"It is good to carry some powdered rouge in one's sleeve. It may happen that when one is sobering up or waking from sleep, his complexion may be poor. At such a time it is good to take out and apply some powdered rouge." - Hagakure, 2nd Chapter. (Translation by William Scott Wilson)
There are many ways this passage could be interpreted. It could be seen as an admonition not to let your enemies see you looking anything other than entirely healthy - even if that means a little artifice - although that strikes me as rather a paranoid and fearful stance to take.
In the film "Ghost Dog," by Jim Jarmusch the lead character has to go and tackle his enemies and in order to fake his way in, he steals a posh car and a rich mans suit. In this way he finds the appearance that best suits his purposes so that he can achieve his ends. This is perhaps a little closer to what I see in this teaching.
A very dear friend of mine was with me once when I was giving myself a particularly hard time about wanting to have more money. At the time (young fool I was) I saw this as a deeply un-spiritual desire! In this particular instance I had been pretty broke for a while and wanted to have some spare cash to buy a new pair of jeans - something "superficial" and therefore even less spiritually necessary. My friend listened while I tied myself in knots simultaneously wanting and not wanting more money and then simply said: "You know, sometimes when you're trying to be the person you dream of being, it just helps to have the right costume." I think she's right.
It is not uncommon in spiritual development to forget that while the body may not be the entirety of our being it is a part of it. Even for those of us who incorporate the body in our practice and care for it as a part of caring for ourselves, how many of us take as much care over our clothes? I am not just talking about being "smart" here, or wearing nice things - although both of these things are totally valid - I am talking about the essential way we express ourselves in the world. Our clothes are a fundamental part of that. What divine expression of being do you wish to offer up when God looks your way? I like to take it a step further.
It is common knowledge in the theatre that costume can sometimes be an excellent method to help you getting into character. When you are working on period pieces (set in a particular era), wearing the right shoes makes a huge difference to how you create the world of the play. It substantially changes the way you move and therefore, the physical expression of the character. Other items of clothing can prove vital in forming and understanding the character and not just because of the way they may affect your posture. When you see yourself in the mirror wearing the right hat or wig or jacket it can go a really long way to helping realise the existence of the character in you. So who or what in life do you want to be? I'm not suggesting you pretend to be something you're not, but then it is a common misunderstanding that actors 'become someone else.' One of my teachers at drama school used to like to remind us "You've got nothing but yourself" and as a film director (who's identity I'm afraid I do not know) once said: "Acting is not about being someone else, it is about being yourself under imaginary circumstances." So I ask you again, who or what in life do you want to be? We are always wearing some kind of mask so we may as well choose which one we want to wear. What do you aspire to?
I like to dance 5 Rhythms (which is personal development movement practice). For a while a few years back I decided that I wanted to wear clothes with words or images that I wished to invoke in me instead of just my baggy sweaty clothes. I had a t-shirt with the horned God on, and made t-shirts with hearts on and phrases like "Passionate Creature," and "Radiant, but easy on the eyes." What is the costume of the character you wish to embody? Maybe start by looking at the costumes of people you admire in films - not the ones you identify with, the ones you admire and aspire to be like. This all becomes particularly relevant when we are not feeling at our best. When we are low we tend to collapse and sag physically. If you adjust your posture to a more positive, aligned and self supportive shape this can have a knock-on effect on your emotional state. It works the same way with clothes. It can be great to snuggle up in a comfy jumper when I am low and this kind of comfort is really necessary sometimes. However, when I need to get out there and face the world - even though I might not feel at my best - sometimes the right costume can really help me shift my consciousness and state of being.
One native American tribe used to wear their special ceremonial clothes every day, helping them to bring a heightened, ritual awareness to every moment of their lives. In many cultures a warrior would traditionally always carry his sword even in times of peace. I think this is a ritual reminder to keep ones senses sharp and maintain a constant state of readiness. I have found certain clothes and items which, when I have them, help me to feel ready to face the world. I am not dependant on them, but they are useful tools and wonderful allies. In this way I can "apply some powdered rouge" when I need to, supporting myself in growing into the person I dream of being. On good days, rouge or no rouge, I look in the mirror and he's already there looking back at me. I hope that’s true for all of you too.