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The Embarrassment of Self Development

For a long time I yearned to improve myself; my true inner self, but something was holding me back. I made a lot of excuses back then; I didn’t have time; I was too tired; I wasn’t sure what direction my search should take. However, the truth was I felt embarrassed about opening myself up, especially to those close to me. All that changed when I went for a stroll along a Danish beach.

I went to Denmark for a short camping holiday. I stayed on a small island in the North Sea. It was beautiful, very peaceful; just what I was looking for. On about the third or fourth morning I went for a stroll along the beach. The beach stretched the entire length of the island, about 20km and it was about 2km wide!

After about an hour or so, I came across a young woman who was doing some type of oriental martial art. She was all by herself and seemed totally absorbed in what she was doing. Maybe this is not so strange, but what really seemed incongruous (and darn right silly to me) was that she was wielding a Samurai sword. I really did find myself thinking how silly she looked and actually became a little annoyed. My first thought was: “What a poser”. Did she really love herself so much she thought other people would want to see her performance with a sword? I found myself wishing she would lose her footing and fall down, and then I could say: “that’s what happens when you think so highly of yourself”. But she didn’t fall over; she kept moving, slowly and gracefully.

I continued walking along the beach. I tried to enjoy the remainder of my stroll but I kept thinking about the young woman and her sword! “Why are some people such exhibitionists?” I kept muttering to myself. I was no longer casually strolling along the beach, looking out to sea; I was marching, hunched over, looking at the sand beneath my shoes. I had become self-absorbed; lost in my not-too-pleasant thoughts. I was brought back to this world when I almost walked into an elderly couple. I apologised profusely. They smiled back and said not to worry; they hadn’t been looking where they were going either. They were a sweet old couple, with weather beaten but healthy looking faces with open smiles. It was clear that they were very much in love with one another; they each had a hand resting on the other’s waist. I don’t see too many elderly couples who still walk together with their arms about each and so they appeared a little odd. But what was really strange was that neither of them was wearing any clothes!

I was embarrassed, naturally. But the elderly couple weren’t. They were in no hurry to move on and they began to talk to me. They told me they were Danish and came often to the island. They asked where I was from and had I been before. They went on to tell me that they had been together 42 years and had 2 children. They also told me many things about themselves and asked many questions about myself. And soon, I forgot about their nakedness and felt at ease, and enjoyed our little conversation.

After a time, the old man said that they must be getting on their way and so we said our goodbyes and continued our separate walks; not once did they make any attempt to explain why they were naked. As I thought about the old couple I couldn’t help but smile. They were so gentle and at ease with the world. I knew that they were what I wanted to be; free. Totally free from what others may think of them, totally free of any inhibitions to live the life they wanted. My mind then turned toward the young woman I had seen earlier. I knew, of course, that she was not an exhibitionist seeking attention. She was also free. She was doing what she wanted because it made her content. In truth, the annoyance I felt when I first saw her was not for her but for me. Annoyed because I was embarrassed, about what others might think, to do what I really wanted in life.

I came to a stop and stared out to the grey North Sea. I knew that I must break free, not from the world or people around me, but from me; myself. Without the thought crossing my mind I began to undress. I can honestly say I felt no shyness that day when I removed my last garment. I felt no different than when I undress to take a shower. I left my clothes behind and walked into the sea. I didn’t stay long, less than a minute, the water was freezing. But the dip had felt like a baptism. I walked back out and picked up my clothes. I did not dress but made my way back down the beach from where I had come from.

A while later I passed the young woman. She was sitting crossed legged with the sword across her lap, looking out to sea. When I stepped across her line of vision she looked at me and smiled.

I smiled back.

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