July 15, 2017

In My Skin, and Yours // ZEN AND PI No. 34

When we were babies, we were connected to everyone and everything around us. We start out as extensions of our parents from whom we are never separated from and who meet our every need. Touch is of the utmost importance then. A mother's touch, her warmth, a soothing brush across the back and a kiss on the forehead, these are our first experiences with skin to skin contact. This is our first and sometimes only chance to be as close as we can to another person and to do it with complete trust. It is the last time we believe the boundaries of who we are can overlap the boundaries of who another person is. It is the last time we feel honest communication through our skin

Throughout childhood, the boundaries between us and everything else become clearer, but we are not yet trapped. We still have the ability to extend ourselves to things, and other people, friends and families of our own. Anything we want can be a part of us and us a part of them. Our skin is merely the open gateway through which the universe enters us, and we enter into others. We hurt when our loved ones hurt and we when anyone leaves they take us with them.

But eventually, we all get hurt. We rub against each other's hard and sharp edges. We are damaged by break-ins and rough handling. We realize what is outside of skin is very different from what is inside and what is outside can be dangerous. We grow callouses and hard shell boundaries to keep the world out and to keep ourselves in. Our skin becomes our protection, and our prison.

We come to know where we end and where the rest of the world begins and we know we are alone inside of ourselves. We were always alone, with ourselves.


Skin is the body's largest organ. It alerts you to pain heat pressure and pleasure. It is our first line of defense against transmittable disease, the sun, moisture, and helps keep you warm or cool.  It is the material through which we experience the world. It is the first part of a person we see and the parts of ourselves we have the hardest time accepting. From its thinnest on our eyelids to its thickest on the souls of our feet it's hard working and nothing less than lovely.

“She couldn’t get any farther away inside from her skin. She couldn’t get away.” 

― Cynthia Voigt, When She Hollers

I've never liked my skin very much. It always felt too light and always much too sensitive. I've suffered with acne, with oiliness, hairiness, with cuts and bruises, scars and lasting pain. I feel trapped inside myself. My skull and my skin are like locked bars that keep me from human connection and understanding. This body is far too limiting, and I have always longed to escape it, or maybe to invite another in? I want to get closer to people. To feel their minds work and their skin tingle and crawl like my own. I want to know and be known, truly.

It's frustrating being stuck this way, inside here all on my own. I don't know what I am doing, or how to communicate effectively how I feel or what I need. I want to get the despair and the confusion out. I want to get away from myself for a while.

Within this bone and flesh prison,  I am looking for myself, and I've gotten lost. I peel back layer and never seem to get closer to anything that is real.  Every word I say and write, everything I enjoy and hate. Everything I think, I wonder if it is the real me, or if it is something I am making up? What is on the outside never looks like what I see when I look inside myself.  Instead of my boundaries making me surer of who I am I have become lost inside myself. Not only am I not sure who I am, I am not sure exactly where I exist.  I wonder if other people are the same. What do they look like underneath their skin?  Is it anything like what they show me?  How can I know? How can they know me?

“I am covered in skin
No one gets to come in
Pull me out from inside
I am folded, and unfolded, and unfolding
I am” 

― Counting Crows, 

The closest I have come is love. Real love, the kind that has matured over time and holds some anger, bitterness, and bad memories but persists because the two people in it know each other more fully. They have seen the good and the bad in each other and hold no illusions anymore. I am talking about a love that twists around two people and pulls their minds so close they begin to feel like one person with one heart, one memory, and one life. When you love someone you have found a way under their skin and a way to open yourselves and let them under yours in return. 

Nothing feels better than another person's 
skin when you love what is underneath it. Their skin is the closest you can get to touching everything you love about them. Skin to skin is how we convey respect, trust, intimacy, longing, and lust for each other, and it is the best we can give and get. It is how we show someone we understand them and it is the only time when our boundaries can blur, and we can feel understood ourselves. We are so desperate for the feeling we fake it more often than not. We fake it and pull further inside and away from who we truly are.

But love like that is hard to find because communicating through the skin is imperfect and humans have a tendency, after all the fear and pain of growing old, to hide and lie. We touch each other like we love each other when we don't, and we touch each other like we don't when we do. 

“We are all brothers under the skin - and I, for one, would be willing to skin humanity to prove it.” 

― Ayn Rand

Your skin is not just yours; it is you. What I mean to say is, your skin as a part of who you are and not just a protective layer through which you experience and interact with the world. It is not a disguise or a deception. It isn't a prison or a burden or a place to hide. It is just as much a part of what is outside of you as what is inside. There is no place where you end, and the rest of the universe begins. To think your skin make you different or separates you somehow is a false belief. 

We humans, in our paranoia and obsession with individualism, have created a world of firm boundaries and loneliness. Everyone is alone, and everyone is hurting, we all want to fix it, but no one wants to open up and try. No one wants to lead by example of face the truth, that we have made skin into a costume to hid what is inside rather than to reveal.

We may have gone too far in covering it up and keeping it away from other people. We've scrubbed it, dried it out, treated it with chemicals, waxed it, exposed it to the elements, sliced it, tucked it, lightened and brightened it, all in an effort to change it, and change ourselves too. But how can you expect to be loved for your skin when you never loved your skin at all? How can you love your skin if you never believed it had nothing to do with what was underneath? 

If you want to change the world and who you are along with it, start with skin. Start with seeing it for what it is. A means of communication and being close. Start by taking care of it. Start by breaking out of it. Start by being honest and making your inside match your outside. Be authentic in the way you appear and the way you touch and allow yourself to be touched. Let yourself be vulnerable, let yourself be soft and unafraid again. Stop thinking there is a place where you have to end and begin. Get inside of someone else for a change and let someone, and the totality of creation, inside of you.

P.S. I've been gone for a while, sorry about that. I got self-conscious and weird, and then I felt too bad to try again. I'm back now, but I'm still figuring myself out. The next one will be better I promise. 

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“I was always ashamed to take. So I gave. It was not a virtue. It was a disguise.”

— Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947

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