Nudity and Holiness – A Spiritual Journey

St. Pat's Catholic Church - our family's church for a number of years.

St. Pat’s Catholic Church – our family’s church for a number of years.

I’ve been reading a series called Naked Before God, written by a Congregational Church pastor in Hershey, Michigan called Edward W. Raby Sr., and it has me thinking, re-thinking just what it is about nudity that has jumped up to capture more and more of my attention. Nudity isn’t a stranger in my life. On reflection, nudity became a part of my conscious life during my last two years of high school. I had wondered why it came into my life then and have since credited its appearance as a way for me to handle the psychological wounds that grew out of years of physical, psychological and sexual abuse. It “fit” and that was good enough. But now, I wonder if there was more than that at work, something at a deeper level. Yes, the psychological benefits were/are undeniable. Perhaps, the escapes into private and isolated naturism were all that stood between the darkness of my being and death.

Alone in the forest, healing.

Alone in the forest, healing.

As a child and youth, others defined who I was and defined the value of my body. My mind was tucked away, somewhat safely, in a distant corner when the blows came – the blows from the anger of my father, the blows to identity from my mother who sought my father in me, the blows from priests and a grandfather who thought my physical body was to serve their sexual need. My body got separated from my psyche in order for my psyche to survive. And when I took to hiding in a natural setting and stripping off my clothing, I now understand that I was acting to reclaim, reunite my body and my mind. That should have been enough of a reason, but somehow something else continued to bubble beneath the level of consciousness within me. Before I can speak of that bubbling, I need to go a bit further back into the past to see what else was missing, what else got lost along the way, what else got hidden into a box that was buried deep within the inner dark regions of my psyche.

pedophile_priest_cartoon(2)I was a soulful child and I firmly believed in Jesus, in heaven and in hell. It was assumed by my extended family that I would become a priest. It was normal for one child in a large French-Canadian family to be dedicated to the Church. It seems that my way of being in the world was such that I self-selected to be that person. I loved going to church, the magic and mystery of the mass; the smells and the costumes; the soaring ceilings that reached to heaven itself. I attended Catholic schools for a number of years and learned my Catechism lessons well. The first molestation by a priest got buried under guilt. I assumed that it was because I was a sinner. There was not even a thought that the priest had done wrong, only the belief that I was bad. I tried harder and harder to please the priest, the nuns at school and my parents at home. I desperately didn’t want to let them find out about the devil that was hiding in me.

Jesus was lost, too.

Jesus was lost, too.

After the second molestation by a priest when I was nine years old and trying to learn my lessons to become an altar boy, the magic in the church disappeared. And with that magic, my soul seemed to disappear. I was abandoned by Jesus, perhaps found to be not worthy of being one of his soldiers as I had pledged when I took the sacrament of Confirmation.

I reading Raby’s article, a light came on. My journeys into the fields where I would remove my clothing and soak in the sunshine while reading poetry was a spiritual act. Unconsciously, my psyche was trying to reconnect not only body with mind, it was seeking to make me a whole person again.

Raby highlights six things about nudity that resonated with me: vulnerability, openness, intimacy, genuineness, wholeness, and equality. At home, at school, at work or anywhere else, I did my best to make sure I was protected, building barriers that eventually even I couldn’t get over. The last thing I wanted was to be vulnerable as it hurt too much. When I was vulnerable, others exploited that vulnerability. If I hid, psychologically hid, only my body was vulnerable. But in hiding from the world, I also hid from my soul. Those first experiences of naturism was as much about my soul as it was about my body.

This is a vital piece of information for me to have as it reaffirms in me the idea that being naked is not being sinful. Sin is about intention. Being nude can be about participation in acts of darkness, acts of sin; or, it can be about honouring both the creator and his creation. I can see that I have a lot to think about and a lot to write about as I journey to the healing of body, mind and spirit to become a whole person, perhaps even a holy person.

Heading Out for a Naturist Retreat

This is as big as it gets - my home on wheels.

This is as big as it gets – a version of my home on wheels.

Tomorrow morning I will be leaving my home very early to make the drive to Green Haven Sun Club in the Qu’Appelle Valley near Regina, Saskatchewan. I will be taking a route that first takes me to a city where I have an acutherapy session in order to tame my seasonal allergies. Once the acutherapy session is done, I drive to the naturist site and set up my tent trailer and begin my naturist retreat. The image to the left is similar to my actual trailer. I can consider it to be my private monk’s abode with screened windows.

Scene from an naturist retreat in Australia

Scene from an naturist retreat in Australia

Okay, what do I mean by a naturist retreat? Well, for starters, it is as much about meditation, contemplation, silence, and nature as it is about being clothing free. For the time that I am at the site, there is no Internet access, something necessary for me otherwise I could easily see myself always checking things out on-line, connecting with others – anything to prevent myself from being alone with myself.

Meditating monk in darkness

Meditating monk in darkness

This is a journey I will be taking on my own. As my wife tells me, I usually concern myself with meeting the needs of others and denying my own needs when with others such as her, our children, or our grandchildren and members of our extended families or friends. It will be me, alone. And, in that aloneness, I am sure to find the veil between consciousness and the Dark Night of Soul becomes so thin that I will be forced to deal with the darkness within me.

“The dark night may be profoundly unsettling, offering no conceivable way out, except perhaps to rely on pure faith and resources far beyond your understanding and capability. The dark night calls for a spiritual response.” [Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul, p. xix]

It is that spiritual response which then makes my journey one that is a naturist retreat rather than a naturist holiday. I will try to put up a few more posts today and schedule them for publication during my absence.

Negative Thinking, Burn Out and Transformation

Spending a number of years (quite a few) working as a mental health counsellor with students and staff members and including the public-at-large both in the home community and at distance, I have learned more about myself than if I had stayed in the role of being counselled. University majors, continuing education courses, and certificate courses were added to the “skills” bag, as well as dedicated non-credit studying for several decades. You would think that somewhere along the way I would have figured out a few answers or two. But, to tell the truth, it seems that what I don’t know is growing by leaps and bounds faster than I could ever read. Here it is decades later and I wonder how I have the gall to call myself a psychotherapist. Why would I even risk pitting my growing ignorance of the human psyche against the against the mental health issues of those who are so broken as to find their way to my office, virtual or face-to-face?

It is easy to get caught in such negative thinking and effectively burn out as a counsellor. The same kind of thinking assaults all of us in all kinds of professions and life choices including the choice to engage in naturist or nudist practices. There is an element of doubt in almost everything we do. Sometimes we manage to convince ourselves and others around us that we “have our shit together” in our work and home lives. But when we dare to be honest with ourselves, we know the truth. I have an example to share with you from my practice (name omitted and anything else that would identify the person).

One of my clients was a parish minister for one of the Protestant faiths that are relatively numerous in western Canada. He was married and had a beautiful family and was very well respected by his parishioners as well as others in his home community. We had met on occasion as equals in the field of counselling as he acted as a pastoral counsellor for his parish. One day, he approached me with the request that I become his counsellor. Now this is something quite normal to occur between counsellors as we do need to clean up all the stuff that sticks because of transference issues.

The surprise for me was that the visit (and sessions that followed) had nothing to do with what I had expected. My friend and colleague had entered into a period of Dark Nights where he was filled with doubts about his value as a pastor, as a counsellor, and even as a father.  He had entered a period where midlife along with a crisis of faith had him beginning to believe he was unfit, unskilled, unworthy of the work he was doing. We worked together through the images and scenes that needed to be addressed to his satisfaction. His crisis of faith shifted and returned to his work with renewed passion – he had his shit back together.

My own confidence as a counsellor fell apart and my practice came to an end while I focused on simply surviving until retirement from education. But now, confidence is returning and I am once again finding myself giving help in small pieces, testing my attitudes, my skills, and even my desire to re-enter this demanding role. Perhaps my shit will come together and I will be ready before I get too old to become a guide for those needing one as they enter into their heroic journeys through the Dark Nights of the Soul.

Social Naturism on the Canadian Prairies

Touring the Hutterite Colony near our home. The building on the left is the school in which I spent three days as a substitute teacher when I retired. The young women giving us the tour were students at that time.

Touring the Hutterite Colony near our home. The building on the left is the school in which I spent three days as a substitute teacher when I retired. The three young women giving us (brother Don, wife Pat, and my wife in red, Maureen) the tour were students at that time. They were excited to be able to give us the tour as they remembered my presence in their school. It was a cold and windy tour, however the atmosphere was warm and welcoming.

Life is certainly keeping me busy here on the Canadian prairies. As a result, my cyber-presence has been quite spotty. We have been having very high winds for several days, often gusting to 60 km/hr. Added to the weather mix have been two days of bleak skies and spotty rain. My brother and his wife came down to visit us from B.C. for a few days, time to catch up and do a lot of remembering and telling stories, as well as enjoying good home-cooking. Part of the visit was dedicated to taking him and his wife to the nearby Hutterite colony for a tour of their operations.

Home base for the Prairie Suns Naturist Club

Home base for the Prairie Suns Naturist Club

Finally, this past Saturday afternoon I able to attend the first naturist BBQ with the Prairie Suns group based in the Battlefords area of Saskatchewan. The hosts for the BBQ were Brian and Nancy W. The weather cleared late in the morning leaving us with temperatures in the low 20’s and lots of sunshine. Good conversation, meeting new friends, shared food; all helped to pass five hours before it was time to drive back home. I was amazed at this first social nudism experience as an adult, amazed at how natural it all felt – no nervousness or self-consciousness at all, just the normal quietness that comes with my being an introvert at heart.

Green Haven Sun Club, Saskatchewan, Canada

Green Haven Sun Club, Saskatchewan, Canada

Now, I am back home and getting our tent trailer ready for a trip to Estevan and then on to Fort Qu’Appelle where I will camp at the Green Haven Sun Club grounds for a few days, weather permitting. The Green Haven Club is a landed naturist club, while Prairie Suns is a travelling naturist club, travelling to various naturist campgrounds and club member homes. Next week I am off to visit my son and his family and hope to enjoy the camp grounds called Helios, in Alberta. Effectively, in two weeks I will have come into contact with all of the naturist organisations to be found at reasonable distances (five hours or less) from my home.

This is a new journey for me, the journey to being with others clothing-free. It parallels my psychological journey which took me from discovering myself in a collective (family), working within the collective to raise a family, turning inward to take on the challenge of the heroic journey of individuation, and now taking some of what I have learned back into the collective. I will make sure that this journey is brought here to share with you.

Why Am I a Naturist?

Dark clouds and wind over the sea

Dark clouds and wind over the sea

The sky is wild this morning. One minute it is dark with ominous clouds flying by as if they are on a freeway, and the next minute there is glorious sunshine. And the speed at which this is all happening makes the mind swirl. The wind has been blowing all night following a long period of rain yesterday late afternoon and all evening, and is still blowing strong creating whitecaps and pounding waves along the shoreline. Sometimes nature serves as a good metaphor for what is happening within one’s psyche. I know that in today’s case, it is quite the mirror.

Light does emerge from the cover of darkness.

Light does emerge from the cover of darkness.

I didn’t sleep well and it wasn’t because of the rain or the wind. Rather, it all had to do with the stirring of shadow contents within, stuff that lies below the surface of my awareness. I was asked why I was a naturist, why I needed to be naked when the rest of the world, the civilized world was doing well with their clothing on. I wasn’t able to give a satisfactory answer nor did I think that there could be a satisfactory answer in terms of having another person who is not a naturist, understand and accept. Of course, saying that, I open myself to the possibility of being very wrong. I don’t really have an excuse for not finding the words to answer this question, even if it is just for myself.

Because of my long involvement with depth psychology, I knew that the answers did exist, somewhere deep within my psyche. So this morning, I opened up the door to the question during my time for meditation which then lasted longer than usual. It was essential to let the question stew for a while, allow the contents within to become stirred up in the darkness of the unconscious. Later in the morning, after sitting for a while in silence with my morning coffee, not actually thinking but also not banishing thinking, I went for a long, two hour walk along the beach. I refused to force an answer but I also left an opening as if an opening in the clouds, for whatever needed to come to consciousness to have an entry.

As a child I was sexually abused, emotionally abused, physically abused in my family of origin by my biological parents. The sexual abuse extended to include my maternal grandfather and more than one parish priest. I was a docile child, the eldest of a large group of children. It was my job, the expectation that I came to embrace that I was there to please others, to take care of others, to put others before myself. I forgave my parents before they both passed away, enough years before their death so that I would be able to include them in my own children’s lives as grandparents. It also gave them time to acknowledge their part in my wounding – but that never came to be.

The patterns learned in early childhood that continued through to a few years after I was married with children of my own carried over into how I interacted within the family in which I was husband and father. It carried over into my career as an educator, coach and then as counsellor to students, staff and people within my community. I was well trained to put myself behind me and do my utmost best to be a good father, a good husband, brother-in-law, coach, neighbour. This is a story I knew well, one that I wrestled with through midlife and my own course of psychoanalysis. But where does this almost primal urge to naturalism come from?

In the safety of a forest, reclaiming control of body

In the safety of a forest, reclaiming control of body

It was soon after the sexual abuse from my grandfather, the last time I was sexually abused as a youth, that I found myself in a quiet meadow in a nearby small forest with a book of poetry. It was a warm late spring day, about six months following this last incidence. Feeling the warmth of the sun and feeling the words of classical poetry, I soon found myself naked. Over the next two years, my last two years at home, I took every opportunity, weather permitting to hide in this forest and meadow in order to be free.

Leaving home, I found other opportunities, especially the opportunity of sleeping in the nude, to recapture this sense of freedom. A job at the other end of the country found me enjoying social nudity in swimming pools and saunas with my co-workers, other young adults. The exhilaration of  body freedom acted as a sort of barrier that banished my history of being abused.

body hairYet now, the pull to nudity is again strong so I look to these roots and it dawned on me that it is being nude where I claim control of my body, control of my identity, control of my sexuality. My body is not about pleasing others, making life easier for others. Do I remove body hair or make sure it is groomed for my own sense of well-being, or do I allow the needs of others dictate what I do or don’t do with my body hair? It comes down to control. Am I in control or do I defer control to someone else?

Now, in my sixties, I am saying this is my body and I will care for it, and my identity, and my psyche as best I can. I will not be a child and give control to another. I am a man, not a child victim continuing to seek approval, seeking to please others while disregarding my self.

I wonder if this is an answer, or just the beginning of an answer?

Transparency: What You See Is What You Get

Emily Brown - taken from the film, Sleeping Beauty.

Emily Brown – taken from the film, Sleeping Beauty.

As the title suggests, I am going to shift from looking at self to how others look at self. I have often talked about how we wear clothes as costumes, as ways to hide and protect the self. With the embracing of a naturist approach, one learns to shed the clothing and costumes so that what is seen by others is the authentic physical self. However, what I am going to talk about is the uncovering of the psychological masks so that what is left is a purer version of self. I don’t think we are conscious enough to reach the pure version of self, but we can do much better than we do, we can be more honest about who we are both to ourselves and to others in our life. Yet, saying this, it sounds easier than it is.

Like the image above suggests, each of us, male and female, is a sleeping beauty given the task of waking up, the task of becoming conscious of ourselves physically, psychologically and spiritually. As we become conscious of ourselves, we are charged with honestly allowing others to see us as we see ourselves. To hide what we discover causes us no end of grief. In Jungian psychology, this is shadow that somehow delights in tripping us up, making us look foolish, and sometimes making us appear either too saintly or too much the sinner. We bury what we don’t like, deny it even to ourselves, and it becomes part of the larger inner unconsciousness. I want to illustrate this concept with a simple example taken from my experience as a parent, grandparent, brother, etc.

A small boy child discovers penis, or a girl child discovers her vagina in between changes of diapers. The discovery is natural and leads to natural behaviours based on curiousity. Yet, more often than not in contemporary society, we brush the child’s hands away from the genitals, cover them up with a diaper and, if the child is old enough, we add a comment that tells the child that this is inappropriate behaviour at which point, the behaviour goes underground into the unconscious.

We all learn as we walk through our lives those things which are good and bad, which things we should not do, should not say, should not think. And, we build lives around these taboos, build disguises, alter-personalities that  are more acceptable to society. We do this because we want to keep ourselves safe from the censure of society. We don’t want to be outcasts. So, a child soon learns to keep his or her clothing on. A child learns not to trust others who don’t keep their clothing on. And in the process, a child learns that he or she is not to be trusted as well because under the clothing, he or she is naked.

It seems like such a small thing, but the lessons that spin off from this fear of one’s own body has one build a vast network of fears of their own mind which doesn’t want to always be quiet, especially with other taboos defined by the current society. The fear is “If anyone finds out about the real me, I will be . . .  (pick any negative fear in relation to others – ignored, shamed, bullied, punished, etc.).  Sydney Jourard talks about this in his book, The Transparent Self:

We conceal and camouflage our true being before others to foster a sense of safety, to protect ourselves against unwanted but expected criticism, hurt, or rejection. [p. iii]

This is how we respond to the world when we receive the wounds that serve to move us from being unconscious beings to aware and mature adults. However, once we have “arrived” that is, once we reach midlife, we begin to question our own identity as there seems to be something missing, we sense that we need to answer a burning question – who in the hell am I? Once we are confronted with that question, we begin peeling off the layers behind which we have hidden leading to a process of transformation into a higher level of self consciousness and a more authentic, transparent interaction with others.

Naturism and Alchemical Transformation

The alchemical wedding, also known as mysterium coniunctionis, is the union of the conscious (light) and the unconscious (dark) aspects of self.

The alchemical wedding, also known as mysterium coniunctionis, is the union of the conscious (light) and the unconscious (dark) aspects of self.

It has been a while since my last post. I have been spending time with grandchildren and helping out with various tasks at the home of one of my children. Spending time in their home, I am reminded of my own years of being hyper-busy with life while my children were growing up. Between a career, a family and the engagement with community because of career and family, there was no time for an inner world in that first half of life – and that, was as it should be. Taking time now for grand-parenting isn’t as easy as one would think it could be, at least that is what I am finding.

It is easy to love my grandchildren, to be with them and play. But, I find that I run out of energy and that my focus isn’t able to hold as much as I would want. In the process, I am learning a lesson about “presence” that doesn’t exactly make sense. Usually I have thought of being present as an activity of the outer world, especially in relationship to others and to tasks in the outer world. However I am learning that being present is not just about the outer world.

There are processes that are at work within me, in my inner psychic world that need to be attended, to be honoured with my conscious presence. Whenever I avoid attending, being present, with this inner life, I find myself fading in terms of energy. I have tried ensuring that my presence in the outer world is heightened when this begins to occur only to find out that my failure to attend the inner psychic life results in my presence in the outer world becoming ghost-like. I am then not really in either place but lost in some limbo space. I become a shell of a person with my body simply being a placeholder for my return to presence. My body and mind are not at ease. And, it is typically at these times that I slip into another episode of dark nights of the soul.

“A dark night may appear, paradoxically, as a way to return to living. It pares life down to its essentials and helps you get a new start.” [Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul, p. xv]

I guess that this slipping back into another episode is something good if I think of it as Thomas Moore suggests here. Moore also suggests that:

“Your purpose in life may be to become more who you are and more engaged with people and life around you, to really live your life.”

And, that purpose is found in the wrestling with the darker side of who I am, who each of us are. We are not our ego; we are not the roles in which others see us and get to know us. To really live one’s life requires that one intimately knows who one is, both the darkness and the light of the whole self. A descent into one’s dark night of the soul is a blessing in disguise.  In the darkness we can’t see ourselves as others see us, we are forced beneath our personae, beneath the layers of clothing within which we protect our vulnerability.

We become like a caterpillar which must shed its protective layer in order to be transformed. Our transformations lead us to a more authentic self, one that is transparent. Naturism helps me in this transformative journey. The shedding of clothing is an act of becoming vulnerable, of being forced to admit, at least at the level of my body, that this is me. This physical act of becoming vulnerable somehow allows me to risk exposing the inner self, including the shadows that haunt my darkness. And somewhere along the way, body and soul unite in a healing process, a transformative process.