I’ve begun to accept that I seem to need a lot of help of the emotional and spiritual kind– and that maybe this is not just because I’m weaker than most people but perhaps it’s the regular ole’ state of being human. I try to remember that the world is abundant and that there’s always enough; I often meditate on this and let my imagination offer visuals that I can refer back to, as a reminder.
Recently inI had an image of a facing it as if in the audience; just off to my right, behind thick red velvet curtains, I saw two benevolent spirit guides, biding their time until the moment they were needed. The stage itself was empty except for three more guides, arrayed in a diagonal line. The two farthest front, toward the edge of the stage’s apron, were standing, bouncing on the balls of their feet with barely contained delight. The third guide, right smack in the middle, was seated and still. The tableau was kind of like the image below, except my guide wasn’t an attractively tortured-looking Asian man. She was a woman. A large, dumpy white woman, sitting in a chair.
Sure, there were an abundance of guides– five! — but a fat one? Miffed, I sat there for a moment more, trying to figure out why my cadre of supportive healers included one so clearly depressed. Weren’t spiritual guides supposed to be powerful and amazing, shining in their terrible beauty, like the cherubim with their four faces, four wings, and flaming swords? Instead, I’d managed to manifest a guide that looked just like the way I have too often felt, steeped as I’ve been in disordered eating and body image patterns: stuck, inert,.
Over the next few days I mulled the meditation over, pretending to myself that I didn’t know who this spirit guide could be. Pretending, because behind all the protective mind chatter, I really did know. She was my grandma, my mother’s mother: Hazel Mildred, born in Kansas around the turn of the century to a large family that had migrated West and settled in Southern California.
She’s a hazy figure from my childhood, even though she lived with us for at least three years in her old age before a stroke put her into an assisted-living facility. Our family room was her domain, the butterscotch-courduroy couch placed in front of the so she could watch her soaps, a side table on her left for her glasses, her water, her stacks of Harlequin . And yes, she was obese, with gray hair my mother helped her comb back and cloudy blue eyes behind thick glasses. When she lived with us, she wore muumuus and slippers, she watched TV, she shuffled from couch to kitchen to make her meager lunch (diabetes dictated that she follow a doctor-approved food plan). She crocheted afghans.
During Grandma’s stint on our couch I was 12, 13, 14 years old — and she drove me crazy. I judged her as vacant, almost stupid in her simplicity, her soft, pink cheer. I’m ashamed to admit now that I was embarrassed by her – as if softness, simplicity, gentleness are signs of weakness. I’m ashamed to admit my own lack of curiosity about the life she’d lived. Suffice to say that by then I had already formulated the bedrock belief that appearances were everything; I was already deeply committed to despair about my own body, my own weightfacehairclothes. Grandma’s fat served as an easy target for my teenaged fundamentalism – an illusion of superiority cultivated so as not to encounter my own fears and flaws.
She died in 1984, and I it’s only rarely that I think of her. But when that round, seated figure showed up during my meditation, I started to wonder what she might be trying to teach me. I tried to relax, to find my breath, to open, at least a little, to what Hazel Mildred might have to say.
Grandma didn’t speak. But as the week went on and I thought about her, my sense of her started to shift. I began to see her as flame — or rather, to see the flame of her that had been encased in all that flesh. She may have been sitting still on the stage — she may have logged hours on that plush brown couch — but I began to understand that her body had not been all of her. It was just a parable, the carapace she’d worn in the physical world, because within it she’d carried her flaming spirit the whole time. And whether I had ever really seen that shining fire — well, that was my problem, now wasn’t it?