NAKED AND AFRAID
My dear mentor turned me on to the show “Naked and Afraid.” I spent a week binge-watching the show that I made plenty fun of her for loving. I have had a couple of weeks of quiet days with the pug, and I got kind of sucked in to this human drama, played out in this, I will still say, ridiculous show.
The name of the series says it all, but in case you haven’t tuned in. A man and a woman are set down in an intense nature environment: the swamps of Louisiana, the jungle of Peru, the plains of Namibia, without a shred of clothing and only a machete and, if they’ve chosen wisely, a firestarter. They first meet picking their way through their new environment in their birthday suits. Then, they live for 21 days together, to make their way to a rescue place several miles away.
Snakes, spiders, crocodiles, hippos, soooo many bugs. Killer bees. Sand flies. Panthers. Elephants. I watch in fascination and have learned some things. First, don’t get fancy with fire making. Get a flint, preferably electronic, and do that first or you’re going to get cranky. Second, just do not drink water without boiling it. Never. Raise your shelter off the ground. Store firewood somewhere dry for when the rains come. Which they always do.
Bugs want to eat you. It seems they are more of a danger than snakes, which is surprising to me. I thought if you came upon a snake you could pretty much kiss it goodbye, but apparently it’s pretty easy to outwit a deadly snake and have him for dinner. Sand flies, on the other hand, will cause more problems for you than anything you can imagine.
Also, how on earth can these people walk around without shoes on. I just don’t get it. I walk down the tiled hallway outside to get the mail and am hobbled by tiny stones. I did not know that trees in jungles have four inch needle spikes. Good grief.
Anyway, the real addictive part of the show, as I guess is the case with most reality TV, is the naked, pardon the pun, window into the human psyche.
At four days of intense heat, panic over finding water, building a shelter, sleepless nights and bugs, it seems that most people ditch the initial positive attitude. First thing we do is to begin to find fault with our partners. At four days, folks get hungry, and all vision seems to turn outward to blame. He’s lazy, she’s a princess, I wish I had any other partner but him. If the couple make it to the end of the challenge, often there has to be a point when they are forced to apologize for all the mean things that came out during the blame period (you stink, you’re stupid, I hate you!). Many a player eats crow (figuratively of course) and realizes they have to suck it up and get along if they are to survive.
It’s enlightening to watch this play out from a distance, because we get to see both sides of the conflict. She thinks he’s lazy, he thinks she’s stupid for expending so much energy. Aren’t they both kind of right? The whole time you’re thinking, why don’t you just tell him how you’re feeling? Why do you have to be so closed off and stubborn? You see the damage of the past: she’s never felt validated, he’s always been uncomfortable with emotion. We can see how the misunderstanding starts and swarms and explodes.
“I would rather head out into cobra country than spend one more minute with you!”
Then in the dark the person realizes, dammit. I’m in cobra country! Back they go to make up with the person with the machete and the fire.
I watch and I reflect on my own life, my own blind spots and the way fear makes me run naked into jungles like a maniac rather than working with those around me. In my work with my mentor and in meditation, I’ve happened upon fear, endless fear. I bring up heaviness, anxiety, tension, and what comes up is a fear of wasting time, fear of wasting a life, fear of not doing enough. I had a revelation recently that I had a fear of not being special, not being first, not being unique. The recognition of fear is profound. So much of my identity has been wrapped up in the ways that I have protected myself from feeling the fear that it didn’t occur to me that it was something I could let go of. Clem should be important, right? If she’s not important, then she’s failed, right?
When we do the work and happen upon these huge beliefs that up until now have defined us, it feels shocking that it has never occurred to us that we could be another way. I ask myself, what would it be like to just be? Without any need to excel or succeed or be the best? What would it be like to find the joy in just being? If I never stand out, living each moment to my potential without ever making a mark, what would that be like? Why do I think I need to be first?
That brings up the ways that we judge success? How much of those things are set in place to further some outside structure: capitalism, economics, social rank, the judgment of society? What happens when we go way out and question these structures that seem so fixed?
I guess the question here is, where do we find our worth? It seems that we are always looking for our reflection in these structures and in those outside ourselves to give us worth. I must be a good drummer in the field of drummers. I must be known as a better writer than most, or draw more people to my social media, or have the happiest demeanor, or know the most, or have the cutest dog, or the best relationship… All of these things are a reflection of judgments outside of myself. I ask myself, who says? and every changes.
What if I say: today I will drum purely for the joy of it. My playing at the show tonight is a delight in the communal experience of the music. I have something to write because there is something I would like to say, and my joy in language seems effortless. Today, this moment, my heart is full for this pug splayed out and snoring. I am drawn to write this blog not because I know anything, but because it seems to be what I am called to do at 10:35 on a Monday morning. Nothing I say is new or special except in that it is my expression of being, right now. My whole life is an expression of my being. I Am. In an hour, if I’m lucky, I still may be, finding another expression that seems true .
It feels like flying, to let go of identity structures like these without fear. I see how much of life is based in fear, the fear of holding up all that stuff. Fear of being seen as weak, as not special, as not the best, the happiest, the one who knows it all. One small injury to this structure and you’re set down a path of misery, clawing your way to prop that structure back up so the reflection rights itself. I will work triple hard to make sure everyone knows I work hardest! If I am not constantly striving to meet the eyes of judgment and succeeding, then I am worthless and lost.
I guess when we experience a blow to our identity, the fear is that we will disappear. Who am I if I am not the best? For all my life that has how I have made sure I am fully here, to be striving. Who am I if I don’t live up to that which we have deemed success?
This is the beauty of this work, to rest in that wider awareness of the true self, that field beneath identity and ego. When we really let go of those structures, when we release the fear, here we find ourselves, this infinite, unchanging field of truth that is strong, invincible. This is who we are, and our ultimate support.
We get injured and what rises up is stronger and more reliable than any structure that we have depended on before. We must be the most beautiful we can be at all times, until we are on TV with the world watching, our naked body riddled with bug bites and dirt and pus. It’s all been a façade. We say our strength is unexcelled until we haven’t eaten for eight days and sit sobbing in the mud. Who is it that walks the six miles through jungle, starving, broken, delirious? Not that self who was afraid to break, afraid to let down the façade of identity and step over the snake, swim past the crocodile and realizing the whole time your own soft, pink body is just another scrambling animal getting to a goal.
Truth, strength, resilience, beauty. It’s not what we have been told it is. When the survivors are back in their normal lives, it’s a newfound vulnerability that is apparent. They seem softer, not harder, for having exhibited such feats of strength.
The takeaway: our hearts seem to crack open when we face down our fears, and our endless capacity for love shines clearest. I love that the work I do to let go of fear doesn’t involve parasites and anacondas. Sometimes though, it feels no less dire.
You can hear me read this on Soundcloud HERE or as an iTunes podcast.
I have recently started a Patreon page, where for a small donation you can receive weekly meditations and other goodies like drum lessons and personalized meditation instruction and energy healing.
Please go to www.patreon.com/clemthegreat for information. Thank you in advance for your support!