Naked Bliss

I have just come back from a blissful week away at the OBOD Healing Retreat. It was held in the grounds of both Sunfolk and Spielplatz , 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! :))

Lovely Folks on the OBOD Healing Retreat 2011

On The Bright Side

Sunrise and sunset – those liminal points when we anticipate that shift from day to night and night to day – can so often compel us to just stop and absorb; a rare and startlingly clear freeze frame amongst the blur of hours and its distractions. I am sadly more familiar with sunsets than rises, although when I do make it out of bed in time, there is nothing quite like that fresh linen buzz of a new day, the world white-washed and the light sharp and clean.

Sunset has a different feel, a last hoorah before the darkness edges in and inks outs the boundaries. It can feel bittersweet because its beauty is transient; it says to us, ‘make the most of this moment, let it be all and everything’, for in the second it takes for a star to come out once the sun sinks, it will be a memory amongst many.

Yesterday’s sunset was spectacular. Sat by the ocean on the balcony of a restaurant with a dearly loved friend, we watched as the sky became a fever, vivid and startling. Everyone stopped, took photos, commented and just for that brief period, life slipped into that magical otherworldly space when the ordinary becomes extraordinary and we are thankful to be here, living, breathing and feeling, regardless of the good and bad we might be experiencing in our wider life

The Isle of Wight lay across the water almost entirely obscured by sea mist and the crescent moon lowered itself, brightening as the sun slipped below the horizon. As we laughed, chatted and felt ourselves enfolded by the comfort of being with someone you love and know – the ships passed and the stars sparked into life and the moon –huge and red in its descent – sunk into the darkened mass of the island. A perfect moment that transience and the passing of time might take but never destroy.

I have been on the receiving end of some nastiness of late; some unnecessary emotional bullying played out in the notoriously tricky and distorted world of cyber space. I have real sympathy for the pain this person is going through, although I have been horribly misrepresented by them and bombarded by some abusive and obsessive diatribes. I can only feel that this is draining and pointless for both of us. I have stopped reading their words, deleting them the moment they pop into my inbox. Despite everything, anger and spite are transient too, they pass into the future and life goes on because it is its nature to do so…Sunset, Sunrise…

A supportive friend very sweetly passed on this great little video by Never Shout Never…it says it all:

…White Combs & Sweet Honey…

Last night, as I was sleeping,

I dreamt – marvelous error! –

that I had a beehive

here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures.

Antonio Machado

One Day You Finally Knew…

Here is a mesmerised Ginger the Dog entranced by David Whyte speaking beautifully about Mary Oliver’s poem The Journey:

The Journey

In the time I have been writing here, I have included some posts of a very personal nature, sharing some darker aspects of my life experiences; exploring what these have meant for me; what I have learned, or not learned. I have posted them in a public space in the spirit that when we share our vulnerabilities and struggles, we allow others to know that they are not alone in theirs. I have drawn tremendous strength from other writer’s courage in exploring those aspects of life that might have found them – at points in their life – broken, alone or exiled. There but for the grace of God go I is a wise saying – anyone of us might find ourselves at the bottom, bereft and lonely. There is a power in sharing those moments because they speak of survival, of being able to rebuild and rediscover ourselves again, but also, just as importantly, they let us know that such moments are a part of life and that sometimes it is ok to feel broken, to not feel like we have to strive to put our lives back together, just yet.

My lovely friend Julie – who tragically lost her son last year – has taught me something of extraordinary value. She spoke of how as a society we distrust brokenness, immediately wanting to fix it; make things as they once were. In her grief, she knew that such was impossible, that her son’s death had changed everything irrevocably, and why would she not feel destroyed by this? It is hard to accept for those around a grieving person that feeling so low is ok. We love people and don’t want them to hurt; however, sometimes we put unbearable strain on others trying to ‘mend’ them before they are ready. Sometimes, the pain has to be felt; the endings have to be processed and accepted, for that person to heal and move forward again. Although help and support are crucial, we should never enforce our version of ‘help’ on anyone, as this can be as damaging as no help at all.

Recently, I have heard a person speak about the mental health of their estranged partner like it was something that they had the right to mould and shape as they saw fit; they seemed to have little respect for their partner’s feelings or needs, wanting to ‘fix’ them in order to reclaim a life that once was. Sometimes, painfully, loving people means letting them be broken; sometimes, even more painfully, it can even mean letting them go…

Here is the poet David Whyte talking about and reciting his wonderful poem The Journey…Whyte is a poet who understands deeply the power of brokenness and its place in discovering a greater emotional wholeness and authenticity.