In the Silken Air

At this time of year, I like to spend as much time without clothing as possible. The soft Spring air is delightful, caressing my body, and it just feels liberating and alive to be naked.

Now, this isn’t for everyone, and I’m not saying it should be. You have to come to terms with the state of your body, which is a real challenge for some of us (not that their bodies aren’t fine as they are, but body-image issues are a real thing). I am a middle-aged man with a typical middle-aged man’s body, somewhat the worse for the COVID-19 (lbs.)’ weight gain over the past year. To be comfortable in nothing but my skin, I have to make peace with this.

Nudity and Paganism have gone together since at least the 1940s, when Gerald Gardner began publishing his books on witchcraft. There is a lot of debate about where Gardner got his ideas and practices, but it is certainly true that he was both a naturist (nudist) and a BDSM enthusiast, and lo and behold, elements of these practices ended up in the tradition that he claimed to have been taught. I’m not the first to observe this.

But I think there is a kernel of wisdom in putting the challenge before us to become comfortable in our own skins, to embrace our bodies, just as they are, as unique and beautiful manifestations of the magnificent Cosmos and the fertile Earth.

We are our bodies—they are the instruments of everything we do. In our rituals, we work to connect ourselves integrally, focusing on the breath that provides the oxygen for the cellular flames we are. We work to bring our whole selves to the ritual work, and that includes our bodies, head to feet.

Our bodies change over time, and this is one of the inevitabilities with which we must grapple as they turn away from societal expectations of youthfulness and become something else: something it is our challenge to love, though we are taught to find fault with it. I have been fortunate in this regard; until I was 40 or so, I was tall and slim and had abundant wavy hair. I was good-looking—though I never realized it until it was almost over—and enjoyed the social privileges that go with that.

It has been interesting to watch as I have faded from view to young people as I have aged. The late poet and singer Leonard Cohen once joked that he had become somewhat transparent, and then fully invisible, and then repulsive…and then, in his 80s, cute. I’m around the invisible stage now; he wasn’t wrong.

This phenomenon is even more severe for women, whose social value is so wrongly tied to their appearance.

In the end, it’s not funny to feel unattractive and invisible, but we must be our own greatest allies, as in all things. To love ourselves, we must love our bodies, hard though it may be. This is a part of the work set before us to be healthy and happy and kind: to be kind to ourselves about our physical persons.

I don’t claim to have perfected it. I look with rue at my balding head and my belly. But then I shake my head and laugh, and know that to have this body is much better than many of the alternatives, like dying young.

It is better to have more chances at joyful experiences, connections, adventures, discoveries. Unless we are truly suffering and there is no hope of that suffering ending, it is always better to have a little more of this amazing, one-time-only journey we call life.

So here I sit, in my back yard, with birds investigating the ground for food and the Sun just peering over the trees, warm on my skin.

The silken air touches me and I feel a part of everything.

Yuri’s Triumph

It is 60 years ago today that the era of humanity in space began with the remarkable, courageous orbit of Yuri Gagarin around our beloved planet.

OFF WE GO! he said as his rocket, Vostok 1, began the long, roaring climb out of Earth’s gravity well.

And nothing has been the same since.

Today, we marvel at the Hubble images, the crystal-clear shots of our Solar System’s planets, asteroids, comets, the alien landscapes of Mars and the Moon. We look up to where human feet have walked on our Earth’s own satellite, and listen for the distant peeps of the Voyagers, far beyond the worlds of our Sun.

We have taken that giant leap for humankind, and another, and another. Our eyes have swum in the rich hues of the Lagoon, floated the spirals of galaxies, climbed the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula.

We have learned, yes–that was the point–but for even the least scientific among us, we have seen.

Because through our courage, our ingenuity, our soaring imaginations, we have gone there. At least to look; one day maybe to touch.

And it began in earnest with Yuri.

This is his night. Look up into the dark New Moon sky, and remember him. Know that the sheer marvel of what we are pierced the sky that day, and never looked back.

Joy Hunt

It’s been a long time.

I mean, a really long time. For many of us, since long before even the pandemic.

Since we strode, or ran, or wheeled, or paddled into the wild, lungs gulping precious air, consumed with The Moment of Aliveness.

Or, being unable to do any of those things, simply witnessed one of the many miracles of life on this exquisite Earth—a sunset or rise, a rainbow, a bolt of lightning, a crashing wave, a moonrise, snow falling, an aurora—and had our breath taken away.

It’s more than a year now since our socialization, our group activities were taken from us.

And I’m writing now to suggest to you—to me—that it’s time.

Not that the pandemic is over. It isn’t. But after a year of fear and isolation, it is time to chase joy.

Yes, we must be safe. Some of us — myself included — are vaccinated now, and I have to say that it feels like an enormous weight has been lifted. But even if you’re not, I recommend a joy hunt: a drive to somewhere beautiful, perhaps, or a socially-distanced walk or trip. I know not all of us are able to do some of the things I am describing, but Nature is so vast — it’s even in your house! — that surely there is some wonder to be found, however limited your range of motion.

Now, a joy hunt doesn’t necessarily have to be for a natural phenomenon; that just happens to be the sort of thing that makes me and many others happy. Is it an activity you love? Something that fell by the wayside as the pandemic ground on? It may feel awkward to do that thing again, but give it a try. Here, after so much time, is a moment when we can emerge as the plants are emerging (in the Northern Hemisphere), and restate our aliveness.

Joy isn’t something that always falls in our laps. Happiness is a muscle; it must be exercised. Even as we use our rituals and our contemplative practices and draw forth our wisdom through personal growth, we must also go to where the Good Feeling is if we want to feel it.

Good hunting!