I’m writing this one week after the best day of my life so far; a day that – amongst other things – saw me laugh, cry, dance, eat great cake, jump over a gate, and get naked in public.
The day was spent in Glastonbury, with the amazing women of Lisa Lister’s inaugural She Power Coven, who I’ve spent the last six months circling with and who have given me the absolute honour of holding space for them.
I could write this whole blog post – actually multiple blog posts – about our magical Saturday, everything we did and all the things it brought me but let’s be honest, you want to hear about the nakedness right?
I’m about to tell you how that came about, so if you’d like to read the whole story of how that came about then please carry on; but if you’ve read the title of this post and are actually just desperate to get to the “what I learned” bit, then maybe scroll on to the headline saying just that – just a little word of warning.
So, for those who don’t know, the holy town of Glastonbury contains two sacred sources of water. There is the red spring – an underground spring which has unusually high levels of iron so takes on a reddish hue as it runs through Chalice Well gardens; and the white spring, which contains high levels of calcium and runs out of its source into some closed off pools inside a stone building just across the road from the gardens.
Both can be found at the bottom of Glastonbury Tor and both are said to have powerful healing and magical properties; with the red spring representing the Divine Feminine (because she runs red), and the white standing for the Divine Masculine.
Within the beautiful gardens at Chalice Well you can drink from the red spring, collect the water there and even go for a paddle in the shallow peace pool which is filled with running water from the spring. And in fact you’re encouraged to do that – a gift from the Goddess if you like.
But the white spring, well since the pools for that one run even deeper many people choose not only to drink, wash or collect from that spring, but to climb in fully and submerge themselves for the ultimate holy experience.
Since we first starting discussing a group trip to Glastonbury the idea of submerging in the white spring had been discussed. When in Avalon have all the holy experiences right? But then we’d somehow all managed to forget our swimsuits. Doh!
Once we were all together we commiserated over our shared forgetfulness, and then remembered that actually a lot of people take the plunge (pun totally intended) naked. After all, rebirth, who needs clothes? And in the way groups of people with combined interested have a tendency to do, we talked one another around until eventually a little group of us was determined to head along and give it a go.
So on Saturday afternoon, with 30 minutes to go until closing time, we found ourselves inside the chilly, dark white spring building – a stone room focused on the multiple pools of water at the centre, lit only by candles and populated by a handful of people meditating somberly with just their feet in the water or standing off to the side and talking quietly as they collected water direct from the source.
There were people, dogs, a couple of kids, and one man in the corner playing a beautiful rendition of some Bob Marley songs. But the one thing they had in common? None of them was naked.
By this point we’d talked about it too long and worked up too much courage to be put off, so I ventured over to the volunteer manning the area and asked if we could go right in, and whether it was OK to be without clothes.
Fine on both counts, he said, explaining that many people went in naked, and while the pool right in front of us was too shallow, if we could climb onto a wall and up a couple of steps, we’d be able to go right into the deeper pool at the back.
And so there it was.
As he walked away there was a moment where I panicked. I’m someone who has spent my life hiding my convex tummy, and over a decade covering the boobs that have been slightly saggy ever since I went bungee jumping without a sports bra (seriously not advisable), so to strip in front of these seven women I’d physically met for the first time 20 hours earlier, not to mention a room full of complete strangers? Well that’s a pretty big deal.
But then so was the opportunity to submerge in the white spring.
There were giggles and chatterings as the clothes came off, and a split second of sheer panic while I stood there starkers; then it was straight into the pool to hide our modesty where it was SO DAMNED COLD that literally nothing else crossed my mind.
We stayed in there a few minutes and submerged a couple of times, our breath clouding in front of us, extremities burning with the cold and feet going numb.
And while I’d love to tell you that we obeyed the silent reverence you’d expect from a group of powerful women immersing themselves in holy waters, there was exactly the kind of squeals, laughter and bad language you’d expect from friends who were not only facing their fears together but also without clothes in super cold waters!
The bonus was that when we clambered out (and believe me, it was clambering – there’s no way to get out of that pool and over the sometimes knee high walls with dignity!) the previously chilly cave-like room suddenly seemed much more bearable. But although we all grabbed for towels to warm ourselves up, there was no desperate need to cover ourselves.
In fact, we all headed outside for a photo in front of the front door (wrapped in towels – even in somewhere as free spirited as Glastonbury outdoor public nudity is still kind of frowned upon!).
Whether it was the holiness of the waters or the adrenaline of plunging ourselves (or being pulled, because to be honest that last step was bloody difficult to take) into a freezing cold pool while starkers in a public place, there’s no denying that the whole experience left a bit of a buzz. We were high as kites for hours afterwards and stepped out of that room feeling a little like we were seeing the world through entirely new eyes.
But our adventure into the white spring was a pretty big learning experience too. In fact, I think that single twenty minute experience taught me almost as much as the whole weekend of sisterhood and connection.
What I learned from getting naked...
For starters once the clothes were off I realised that no one was looking at my wobbly bits; just as I wasn’t looking at anyone else’s. And although I know from spending time with them clothed that the women in my company were all different shapes and sizes to me, with all sorts of different hang ups and bits they were confident of; I couldn’t tell you anything about their bodies without clothes because I just didn’t pay attention. Just as they didn’t to me, or to each other.
What I do know about these women though is their courage, their compassion, the things that make them laugh or feel at their best and most sparkly; and the things that make them sad, angry or scared. And those things – well they’re far FAR more important than whether their bums wobble or their knees nobble. To coin a Supernatural-ism, these physical bodies we walk around in – they’re just our meat suits, and don’t say anything about who we really are or what we bring to the world. So isn’t it time we stopped listening to the bullshit opinions that will have us think they define us?!
That said though, this little meat suit I write this from is mine, the one charged with carrying me through this life and the one that I’m responsible for steering through the next two decades. So now that it’s seen me through the coldest waters I’ve ever been in (and I dived into a New Zealand lake in March!) without packing up or going into some sort of meltdown, isn’t it about time I started repaying the favour and looking after it as best I can? Not because I want to look better, but because my lovely meatsuit deserves the care and respect that treating it right represents?
I’ve talked before about the sisterhood I’ve found over the last six months in the She Power Coven. And although the whole weekend was a lesson and an insight into that sisterhood (and again, I could write a whole book on that alone!), this experience more than any other reminded me of the power of that sisterhood. Because in a world where women are constantly told to judge one another, to be too ashamed to show their bodies unless those bodies are “perfect” (spoiler, unless you have an airbrush on hand they’ll never be considered that way); us doing this together without panic or comment seemed like the biggest middle finger we could’ve given all those parts of society we get so angry with!
My final lesson is one I’ve learned before, but every now and again I need a reminder… There’s nothing I – or you – can’t do if we put our minds to it. Seriously. There are things that scare us, others that are bloody difficult, but they’re just hurdles, and even if you can’t jump a hurdle you can find a way to climb it… even if that means being stark naked with legs akimbo and the hand of a sister helping to pull you over from the other side!
PS I promised not to put the names of my White Spring sisters in this post, so this is a bit of an anonymous tribute, but let me end this post by telling you what amazing women each of them – and the others who were with us in Spirit from elsewhere in the town or further afield – are.
Could I have submerged myself naked in the white spring without their encouragement, their bravery, their support and their love? Maybe, but it undoubtedly would’ve taken me a damn sight longer and been a lot less fun, and I’m eternally grateful I don’t have to find out!