The Emporer’s Clothes

I’ve been thinking about this post for nearly a week now (my quietness is not always absence).  I finally sat down to watch “Enlighten Up,” a documentary tracking one person’s search for “enlightenment” through a two-month yoga intensive.  I’ll leave the more critical thoughts aside for the moment, mostly because I’m still sorting through the various images and experiences of Nick, the aforementioned enlightenment seeker, and the yogis and gurus he consulted.

My favorite bit of “advice” came from the final guru.  Nick, full of questions about the “right” path that leads to “happiness,” is finally told that he needs to strip himself of what is unnecessarily covering him.  It’s a simple thought but so easy to forget or ignore: we often don “clothing” that are more illusory than we think.  Harsh words spoken in our past, unspoken critiques, insecurities, social expectations, personal expectations, desires, and hopes…all of these can burden us, and yet we carry them about as though they’re essential items for survival or flourishing.  I like the notion of dressing in only what is true to us.  I think it is a joyful experience and I imagine each of us glowing, unabashedly, in pure personal integrity.  And I know that I’ve experienced it, even if briefly and in intervals.  Like Nick I hide underneath too much “clothing,” too nervous or uncertain or scared of my naked self.  What is my naked but integral self?  What in our nakedness leaves us both confident and vulnerable?  How do we walk in, speak with, or engage the world to keep our nakedness going?

Nakedness of this kind is hard.  Socially we’re told that all sorts of walls, barriers, and various accessories need to adorn us, as if strength were found in an armor that held the world at bay or beauty lay only in our appearances.  Our thoughts and our habits take on these characteristics if we’re not careful.  We tell ourselves untruths.  We even hide, or take comfort, in our pain.  What seemingly matters is how we piece together this shell.  “Be strong!”  “Hide your fears!”  “Tell (white) lies!”  “Above all, never show your fears or concerns – weakness is not tolerated!”

Really?  Is this how I want to live?

Fundamentally I don’t believe in such living.  Practically I take the steps to try to shift my relationship with adornment, the world, and myself.  Pranyama and yoga are practices that play with boundaries between us and the world.  Inhale: we take in the world and allow it to inform our experience down to the cellular level.  Exhale: we push out into the world, influencing and, even, directing it.  Honesty, vulnerability, generosity, and receptivity – phenomena built out of relationships and a natural give-and-take with the world – develop a warrior’s strength and a bodhisattva’s heart and mind.  Yet even practice does not guarantee that I’ll remember these lessons or others.  My mind is forgetful and my (old) habits (remain) strong (for now).  So back on the mat…

…and remember: Nakedness is a good thing.

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