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.