The Emperors Are Naked, As Are We All
The world itself appears to be in the throes of a dark night. The old structures, now demonstrably rotten, are falling apart. The nakedness of the emperors and their courtiers has been exposed, despite their desperate attempts to persuade us of the finery of their clothing. 
The Dark Night of the Soul, Afterword, page 157
The tale of the emperor’s new clothes feels increasingly apt as a metaphor for our times. The emperors – large and small – continue to parade in public even as their nakedness is being revealed, even as their lies, bigotry and abuses are coming to light. There are many of them; in our governments, religious and spiritual institutions, boardrooms, schools and bedrooms. We know them by their unsubstantiated claims, their hubris, false humility, shaming and gaslighting, their violent defensiveness when questioned or challenged, their frequent boundary violations, and their inability to feel their own nakedness and vulnerability.
The emperors – manipulators of all kinds, intent on their own aggrandisement – seem to wield vast power. And indeed, they often do control the structures of wealth and power in nations, organisations and homes. To keep control, they try to ensure we stay distracted so we do not see their nakedness. They tell us they are all we have, that only they can keep us safe from the external threat they themselves have designated. They promise us salvation, to assuage our discomfort in return for our continued collusion. And we go along with the façade for as long as we believe we cannot survive without them, even though we know deep in our cells that they are just as naked as we are.
When caught out, the emperors refuse to apologise or take responsibility for their actions. They place blame anywhere but on themselves. It was the behaviour of the victim, the culture of the time, an act of God or natural disaster. They foist responsibility onto the collective, so others end up paying the cost of their abuses. They might even characterise themselves as the victim, the one who has suffered more than anyone else. Those of us with a conscience pick up the tab for those who have none. Those of us who are sensitive are left feeling not only our own feelings but all that has been disowned or projected upon us. Even as one emperor is exposed, condemned or jailed, more arise to take their place. The empire itself is a many-headed Hydra.
Many times, I have felt outrage at the cold hardness and cruelty of the emperors, and profound heartbreak for the suffering they heap on so many. I have felt deep disappointment as yet another politician or guru or priest or celebrity or banker or military commander or common-or-garden abuser, bully or fraud is exposed. Yesterday, I sat with a friend and felt the howling disbelief, the stunning extent of my aghast rage at it all. How dare they? How could they do such things? At such moments, the expressing of my grief and gut-level, visceral outrage – the reactions which we so often carefully calibrate or modulate in order to avoid conflict or appear ‘reasonable’ – feels liberating. (I rail too against the way the emperors have purloined the whole notion of reason or rationalism to silence those who scream in protest). At other times, the seemingly monumental scale of the gravity of it all floors me, and I feel heavy, exhausted, powerless, incapacitated. Not knowing what to do, how to contend with what faces us, I find refuge in distraction. I know I am far from alone in this.
Some of us have also imbibed the insidious messages of new age spirituality: You are supposed to feel calm and peaceful. You are projecting onto them. Your thoughts are creating the world. These ideas, mixing a much-misunderstood smidgen of truth together with a large dose of over-simplification and victim-shaming control freakery, make us feel bad for feeling how we are feeling, as if we are wrong in our grief, despair, anger, vulnerability and sensitivity. They turn us masochistically inwards, as if all this was somehow our fault. And that’s exactly what the emperors require in order to continue their sadistic reigns – for us to remain masochistic, shamed and guilt-ridden.
But all is not lost, for we have our attention. Our often-overlooked ability to be present and to pay attention to our immediate experience is key. The more we give attention to what is within us, to allow ourselves to express without self-censorship, the more we discover our own strength and power. They may come in unexpected ways; our versions do not look or feel anything like strength and power as defined or exhibited by the emperors. Yesterday, after the raging was spent, I discovered granite within my being; solid, granite that stands immovable even as I am flailing. As we go on giving our attention to us, we stop buying into their narratives, distractions and lies. We begin to create our own narratives, to align with the truth of our experience.
As we stay with our inner experience with honesty and willingness to admit whatever is here, every last stitch of our own fantasy garments comes unpicked. Any shred of our own imperial tendencies fades because we intimately know our own nakedness. We slowly rise up, naked and unabashed, as the incredible, vulnerable, unique, messy beings that we are. In our nakedness, we can no longer be colonised or shamed, nor can we colonise or shame others. And it is by knowing our own nakedness that we begin to see clearly the bareness of others.
Needless to say, this is a profoundly uncomfortable, ruthless and never-ending process. We cling to a shred here, a stitch there, trying to avoid such total exposure, trying to keep our skeins intact. There is a deep discomfort in standing naked in the world, especially if we are trying to do it alone. In fact, it is impossible to do this alone. What the emperors loathe more than anything is our coming together to tell our truth and to support each other. In the face of our communing, as free of our own fraudulent finery as possible, their power over us wanes. We need to stand naked together, as equals and fellow-travellers, in all our diversity and magnificence. To hold each other when we stumble. To speak up on each other’s behalves when we are silenced. To watch in terror, relief and awe as the empire finally crumbles – as it must, because all empires inevitably do.
 In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, two dishonest weavers con the emperor into believing that the fine clothes they have allegedly made for him are only invisible to those who are unfit for their positions. The emperor and his courtiers, keen to ensure their stupidity and vanity are not exposed, go along with the pretence. Parading in front of the uncomfortable townsfolk – who have realised the deceit but dare not say so publicly – the charade continues until a child blurts out the truth.
 In Greek mythology, the Hydra is a many-headed serpent.
Image by Britt Posmer