Defining Naked Reality

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

I found this photo on Twitter this morning posted by @Rowlivia. I have been on this wall twice in the past, but it never looked like this, bathed in sunlight peeking out from the clouds. Is it a trick of light, or is this as true an image of the reality of the Great Wall as those taken by weekend warriors who rush by the tens of thousands to walk the wall, shoulder to shoulder, taking photos with their cell phones?

What is “reality?” It can’t be what I see and how I see it as that would have me the authority on reality. My eyes, and the lenses for my camera never see the same world as my neighbour, my children, my grandchildren, or any other person at any place on the planet. What is reality includes all of these images, but also includes much, much more. Or, perhaps, much, much less. Perhaps it is all illusion. If we can’t really define anything as a truth about its nature, then we are freed from the prisons of our own making. We can be free simply to be in the world, both as a participant and as an observer. This is heady stuff. No authority to control you, to define you, to categorize you, to . . .  The only authority is the self, the ego.

A variety of shapes and sizes = humanity

A variety of shapes and sizes = humanity

I think many naturists have sort of figured this out in at least a small way, in a way that focuses on body image. When all the clothes come off, we are left with no more and no less than raw humanity. We see ourselves and others in this sea of naked flesh and soon figure out that the value of self and other is not defined by appearance at all. With that awareness dawning, all bodies are equal with no moral, ethical, analytical or sociological rationale to rank bodies on a “beauty” or “ugly” scale. We live in our bodies but are not defined by our bodies. Our bodies are just hosts that allow us to move to interact with others in order to discover the essence of these others as well as psychic reflections of our own self in return.

One thought on “Defining Naked Reality

  1. What great pictures! The luminosity of the Great Wall; the obvious fun of a game of “co-ed naked” volley-ball …

    What is “Reality”? Good question. I write this sitting naked in the privacy of my study and the solitary-ness of my apartment: so while I’m wearing nothing at the moment, my immediate universe is still determined by a clothes-compulsive world. No going out to the balcony or into the hall without draping my body with a towel at the very least. I have read somewhere that part of the nudist “reality” requires being naked in the presence of another, who may him- or herself be naked, but who sees, acknowledges and does not disapprove of one’s nakedness, so that one has the experience of acceptance by that other in one’s own totality.

    As I write this I begin to think of your blog of a few weeks ago, when you tell of the child who runs free and naked, and is suddenly told by an adult, “Get your clothes on! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

    I think that part of the liberation of getting into a venue where social nudity is the norm, whether it’s a nude beach, a clothing-optional resort, or just hanging out naked with a totally non-judgmental companion is that one realizes that one has come to a place where one will not hear the shaming voice; perhaps one can even learn to talk back to that voice when it comes from within one’s self, and silence it for a while. It need no longer shape one’s sense of “reality.”

    I know that when I’ve been at a resort where I can go, day and night for several days without clothing, indoors and out of doors, at work reading and writing, or on long walks through the woods, there have been moments of absolute equanimity, a sense of total freedom and bliss and acceptance. When they come in the company of another with whom I am enjoying conversation (or the deep silence of profound companionship) and when they are enhanced by warm sunshine all over one’s body, the comfort of a breeze that assures one that one is indeed naked, one finds one’s self caught up by the experience of pure joy.

    But it is not automatic, and being naked is not the only condition. I’m an introvert, not an extravert; I’m a bit shy, rather than gregarious; taking off my clothes does not make me the life of the party. I’m not very athletic, nor am I very well coordinated: I may be accepted by a naked volley-ball team, but even so I feel awkward and vulnerable, and my weaknesses are obvious to all; if the game turns competitive, I feel much less acceptable: not because I’m naked, of course, but because I’m all thumbs at an activity that requires more muscular differentiation, coordination and dexterity than I’m currently capable of.

    Sometimes, though, I’ve had the experience of so losing myself in the game as I’m playing it that my awareness of myself as uncoordinated dissipates: and suddenly I realize that I’m naked, and I’m with a group of other folks who are also naked, and we’re accomplishing something together, and part of our togetherness is the fact of our nakedness in common, and our common awareness of our nakedness! That’s a rush.

    On the other hand, I’ve had the experience of sitting naked on the lawn with a pile of books and magazines, to hear someone say to me, “What are you doing with all that reading stuff? Are you working on a Masters degree?” Well: I’ve actually got a PhD; and what I’m doing is pursuing an activity that I very much enjoy, and doing it naked, which I also very much enjoy … what’s wrong with that? But I feel the burn of humiliation. One can be naked: nonetheless, one can still be overwhelmed, and suddenly, by self-consciousness and a sense of embarrassment, not because of one’s nudity, but by some other perceived deficiency. Or I may be at a wine and cheese at a naturist resort and the conversation turns to how one finances one’s life: and I become painfully aware of some economic difference, even though it’s not made apparent by what we’re not wearing. Or political differences surface in conversation … There are other categories than clothes by which one may find one’s self judged, invalidated, dismissed, shamed.

    Here’s the conclusion I’m coming to as I write: That our experience of “reality” is largely determined by our internalization of external voices, often shaming voices, from earlier parts of our life. And those voices are there, whether we’re naked or not. But one of the ends of our experience of meditation, or therapy — or being naked in the presence of others — is that we learn the more, and the more frequently, to silence the voice that says, “You’re shamefully inadequate; how dare you show your inadequacy!” and say instead (I use the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins), “What I do is me: for that I came.”

    I smile and remember that Hopkins, too — although a Victorian Jesuit! — attempted a paean to the joy of skinny-dipping. Unfortunately, it was never finished. I suppose there’s something sad in the fact that all that poem remains of the poem are fragments: but it’s there. Let’s get naked. Together. Without a sense of judgment.

    Thanks again for your blog, and for your inspiration to work through something.



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