Posts Tagged ‘Thoreau’

 

Underutilized Rebellion

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

It’s always helpful to know you are not alone in your thoughts, feelings and experiences – and the net is great for helping us find others of like mind. Last year I researched Walden Pond for an entry in ‘Sacred Places’  – a book due out in August – and here is what Henry – a blogger who recently commented on a post here says about the pond and about his experiences of the joys of skinny-dipping. I like his idea of underutilized rebellion!

Thank you Henry for letting me quote from your blog – ‘What Would Henry Do? A Virtual Cabin in the Woods’:
“There is a brief passage in Walden where Thoreau describes bathing in the idyllic waters of his Pond. If you’ve ever been to Walden Pond in the summer, you can imagine what this must have felt like one hundred years ago, miles from your closest neighbor: Like pure bliss. We’ve all gone skinny-dipping at least once in our lives, (I hope!) and we all know how good it feels. My first experience was about twenty years ago at Robert Moses State Park on Long Island at a designated clothing-optional beach. At first it felt strange. But the strangeness disappeared after about five minutes when I realized that no one was staring at me and no one looked like a runway model. It was the height of summer, about ninety degrees. The ocean water felt luxurious against my skin and it was glorious to come back to my towel and lay basking in the bright sun. I was hooked. For many years afterwards, I would proselytize to the uninitiated about the benefits of my discovery. I used to compare nude bathing to buying a microwave oven (Bear with me). Before you get a microwave, you don’t understand what all the fuss is about, but after you have one you can’t imagine how you ever lived without it. When I talked this way, people looked at me funny. Then everyone had a microwave and my analogy lost its meaning. So I changed my object of desire to an iPod, but now everyone has one of those as well. I once heard Muddy Waters quoted as saying, “If you’ve got something good, keep it in your pocket.” Maybe that’s what I should do, I decided. Much like politics and religion, no one likes to be lectured to. The most meaningful discoveries you make in life are the ones you make yourself. But bathing this way, whether it be on a beach in the bright sun with hundreds of people or alone in a secluded quarry hidden deep in the woods, makes me feel more connected to the earth than anything else I can imagine. It’s childlike and pure. And in the crazed, nature-deprived, hyperactive, over-scheduled, hell-in-a-handbasket world we live in, one of our last and most tragically underutilized rebellions.”

Nakedness and our Ability to Share Intimacy

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

One of the limitations of this blog template is that the comments on each post are hidden until you click on the comments line and this means that some wonderful contributions may not get the airing they deserve.

Recently Maria commented on a post and I find her expressing ideas I’ve been trying to express in some posts here in such a beautiful and articulate way I want to present them in a post, rather than them languishing (perhaps!) in a comment.

She mentions how she went to a dance performance at Brighton University, just down the road from us:

[It was] a contemporary piece that dealt with the taboo of love between an older woman and a younger man. The female dancer was in her sixties, maybe older. There was a key moment where she appeared alone and naked with a bowl of water and began to simply wash herself. In our culture, the very act of a woman of her age stripping naked in public might sadly for some have been a challenge, particularly in the wider context of the dance piece where the sexual interaction between her and the young man was so powerfully explored. In this one simple moment of her being alone and naked, utterly exposed to the audience with all its potential prejudices and negative preconceptions, her body expressed such moving tenderness, poignancy and power. It was an incredibly intimate moment. There we all were, a theatre full of clothed strangers watching what felt like, to me at least, the unveiling of someone’s soul. It made me feel very tearful and not a little naked myself. I keep thinking of Blake’s notion of the body being an extension of the soul, and it seems to be that in true nakedness, physical and psychological, the soul speaks. It doesn’t matter how much we use our emotional and intellectual defences to cover up or hide ourselves, the body seems reluctant to join in with the lie. We can deny what we feel and yet our bodies are shaped by what we have experienced, sculpted by our emotions, and so to undress is to expose our story. When someone has the courage to stand truly naked before us, the courage to share that story, something deep within us has the potential to be unveiled too.

That’s it! The reason why spirituality and psychology are such fascinating fields to explore comes from the fact that we know how much potential exists in each soul. Sometimes that potential is expressed and we see great art, great ideas, wonderful acts of generosity and nobility. But most of the time it seems that the majority ‘go to the grave with the song still in them’ as Thoreau put it. And that’s the fascination for me with spirituality and with the concept of nakedness in its deepest sense: the question and the challenge then becomes “How can I take off all the layers that cover this soul, this radiance, this potential inside me that wants to shine?”

Spring has Begun

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

This morning the first snowdrops appeared. And two goats leaping and butting their horns together, then nuzzling…

 An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.

Thoreau

My intention is to undress

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Yesterday I decided that there was at least one good thing that Judaeo-Christianity has given us: the concept of a ‘day of rest’ once a week. Do other religions offer this arrangement that frees up one seventh of your time from drudgery or thrilling work? If anyone knows do please tell me. And also why witches call their festivals Sabbats, which must come from ‘Sabbath’ surely? So I’ve introduced a new rule to control my relationship with this ‘entity’ that is a blog. Leave it alone on Sunday! But all rules are made to be broken of course…

Now back to Zil’s comment last week. Our relationship to technology is so age-dependent I’ve decided. If you’re under 30 or so no-one would question having a blog or facebook/myspace page. It’s just part of living in the 21st century for many First World people as far as I can see. But for those of us who are older we have a different approach. When Zil asked herself if it was ‘worthy’ of me to have a blog I understood exactly what she meant. She & Myrddhin, her husband and excellent harpist too, had emailed me a while back to announce their MySpace pages and I had caught myself having the same thought as if somehow to have these things is ‘vulgar’ or ‘self-promotion’ or if you’re into psychology ‘narcissistic’ or into eastern approaches ‘egoic’.

I wonder if it is cultural too – perhaps it is a European attitude. I notice my American friends, who are in a similar position (authors, running spiritual groups etc) have been writing blogs for years. Maybe no-one in the States would question it, but in England and France (perhaps more than any other European culture) we are still quite attached to ideas of ‘high culture’ and sophistication, and the concept of vulgarity. So starting a blog or myspace page for us can feel like ‘mutton dressing as lamb’ – a 50+ year-old trying to ease into skin-tight leather trousers and go out on the town, chewing gum and wearing shades.

My desire however is to do quite the reverse. I intend to undress! This may sound trivial, attention-seeking, even ‘vulgar’ (!) but no – it touches upon the most central questions in philosophy, religion, psychology and politics. ‘Surely not!” I can hear you thinking. Over the next few months I may be using this as a recurring theme, because after Samhain (November 1st) I’m beginning work on a book for Reaktion/University of Chicago Press called ‘A Brief History of Nakedness’ , which will deal with precisely these issues.

The challenge in using a blog in this way is the challenge suggested by the Transcendentalists, like Thoreau and Emerson, who suggested sharing journaling as a way of self-cultivation and as a tool for spiritual progress.

If I get undressed now – by myself with no-one around – it may have some value (especially if it’s too hot for clothes). But if I do this in the company of others then there is a real potential for change:

First: you are confronted by your fears. Do I look ugly? What will people think of my pale skin?

Then when you actually do it the gain is tremendous. You realise things you should have grasped years ago: that (a) no-one cares! People are far more preoccupied with themselves than with you! (b) If you don’t look perfect they will be pleased, because they don’t look perfect either! And if they do happen to look perfect (and this has only happened to me a few times – once when a suntanned Princess Diana look-alike climbed into our hut tub at the OBOD Summer Camp in NY) then it’s so interesting you don’t care about anything else!

So when it works, Naturism is fabulous because it frees you of this incessant preoccupation we can have with what we think the other person thinks about us. Our mass-media world makes us so conscious of image, perception, surface that we can be trapped in a web of projections based upon unconscious calculations of others’ perceptions. A web of illusion at the heart of which is the spider of ‘Poor Self Image’.

So the act of undressing in this conscious, deliberate, fundamentally spiritual way, is an attempt to call the spider’s bluff. If it works, the web and the spider disappear. I fully recognise that it is not always that easy, and that it is a complex issue, but I believe there is truth in this approach.

Occultists know the maxim ‘as above, so below’. If you can do something on the physical level, it has effects on the supra-physical/mental level. Behaviour affects consciousness. Take off your clothes now and you change your mind.

Conversely, make changes at the mental/spiritual level and you can affect behaviour and the body – ie health. So now – in the interests of health (and research) – I am going to use this blog to psychically undress with the goal of freeing myself from the web of ‘identity’ spun, partly by my conscious or unconscious fears and beliefs about what others think about me, and partly by the circumstances of this life, which are not of course illusion, but which even so can conspire to create an illusory sense of limitation:

How? I’ll begin by taking all those labels that describe ‘me’:

English, pantheistic, naturist, mostly pisco-vegetarian, Conditional Pacifist, heterosexual, liberal, middle-class, intellectual, Druid, Taoist, writer, psychotherapist, leader of a Druid group, father, grandfather, husband, brother, son, uncle, nephew…

….and peel them off, one by one.

None of them , individually or collectively, describes the ‘core self’ of this Being tapping away at these keys.

It all depends on your philosophy – your beliefs about the Nature of Being. I believe that beyond all these labels is the ‘Real Me’. But someone else might believe that is all he is. As I peel away all these labels do I come to some ‘radiant Being’ – some soul that exists beyond all those definitions – or do I come to nothing, like that old TV Series ‘The Invisible Man”? If he was asked to undress you would find, once the pants were removed, there was nothing to see…

To get physically undressed doesn’t take that long. Whisk, whisk and the clothes are off. With this psycho-spiritual approach it will take longer. We are familiar with the psychobabble term ‘baggage’ to denote unwanted or unprocessed psychic content. Well we could just as easily use the image of clothing, and most of us are staggering through life wearing layers and layers of clothes – many of which were worn by our grandparents, and their parents!

The spiritual and psychotherapeutic journey could be characterised as the journey of discovering how we can take these clothes off to live more fully and effectively in the world.

Can streaking ever become a chore?

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Spiritual teachers talk about the way regular practice reaps its rewards, and that you have to persevere through periods where the meditation, or whatever the practice is, seems to be just a chore with no obvious benefit.

Julia Cameron in The Writer’s Way and Gail Sher in One Continuous Mistake suggest that a discipline of regular writing – a little every day – is the spiritual practice for writers and that the same law applies. Keep at it!

If blogging offers a similar sense of freedom combined with the risks of exhibitionism and vulnerability that naturism offers, then keeping up a blog seems a little like being told you have to do a little streak every day.

Is that all it is? Was Thoreau and company on to something with their idea of using and sharing journals for spiritual cultivation or does this just cater to our egos? The spiritual discipline with this it seems to me is the challenge to go beyond our innate human desire to display, to seduce, to persuade and to make that shift so that we are responding to what I hope are our deeper urges – to give, to share, to entertain!

I used to be snooty about the concept of entertainment until I read the Buddhist Alan Watts talking about his mission to entertain, and the week later at an OBOD Druid camp Prof. Ronald Hutton stated that he was there to entertain us. (Which he did hugely – you can hear him on the Druid podcast – episode 4 – link top right).

How different would our world have been if spiritual leaders had told us, from the dawn of time, that they had come to entertain us. If you’re laughing it’s very hard to pull a trigger.

It’s like taking off your clothes…

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

When I first heard about blogs I thought they were yet another example of how self-obsessed we have all become – another example of our narcissistic culture. But I’ve changed my mind and have decided to take the plunge!

Two realizations acted as catalysts for this change of heart: I was reading Thoreau the other day and was struck by the self-revelatory, diary-like informal quality of his wonderful Walden Pond – and then I read somewhere that he was the equivalent of a blogger. Delving deeper into the work of the American Transcendentalists I discovered that journaling, and sharing that journaling, was at the heart of their spiritual practice.

I was almost convinced – particularly after one of my oldest friends the ‘recovering journalist’ Jonathan Miller showed me his stylish and provocative political blog I Told You So. He waxed lyrical about the virtues of blogging and urged me to start. But something held me back… (more…)