gatineau morning.

gatineau morning.
photo by douglas mcarthur.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

when we take off our bodies.

"clothes make the man. naked people have little or no influence on society." mark twain.

for a couple of years, i had been holding regular wednesday evening meditation sessions in ottawa. the number of participants dwindled over time and so i began to wonder if it was worth my driving in from wakefield every week.

when i mentioned that to the loyal attendees one wednesday evening, there was a gratifying expression of disappointment. i would be exaggerating if i said they were weeping, pounding their chests or gnashing their teeth. but, they were not pleased and one lady in particular was quite demonstrative. i liked that, until she began to blame me personally for the poor attendance. of course, it was a reasonable assumption, her main criticism being that i did not present myself properly. i did not act or even look like a guru. i could hardly argue the point, as i sat there wearing a 'wakefield general-store' cap, khaki pants, a checkered flannel shirt and a pair of 'tigre geant' checkered under-shorts. i don't think anyone ever saw my underwear, but you get my point.

i decided to dress up for the part, just as a joke really. for the next wednesday's session, i put on my long flowing white kurta, lungi and drove into town. as always, i stopped for dinner at the 'perfection-satisfaction-promise' vegetarian restaurant on laurier street before the class. i loved the place and still do. one feels that the food is always prepared with devotion, the music and ambience is peaceful. i had been going there virtually unnoticed for years. we know each other now, but the lovely, kind ladies there never paid me the slightest attention up until then. why should they? on that occasion, however, they saluted me reverentially with folded hands, bowed heads. i felt like pointing out that i was the same jerk who had been going there for like ever.

the fact is, the world works a lot like that. i guess my shirt got pretty dirty when i pumped gas at ryan's garage. i was expected to be nicely suited and booted when i was a high-end jewellery salesman on sparks street. i recall a client of mine saying, after handing over his rolex for servicing, that he felt naked every time he took his watch off. he asked if i knew how he felt and i responded by saying: "sure. i feel like that every time i take my clothes off." my employer, standing nearby, rolled his eyes and walked away.

lord krishna tended the cows. the great poet kabir was a weaver by profession. wasn't there a great sage who was a shepherd or a carpenter? what was his name? nelson mandela was a lawyer. johnny cash picked cotton and jay z was a drug dealer. i have no doubt they all dressed the part. viktoria beckham dressed up as a sperm on roller-skates in a bbc sex education show. there was a great sixteenth century sufi saint by the name of sarmad who refused to wear anything at all. contrary to mark twain's assertion, sarmad actually had a tremendous influence on indian society in his day. even while being threatened with a beheading, he steadfastly refused to swear allegiance to any one god. he insisted that god resides in every living being. he did, by the way, lose his head.

i am not the gas jockey in the dirty shirt. i'm not the jerk who wore the flowing white kurta and lungi. i am not the gentleman in the suit. i'm not even the guy in the flannel shirt. in fact, threatened with a beheading i'd dress up as a ballerina if that would save me. clothes, in fact, do not make the person any more than the color of ones skin. what makes the person, according to the great saints and sages throughout all time, is what's in ones head and heart.


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