September 13, 2013

The Costumes We Wear.

Every day the ritual and expansive opportunity to create one’s self begins anew.

Yesterday-me fades away in still moments as energy recycles and releases through dawn’s all-powerful final yoga pose, śavāsana. In the material sense, the most accessible and convenient way to transform after ritual rebirth is via costume, or as the lay folk say, clothing.

Garments draped, set for the day—jeans and sweatshirt to kick around the house, silk dresses for fancy balls, sweat-wicking gear for yoga days, Italian custom-made suits for the office—can either define us or delightfully provide a playful container we can use to explore and create.

Who will I be today? What aspect of myself do I want to embody, reveal to the world, celebrate, or hide, for that matter?

From jam packed, sterilized, organized Western cities to the mad rush of dusty, filthy Asian cities, to forest, to gorge, to far away lands, if you are anything like me, you change your outfit to fit activity, mood and cultural standards. If you have traveled outside of your hometown you know that each city presents a fresh opportunity to don a new costume, a new mask, a new “you.”

“What version of myself do I want to explore and discover this shiny day?” you may have asked yourself. As a traveler with a backpack sometimes the question is, “How creative can I get with the little pile of rags in my bag?”

When traveling abroad in foreign lands where roles, societal norms and media-fed uniforms are shattered, there is an opportunity to expand our wardrobe, spirit, mind and, along with that, our essence. A costume, or mask, refers not only to that which is worn on the skin’s surface; for it permeates into the cells of our being, deep into our consciousness.

What happens on a particular day in a unique outfit—bold colors when you normally wear muted browns, jeans vs. the usual yoga pants or a let’s-be-a-little-naughty-miniskirt for the evening? Does your attitude shift? Do you walk with more swing in your step, more twinkle in your eyes, or less for that matter?

Similar to food energetics and philosophy, which suggest that eating food made with love is important because we absorb the energy infused into the cooking process, perhaps we absorb energies infused into the making of our getup; it’s history, the fabric from which it’s made, the love or struggle or machine-press-emptiness that went into making it. Slow Fashion it was appropriately named, just as the Slow Food Movement was, for this reason.

Strutting out of the house as I do when wearing typical citified threads: jeans, boots and PRAY jewels, thoughts of costumes and who I am in this particular outfit swirl through my mind. When wearing such garb I feel tougher, more yang (masculine), a bit energetically harsh, protected and protective.

These accouterments are very westernized especially for any female in Asia where most women wear local dress or soft, feminine-looking outfits. Anything but jeans with boots. Only two months ago in my jungle beach home I was bouncing around in goddess-fairy-fire twirler costumes and bikini-beach-yogi-babe outfits offering little coverage. Tiny, pretty dresses, goddess jungle wear, head-to-toe adornment sang—I am a woman of the jungle, a fairy goddess with magical powers, I am feminine and soft yet strong and powerful.

And so it goes, country-to-country I evolve, re-adorn, recreate myself. There is so much freedom in costumes. I ponder whether I had such freedom while living a more traditional lifestyle in the routine nine to five American way. Two months before Thailand, India boasted an entirely different wardrobe.

Societal requirements are steeper in Ma India. Women must cover shoulders and knees lest they subject themselves to unwanted groping, stares, attention.

Beauty, magic and creativity carries a mystique that is subtle yet undeniable.

So much so that many of my Western friends wisely store their India costumes in storage trunks in Mysore, the city we frequent for yoga, spiritual studies and community. In fact, currently a very sparkly, sequined, bright orange silk sari resides in Mysore, awaiting my arrival. The moment I unravel the silk and begin wrapping the soft, extravagant fabric around my body, I transform into an Indian princess. Sari securely fastened, bindi imprinted on my third eye, bangles clacking my wrists, I have transformed into an Indian goddess ready to walk to the Bollywood carpet.

Though typically I only wear my sari to Kirtans and special gatherings in a dusty Southern Indian city, I sparkle and shine nonetheless, receiving endless compliments from Indian men and women alike—“Nice sari, sir,” “Beautiful looking, madam,” and many approving head wobbles with accompanying grins.

India is a special case where the inner sparkle and magic often mirrors the external, regardless of what you are wearing, but I find that elegant, shiny clothing amplifies this effect.

Costuming in daily life, seems similar to the process actors go through to get in character. When an actor is ready to dive further into his character’s role, he puts on the costume that character would wear. It seems there is something transformative about the quality of garments we wear—from tuxedo to shredded pants, to ball gown. Life is a canvas where we are afforded the opportunity to live out our greatest fantasies. If I choose in this moment to be a jungle fairy, the most direct way to become one is to begin by dressing like one—tiny Tinkerbell skirt, wings and fairy dust. If I want to do yoga and feel like a yogi I simply remain in my yoga clothing all day.

Imagination leads to reality.

The only limitations are our imaginations and fears of judgments from self and others.

Today I changed into a long, flowy, goddess-like, hot pink skirt after wearing the boot-jean combination around for a while. Immediately I felt more relaxed, soft and feminine. It is difficult to imagine that people who meet me as the citified boot-kickin’ girl glimpse through the tough exterior to the fairy princess inside, although inevitably my soul shines through because we are so much more than the superficial, material world.

Later in the day I bumped into a gal whose energy almost always clashes with mine, both of us strong personalities. Today in my goddess skirt, her reaction and manner with me was quite opposite to the norm. She was calm, sweet, with a friendly demeanor—she told me how beautiful I always look.

I laughed to myself, thinking how different I looked compared to earlier in the morning, and grateful for the contrast and compliment. Still, I walked away from our interaction wondering—had something shifted in her today which made this gal decide to be more kind, or was she reacting to the image I was projecting via my “costume vehicle”?

Such is my life, caught in-between worlds, in all senses.

The land of costumes is Never-never land, far away from my deep, inner practice of self-transformation, self-awareness, yoga, yet I do not believe they are incompatible. Yoga teaches us to live true to our essence and pave a path in today’s society while accepting it as-is. Costumes present the perfect opportunity to practice non-attachment and other yogic ideals.

When we change costumes we let go of the self we were in the previous moment, in exchange for another unknown, freshly “present” self.

I have shed a great deal of costumes, masks, layers, judgments, societal programming and expectations this way. Changing so often is what keeps me on my path of truth and transformation. Exploring different parts of myself projected through image and costumes, releasing one persona to taste another, I experience the Oneness of mankind for I am the same as everyone.

There is no difference between us, only difference in the material realm. We are all made up of the same vibration.

So how will you create yourself today and what will it look like?


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(Photo: via Rafal Makiela)

Assistant Ed: Tawny Sanabria / Ed: Catherine Monkman

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