July 04, 2007

The Look

I am constantly amazed at the high level of style found here at Shambhala Mountain Center. The irony of it is that when complimenting a nice shirt, skirt, vest, or a new set of curtains, more often than not the response is, “Oh, I got that in the Free Box.”

The Free Box, or during the summer, Free Tent, is the secret to dressing well. The population here is extremely transient. After having lived here for a bit, one comes to realize what one can live without and certainly travel without. Thus, the Free Box. It is also the final resting place for lost items if not claimed promptly.

Brightly colored sarongs and wrap pants and flowing skirts catch the breezes, and when the weather is chill, people wear them anyway, with jeans underneath. Molly works everyday on Land Crew, whether filling pot holes, shoveling compost, or planting flowers in one of several tiny, brightly patterned sundresses. Anzara glows in her bright flowing dressed and shaved head. Farradee always looks smashing in her tunic tops, big hoop earrings, and fabulous makeup. Joshua can make a Hawaiian shirt look like a tuxedo.

I have “dressed up” more since I have been here than the entire previous year. In “civilization” they air condition every building to within an inch of its life, so my shirts and nice blouses stay tucked away and only jeans and hoodies stave off pneumonia.

Today I dressed in my patterned black and white silk wrap around skirt, my black backless shirt, a burgundy scarf pulling my hair back under my new black fedora (the “piece de resistance”). Mark commented that my Shambhala look is now complete.

Chogyam Trungpa said in Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior,

“The way you comb your hair, the way you dress, the way you wash your dishes - all those activities are an extension of sanity; they are a way of connecting with reality.” - p.32

“Human dignity is not based on monetary wealth. Affluent people may spend a great deal of money making their homes luxurious, but they may be creating artificial luxury. Dignity comes from using your inherent human resources, by doing things with your own bare hands - on the spot, properly and beautifully. You can do that: even in the worst of the worst situations you can still make your life elegant.” -p.81

That makes sense, straight out sense. I can understand that. But then,

“For the warrior, clothing actually provides an armor of discipline, which wards of attacks from the setting-sun world. It is not that you hide behind your clothes because you are afraid to manifest yourself as a good warrior, but rather that, when you wear good, well-fit clothes, your clothing can both ward off casualness and invite tremendous dignity.

“Sometimes if your clothes fit you well, you feel that they are too tight. If you dress up, you may feel constricted by wearing a necktie or a suit or a tight fitting skirt or dress. The idea of invoking internal drala is not to in to the allure of casualness…You are tempted to take off your tie or your jacket or your shoes. Then you can hang out and put your feet on the table and act freely, hoping that your mind will act freely at the same time. But at that point your mind begins to dribble. It begins to leak, and garbage of all kinds comes into your mind…How you dress can actually invoke upliftedness and grace.” -p.112

So, you’re telling me that appearance really does matter? What happened to “never judge a book by its cover” and all those other things we tell children when they start to notice they look and dress differently from others? When they start to notice their big years, or nobby knees, or that their clothing isn’t the latest brand, the hundred dollar jeans, and they start to get teased. We always tell them beauty is on the inside and looks don’t matter.

So when I got to this part of the book, I chocked it up to Chogyam Trungpa admonishing the hippies. This was written in 1984, before “business casual,” before everyone wore jeans and T-shirts. But now…..I think maybe I see what he was getting at.

I feel better when I dress nicely. I feel like it is a way of putting myself out there for the world, not for vanity or to hear people tell me I look nice, but to say “It’s for you. I want to look nice for you. I want you to have a good opinion of me so that when you need help, I can be there for you, with no reservations.”

It also says “I am a good person. I respect myself. I love myself. I am confident.” I am uplifted.

So the skirt cost $10 in Chinatown NYC ten years ago, and the shirt was a $5 thrift shop find, and the scarf was 5 pounds at a tariff free shop in London eight years ago. The hat probably cost the most, $12 last week at the gift shop. Why does it matter? It doesn’t. When Chogyam Trungpa speaks of upliftedness and dressing nice, he doesn’t men dressing expensively. He just means wearing whatever we have with dignity, even if it is just jeans and a T-shirt. By dressing nice we practice, we get used to that uplifted feeling, and we learn to wear that instead, every day, every where we go.

That ‘Look’ comes from the inside.


greenfrog said...

When I ran across that section of the book recently, I was taken aback a bit, as I tend to think of clothes as a requirement to participate in society, but nothing I'd choose on my own without the societal constraints.

Well, maybe sandals.

But there is a kind of respect for others that clothing entails.

More to consider.

Monica said...

Yeah, I had a similar reaction the first time I read the book.

Personally I think I could do without altogether, except maybe shorts because I like to have pockets. Bare feet would be fine though. It if weren't for all those signs on businesses, I'd probably never were shoes. Besides the fact that shoes are the number one contributor to bad knees and hips.

But, since we do live in society (that interconnected thing), I guess dressing with dignity has its advantages. Trungpa talks similarly about doing the dishes with dignity, so I think it's part of a larger scheme.

Today it is back to the jeans for me, though.

greenfrog said...

Besides the fact that shoes are the number one contributor to bad knees and hips.

Oh how I wish I could persuade my yoga students of this. They spend 45 minutes with me 2x week, and 8 hrs/day, five days a week in pumps and wonder why their backs hurt.

Monica said...

It's not really even heels, just shoes in general that change our stride so much. Heels are just an extra sort of torture.

If you every walk about barefoot ourside, you notice that you walk on the balls of your feet, instead of landing hard on your heel. The heel is actually not designed for this type of impact, but because we pad it in rubber, we get used to landing heel-first instead of ball-first which is how our foot is designed to work. Our foot itself and ankle are actually supposed to absorb the impact of our steps, but when we land on the heel it gets transmitted straight up to the knees and hips, which can't take it. You'll also notice that when you land on the ball of your foot, your ankle is bent, which in turn flexes your entire leg just a little, knees and hips. When your muscles are engaged, they absorb the impact instead of your joints and cartilage.

I am constantly amazed by how hard people step. In daily sitting, we start at noon, but people trickle in for a good ten minutes. I can feel the impact of their steps so strongly through the floor. Even little people, even the kids.

I wear shoes now because I've lost the calluses I had when was a kid. One of these days, maybe when I have a yard of my own again, I think I'll try to get them back.