In October 2022, Bear Intentions finished a year of total silence. He then jumped straight into a year of only wearing fancy dress in public. This is his story.
Hi there, I’m Bear. I’m a 32-year-old British-Italian man. On 8th October 2022 I began a challenge: 365 days of wearing only fancy dress when in public.
I’ve now officially completed that challenge, wearing 40 costumes (plus their infinite combinations) along the way – including my personal favourites: bear mascot, giant flamingo, and highly adaptable knight.
Over the course of the year, I had countless people ask me, in a slightly humorous tone, if I’d “lost a bet?”
“No, but if there was a bet, then I won!” I replied defiantly.
Unbeknown to me, this all started when I began working as a holistic coach: personal training, teaching yoga, and later qualifying as a massage therapist. Whether placing muscles under stress, releasing knots, or learning to notice bodily sensations, it became clear that this work revolves around helping others deal with tension.
My first ayahuasca ceremony (or “psychedelic therapy”) then brought intention into my mind, in the form of an image of my very own Pandora's box with ‘intention is everything’ stamped on top, patiently waiting to be opened. I started questioning the relationship between tension and intention, and how this dynamic guides my work.
I’ve since become obsessed with the nature of intentionality – somewhat maddening, given the seemingly infinite ways intention can be defined. But I didn’t want to let it go. So, in the absence of any degree programmes on the topic, in 2020 I created my own ‘pseudo-degree’. I gave myself a year to prepare for ‘The Four Years of Intention’: four year-long challenges, each focusing on a specific intention:
- (Year 1) To Listen: 365-day vow of silence
- (Year 2) To Play: 365 days of costumes
- (Year 3) To Love: 365 days of volunteering
- (Year 4) To Empower: 365 days of barefootedness
To me, the specific challenges are irrelevant. The important thing is the attention to the intention: the reasoning, meaning, and direction behind each act. The challenges are simply catalysts to highlight and encourage tension.
I see tension as fundamental not only to the human experience, but to all life. Our relationship with tension determines our perception, our behaviour, our ability to relate to one another, and how resilient we are to ever-changing environments.
How is our relationship with tension mediated by our beliefs, and our bodies? How does this relationship affect society? How far does it ripple beyond human life? And what role can intention play? This pseudo-degree is an experiment in search of answers.
On 8th October 2021, I took my vow of silence.
Silence had me cosmically introverted, floating in my internal world, living in isolation with my dog, Thor, in my family home in the Italian Alps.
Not speaking for so long was blissfully uncomfortable, awkwardly ridiculous. And yet it somehow became normal. I also developed a heightened awareness of my behaviour and reactions. Sometimes, if I didn't agree with someone or felt frustrated, I would start to feel physically agitated. These moments taught me that being silent and listening does not mean agreeing with what is being said; it simply shows a willingness to be present, regardless of the context. This has been an important reminder that intention is not just about knowing the reason behind an action, but also not knowing – being open to new, inspiring, or even challenging ideas.
Furthermore, I felt like I could hide in the silence from my fear of engaging with people, of worrying that my intention was an inconvenience, even a bullish imposition. Who was I to simply do what I want?
Though I wanted to journey within, and to tread between the monastic and societal worlds, a year in predominant isolation took its toll. It left me simultaneously afraid of socialising and craving connection – just as I broke my vow of silence one year later, and immediately entered into the year of costumes.
'Not speaking for so long was blissfully uncomfortable, awkwardly ridiculous. And yet it somehow became normal. I also developed a heightened awareness of my behaviour and reactions.'
In November 2022 I bought a van, colourfully painted it, filled it with a bunch of costumes and named it Harlequin. Then, in January 2023, I set off on a European road trip, and have since spent nine months roaming the continent, surfing, meeting people, making friends, drumming, filming, reading and documenting my experience (mostly plastered on my Instagram, @bearintentions).
From a year of introversion into a world of extroversion, with no hiding. Sure, I’ve been able to take refuge in Harlequin, but there has been no avoiding walking Thor, buying food, getting coffee, going to the petrol station and exercising dressed as a flamingo, Roman centurion, Medieval knight, clown, bear, or wizard. It’s been ridiculous. Turning the mundane into a silly, confusing spectacle for the world around me has created a consistent barrage of awkward, funny, challenging moments.
My costumes included a stock of summery dresses, which opened me up to the world of cross-dressing and gender dynamics. Early one evening I walked into a Portuguese restaurant wearing a blue frilled dress and a curly blond wig. Passing a table of family and friends enjoying their sundowners, I habitually smiled, only to be met with rolling eyes and subtle head shaking. I sat down and ordered dinner, disheartened.
This perceived lack of acceptance brought my attention to those who choose to play and express themselves through clothing. Who is anyone to shake their head at the appearance of others, ignorant of the intention behind it? (Or was this simply about the huge rip I had forgotten on the back of my dress?)
In Portugal a friend gave me a banana costume. Simple, yet profoundly fun. Arriving in Edinburgh a couple of months later, I decided to play with ‘going bananas’ by creating a scene of madness. A friend placed a banana skin on a busy pavement outside the central train station. I arrived moments later, dressed as a banana, and jarringly slipped on the banana skin before entering into a loud, bizarre grieving process. It was a teary concoction of anger and sadness, shortly followed by shared laughter with gathered bystanders.
'Turning the mundane into a silly, confusing spectacle for the world around me has created a consistent barrage of awkward, funny, challenging moments.'
Managing tension is essentially about knowing our boundaries. Boundaries can be strong force fields – a sense of ‘no-ing’ that keeps us safe – or can be broken quickly and subtly. Moments of self-criticism, and people reacting to my aesthetic, provided moments to check in with my boundaries, to ask: “Am I really OK?” They also helped deepen my relationship with tension, and ability to convert stress into joy – like when, waiting to pay for fuel while having an off day, a child called out, “Mummy, look – there’s a clown!” There have been many such opportunities to lean into discomfort.
Nevertheless, this exposure has constantly challenged my integrity. Though I wanted to connect and be heard, I didn’t anticipate so much internal judgement. My struggle to communicate with people out of fear, and the way people have reacted to my appearance, has left me riddled with self-inflicted anxiety. I’ve often questioned my own sanity.
In the Canary Islands, in March, this bloomed into nothing short of an identity crisis, and one of the more challenging lessons so far. An age-old question emerged: “Who am I?”
I had been in costume for five months, and thought I had the hang of it: keep it light, do whatever excites me, and enjoy it all. But this simple checklist began to fall apart. I found myself walking around tourists, surfers, locals and other van dwellers struggling to relate. I felt unstable, depressed and paranoid. I saw a world that looked afraid of me. Was I dangerous? Was it my costume, or was it me? Who was I?
'I felt unstable, depressed and paranoid. I saw a world that looked afraid of me. Was I dangerous? Was it my costume, or was it me? Who was I?'
Looking for something outside myself to cling to amidst the chaos, there was nothing. I felt like I was looking at an unstable, fearful world lacking in trust. A valid feeling, yet also a projection: the effect of tension on perception. I felt unstable, I was fearful, I lacked trust, because I didn’t feel safe.
A year in silence, and too little time to process it, had left me identifying as a silent person no longer knowing who I was when I spoke out. Poetically enough, on the lunar-esque island of Fuerteventura, a desert land of vague tracks meandering between volcanoes, I found myself starting from scratch, from the desert in my own mind.
This was a journey of reintegration. I realised I was on my own in this – that I needed to be alone. Because this was the challenge: to know my intention well enough to stand out in the cold, alone, and to hold true. It was like something had caught up with me, forcing me to look closer at myself, into the deepest sense of me.
This period shone light on what intention means to me and why it’s so hard to carry. To pursue intention – to hold on to the ‘why’, irrespective of the ‘what’ – is to give yourself licence to play with life, to literally ‘act’ out what is within.
In a world of comfort and conformity, playing is scary sometimes, because it highlights our uniqueness. Play brings novelty, change, adventure. And whether walking internally or externally, stepping off the trodden path – in my case breaking free of the comfort in conformity, the safety of fitting in – inevitably means facing our monsters.
We’re all playing in our own ways, bound by community and conformity but nonetheless rooted in our own individual adventures and tensions. And that is the paradox: our desire to ‘fit in’ and be heard, and our fear when we feel like we don't, is the very thing that connects us.
I’ve since learned that I am not my costume. I am in tension, which leaves room for growth, and hopefully humility. The costumes help move from a hubristic ego that tries to control into a newness and not knowing. The question of who I am doesn’t matter to me like it did in Fuerteventura. What matters is why I am. To me, ‘what’ someone looks like is almost irrelevant, but ‘why’ someone chooses to express themselves in such a way is a beautiful keyhole. It feels like truth.
'In a world of comfort and conformity, playing is scary sometimes, because it highlights our uniqueness.'
Tricky questions have been countered with great joys. Everyday for two years, I have awoken into a day filled with purpose and emotion. I’ve had the privilege of an adventure that has felt like multiple lifetimes squashed into a joyous tapestry. I’ve shared time and space with loved ones, and created new, often brief yet powerful connections. The shared smiles out in the surf at my bright red lipstick, quickly applied in my hurry to catch a wave; the smirk and wink of a knowing stranger; the tooting of horns; that magical moment, in mid May, when a friend spotted a group of Santa Clauses, prompting me to frantically dress up in an elf costume and be warmly welcomed.
Though solitude has been valuable, the spontaneous, shared moments stand out. They help turn that desert into more of a white canvas, with space to paint alongside others, with bright colours and full expression. Shared experiences serve as a reminder that intentions are shared, and ripple outwards. It has been a privilege to live with intention, and to begin exploring how doing so can be helpful.
Over time, like last year's silence, this year's challenge became, in a sense, ‘normal’. Though I frequently fantasised about wearing jeans and a hoodie, this daydream usually concluded by asking, ‘What even is a costume?’ And, ‘Who am I behind it?’
Maybe the art of playing is learning how to let go of these worries? Or maybe it’s turning anxiety-inducing questions into catalysts for novel, creative ideas?
Zuma Puma, a world-renowned professional clown, friend, and loved one, has taught and continues to teach me what play and humility mean. The privilege of spending some months with her developed my interpretation of what clowning is. I remember the pair of us dressed as court jesters in Venice, fittingly disguised two weeks before the world famous Carnival of Venice. Zuma pointed out that we looked like two tourists who had got the dates wrong, but still committed to the show. In other words, clowns.
Beyond the generic imagery that immediately comes to mind, clowning is a magnification of truth, an illumination of inner emotional experience. Bright, flamboyant, even chaotic attire often accentuates this, but doesn’t define the clown. If the audience is listening, they may understand the message the clown is carrying.
This has been my experience this year: inadvertently playing the clown, highlighting my scared inner child, longing for connection, and frequently hiding beneath the sheets. Sometimes though, when I do feel safe, I laugh with the world around me. It matters not whether they are laughing at or with me; I am learning to be grateful for being part of the joke.
'This has been my experience this year: inadvertently playing the clown, highlighting my scared inner child, longing for connection, and frequently hiding beneath the sheets. Sometimes though, when I do feel safe, I laugh with the world around me. It matters not whether they are laughing at or with me; I am learning to be grateful for being part of the joke.'
Any big challenge is an opportunity to raise money and awareness. This year I decided to fundraise for Clowns Without Borders UK: an incredible organisation of clowns who go to refugee camps and other places with some of the toughest living conditions in the world, all to provide joy and laughter for the children forced into such living circumstances. If you are in a position to donate, you can find everything you need to know in my Instagram bio: @bearintentions.
I also recently teamed up with Hometown films to create a documentary of my journey from being in costume while travelling, to performing in costume in Edinburgh, to diving deeper into character work in Austin, Texas. It involves going deeper with Banana Man, and will be released some time in 2024.