Illustration: ©The Magazine of Yoga™
When Fantasies Fail
Not even my dogs would look me in the eye
BY MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR ANNA GUEST-JELLEY
Have you ever felt truly triumphant? Like you just reached the unreachable star? That’s how I used to feel when the scale registered even a .02 pound loss (which is the smallest weight increment my scale measures; if it would have measured less, I would have been delighted).
I wish I was exaggerating. On those days, I would skip around like a kid high on pixie sticks. My clothes fit better. Small children waved to me on the street. Double rainbows appeared everywhere I went.
But when that scale went 0.2 pounds (not to mention 20, 30, 40…) in the other direction?
To say my day was ruined was an understatement. I had to lie down to zip my pants up. My belly taunted me throughout the day. Small children pointed and laughed at me.
Not even my dogs would look me in the eye.
Cue the music of doom
Not much really changed this for me for a long time. As Linda Bacon writes in Health at Every Size,
When you’re invested in your thin fantasies, you avoid the opportunity to face who you really are.
Having lived the vast majority of my life (and still more days than I’d like to admit now) in a thin fantasy, I can safely say that it’s not much of a fantasy at all, except perhaps in an M.C. Escher kind of way.
In case you haven’t met the thin fantasy, let me introduce you. In my version, when I got thin the following rad things would automatically be laid at my feet: eternal happiness, completion of a triathlon, beaucoup confidence, designer clothes (and, obviously, a salary to match), the admiration and jealousy of everyone around me, the ability to run in slow-mo while tossing my hair over my shoulder, a seat on Oprah’s couch, a reality TV show, and more.
Looking at it now, all I can think is, seriously? I mean, reality TV shows are so 2000 (unless Real Housewives are involved–love ya, gals!).
Instead, the reality that I awoke to (ever so slowly and begrudgingly) is that if, by some miracle, I did become thin, I’d still be (cue music of doom) me. That’s right; the Anna who, at best, struggles with some of these things and, at worst, would never and could never attain them—or want to (triathlon: I’m looking at you).
Who fails at sitting?
In order to snap out of my thin fantasy, I decided to give meditation a whirl. (I had apparently confused meditation with therapy–a mistake I wouldn’t make for long.) After all, I’ve been through grad school–twice, so I have a black belt in sitting on my ass doing nothing. I figured I would take to it like a fish to water.
(I’ll wait for those of you who just fell out of your chairs laughing to get back up.)
It turns out that meditating is just a tad more difficult than I’d expected. After a certain point, while watching my mind hop around similarly to my -0.2 days–where I could have easily been mistaken as someone with an uppers problem–all I could do was laugh (to myself. Laughing out loud while meditating with others is generally frowned upon). It confirmed my lifelong suspicion:
I’m totally messed up. Who fails at sitting?!
Pretty much how the mind rolls
When I was six years old, my friend had the child-version of an in-home spa: a playroom. It was in a sunken living room, which I found highly glamorous. It also had infrequent visits from grown-ups, a dress-up box, and plenty of room to do our favorite thing–choreograph dances to Madonna songs.
In an eerie flashback, I discovered that my mind is not unlike that playroom after a long day of being Madonna’s back-up dancer.
The even weirder thing is that, somehow, I was okay with it. I learned from my teacher, the most adorable Catholic turned Buddhist monk you’ve ever seen, that this is pretty much how the mind rolls. I can observe its wackiness, but forcing it to do anything pretty much produces the exact opposite result of what you want. It’s quite obstinate that way.
This let me to an interesting question: could the same be true of my body?
Whoa. (Insert the voices of Bill and Ted in their excellent adventure here.)
Elegant, classy meditation
My mind distracts me, makes me unfocused, leads me into strange daydreams, and cajoles me into worrying over whether or not I left my curling iron on and am going to come back after work to a burnt down house–often within the span of three minutes. But none of that ruins my day. If anything, I look at these behaviors fondly, like kooky members of my husband’s family at an annual barbecue. I don’t know what they’re doing or why, but it’s okay with me. I’m just there to soak it all in.
Of course, approaching my body with this same sense of witnessing seems a little risky. Notice a loss or gain on the scale and not have a melodramatic overreaction to it? That’s really not my style.
But it does have a certain allure. Understated. Elegant. Dare I say, classy.
(I sometimes like to imagine myself as a woman who whisks about in heels and a dress from the ‘50s, whiskey on the rocks in hand. A woman whose mere presence speaks volumes. But the closest I can probably get to that is Amy Sedaris.)
After all, I don’t get mad at my mind (at least most of the time) for playing hopscotch when meditating–or just going about its regular day, so why would I get mad at my body for doing likewise? I love how Reginald Ray describes this kick-in-the-pants in his book Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body:
Thus it is that we find we have a partner on the spiritual path that
we didn’t know about–our own body. In our meditation and in our
surrounding lives, the body becomes a teacher, one that does not
communicate in words but tends to speak out of the shadows through
sensations, feelings, images, and somatic memories. No longer able to
adapt to our conscious ideas and intentions, we find that we have to
begin to learn the language that the body itself naturally speaks.
Deep stuff, right? But in a good way. It turns out that my body, like my mind, may have its own curriculum that it’s slowly teaching me (a particularly obtuse student). And as anyone who has ever been a teacher before (or see one on TV) knows, a curriculum, along with a wing and a prayer, can get you pretty far.
Anna Guest-Jelley is an advocate for women’s rights by day, a yoga teacher by night, and a puppies’ mama all the time. She is making her way through life with joy, curves and all. Visit her at her website Curvy Yoga and on Facebook and Twitter.
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.