Book Review of Aglow by Will Forest

Cover of Will Forest's latest book, Aglow.

Cover of Will Forest’s latest book, Aglow.

I’ve just finished reading Will Forest’s second naturist novel, Aglow. Having enjoyed his first naturist novel, Coed Naked Philosophy, I was anxious to begin reading with high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed. I was, however, surprised.

As a person who views life through a worldview that includes Jungian psychology, the shift from a theme of college life to a blend of Meso-American mythology and contemporary Mexico and Brazil, was something that added value to a tale of naturist exploration. My readers here know I often write about the masculine and the feminine psyche. Will Forest travels back in time through artefacts that have stories to reveal which speak with both a masculine and a feminine voice. Combined, those voices talk of wholeness and a universal oneness.

Will Forest’s writing, as in his first book, shows care and attention to historical accuracy and does so in a manner that avoids having the novel sound too academic. The story emerges with both playfulness and seriousness being present in both the past and present faces of the novel. And in the end, one is left wanting to hear more of the story that involves the protagonists, Marisol and Ze.

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Why Am I a Naturist?

The sky is wild this morning. One minute it is dark with ominous clouds flying by as if they are on a freeway, and the next minute there is glorious sunshine. And the speed at which this is all happening makes the mind swirl. The wind has been blowing all night following a long period of rain yesterday late afternoon and all evening, and is still blowing strong creating whitecaps and pounding waves along the shoreline. Sometimes nature serves as a good metaphor for what is happening within one’s psyche. I know that in today’s case, it is quite the mirror.

I didn’t sleep well and it wasn’t because of the rain or the wind. Rather, it all had to do with the stirring of shadow contents within, stuff that lies below the surface of my awareness. I was asked why I was a naturist, why I needed to be naked when the rest of the world, the civilized world was doing well with their clothing on. I wasn’t able to give a satisfactory answer nor did I think that there could be a satisfactory answer in terms of having another person who is not a naturist, understand and accept. Of course, saying that, I open myself to the possibility of being very wrong. I don’t really have an excuse for not finding the words to answer this question, even if it is just for myself.

Because of my long involvement with depth psychology, I knew that the answers did exist, somewhere deep within my psyche. So this morning, I opened up the door to the question during my time for meditation which then lasted longer than usual. It was essential to let the question stew for a while, allow the contents within to become stirred up in the darkness of the unconscious. Later in the morning, after sitting for a while in silence with my morning coffee, not actually thinking but also not banishing thinking, I went for a long, two hour walk along the beach. I refused to force an answer but I also left an opening as if an opening in the clouds, for whatever needed to come to consciousness to have an entry.

As a child I was sexually abused, emotionally abused, physically abused in my family of origin by my biological parents. The sexual abuse extended to include my maternal grandfather and more than one parish priest. I was a docile child, the eldest of a large group of children. It was my job, the expectation that I came to embrace that I was there to please others, to take care of others, to put others before myself. I forgave my parents before they both passed away, enough years before their death so that I would be able to include them in my own children’s lives as grandparents. It also gave them time to acknowledge their part in my wounding – but that never came to be.

The patterns learned in early childhood that continued through to a few years after I was married with children of my own carried over into how I interacted within the family in which I was husband and father. It carried over into my career as an educator, coach and then as counsellor to students, staff and people within my community. I was well trained to put myself behind me and do my utmost best to be a good father, a good husband, brother-in-law, coach, neighbour. This is a story I knew well, one that I wrestled with through midlife and my own course of psychoanalysis. But where does this almost primal urge to naturalism come from?

It was soon after the sexual abuse from my grandfather, the last time I was sexually abused as a youth, that I found myself in a quiet meadow in a nearby small forest with a book of poetry. It was a warm late spring day, about six months following this last incidence. Feeling the warmth of the sun and feeling the words of classical poetry, I soon found myself naked. Over the next two years, my last two years at home, I took every opportunity, weather permitting to hide in this forest and meadow in order to be free.

Leaving home, I found other opportunities, especially the opportunity of sleeping in the nude, to recapture this sense of freedom. A job at the other end of the country found me enjoying social nudity in swimming pools and saunas with my co-workers, other young adults. The exhilaration of  body freedom acted as a sort of barrier that banished my history of being abused.

Yet now, the pull to nudity is again strong so I look to these roots and it dawned on me that it is being nude where I claim control of my body, control of my identity, control of my sexuality. My body is not about pleasing others, making life easier for others. Do I remove body hair or make sure it is groomed for my own sense of well-being, or do I allow the needs of others dictate what I do or don’t do with my body hair? It comes down to control. Am I in control or do I defer control to someone else?

Now, in my sixties, I am saying this is my body and I will care for it, and my identity, and my psyche as best I can. I will not be a child and give control to another. I am a man, not a child victim continuing to seek approval, seeking to please others while disregarding my self.

I wonder if this is an answer, or just the beginning of an answer?

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Meditation Above The Sea

UNAM dock on the Caribbean Sea

UNAM dock on the Caribbean Sea

It is another beautiful day here in Puerto Morelos. This morning I tried meditating in a different location other than tucked in a corner of the studio apartment. I was able to enjoy the sound of the breeze, the feel of the breeze, and the sound of the water lapping against the pylons of the pier. I sat at the far right corner which sticks out even further into the sea. Because of the hour and time of day, I did keep on my bathing suit while meditating. It was an experience worth repeating, only tomorrow [weather permitting] I will go there two hours earlier, before my morning coffee with my wife. While I meditate, she does yoga, so this is a shared experience in its own way.

Meditation is vital for me. Because of my history as a child and as a youth, I have lived in a self-imposed straight-jacket as I tried to contain the demons that haunted me. When it became too much to contain, it was in meditation where I first found the path to ease the strain and thus be able to move forward into another day of masking the psychic pain that wanted to swallow me. I needed meditation, but didn’t really know why.

“Well, meditation is dealing with purpose itself… Generally we have a purpose for whatever we do: something is going to happen in the future, therefore, whatever I am doing now is important — everything is related to that. But the whole idea of meditation is to develop an entirely different way of dealing with things, where you have no purpose at  all. In fact, meditation is dealing with the question of whether or not there is a such thing as ‘purpose’.” [Trungpa, Meditation in Action]

Today, I know why I meditate. I know that this act of letting my ego consciousness give up control, in a way disappearing for a while, allows my body to feel the freedom from the prison of memories. While I meditate I don’t have any history of pain, of confusion, of betrayal or of being someone who has committed his fair share of betraying, confusing and of inflicting pain. I become a being, simply breath, sitting in my space which disappears leaving me freer than it is possible to imagine. I cease being a victim and a victimizer.

My body appreciates this momentary space where all is released, as does my spirit. I breath, I sit, I am.  And, that is enough.

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Return to the Sea

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I have to admit that I didn’t take this photograph.  My wife took it while we were in Goa, India following a three week tour of Rajasthan.  Rarely does my camera leave my hands during our travels, but every once in a while she points the camera in my direction so that there is proof that she hasn’t been to all of these places alone.  I take MANY photos of her.  And, for the most part, she loves it.  Usually pictures of me turn out to be snapshots, uninteresting pictures that do the task of recording my physical presence.  This picture is different.  It caught something much deeper.   A second note, this photo was taken with my last camera which has since been given away, a Sony DSC-H5 last year in February.

In many ways, this is very representative of what is happening now to me and by influence, those immediately around me.  I know that each change within me ripples out to affect others in my orbit.  This is all part of something called Chaos Theory.  In the world of the psyche, the collective unconscious substrate becomes activated by the appearance of certain events or conditions, something nowhere in the range of being predictable.  Strange attractors pull things slightly askew with significant affect.  Then with the initial disturbance receding, our psyche attempts to return to a normal pattern – only the normal pattern is ever-so-slightly altered.  We can never return exactly to where we have been.  Others in relation to us can never attain the same relationship to us.  All is altered, maybe for the better, maybe for the worse in terms of those relationships.

Perhaps that is why we become strangers to those who thought they have known us for so long, why they become strangers to us.  Do we ever really know another person?

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