It’s remarkable how much difference the thinnest layer of fabric makes to human interactions and our experience of the environment. I imagine that people willing and able to undertake ritual naked have a much more immediate experience than is felt by those of us who don’t. Without clothing, there is absolute and direct connection with the space you are in and it is impossible not to be conscious of where you are. Clothing stabilises body temperature and makes it a good deal easier to ignore our own physical presence.
A millimetre thickness of fabric transforms an embrace from an act of intense intimacy, to something you might do with a person you barely know. This fascinates me. I am not, perhaps, as persuaded by the fabric as some people, I am very wary about who I’ll touch and who I’ll allow to touch me. I also tend to have more than minimal covering. Even in summer it’s rare for me not to have a couple of layers on (including underwear) and I’ll cover my back and arms. Most of the time, most of my skin is not at all available to most people.
Bodies produce energy, and energy flows through them. We have all kinds of chemical experiences going on. Skin is a lively place, with yeast and bacteria, whatever you smeared on it, and dead skin and all manner of things. Bring your body into contact with another body, and there will be some kind of exchange. That can include passing on diseases. I’ve heard it argued that many STDs exist because previously fairly innocent skin diseases had to evolve to cope with clothing and reduced contact.
If your reality has magic in it, then you should perhaps ask what happens magically between skins that are in contact. What are we sharing? What are we exchanging? If you believe in auras, in chakras, in any other magical energy system in the body, then you need to ask what you are doing when you put your energy systems in close proximity to someone else’s. A strong heart will dominate a weaker one when they are close together, and one can pull the other into its rhythm. I’ve had this happen, it is a very strange experience to find that your heart is beating under the direct influence of someone else’s heart. Again, it’s not something I’d enter into lightly or casually because it just doesn’t get any more personal than this.
We’ve had hundreds of years of covered skin, prudery and serious taboos around making bodily contact with each other. We’ve had less than a century of radical swing the other way, exposing skin and casually making what would once have been considered incredibly intimate contact with humans we barely know. Somewhere between those two excesses lies something more workable, more comfortable and rewarding, where the magical possibilities of skin can be properly explored. Both extremes are likely to make the magic of skin unavailable – an excess of contact mutes awareness just as an insufficiency denies opportunity. Considered, boundaried, conscious contact between people requires a middle way, and that’s where the magic lives.