Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | October 22, 2007

My intention is to undress

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.


Responses

  1. -Juste pour préciser : je n’ai jamais pensé que c’était “vulgaire” ou trop commun de faire un blog (et non d’avoir un blog…), ma réaction première était par rapport à mon idéalisation du “choosen chief” que tu es, pour que cet homme-là ne tombe pas dans le piège du computer qui mange littéralement l’énergie d’un certain point de vue (il fait oublier tout le reste)
    -With the nakdeness : and it was a strange and strong experience for me to read that you write for everybody what I said as comment! That was a first time I read, like if sudennly I was completly naked!
    So, you won with your blog : we have to do this skyclouds with you as soon we read your blog!
    And as a more personal level – I won’t say that before, but now I do!) at the beginning of oktober we experiences Myrdhin and me to be skycloud at twelve under the warm sun at home but outside in front of the house : eat and
    suspendre le linge, avec le ‘risque” d’être vus par les voisins ou les voitures qui passent au loin!…
    Now I feel your blog like a play, a real play, this one which the little children made very seriously so as to know themselves…

  2. Once a psychotherapist said to me that he was convinced that a psychotic person stands in full nudity opposing a world expecting decorum -clothes- from him; and that in doing so he scared the living daylight out of his fellowmen, showing them what they really were, stripped to the essence of their being. So, my question is : did this guy have a point and are you studying lunacy 🙂 ?

  3. Liberté, egalité, vulgarité !

    Merci, Zil, pour votre précision. Si je peux suggérer: le mot ‘vulgaire’ en français et le mot ‘vulgar’ en anglais ont un sens un peu différent. En français, le sens c’est connu, plus commun ou utilisé par tout le monde. Ou, qui n’est que cela, qui n’est rien de plus (que). « Il se contente de vulgaire saucisson pour son repas. » « Le cœur battant, elle alla ouvrir: ce n’était qu’un vulgaire démarcheur. »

    Alors, un blog soit vulgar ou vulgaire. Nudité aussi. Je pense qu’on doit toujours écrit tout nu. Métaphoriquement ou littéralement – n’import lequel. Pour montrer honnêtement – sans voile – ceux que l’auteur veut exprimer, il faut être nu !

    What a fantastic project, Philip. This might be the best seller you need to fund your retirement.

    J’espère que le livre inclura beaucoup des images!

  4. I should add that judeo-christianity has definitely NOT given us ‘one good thing’ in the form of a day of rest. This was the result of a bungled contract negotiation. One day of rest in 7 is hardly enough. The French have the right idea – 35 hours per week. Recovering journalists try to keep labour down to 35 hours a month. Max.

  5. and finishing the exegisis on why vulgaier is a faux ami – en anglais ‘vulgar’ et plus souvent tres corsé – pas commun mais en bas. Je crois que le sens en français c’est plus proche à la romaine…

    Voila: un malentendu?

  6. A blog like a play in which we all participate! Enter stage left Jonathan Miller le situationiste (le symboliste?) Stage Right Zil.
    No-one has a script.
    I don’t have a script. No clothes to fall back on, no lines to hide behind.
    Just isness – being – the moment!

    PS Skycloud is a lovely Term Zil, but I think you mean skyclad!
    And thank you for the vulgarity clarification Jonathan, and yes Zil I accept that was my take on it, and that you were pointing to another idea about the role of ‘Chef Choisi’ and the piege of the computer!

  7. Situationist.

    Ne travaillez jamais !

    Demandez l’mpossible !

  8. Qu’est le “travail”…?
    Dans l’idée judéo-chrétienne, il est dit des fois “et le 7ème jour, Dieu s’arrêta et médita sur ce qu’il avait fait”.
    Est-ce que les druides ne font pas cela plusieurs fois par jour?
    Ou bien est-ce que le fait de se “dénuder” n’incite pas plus à méditer (mais quel travail d’ôter ses vêtements!)
    Yes, sorry, it would be “skyclad” of course, le terme n’existe malheureusement pas en français : “vêtu de ciel”, c’est superbe comme expression (je l’ai apprise d’un ami qui a écrit des superbes cours pour les Ovates, je ne sais pas si vous le connaissez…:-)

  9. Mais en fait que pouvons-nous faire, nous lecteurs de ce blog, pour Philipp? Nous mettre en chemin de réflexion avec lui pour qu’il se sente moins seul sur la “route nue” ? Ou devons-nous l’écouter et faire hmhm ? Ou continuons-nous à échanger aussi entre nous et c’est Philipp qui va nous écouter en faisant “hmhm”?…

  10. Omm plutot!

  11. Hennie – you mentioned the psychotic patient – it’s interesting that often when people go ‘mad’ – they take their clothes off – one of the tasks of the police is to pick up these poor souls, often during the night who wander the steets, or who risk their lives walking in the middle of road.
    Without looking at the different potential causes of this behaviour from a psychiatric point of view, such an act nevertheless stands as a potent image of the so-called insane making a stand against the insanity of the so-called ‘normal’ world.
    The contrast is between the simplicity, vulnerability and naturalness of the naked human form juxtaposed against the inhuman, industrial landscape of tarmac and cars.
    The photographer Spencer Tunick captures this feeling powerfully with his images of naked people in city streets. Sometimes he photographs hundreds of people lying down and they look like shoals of fish, or dead bodies with awful echoes of those images taken when the allies entered Belsen, and yet they are beautiful too and they remind us of our fragility and strength.
    I have a friend who has told me that he enjoys streaking. He doesn’t do it any more, but he told me a story of how – when he was younger and at art college, he decided to walk through a small English town centre in the nude one Sunday morning. He figured no-one would be around in the shopping precinct, so he set off, but when he turned the corner he discovered that it was milling with people since the shops were open that Sunday. Instead of turning back and scampering home he decided to keep on walking and made his way through the crowds…

  12. I think you are right there. The opened naked hand is almost everywhere amongst human beings a sign of peace, of giving, of having nothing to hide. I think complete nakedness is the extension of that, showing you are not trying to fool anyone; showing your not ashamed of how nature has created you; showing you are through with the charades. And I think most people in psychosis also show : I have got no defense, please can anyone help me?

  13. I mean : can anyone help me, give me sanctuary?

  14. Zil says: “Mais en fait que pouvons-nous faire, nous lecteurs de ce blog, pour Philipp? Nous mettre en chemin de réflexion avec lui pour qu’il se sente moins seul sur la “route nue” ? Ou devons-nous l’écouter et faire hmhm ? Ou continuons-nous à échanger aussi entre nous et c’est Philipp qui va nous écouter en faisant “hmhm”?…”

    For non- French speakers: “But in reality what can we, the readers of this blog, do for Philip? Start to follow the path of enquiry with him so that he feels less alone on the ‘naked path’? Or must we listen to him and go hmhm? Or do we continue to converse/exchange between us, and it is Philip who will listen to us and go ‘humhm’?

    I thought today of the idea of veering off the linear format of this blog (which is built into the way they work – I can’t change this) to divert readers to this thread.

    I’m climbing off the soap-box today to join with everyone!

  15. Hennie I will email you privately…

  16. I have followed this discussion with interest. I’m still not sure how I feel about physical nakedness.

    I have nothing against it, of this much I’m sure. But I rarely walk around the house naked, I don’t sleep naked and in general I don’t feel the desire to take of my cloths, with perhaps one exception….in the water.

    Not really sure why, but water on bare skin feels good, no doubt there is a cleansing aspect to it, but it just feels nice to be in the (reasonably warm) water or when I take a cold splash, it feels revitalising, either way, it makes me feel good, more than wearing a bathing suit.

    Where rituals are concerned, I never (personally, not in general) understood the desire to do them skyclad, I’ve tried once and it had no extra meaning or impact for me. Truth be told, it even kind of backfired, because my concentrationspan was lower as I kept thinking I felt cold and about the time, not a plus.

    I know friends of mine do rituals skyclad and we’ve talked about this several times, they all talk of connecting to the earth, I get that, I do feel a desire to have my feet touch the earth whenever possible (perhaps not when it’s below zero), but to get completely undressed, nope. On the other hand, I seldom ware ritual clothing. I just wear my ‘normal’ cloths of that day. To me, it is more the mindset, than the ‘outer’ visible aspects, does this make any sense?

    Anyway, I’ll keep on reading with interest.. 🙂

  17. Story from the North of earth (shortled) :
    An emperor wanted to have the best dress on the world to appear to his people (to be shown by all his people, sorry for my poor english!). They came plenty of taylors which do first a bronze dress, and then a silver dress, and then a gold dress. Each time the emperor said it’s no good, not enough beautiful.
    At the end came one taylor which said to the emperor, try this dress, that’s the most beautiful on the world really, and nobody had it before, try and you will be the beautifuler emperor on all the earth!
    – but I see nothing?
    – Yes, look at, this is a so fine dress that you cannot completly see it, but I see it, come on!
    … The emperor appears to his people, the crow applause because it’s so and the emperor feel the best emperor on the world.
    But in a corner, a little kid : – but, the emperor is completly naked!

  18. Ah, the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, that was one of my favorite stories as a child Zil, thanks for reminding me!

  19. For me nakedness & transparency are cognates with honesty and so the naked body is the real thing without artifice hence the body in its natural state and hence also the one artists are most interested in. Sadly most of us do not measure up to the models chosen by the most famous artists.

    En France on trouve un ville nu – Cap d’Agde. Vraiment vulgaire et ‘vulgar’ au même temps. Il faut admettre: écœurement par jour, par nuit, le plus grand bordello en europe.

    La nudité est plus agreeable le plus intime, avec les amours et les amis.

  20. How right you are Jonathan. I have researched Cap d’Agde for ‘A Brief History of Nakedness’. What a seedy place! Quel dommage!

  21. Naked means more metaphorically naked although it is okay to be actually naked if you are comfortable. It helps to choose the right venue. French west Indies: why not? English home counties: maybe not. Cap d’Agde: definitely not.

  22. ok for the “private” nakedness, but the problem – in France- is always the sexual conotation.
    Why did the trees undressed when it’s so cold – winter-?
    Why did they so dressed when it’s so warm -spring(!) and summer?

  23. So much to read, only had time to scan, but here are some of my thoughts…

    “Skycloud,” I like that too. That naked Emperor also came to mind — I was gonna say, “the pisco-vegetarian with no clothes,” heh 😉 By the way, what’s a pisco-vegetarian? lol

    I was thinking how little ones have absolutely no inhibition regarding begin naked, they revel in it, and are quite confident, non-chalant even — it’s very entertaining, lol

    I myself love being naked — in private. I often do household chores, etc, “skycloud,” 😉 I always sleep naked in the summer, it feels so yummy 🙂 I don’t think I was this way so much in my younger years, but I feel it has come about as I have grown to know that I am this spiritual being and this flesh is just the house for it 🙂 And there’s also that knowing that being naked on any level is somehow very powerful…or empowering.

    Oh, and the Sabbath thing. The 7 brings to mind the 7th chakra (the crown chakra), and I think it’s, perhaps among many other things, about spending time there — with that Spirit that we are. And I don’t think once a week is the thing, maybe 1/7th (at least) of our time should be spent there. What I am finally beginning to learn is that we harm ourselves greatly with doing one thing continually and stopping only on the weekend to rest and play and love…

    There really is no “time” or “space,” so it seems clear to me that we should “observe the Sabbath” on a “daily” basis. Everything is today. Work, rest and play every day 🙂 Balance is the key.

    Peace,
    Dove

  24. Hi Dove,
    It’s sky-clad actually – but sky-cloud sounds fun too if a bit misty!

  25. I like sky-cloud better and pisco-vegetarian???? I was one for ten years – I think.

  26. Hiya’ Tawny girl *muah* 🙂

    I had to return to let Philip know that I was aware that it was “skyclad,” but, like you, liked the “skycloud” better 🙂 Have a fab day, guys!


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