After Path on Day 3, I spoke with one of the teachers: about how initially uncomfortable I was at getting undressed in front of others and my feeling that the group agreement had not been met. I expressed that I had felt unsupported when some members of the group used a thick covering for warmth. She spoke of how, no matter what, getting undressed in front of anyone for the first time is likely to be awkward. Such wisdom. I immediately thought: ‘Of course!’ and was consoled. She agreed to speak to those who’d ‘re-covered’ about how I’d felt. She also reminded me that they were on their own journey as I was on mine. This led me to reflect that despite outward appearances others besides myself might still be struggling with nudity.
During the afternoon and evening, I continued to feel raw and vulnerable. Edgy. I quietly sat and breathed. I rarely cry: a skill, now largely superfluous, learned long ago. I needed to cry, but no tears came. I found myself enveloped by love and friendship during this time: a hug, a gently offered hand, a shoulder, more hugs, one or two words of love and support, a light touch, kind eyes and a spontaneous opportunity to sing with another. Peace. Bliss.
Today, as we enter Paradise, we drop our wraps and enter naked. All of us remain this way. I feel totally supported and utterly loved. We are to use body paint to decorate ourselves with brush strokes representing parts of our life journey. We may ask others to paint on us. They may choose to say yes or no to our request. We practise having our request accepted or rejected.
At first, I am horrified at the thought of painting my flesh. My brain screams: “You want me to do what???” In some ways this is more challenging for me than the physical and emotional nakedness. I never write on my skin: not ever. I was so focused on the nudity that I had forgotten the “clothed in skin, wearing our stories, paint seeping into our core” part of the Path description. I ask one teacher to paint on my back. She accepts. I paint on my belly, decolletage, forearms and back of my hands. I am entranced and surprised at the images leaking out of my sub-conscious. Overcoming my distaste for the feeling of paint on flesh has been rewarding. I will do it again.
Our last day in Paradise and we have each brought an offering for ourselves and our companions: a foot massage, face painting, chocolate, chakra cleanse, daisy chain making, hair braiding or combing and so on. Now, we are able to both offer and ask for what we want from the Gifts of Paradise smorgasbord that we have created. We practise kindly accepting or rejecting the offered gifts. We chant and spend the morning in Paradise. Conversation is kept to a minimum. We communicate quietly, sometimes with a few words or a gesture but mostly we sing and hum, enjoying each others’ vulnerability and love.
I feel relaxed and comfortable now. Slowly, I realise that those I felt distant from yesterday are so much closer today: they make an offering which I accept with joy. I bask in the emotional warmth pervading my fellow travellers on this Path.
We go outside and in a private corner of the garden we heat our clay talismans on an enclosed fire (witches are practical people and the Australian bush must be protected). Then, we cast our own spell into the talisman. “What is our heart’s desire?”
We return to the Bower, debrief by ‘checking out’ (much like ‘checking in’ but with an awareness that Path is coming to a close and we are moving out into the world with the wisdom we’ve learned). As we do this, we use wire brushes to clean our dull grey talismans and the beautiful shiny silver core is revealed. A wonderful metaphor for my journey in this Path.
We close circle and return Paradise to beneath the earth.