Inside Zone Zero
Talkingmail 7, Spring 1995
An old turtle makes her way slowly forward, between the railroad tracks, each step, solid as armor. "My feet touch the warm brown earth." She has just woken from a dream about exposure - blind naked shell-less fleshy vulnerability - a place she knows she has to visit, again and again.
In regards to living in the country, I recall conversations I had with each half of an NY couple. These friends of ours are erotic, Intense, and stylishly fictional in appearance; I once asked him if her would dress the same way in the country that he does in the city. He answered that one feeds the environment one is in the manner most appropriate to that environment. Hm, I thought, sounds like cultural permaculture. Hm, I thought again, maybe cows really do prefer overalls.
Clothes are a funny thing. They sort of matter and they sort of don't. Make-up, hair, and accessories: same thing. They can raise such extreme emotions in fact it's hard to believe how much excitement inanimate objects have the capacity to elicit in our culture. I attribute this to our culture's misunderstanding of costume and fetish. It's worse than misunderstanding: we don't realize how useful as tools for transformation these things can be. Of course our culture also lacks real ritual, the arena in which costume and fetish are utilized. (At least there are polite, clean-cut white men like Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers helping educate westerners about these things.
At the time of writing the last article for this column, I was recovering from maladies in the left leg. I wrote about the "healing crisis" and transformation thru awareness thru discomfort. Currently I have a resurgence of left leg discomfort, this time from learning to walk in high heels. Yes, I'm nursing my first knee injury in 38 years, from doing something I swore for 38 years I'd never do. It goes against all my former feminist, aesthetic, and physiological beliefs, and really messes with my self-identity (not to mention my knees), and that's one reason why I'm doing it! I went thru the same kind of self-confrontation years ago with make-up (which I now love to wear, tho not all the time), and before that with wearing anything either colorful or black (ie, I was a hippy which meant jeans and earthy hues, and anti-feminine, which meant I feared and denied my own femininity).
Although I now live 80 miles from a big city, I hereby challenge the whole notion of being "all dressed up with nowhere to go." Some nights now, after I'm done checking off items on my list-of-things-to-do, I try to leave my busy-beaver world behind, and "stop the buzz", as Miekal might put it. I ground myself with yoga or meditation, and then, sometimes, I change into "evening clothes", as if we live in the city and are going out. It's a personal ritual, it renews me, it's a form of play, I feel better about myself, it helps me remove my secretary/administrator/mother-hen role, and, dangit, it's fun! And the more I try to dress like someone different from myself, the more interesting it gets. [By the way, I clothes-shop cost-effectively: at second hand stores.]
What does all this have to do with healing? Healing requires transformation in its simplest form, from an old-me to a new-me; this requires challenging, eventually breaking down my self-identity, which means exposing and confronting fears. The ultimate fear is of our own otherness, as I discussed in my last article. For dear life we cling to the notion of what we think is our true self but which is in fact only our personality, changing it regularly in the name of self-evolution is the least we can do. Changing physical clothing can act as a working metaphor, reminding us, that we identify ourselves by our chosen outer appearance. We hind behind this outer shell; our accoutrements represent our personalities. But. "clothes maketh not the (wo)man." [Nor can your read a book by its binding, I mean cover.]
Simple scenario: You don't see yourself as a voluptuous person but you admit that you envy people who in your eyes are voluptuous. Envy (and here's a rule of thumb for how to put negative emotions to work) provides discomfort - a shove, and itch toward change, through movement towards comfort. You could squelch your feelings of envy or, following the rule of Expansion = Growth, you could admit that you want voluptuousness for yourself and start seeking ways to make yourself that way. Ultimately it only has substance and meaning when it comes from the inside, but you can begin from the outside, by for ex., dressing voluptuously. This would shatter your current self-identity as perhaps plain or reserved, and at the samd time, if you bring this new you out in public, it would shatter the usual support your old self had of fitting the expectations of others who also are used to think of you as plain or resevered.
I asked our other NY friend if she thought they'd ever move to the country and she replied "No, If I did that, I'd have no where to escape to." Something in her words didn't ring right; this really made me think. What is it we need to escape? Is it a city/country thing, or is it that we need to leave the busy phone-ringing, dishes-need-washing, gotta-pay-the-bills arena? It's from one state of mind to another that wee need to escape. We might say there's and urban state of mind and a rural one, and the ability to switch from one to the other is a tool for health and sanity no matter where you live. When towards the end of the day, I find my head absolutely swimming in details and responsibilities, the sanest thing I can do is to strip myself bare on the inside, and then change the scenery of my mind, ....and maybe my shoes.
"...[the immensely popular Sufi shaykh] Abu Sa'id would sometime swear woolen dress, while at other times he would don a silk gown. Like Hallaj, he declared that there was naught but Allah in the robe he was wearing. To demonstrate his claim [he] pushed his index finger through his cloak as if these were only empty space where his body should have been..."
From Holy Madness by Georg Feuerstein