February 22, 2018
Clothes for the Spirit
Before time began, we wore no clothes. We didn’t need to. We had evolved within our environment, and therefore our skin and hair were ideal for our climate. All of our food had evolved along with us, and we were mostly vegetarian, so gathering food was leisurely. We had few natural predators.
This was Eden, the paradise that gave birth to us, Mother Nature. Deep within our collective memory, there is always a sense that things must have been better once, sometime before. We yearn to return to those good old days, when things were simple. Back then, we behaved according to our instincts, satisfying our primal needs. Living according to the biological cycle that created us, we never had to make choices. Until we did.
The climate changed; it became colder. Our food became scarcer, we became hungry. It became clear that, by being obedient to the rule of natural law, we would soon become extinct. This realization of insecurity is when our mind split in two. This is what mystics call The Separation. At this point human beings decided that we would no longer simply be part of nature; we must overcome the oppressive inevitability of extinction; we would take evolution into our own hands.
If Mother Nature would no longer support us, we would support ourselves. This was the first decision. We took a stick and sharpened it; we killed a fellow animal and ate its flesh and wore its skin. And we survived… still do… just always with this lingering sense of shame that we must be doing something wrong, that we are buying time, that somehow it used to be better, before things got so complicated.
This is my version of the story of Eden, which comes up a lot in Tarot. In Eden, there was the snake, an embodiment of the ancient mind. The snake is the oldest animal. The first animals were just little heads and tails; just like human sperm. The spine and the base of the brain are the earliest parts of our nervous system, and govern our unconscious functions and instincts, like our digestion and sexual impulses. Then, at the front of our heads, is the more recent evolution of our brains, the part which tends to be somewhat more rational and conscious.
The snake then, gave us the idea that we could take our own food. Our own minds “tricked” us into turning on nature, giving us the idea that evolution could be a choice.
And we made that choice, which immediately created the dilemma of whether it was right or wrong. Someone therefore deserves the credit or the blame for… all of this.
Whether it was made by a man or a woman has been an ongoing debate and a whole other separation story… my sense is that it was probably made by a man, since the religious narrative seems like an unsophisticated way to elude that responsibility. From this perspective, human civilization’s patriarchal bent is a collective mother wound run amok.
This is obviously extremely simplified – keep in mind that my credentials are as a fashion illustrator, lol. In an odd twist, my experience with fashion here gives me a certain insight into the split mind… if you’ll follow my thinking.
The snake part of the human – the spine and the lower part of the brain – are the home of the spirit. In Kundalini, life-force energy runs through this channel and offers some access to the unconscious and the opportunity to experience one-ness, an awareness of the union with the divine, the closest we can get to that feeling we must have had in the good old days before time and trouble. In Tarot terms, spirit communicates in emotion (water) and sensation (earth), which are considered to be feminine qualities.
The frontal cortex and newer parts of the brain seem to be the home of the ego. Perhaps this is why anxiety and decisions seem to build up at the front of our heads. In Tarot terms, ego communicates in thoughts (air) and ideas (fire). These masculine elements are associated with the suits of Wands and Swords, and of course are represented by tools. In particular Swords, the pointed stick, deals with struggle and adversity. Humans do try to solve problems by thinking… and tend to create problems by thinking too.
In my meditation practice, I like exploring the distinctions between thoughts and feelings, attempting to get a grasp on the split in my own mind between spirit and ego. This of course is much easier said than done because thoughts can influence feelings and feelings can influence thoughts.
However, knowing that the ego is the part of the mind concerned with choices and survival, identifying thoughts is pretty simple. They are always concerned with hierarchies, morality, competition, time, status, survival, mistakes, scarcity, control… and of course usually start with the almighty “I”. When you first start your practice, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of thoughts that swirl around the mind, and they all come from the ego.
After I stuck with sitting for a while, I became bored with my thoughts. They’re usually quite repetitive. At that stage, I notice myself ruminating over some perceived slight or anxiety for the millionth time and I’m like, OK, got it. That’s something I think, I know that, so I don’t have to continue going over it. And just like that, the thought becomes quiet. After a while, thoughts become fewer and farther between, albeit occasionally more original, and then sometimes, I settle into a quiet state.
With the ego temporarily relaxed, I experience pure sensation, wordless feelings. This is a connection to the spirit, which makes many things possible, including self-knowledge, healing trauma, and a heightened intuition. Once I’m done sitting, the thoughts come back, with a bit more clarity, and it’s great because to be honest, I love thinking.
So how does the separation connect to fashion? Obviously the separation created fashion! Being cast out of Eden invented the concept of nakedness and fur coats in one stab of a pointed stick.
Ego is to spirit what clothes are to the naked body.
Fashion does everything the ego does – it allows us to negotiate the complexities of civilization. It emphasizes hierarchies, the whole thing is based on the notion that it’s possible to appear better than someone else. Clothes are also literally protective, allowing us to live in cold climates without dying.
The ego gets a bad rap because it’s the part of the brain that decided it knew better than God, and is frequently hoisted up on its own petard for its presumptive ways. However, we’d be nowhere without it, we would have been extinct thousands of years ago. Plus, it’s responsible for all of our technology and culture and so much of what it means to be human, including the concepts of good and bad, male and female, and past and future. Separation is ultimately what makes life interesting: free will and the ability to learn.
Getting underneath my own ego for the purposes of being a better card reader has only made me more aware of how absolutely necessary it is – when my ego’s defences are weak, I spontaneously express my emotions in inappropriate situations and lack the judgement required to stay safe in often hazardous urban environments. This civilization was not built for sensitive souls.
So I like to imagine the ego as a protective sheath that surrounds the spirit… clothes for the spirit, if you will. Just like clothes, you can open parts of it to expose the spirit underneath – a kind of sexy mystical striptease, depending on the situation. Some situations demand more ego, especially if power and politics are involved, and revealing the spirit under these circumstances is very subversive and can be dangerous. Ego deployed stylishly is useful when performance is required. In other situations, like intimate relationships, the ego often just gets in the way because of its fundamental basis in insecurity. Allowing the spirit to be vulnerable manifests as a pure expression of feeling – the act of courage that is the essence of both great art and true love.
Some people have incredibly thick, hard, armour-like egos, to the point that you wonder if they have any spirit at all. Others have very thin, nearly transparent egos, making them hyper-sensitive and causing them difficulties functioning as part of society.
Coming from a fashion background, I like to think that an ego can be well-fitted and stylish, and ideally both express and protect the spirit at the same time. If our ego is presenting an appearance that is at odds with our spirit, we experience both inner and outer conflicts. People get nasty shocks when they realize discrepancies between someone’s pretences and their true nature – in others or themselves.
Luckily (maybe), the expression of our ego, unlike the nature of our spirit, can be a conscious choice. If we know our own spirit, we can deliberately construct our ego as a natural extension our spirit… OK, perhaps a slightly more elegant version. When we do this, the world is a friendlier place, and we attract those who genuinely appreciate us for who we are.