I have recently discovered Spotify and TIDAL. Not by a chance search on the Internet but by the recommendation of someone new I met this year who listens to jazz. I keep getting hooked on pieces. First there was Kate Bush Hounds of Love - prompted by an article I read which said that she thought her life was of no interest and so wrote songs from her imagination. Then there was Helen Jane Long, a British composer, who is is the first ever billion streaming pianist in the US. Many of her piano pieces strike me as pieces about lost love and that period when you simply meditate on the rain dripping down the window aimlessly. Then I bought a magazine with a disc stuck on the front. Now I am a fan of Martinu who was born in Bohemia – that evocative and imaginary in my mind where everything is beautiful and free. His music is a rich treasure trove of wonderful music, much based on folk tunes, so I am not playing the same piece over and over, but exploring this new avenue – and he wrote so much! It is also encouraging to find that he did not start writing symphonies until he was 51. All this music enriches life – something to be enjoyed on a cold autumn day when you don’t want to go outside, but wistfully look through the window and remember the summer just passed. Martinu's music ‘is life-affirming, jewel-like, effervescent and sparkling’ I read.
I had the same feeling a week ago when a group of a dozen people, who did not know everyone, met on a very cool sunless day to make a landscape picture. People came from Preston, Sheffield, Lincolnshire, London and the south coast to be photographed for a poster to promote a naked walk for charity, which will happen next June. The charity is a national charity that funds research into potentially life threatening conditions that affect 25 percent of the population. Often treatment leaves obvious scars that can affect people’s body consciousness. On a day where we could easily have stayed indoors, here we were outdoors with the ambient temperature about 8 degrees, but crucially a windless day.
A short buggy ride from the Visitor Centre our group of four from Rye and Eastbourne arrived to see the shoot in full swing with couples marching up and down with walking poles as if it was a summer’s day. A few members of the public walked by unconcerned having been reassured by the visitor manager about our intent and we were freely able to join in. I had four layers on and as a result after a few minutes naked I was happy to put some of the clothes I had quickly cast off, back on for the walk down to the misty and alluring lake dressed as it was in grey-white fingers of mist. Young swans looking scruffy in their juvenile plumage contrasted with the beautiful white adults parading gracefully up and down the river bank who soon showed their protective nature when approached. Perhaps being beautiful is after all superficial and no indicator of the true nature beneath?
Walking up and down in front of the white, but ruined folly there was certainly no intent to look picturesque; merely to show that wonderful feeling that comes when one is naked in fresh air. A common meme is the nobility of being naked in nature. While exposing yourself to the elements is certainly invigorating and deepens one’s sense of wellbeing brought on by green space, the well managed estate with gloriously stunning views is no ambassador for nature in the raw. Over two hundred years ago the trees were planted by design to be appreciated by us as an ideal picture not seen by the creator in his lifetime. The lake carved out from the natural river is tranquil and calm, contrasting with the swollen, somewhat wild river we had seen when we crossed over it earlier on a crisp man-made and visually appealing bridge that acts as a grand entrance to the parkland. Across the lake a lady parked her pushchair and pointed our phone at the unusual sight on the other side – so we waved cheerily and she took several more pictures.
By the time we were assembled in the crystal grotto most of us had adapted to the temperature and were enjoying the sense of freedom and purpose. This place is also stunning, although inspection revealed the crystals apparently formed as stalactites and stalagmites were artificial and made up of millions of quartz squares individually glued on. A box full of similar pieces encouraged visitors to take one rather than prize off a memento and so destroy what they had come to be astounded by.
Such passers-by who met us were easily encouraged to chat, something as a clothed person I would have been reticent to do in the past.
Outside I glimpsed the full sun disk, a pale imitation of the glorious life giving heavenly body whose power we yearn to feel on our skin. By the time I pointed it out, it had been consumed and concealed by the shadowy cloud languidly flowing above the lake. We were directed against a backdrop of an open vista and took our places on the wet grass, but not before I had cast off my shoes and socks. Often in yoga we start in a standing pose where we are encouraged to create a grounding connection to the mat. It has a purpose as it enables us to get a better balance when we do the tree pose. Of course the plastic feel of the mat is no substitute for the earth. The brush of green pliable grass on the soles is a sensual experience in itself. Finally Hannah took my glasses as three of us posed together as the instigators of the idea of a naked charity walk - and truly naked I felt.
It was afterwards back in the cafe that I had an intense feeling of well being and that relaxed feeling I remember from childhood after a day on the beach. Doubtless the effect of blood returning to the skin, but marvellous all the same and an indication of how amazing our bodies are at caring for our whole being. Temperature regulation is automatic and no amount of thinking can improve it. Of course it is impaired by our curious addiction to clothes and our ability to change our environment to a likeness of the African savannah that, in evolutionary terms, we are still adapted to and was the cradle of our species.
The following day I joined a group of naturist walkers, as I try to do for their monthly year-round walk. The temperature was similar to the day before, although in contrast we had uninterrupted sun from a cool blue sky to encourage us. Our Spanish friend was able to remain naked for the whole four hours, proving that cold is just a state of mind and putting some of our more local ramblers to shame. We spent much of the day tramping though untouched wild wood. Now autumn is taking hold the thin canopy was multi-coloured adding a golden hue to the weak transparent sunlight. We shuffled though piles of damp leaves, dodging between saplings that chaotically sprouted along the path and crowded all around us so we had no sight of the horizon, or where we were going. Here was a more authentic back to nature experience. Except that human nature means that there is a great deal of conversation and the mind is deflected from absorbing the immersion in the wild world.
To soothe the soul it is necessary to cast aside those ever present worries and that aspect of the conscious mind that seeks to fill in the empty space and engage itself in constant chatter. I wonder how our ancestors consciousness worked before language was invented. Did it simply read the world around it looking for evidence of other inhabitants and sources of food and water, rather than the abstract thoughts that plague us today?
We have been introduced to candle meditation in our yoga practise and I find it amazing that the conscious mind can be quietened in such a simple way. You are not asleep or preparing to sleep in this state, but you become more aware of your own body and how it feels and of things around you that are perhaps normally taken for granted and ignored. For instance, you can feel how you are connected to the floor or the chair and how comfortable it is, or not. I have the same relationship with clothes until distracted by conversation or task. I feel wherever the cloth creases up against my skin and where the cloth is damp from sweat. Scientists have cited sweating as a reason our species was able to spread into many habitats and become a dominant species. It also explains why we are largely hairless and thus able to feel the world around us through our largest sense organ. So how sensible is it to cover up that organ and cocoon ourselves from the world? Clothes also take on abstract values that ‘protect’ ourselves from others when we are in company. As a naturist I have become more comfortable with revealing my true self and I don’t just mean the skin I am in.
I try to set aside some time when I am naked outdoors to control my mind and take in the natural world around me.
To get the fullest experience of forest bathing you are supposed to wander without aim and drink in your surroundings and concentrating on bringing your mind to the present and observing everything without analysing or categorising. A friend and I last year stopped on a Weald walk in a small dell to refresh ourselves in the little stream. I sat down in the cold water and watched the stream hurry by without feeling I needed to do anything. Being near ground level gave me a quite different perspective and the miniature valley reduced the world to a few square metres, such as a small animal whose sole concern was survival. Time stopped for us as we had no need to be anywhere at any particular time. I always dreamed at school that it would be fantastic to freeze time for everyone else and be free to walk about and now I know how to do it.