Adornment Healthy Flattery & Rituals of Self-Love
Jesse Wolf Hardin



I watch unseen, as my partner stops to admire herself. Far from conceited about her looks, she has spent much of her life disappointed in her shape and doubting her attractiveness. Some times she wore formless clothes that hid her curves, other times outfits and jewelry none could see past. I am fortunate to have witnessed the evolution of a wardrobe that now reveals and accentuates her true, powerful and beautiful being.

In any healthy relationship - whether with a friend, lover or coworker - it is important that we notice, acknowledge and revel demonstrations of self expressions and rituals of beauty. This does not mean obligatory or insincere flattery, which does nothing in the long run for the recipient and undermines the effects of any honest comments or opinions.

Nor am I suggesting we encourage the extremes of makeup and dress that tend to misrepresent the true self, artful masks that can result in the wearer having even less confidence in what lies beneath. What we need to support are those acts and embellishments that bespeak individual character, tastes and moods, and that increase self confidence and self love rather than providing "cover."

Therefore I seldom compliment anyone for their choice of fashion - a word which can bring to mind group thinking, uniformity and the sad compulsion to "keep up with the Joneses" - but rather, I am moved to acknowledge those people whose carefully chosen clothes and accessories that evoke their individuality and help describe their personal uniqueness. In this way, we can reinforce the authenticity and flowering of the people we relate to and care about.

I am pleased that instead of critically scowling at her reflection as she has at other times, this morning my partner wears a self-knowing smile. She admires the handwork on her peasant blouse, adjusts it until approving of the way it hangs and highlights, arranges her flowing hair, then one by one lifts her necklaces from their perch and slips them over her head.

The first is a magical bear's tooth, ivory toned in its silver and moonstone berth. Next is a bear's head carved out of sparkling green amber, then a gold-capped elk tooth that speaks of her other half. From her ears she hangs Middle-Eastern bangles that hint at her love of belly-dancing, and native beaded hat bands evoking the spirit of our local Southwestern tribes. She steps back from the mirror and smiles.

There exists a potential for both enchantment and deep connection each time we mindfully adorn, tend or nourish what is surely our sacred body. Full noticing is an essential and sensual sacrament: admiring the quality of, smelling the scent of, listening to the shuffling of, delighting in the glint of, savoring the tactile softness of our carefully chosen clothing and decorative jewelry, tattoos and hair styles.

Clothing and adornment are not only a way for announcing our gender, tastes, identities or means of livelihood, she proves that they can also serve as a visible way of loving ourselves.

Long before becoming a spiritual teacher in the wilds of N.M., I hitchhiked the length and breadth of the West Coast in search of some of my early influences and mentors... like Gary Snyder, unpredictable Ken Kesey and the Beat-Zen philosopher Alan Watts.

One day on Watts' houseboat I began childishly ranting against the "materialists" in our society, meaning those who gave their lives over to the accumulation of material possessions that they seemed to have little time or capacity to enjoy.

The Sage gently corrected me, taking the sleeve of his silk kimono and rubbing it between his fingertips. A true materialist, he seemed to imply, would notice and take great joy in the warp and weft of every woven cloth, in its appearance and feel, in the very "fabric" of our lives. He or she would find pleasure and meaning in the design of the jewelry they select and wear, in the tinkle of earrings and the glint of polished cabochons.

For some, significance lies not in the cost of the gems or the compliments of onlookers but in the depths of their color, the particulars of their settings and the emotions they stir. For such people, clothes are less uniforms of allegiance than windows into the soul, a source of enchantment and engagement even when alone.

Dressing up for ourselves is important, like making a nourishing candlelit meal even if there is no one around to eat with us. It is an act of acknowledgment and love that the body and subconscious both appreciate, helping to mend any illusory schism between the spiritual and the physical, helping heal the wounds made whenever we've overly scrutinized or criticized our bodily shapes and forms.

To embellish is literally to "make beautiful," but the act also implies our recognition that what we decorate is deserving of the expense and effort.

In this way conscious dressing-up can communicate to the depths of our being that we believe we are worthy of the attention and embellishment. In this way earrings are not put on in order to win compliments, elicit desire or to find a mate - not for any external reason - but as a gift to ourselves, as we continue the healing work of self-understanding and self-love.

The word "adorn" is derived from the Latin "ornare," meaning "to equip" and "get ready."  Adornment makes us each the alchemists and artists of our own existence, a deliberate expressive act equipping ourselves with self-knowledge and self-confidence, getting ready to live ever more beautiful, generous and manifested lives.

As with the similar sounding word "adore," to adorn speaks of the value of healthy appreciation and ritual tending. One can dress-up to "fit in," to impress, to please or even to discomfort others... or we can don and adorn in order to honor and demonstrate our special selves instead.

Likewise, we can ignore the efforts of our friends, lovers and colleagues to wear what represents or "suits" them best, or pay shallow lip-service without either really noticing or admiring. Or we can acknowledge and reinforce their every effort that seems to speak their truths and encourage their proud blooming. Failing to acknowledge the art in each person's honest expression, can result in unhealthy artifice on their part.

On the other hand, we lessen the insecurity of others as well as enrich our own life experience by regularly recognizing, taking-in and verbally affirming what's real and beautiful in each other.

My partner turns her head and catches me watching her, first looking alarmed and self conscious, then her features shift as if to say she feels both honored and recognized. She then steps outside, not into a busy crowd but a congregation of ancient pines and turquoise sky, gleeful songbirds and gurgling river. Like her, the sunlit crimson cliffs and brilliant wild blossoms seem to have put on their best, holding their heads high, glowing in the face of every test.

Jesse Wolf Hardin is an acclaimed teacher of the Animá nature-informed practice and author of seven inspiring books. He and his partners offer empowering online Medicine Woman, Shaman Path and Path of Heart correspondence courses, as well as online counsel and healing consultations. Awareness readers are invited to the Animá Sanctuary, an ancient place of power, for wilderness retreats, vision quests, student internships and events including The Shaman Path Intensive July 2-5 and The Medicine Woman Gathering Aug 7-12: Animá Learning & Retreat Center, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830


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