Going Naked

“My own belief is that one regards oneself, if one is a serious writer, as an instrument for experiencing. Life—all of it—flows through this instrument and is distilled through it into works of art. How one lives as a private person is intimately bound into the work. And at some point, I believe one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary reader or real relative or friend, and come out with personal truth. If we are to understand the human condition, and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt, extravagance of feeling, guilt, joy, the slow freeing of the self to its full capacity for action and creation, both as human being and artist, we have to know all we can about one another, and we have to be willing to go naked.”

-May Sarton from Journal of a Solitude

I found this wonderful quote at Carla’s blog Zena Moon today and it touched something in me that rang so deeply true.   I am an instrument for experiencing the whole spectrum of life and that is intimately woven into my calling as writer and artist.   Sarton’s quote: “How one lives as a private person is intimately bound into the work” speaks to me of the importance of witness.  I often experience the communal dimensions of my contemplative way of life in the way my life witnesses to an alternative way of being in the world.

What does going naked mean in my life?  Where am I holding back for fear of offending someone?  Where am I being called to risk?  What are the subjects I do not discuss? It is so easy on a blog to be selective about the parts of life you want to share.  That is true of all writing.  Blogging has this strange anonymous and immediate dimension to it that can make real vulnerability a bit harder to express.  I have tried to be true to my own griefs and sorrows here, but writing necessarily gives the experience some element of wholeness where most loss feels only like loose ends and ragged edges. 

Carla has also initiated what she is calling My Sacred Life Project.  Basically she is challenging herself to post a photo each day from her life to her blog as a way of reclaiming the sacredness of the daily. It is a topic near and dear to my heart and so I am going to join her for a while in at least a weekly post about something from my everyday life I consider holy. Carla began hers with a self-portrait and I am going to take her lead, in part because I hate photos taken of me and to live into the quote above I felt like this would be a good first step, going naked so to speak.  Of course, many of you reading already know what I look like, from workshops or classes or gatherings.  But I know I have a good number of blog readers who, if they looked at my About page might wonder if I were in fact only three years old (although I do think I was rather adorable at that age) :-).  Why I am so uncomfortable with photos of myself I am not completely sure, perhaps it is vanity or living in a culture that prizes physical beauty, perhaps it is that startling revelation that you don’t look just like your mirror image or how you remembered you were in your twenties, or perhaps it is a whole complex of insecurities I have yet to explore in depth. . . regardless, it feels to me like an act of vulnerability, maybe because I can’t look into your beautiful faces in this moment and there is something so intimate about the face. This photo was actually taken by my photography class teacher in the spring and was a very spontaneous moment, which is perhaps why I like it more than others.

What is the face you show to the world? Are there places you are being invited to more nakedness? 

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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15 Responses

  1. eileen, thanks so much for your very thoughtful comment. I agree that midlife is a glorious time, really a gift to know that everything is precious. and thanks for the very kind words! :-)

  2. Hi Christine-
    I am also part of the Sacred Life group. For longer than I care to admit, I wore a variety of masks, depending upon the audience. And by the Grace of God, and some intense cooperation on my part, I came to the wonderous realization that I was/am good enough – flaws and all. I am about as “All The Way Live” as I can be, coming up on my 45th birthday and knowing how blessed I am to still be on the planet. There is not a moment to lose. What a gift it is to be middle-aged, joyous, and grateful.
    Oh – and you’re stunning!

  3. How I love (and squirm a little at) the questions you pose, Christine! Posting photos of myself makes me feel vulnerable, which is exactly why I chose to do it. Funny, I pictured you with long dark hair and dark brown eyes. I knew you’d be beautiful and you are!

  4. Thanks lucy, I’ll be interested to hear if it stirs something in you…

    You’re right Pam, I did share that part of myself before, in some ways perhaps a more interesting photo! I like your idea for a photo too, and maybe a poem to accompany it.

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