I have just come back from a blissful week away at the OBOD Healing Retreat. It was held in the grounds of both Sunfolk http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/allankidney/sun-folk/ and Spielplatz http://www.spielplatzoasis.co.uk/ , both of which are Naturist clubs.
The Retreat itself was focused on engaging with the wellbeing of body and spirit; a week of wonderful, healthy food, supportive therapies, beautiful surroundings, saunas and swimming, all with the added joy of being able to be naked without others finding it strange or threatening.
From the outside looking in, Naturism can seem more than a little eccentric. We have some peculiarly distorted and rather hypocritical attitudes towards nakedness in our society. Sex and nudity are well used tools to sell just about anything but despite these supposedly liberal values, getting naked can feel fraught with difficulty. Many of us are not comfortable in our own skins and suffer from body loathing and disconnection. It is little wonder why: there is a daily bombardment of images of the ‘perfect’ body. Apparently this is a thin, young, pert and toned one that has been airbrushed and homogenised out of any blemish or uniqueness; unreal bodies that not even the thin, young and pert can emulate! We are daily subjected to a pernicious form of body fascism, whereby we are repeatedly informed that our bodies do not match up; that they are not beautiful or even vaguely acceptable; that we can be happy with them by buying and using the right products and even then will inevitably fall short. This fosters some deeply damaging attitudes towards the body and our own nakedness. My heart goes out to kids who are growing up in this environment; it is a hard enough struggle for many adults to defy the unrealistic expectations about our bodies that are placed upon us; even harder for those still growing and learning about what it means to be emotional beings living and moving through our physical selves.
Much good work had been done via mainstream TV via the likes of Gok Wan, who (bless him!) understands that if you engage positively with your own nakedness, you transform the way you feel about yourself – not only on the surface level of appearance but also deeper down in your being.
Being naked in nature is truly glorious; being naked with others builds bonds of intimacy that, until you experience it, is hard to explain. It is not about sex – although we in our sex saturated society might assume that it is – it is more to do with shedding, not only ones clothes but ones psychological and emotional barriers and defences. When we have the courage to fully reveal our skin, we reveal something deeper of ourselves. When we are clothed, we can also be emotionally and intellectually veiled, presenting ourselves in ways that hide who we truly are. However, I am a firm believer that the naked body never lies; in each individual’s unique contours and shape is written the story of their lives. Our true emotions and thoughts ultimately sculpt our bodies and when we undress in front of another human being, we reveal that story to them; we share our deepest vulnerabilities and our hard won strengths. When this deeper unveiling is witnessed by another, you realise how beautiful the human body is, regardless of shape or size and, at its best, this experience blesses us with the opportunity to share some real intimacy with another.
During my week away I had some wonderful naked saunas, swims and ceremonies, shared with some lovely people. One afternoon, I had been in the sauna and my friend Richard persuaded me to take a swim. It had been a blustery, rainy day and I was a little reluctant to step out into the weather, up the lane towards the open-air pool. I will never forget the exhilaration of walking out naked from the dark sauna into the bright day, the air sharply cool upon my skin, tip-toeing through the fallen acorns and beautiful trees, sinking into the chilly water of the pool. This became a daily ritual, which now I am back in the ‘real’ world, I miss terribly. Each time I did it, I felt absolutely at home in my body and myself; experiencing the kind of child-like joy that we can so often lose as adults; a sense of connection and exhilaration that is deeply healing in itself.
I also will never forget the night – after a very moving ritual in the woods – of returning back to the Yurt, a space full of naked bodies, each uniquely beautiful, skin glowing in the candle-light. But also that inner light of joy and emotion invoked by the ritual we had all just shared, was surfacing from each person, their skin and faces radiant with it.
As eccentric as it might seem in our strangely uptight world; getting naked can be the most joyful, profound and healing of experiences. If you doubt me, give it a go… you have nothing to lose but your modesty! )