Nikas Nikas, one of San Francisco’s most respected and acclaimed hair stylists, might have guessed that his path would veer away from the materialistic to the spiritual when he was just a child. His father—a wealthy Hawaii businessman—decided he was tired of the rat race and moved his family to an ashram in central Oregon. This brought the teenage Nikas into contact with the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, an influential (and controversial) spiritual leader of the day.
“It was he who gave me my name of Nikas,” he says. “Some days I was blessed to have two or three hours of direct spiritual instruction, which I equate to sitting at the foot of Buddha.”
At only 18, Nikas knew he wanted to be involved in the world of beauty and beauty products, and approached the owner of Rusk, Inc. at a hair show. “I said, ‘I want to do what you do,’ and he said, ‘Great, can you be in Los Angeles in two weeks?’”
In just a few years, thanks in large part to his gift of gab and ability to work a crowd, Nikas became national director of education at Rusk, taking to the stage to instruct crowds of 500, all over the country. “Being on stage teaching became a place where I felt completely at home,” he says.
Two decades ago, needing a change, Nikas stepped off the stage and into the salon, setting up practice as an in-demand colorist. He worked some of the best salons in town (Patrick Evan, Alex Chases) before deciding to go solo, working out of his South of Market loft space. It was in those confines that his spiritual pursuits leapt back to the front burner.
“I had made it a practice to share with my clients what was really going on with me,” he says, “including my battle with drug addiction. In that private and quiet setting, I found that we were able to go deep and share things that we never could have in a salon setting. When there is an open exchange, people always want to discuss the truth, whatever that looks like to them.”
Years of fast and dangerous living, however, had taken their toll. “The last 18 months of my life have been the hardest,” he admits. “I had challenges in so many areas, from health to finances to relationships. I had to let go of everything in order to move into the next phase. But when I was able to let go, I found myself in a place of joy.”
He realized that his true calling was to be a spiritual teacher—and the challenge then became how that role would unfold. “I began to realize that I had an ability to help people investigate spiritual matters without ever using the word ‘spirituality!’” he laughs. “I could just be an investigator. And I realized that if I did it in front of an audience— both live and on the web—I could have a greater impact.”
The result of his brainstorming: InTalks, a series that began January 30, 2014, at the First Unitarian Church on Franklin Street. It is free to the public, with donations requested to cover costs. He describes the series as a monthly discussion that investigates what it truly means to be prosperous. In the first discussion, he explored the decision-making process. “Are we making our decisions based in fear, selfishness, or greed?” he asks. “Or, are we making our decisions with integrity and coming from a sense of well-being? Are we considering how our decisions impact the world, or remembering that we have the potential to make powerful, direction-altering decisions?”
It appears to be a highly graced enterprise already. Within 24 hours of asking a few friends to support him by helping with rental and printing fees, the money was in hand. The room he desired soon became available, and help was offered with graphic design. “It was crazy,” he says, “but so very gratifying.”
Any monies raised by donations going forward will go back into production costs; Nikas does not intend to take a cent from the series. “I’m not doing this for money; I’m doing it to create positive change,” he says.
He’s hoping to attract a broad cross section of Bay Area people, especially those in a position to influence others—in the tech sector, in politics, social media, and education (250 people are expected for his next talk).
“My greatest wish is that people will be able to take just one thing back into their lives, and perhaps alter the course of the way they negotiate the world around them. This is the goal of InTalks, and my personal goal as well.”
Have no fear, Nikas Nikas still does hair.
InTalks, with Nikas
Thursday, February 27, 2014, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco
1187 Franklin Street (at Geary Street), San Francisco
Streaming live: http://new.livestream.com/intalks/sf
Tickets can be reserved through EventBrite:
More information here: www.facebook.com/events/692512664121664/
Jane Ganahl is a Bay Area journalist of 30 years, the author of the memoir, Naked on the Page, and co-founder of the Litquake literary festival.