getting head shaved
Photos courtesy of Kenn Henman

Hollywood publicist to a Tibetan monk

by Kenn Henman

I wondered how long it would take my hair to grow back after it was shaved. The unforgiving sun in the Himalayas does not take kindly to bald, ghostly white scalps. It was my second day at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in northern India and I was far from the glam and glitz of the Hollywood I left behind. This is my journey from the red carpet to the red robes of a Buddhist monk.

First and foremost, I’m a publicist. I’m an image builder. I enjoy making people and brands famous. After thirteen years in the PR game, it knew it was time for a professional pause (no time outs allowed in Hollywood). I was resolved to step away from my red carpet lifestyle and find an existence away from reality TV and the paparazzi.

As in most things in life, when you are ready for change, change finds you (often with the help of Google) and the Monk for a Month program found me (on Facebook, of course). I must have been searchable as “one seeking a ground-breaking spiritual adventure” because they had me signing up before a poke was even necessary.

My journey to Spiti Valley, one of India’s least populated areas, began in Delhi, one of India’s most populated areas, and if you have ever been to Delhi in the summer, you know it didn’t start well. Hot and dirty, and not like Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee hot and dirty, but choking dust and hot as in 114 degrees and I want to puke on a Kardashian hot. Scorched and anxious to exit Delhi as swiftly as possible, my fellow wannabe monks and I boarded an overnight bus to an awaiting jeep and the start of our adventure into the land of the Dalai Lama.

You get to know your fellow itinerants well when you are traveling the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” across the Himalayas and into a place Rudyard Kipling called a ‘world within a world’ and a ‘place where Gods live’. Eight brave soul-searching individuals from a variety of backgrounds, including a naturopathic physician (think herbal sex therapist), an Aussie surfer, a literature doctor (don’t even ask), a social worker from the Valley, a poet from Mexico, and of course what trip is not complete without a magician (move over David Blaine).

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Five exhausting days later we reached our new home, the Kungri Monastery. Two days later, my head was shaved and my name was Nywang Sharap. When you accept the monastic vows at Kungri, a new name is given to you by the head monk. My newly shaved head and name (meaning “wisdom”) signified my commitment to a simpler life, a more open mind and a greater appreciation for sunscreen.

My experience at the monastery and the knowledge the monks shared with me could fill a book (someday), but I was given one thousand words for this story so I have limited it to my top three wisdoms:

1. Eat more beans. Nobody wants to eat just beans and rice all their lives (do they?). Most meals at Kungri were just that, lentil beans and white rice. This diet would never work in Hollywood, too many carbs. However, the simplicity of a bean and rice diet made one thing very clear. We eat to live. It sustains us and that’s it. I began to look at the things in my life and question their necessity. Did I really need it to live? Simply, no. Rather than worrying about buying the latest iPad (damn it Apple), I only need to appreciate what’s in front of me … so pass me the beans please.

2. Less talking is more. For anyone in the entertainment business this could be a major challenge. My job is to talk and it took a monk to teach me how not to. Most of Kungri monks meditate in stone caves perched in the surrounding Himalayan Mountains for three years. Imagine a publicist not talking for three years, now that would be a reality show worth watching. During our time at the monastery we had a day of silence and did something very rare, we listened. I can enlighten you with the awareness I gained but better yet, just try it. Silence can truly be golden.

3. Just breathe. OK, I know Pearl Jam imparted this wisdom to us years ago, and you probably think I’m talking about the breath we use for meditation. Well, not exactly. One of the principle beliefs of Buddhism is that all compounded things are impermanent. Now you’re wondering what the hell does that mean? Basically it means all things have the nature to change. I learned that to “live everyday like your last,” you just need to breathe and the rest will come naturally. So take a deep breath (unless you live in downtown L.A.), and enjoy the day because you can only live in the present.

By the way, it took two months for my hair to grow back.

The Kungri Monastery is a Buddhist monastery of the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the Pin Valley in Lahul and Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, northern India. Kungri is Spiti’s second oldest monastery, built around 1330.

Kenn Henman

About Kenn Henman

Kenn Henman is currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia. He was the founder and president of ALM Public Relations. He has recently started a non-profit organization, Helping Others Through Entertainment, to assist individuals and organizations raise money and awareness through his Hollywood contacts. “Live dangerously and you live right” is still his favorite quote (from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). Follow his tweets while eating rice @KennHenman.

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