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" If the world is a tree,

we are the blossoms "


Naked in the Trees – An interview with TreeGirl

October 24th, 2017

At first thought, the idea of posing naked in trees for photographs might seem trivial, unnecessary, or even salacious, but when you listen to Julianne Skai Arbor, aka TreeGirl, I think you’ll find yourself coming to a different conclusion. Watch how she explains her work and shows illustrations from her beautiful book in this interview, and afterwards take a look at her website which will lead you to information on her book too.

Naked Gurus and The New Yorker

May 21st, 2010

One of the joys of Facebook is that one can receive messages from gurus who are on Facebook and are in far-flung places. I have recently recently received a message from Baba Rampuri in India – a wonderful guru of the naked sect of Naga Babas whose autobiography I read while researching A Brief History of Nakedness. He writes:

Dear Friends,
Inner Traditions has published a new edition of my book now called AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A SADHU: A Journey into Mystic India. which now has 32 photos (some of them quite rare), a Glossary, and an Afterword, with which I’m very pleased. For those of you who haven’t read it – please read it – it’s the foundation of my work.

Book Description:

After traveling at age 18 from his native California to India in 1969, Rampuri was drawn to the Naga Babas, an ancient and wild order of naked yogis whom he calls the “Hell’s Angels of Indian Spirituality.” Organized into a sect by Adi Shankara in the 5th century BC, the Naga Babas see themselves as the ultimate protectors of the Sanatan Dharma, or what we call the Hindu religion. Rampuri became a disciple of a Naga Baba–a master shaman sadhu–from Rajasthan and, as foretold by astrological prophecy, soon found himself the first foreigner to become an initiate of the Juna Akhara, the oldest and largest grouping of Naga Babas with more than 50,000 sadhu members.
From drinking the “Nectar of Immortality” at the source of the Ganges River to allegations of tantric murder, this autobiography is filled with true accounts of magic, miracles, ghosts, and austerities, with lessons on Hindu gods, ayurveda, mantra, and Indian culture woven throughout. Through his journey of extremes, Rampuri takes us into the mystic heart of India. link

It’s a great read and full of atmosphere and information and I quote from it in A Brief History of Nakedness which was recently featured in The New Yorker – a million miles it seems from the world of Naga Babas, but ‘we are all connected’ as I hope the book demonstrates. You can see the feature here.

TreeSpirit Project

April 11th, 2009

I’ve recently finished an exploration of the use of nakedness to deepen spiritual experience for a forthcoming book. In it I look at its use in Classical Paganism, Wicca, Druidry, Jainism, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity.

Now I’m working on the next chapter which explores its use as a political tool – as a vehicle for protest and awareness-raising. As I researched this topic I came across a project which articulates wonderfully the way in which nakedness can be used to make a statement about our need to care for Mother Earth. Nudity is used so much nowadays in a titillating or seedy way, it is heartening to see that it can be used with integrity to convey aesthetic and spiritual values. Have a look at some photographs from the project first (courtesy of photographer Jack Gescheidt), which is followed by the text I wrote on it for the chapter, which includes a link to the TreeSpirit Project site.

Stripping the body in public as a way of gaining attention and making a statement is clearly suited to the defence of rights in general – not simply those of animals. One of the most creative uses of nudity to raise awareness comes from the work of the American photographer Jack Gescheidt who started the ‘TreeSpirit Project’ in 2003. Rather than protesting against logging or destruction of the environment, Gescheidt’s project seeks to enhance our appreciation of trees in the belief that the more people are able to do this, the less destructive they will be: ‘I believe as more people understand the importance of trees for all they provide the ecosystem in addition to beauty and shade, all species on Earth benefit. The fates of species are intertwined; we have the power to destroy other life forms, and without other life forms humanity will perish. We humans may only be here for a brief stay in the cosmic picture, but we have the tremendous power of free will to shape our world. Many of us in technologically advanced cultures have forgotten the ancient wisdom trees and other life forms patiently hold.’
The TreeSpirit project includes two elements: the photographs Gescheidt takes of naked people in, beside and around trees, which are then displayed on his website ( and the experiences of the participants when being photographed in this way. In response to the frequently asked question: ‘Why are the people you photograph always naked? Isn’t this really just to get attention?’ Gescheidt  responds: ‘When naked, people are: more ‘present’ in the meditative sense of this word, meaning in the present moment instead of thinking about the past (worry) or future (planning); therefore more vulnerable and have greater, more conscious awareness, more feeling, and therefore move and behave more freely and genuinely; more harmless to trees and other species. We humans often harm as a collective, but not when stripped of our habitual and protective layers of clothing, tools and technology; more timeless, without the many cultural and historical cues clothing provide; unified as a mass of humanity rather than seen as the individual personalities to which we are so attached; and, yes, more attention-getting. One of goals of the TreeSpirit Project is to deliver its message of our interdependence with nature. The more people ready to take this to heart, the better.’

Baring Witness

April 5th, 2009

As I write about the use of the body as a vehicle for protest in my next book, I find myself increasingly amazed at the oddity of the male psyche. This quote from the chapter I’ve just written will give you a sense of what I mean, and then the film clip will present an interesting approach to trying to understand why some find war acceptable but nakedness or even semi-nakedness indecent:

Even in New Zealand there are some men who believe that simply the sight of a breast can be damaging. In 2005 a complaint was brought against the New Zealand Broadcasting Authority for a 6pm news item that revealed for six seconds a topless woman protesting against a march in support of ‘family values’ in Auckland. A Mr Watts claimed that the item had breached standards of good taste and decency and was inappropriate and disturbing for children. In rebuttal the TV channel responsible for the news item wrote: ‘It was as if you were telling us that you expect us to show the most awful terrorist atrocities (the attack on the twin towers, blood in the streets of Baghdad), the most awful crimes (school shootings, murder and rape) and introduce children to repellent concepts such as racism and intolerance – but ask us to shy away from the reality of a harmless topless protester taking part in a peaceful demonstration.’ The Broadcasting Authority did not uphold the complaint.

Buy It Naked

November 1st, 2008

Nakedness has been a sorely neglected theme in this blog these last few months. Perhaps because we’ve had such a poor summer. I’ve even received one complaint about this.

If you think the subject trivial, prurient or inappropriate please read one reader’s post here.

It reappears now because a new campaign has been launched: ‘Buy It Naked’ – sadly or thankfully it is not a campaign to encourage us to shop in the nude, but one which encourages us – and shops – to strip off much of the unnecessary packaging we are burdening the earth with. Rush over to their site now:

On the same theme, ten years or so ago I was interviewed twice by an enterprising citizen of Fremantle in Australia who had started a New Age radio show from her sitting room: Full Circle Radio. A decade on, she has branched out into Youtube movies, and has created this. Most readers will know much of what is being said, but the message is one we need to remind ourselves about, particularly as Christmas approaches. And there are some very good articulations of the most critical issues facing us in here:

People not Cars!

June 8th, 2008

I am very upset. For the second year running events have conspired to prevent me from supporting the World Naked Bike Ride which took place yesterday in Brighton, London, and in cities all over the world to promote the cause of cycle riding over car driving. High Altitude Films has produced a very good documentary on the event – have a look at Part 1 which is only 8 minutes long. It’s educational, entertaining and well-made – and narrated by committed cyclist Jon Snow. Part Two follows.

The rest of the documentary is only available on DVD from High Altitude Films

Underutilized Rebellion

March 25th, 2008

It’s always helpful to know you are not alone in your thoughts, feelings and experiences – and the net is great for helping us find others of like mind. Last year I researched Walden Pond for an entry in ‘Sacred Places’  – a book due out in August – and here is what Henry – a blogger who recently commented on a post here says about the pond and about his experiences of the joys of skinny-dipping. I like his idea of underutilized rebellion!

Thank you Henry for letting me quote from your blog – ‘What Would Henry Do? A Virtual Cabin in the Woods’:
“There is a brief passage in Walden where Thoreau describes bathing in the idyllic waters of his Pond. If you’ve ever been to Walden Pond in the summer, you can imagine what this must have felt like one hundred years ago, miles from your closest neighbor: Like pure bliss. We’ve all gone skinny-dipping at least once in our lives, (I hope!) and we all know how good it feels. My first experience was about twenty years ago at Robert Moses State Park on Long Island at a designated clothing-optional beach. At first it felt strange. But the strangeness disappeared after about five minutes when I realized that no one was staring at me and no one looked like a runway model. It was the height of summer, about ninety degrees. The ocean water felt luxurious against my skin and it was glorious to come back to my towel and lay basking in the bright sun. I was hooked. For many years afterwards, I would proselytize to the uninitiated about the benefits of my discovery. I used to compare nude bathing to buying a microwave oven (Bear with me). Before you get a microwave, you don’t understand what all the fuss is about, but after you have one you can’t imagine how you ever lived without it. When I talked this way, people looked at me funny. Then everyone had a microwave and my analogy lost its meaning. So I changed my object of desire to an iPod, but now everyone has one of those as well. I once heard Muddy Waters quoted as saying, “If you’ve got something good, keep it in your pocket.” Maybe that’s what I should do, I decided. Much like politics and religion, no one likes to be lectured to. The most meaningful discoveries you make in life are the ones you make yourself. But bathing this way, whether it be on a beach in the bright sun with hundreds of people or alone in a secluded quarry hidden deep in the woods, makes me feel more connected to the earth than anything else I can imagine. It’s childlike and pure. And in the crazed, nature-deprived, hyperactive, over-scheduled, hell-in-a-handbasket world we live in, one of our last and most tragically underutilized rebellions.”

Orson Welles, Nakedness & Radishes

February 16th, 2008

I’m on the hunt of the peculiar convergence of nakedness, spirituality and root vegetables that I am starting to discern in various works of art.

In an earlier post I mentioned Alanis Morisette’s powerful song Thank U, which conveys spiritual ideas, but also bizarrely mentions carrots. You can see her singing it here. It is a beautiful little film that shows her singing the song naked in urban settings – streets, trains, supermarkets – and most people ignore her. But occasionally her message touches them and they acknowledge her. Wonderful!

And here’s another film clip – showing, some say, the most important moment in the history of cinema. From F For Fake, released in 1974, Orson Welles sings the praises of Chartres Cathedral. Again spirituality, nakedness and root vegetables come together – but this time it’s radishes.

Something very odd is going on here…

The Alanis Morisette Nude Suit Revisited

February 5th, 2008

In an earlier post I talked about the way in which the Canadian singer Alanis Morisette attempted to challenge our views on the naked body by dressing in a nude suit on television.

If you’ve seen photos of this, you’ll know that her suit wasn’t exactly haute couture. It was of the kind on sale in costume party shops.

I’ve now discovered a German artist who has produced a range of clothing worthy of Alanis. It’s very elegant and sophisticated. It’s haute couture. Have a look here.

Do you think one would get arrested for wearing it in, say, London or San Fransisco? Anyone willing to find out?

And could somebody tell Alanis?

PS This is one of the most frequently viewed pages on this blog. If you’re into Alanis a much more interesting post about her, plus video is here.

Being serious in the wrong way

November 6th, 2007

We are all guilty, I suspect, of mostly swimming in a world of like-minded thought – only attending to those we agree with. So I thought I’d dip into someone I suspect I have little affinity for – C.S.Lewis. In the following quote he says something so odd I can hardly understand him. A prize to anyone who can decode this: “You could almost say they (lovers) put on nakedness as a ceremonial robe – or as the costume for a charade. For we must still be aware-and never more than when we thus partake of the Pagan sacrament in our love-passages of being serious in the wrong way.”

Here it is in context:

“Are we not our true selves when naked? In a sense, no. The word naked was originally a past participle; the naked man was the man who had undergone a process of naking, that is, of stripping or peeling (you used the verb of nuts and fruit). Time out of mind the naked man has seemed to our ancestors not the natural but the abnormal man; not the man who has abstained from dressing but the man who has been for some reason undressed. And it is a simple fact – anyone can observe it at a men’s bathing place-that nudity emphasises common humanity and soft-pedals what is individual. In that way we are “more ourselves” when clothed. By nudity the lovers cease to be solely John and Mary; the universal He and She are emphasised. You could almost say they put on nakedness as a ceremonial robe-or as the costume for a charade. For we must still be aware-and never more than when we thus partake of the Pagan sacrament in our love-passages of being serious in the wrong way. The Sky-Father himself is only a Pagan dream of One far greater than Zeus and far more masculine than the male. And a mortal man is not even the Sky-Father, and cannot really wear his crown. Only a copy of it, done in tinselled paper. I do not call it this in contempt. I like ritual; I like private theatricals; I even like charades. Paper crowns have their legitimate, and (in the proper context) their serious, uses. They are not in the last resort much flimsier (“if imagination mend them”) than all earthly dignities.” (from The Four Loves, C.S.Lewis)