Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | January 19, 2008

Nakedness and our Ability to Share Intimacy

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?”


Responses

  1. It is so important isn’t it? I have been asking myself what is worse: that life of ‘quiet desperation’ or the fear and discomfort of being naked, close to the core of something. It has brought to mind a joke I have recently read about two caterpillars looking up at a butterfly, one saying to the other, “you’ll never get me up in one of those!”. Our own potential can be so easily obscured, not only by our own terrors but by that ‘quiet desperation’ in others too, that uneasy status quo. Nakedness can feel threatening perhaps because it reminds us of our own bondage, our own potential freedom; it’s unsettling because it suggests that we do indeed possess that radiance you so beauitfully write about. That radiance is scary stuff! When we start to reach for it, we can feel exiled from all we have known (no matter how crampt and distorting a place that was) but reaching for it is the only way home. In the radiance that you talk about is true belonging, true connection and intimacy, with ourselves, with others, with our wonderful planet. I am going to ask your question of myself daily -I have always been afraid of going to the grave my own song not sung. Thank you so much for your kind words about my comment. I really appreciate them.

  2. I was goofing around on the internet and found myself here. I just wanted to let you know that that I had never looked at it that way. I have never had any major problems with nudity, but had never thought about it beyond that. Thank you. (I’m going to read more now…)

  3. Thank you for putting into words what I have been feeling. Helps to know others feel the same.

  4. The Jains have an interesting belief that karma is actually very fine matter and that it accumulates like dust around our ‘jiva’ – pure soul – so that our radiance is diminished (and coloured too). From this point of view the spiritual way is about freeing ourselves of this fine karmic matter so we can shine, as we do this we change the colours from dull to increasingly luminescent…

  5. […] If you think the subject trivial, prurient or inappropriate please read one reader’s post here. […]

  6. Dear Mr. Philip Carr-Gomm

    My name is Daniel Setti, I’m brazilian a reporter who lives in Barcelona since 2006. I’m writing an article for Trip (http://revistatrip.uol.com.br/), one of the most important magazines in our country, known for its avant gard approach and very original stories.
    My article is about Esteban Trancón Ejarque, “The Naked Man from Barcelona”, as we are preparing an issue about man nakedness.
    Maybe you are familiar with this person (here you have some great picutres of him: http://www.aurelm.com/2009/06/10/the-emperors-new-clothes/). He is a man that, between 2006 and 2010, used to walk naked every single day around the main touristic places in Barcelona. Because of that he became very famous worldwide.
    But he was obligated to stop doing that in 2010 when the new conservative government of the city created a law that forbid people of walking without clothes in the street. Before that it was allowed.
    Apart from interviewing him twice, I’m getting touch with some experts that may have interesting things to say on the subject of “nakedness” and the way Man and Society deals with it. I’m aware of the concepts you speak of in your book “A Brief History of Nakedness” and I would like, if you don’t mind, to ask a brief question about it. I’m writing the question down below, but if you prefer to talk by phone, please let me know how can I get in touch with you.
    QUESTION: Why do you think that even the most “progressive” or “open minded” societies, such as the Barcelona/Catalunya, for example, can’t mantain for so long their very modern principles on subjects such as nudity? I mean, aren’t most of the europeans more “liberal” in this matter than most of other cultures in the world?
    Thank you very much, Mr. Carr-Gomm. To be able to have your opinion on this article would be very important for us.

    Best regards,

    Daniel Setti

    • Hi Daniel – What a great website you have – amazing photographs! I’ll email you my reply. But here is what I’ll say in a nutshell. The issue is deeply paradoxical (which is one reason why I like it so much, because I think paradoxes bring us closer to the nature of reality than dogmatic statements that assert ‘the truth’). To gain the physical and psychological, and perhaps spiritual benefits of being naked we need to experience not being naked. As with happiness we only really appreciate that state (and can perhaps only really experience it) by also experiencing unhappiness. So I am not in favour of nakedness in certain places like a city because that would deprive us of some of the wonderful feeling of being naked when we are in the privacy of our home, garden, etc. I am in favour of nakedness being allowed in the countryside though – by water particularly. The problem with city nakedness is that in cities you brush up against people – in crowded streets, on trains and buses, and however much we may love our fellow humans I’m not sure many of us would like to brush up against strangers’ naked bodies (for instance that guy in Barcelona!) This is the rationale for Naturist resorts – everyone there is ok with it so you can feel safe and respected. We wouldn’t feel the same way in a busy city street. I hope this helps!
      All good wishes,
      Philip


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