let that go, reminding myself that there was no rush, no deadline, and that I was determined to discover what I authentically wanted, not just what my mind told me I wanted.
After just a few days of that, and without consciously planning to, I found myself looking for a piercing shop nearby and found one that looked good. I asked myself if I was sure, and then something wonderful happened. I instantly knew I was going to do it, even though at the same time I could see all the doubts I had been having. The doubts were there, but they no longer had any power, and I felt a deep sense of rightness in my body. I could move back and forth freely between the clarity in my body and the mental level doubts, but I no longer got caught up in the self-consciousness or other concerns. And even when I deliberately tried to recreate the uncertainty I had been having in order to test it, I was not able to—somehow the awareness of what was genuinely right for me overrode my ability to connect to the fussing in my mind.
The same thing happened many, many years ago when I finally realized I could accept my sexuality—in an unplanned, unexpected moment that got imprinted in my memory so that I can feel it like it just happened, I suddenly knew that it was okay for me to be gay, and all the reasons I had been amassing for years that made me feel it was unacceptable lost their power, just like the far less dramatic doubts about getting my nose pierced. At that time, I had no idea what had happened. I thought it was a miracle. I had not been engaged in any conscious deliberation about my sexuality in the days preceding that moment, so the awakening felt like it came out of the blue. For the rest of that day, I consciously ran through all of my prior objections, fears, and anxieties about being gay, and I discovered to my great shock that even though I could remember what they all were, I couldn’t feel any of them anymore. It was like running through a checklist that previously had NO checked for every item and finding that the NOs had simply been erased and in fact it was no longer clear why any of the items had even been on the list in the first place.
That awakening many years ago came spontaneously and changed the course of my life for the better. The awakening last week about my nose piercing did not come spontaneously. I’ve worked very hard to develop the ability to let go of thinking and be in my body. I made a conscious decision to stop actively thinking about it so that I could see what would come from a deeper place that is more authentic, and when my mind acted up, I opted out. When I was ready, clarity came, and I recognized it. Afterwards, sitting down to write a totally different blog post, fully intending to let people discover my piercing on their own when they saw me, I just knew I needed to write about this process and the breaking down of self-consciousness and mental fussing. Certainly piercing my nose will not change the course of my life like accepting my sexuality did, but I am really happy about it, I know it was right for me, and I no longer have any self-conscious thoughts about it. And while this may read like a lot of words for something pretty trivial, it describes a process that can be used for anything from the mundane to the monumental. What came to me years ago as a matter of grace can be cultivated by meditation, yoga, and other spiritual practices. The questions and doubts don’t necessarily get answered—I still don’t really know why I pierced my nose, just like I still don't really know why I became able to accept my sexuality after so many years of feeling certain it was unacceptable—but the questions and doubts fall away, and truth is revealed. And nothing is more peaceful, contented, and satisfying than that kind of truth. So look at me—I got my nose pierced!