The business of body image, shame, spirituality and ideals have undermined our best women for decades. This is the story of how a perfect storm of chocolate cake, sorrow, fear, and an encounter with my own plump self overthrew the yogi curse and redeemed the Goddess who adores good and tubby women.
At around 11.44am, on Thursday October 3rd, 2019, in Ubud, Bali, is when the Goddess got me. She descended in an unexpected moment, when I was neither enrolled in a womb activation workshop, nor fiddling with my kundalini.
It happened by accident, this profound moment. This epiphany, really.
I had stumbled, after consuming who knows how much lead and carbon dioxide on the rough streets of Bali, into Cafe Vespa, where my favourite lattes live, along with their fabulous cousin, the chocolate mousse cake. Sometimes, usually, actually, the owner is also here when I pop in, even though we both swear we are rarely ever out in public these days.
If you stay longer than three weeks in Ubud, ‘public’ can get a little tiring, heavy as it is with the goddesses, and spoilt vegans and swarms of aloof spiritual types giving off the dreaded ‘expat eye’ – a sort of demonic stab in the vital organs, as they glide by in blur of tattoo and bare skin and cascading locks, having classified you as unworthy of their refined attentions if you are over 27, uncuddle puddleable, irrelevant to their ascension, therefore useless and invisible.
It’s the usual for me, and the rest of us without gym memberships, or who are heading into elderhood – and a disconcerting feeling, really, on this island where one of the greatest (former) joys was that of making contact, by eye and smile and greeting, with every passing body – be it human, frog, street dog or gecko – as you travel the frangipani streets and laneways. That undiscriminating, gentle contact was a life-enriching part of every day ordinary in Hindu living not so long ago. But those days are gone. The yogis killed them.
It was the ‘spiritual tribe’ that froze out the Balinese welcome smile with their snooty gym-polished, tantric or hypodermically enhanced snubs, and their yoga death stares – that is, their refusal to even look at you if you appear to be slightly ‘un’yogfied, or incapable of ordinary acts of narcissism. Being made invisible is a normal part of street life here now, just like everywhere else, and more’s the pity.
My friend, the cafe man, says being exposed to the weird and indulgent antics of yogi customers over the years has probably been good for him. In previous incarnations over his decade or so here, in his youthful folly, he tried on various yogic pretences. Those have all collapsed now. Thank God. And, having shed his ‘heshen’ phase, and his ‘white’ phase, he turns up these days as that rare and wonderful type of bloke – himself.
Himself is the part of him that does not do all that well these days in public. It gets a tad irate, for example, when his customers turn up next to naked, or chuck handstands in the cafe when they’re done with their coffees and pumpkin rottis. He avoids ‘the public’ mostly, he confesses, to avoid sustaining a severe ophthalmological injury induced by constantly rolling his eyes.
On this particular day I was lured to Cafe Vespa by the siren powers of the chocolate mousse cake and its accomplice latte, and drove all the way across town to fall at the feet of those gods that summoned.
My reveries were jolted almost immediately.
First, the cake chiller was alarmingly scant. Where were all the sweety pies! Where was my chocolate mousse cake love story de jour?
I felt a little squeeze of the heart, a pinch in the liver, and the dangerous simmer of expat rage (horrible business!) before I spied the comforting dark loveliness I had come to dive into, looking ample and benevolent in the far corner of the otherwise frighteningly arid cake rack.
And then I spied the cafe man, deep in his iphone.
And then I made out, in a dark huddle – cringe – two of the central figures of the yoga community here with whom I have been engaged, lately, in some complex Ubud stick poking regarding the ethics, leadership and possible unwisdom regards their entrepreneurial promises to heal just about every existential and physical ailment of the soul of the world in their rather expensive workshops.
The goddesses doubled down on the death by invisibility medicine. I admit to feeling a tiny bit woozy with fear when I saw them.
Stumbling upon irritated yoga goddesses in close quarters can be a little bit like accidentally disturbing a nest of scorpions in your intimate apparel drawer. You’re never quite sure if they’re more afraid of you than you are of them. And whether you have just, actually, misunderstood these waifish creatures all along and should be nice to them. Or, if they are actually poisonous, hysterical creatures with a strike-on-sight philosophy for those who disturb their nests or interfere with their businesses.
And I had very much pissed off these particular yoga goddesses very recently. It was iffy.
This chocolate cake adventure was turning out to be a tiny bit dangerous. Indeed, being at Cafe Vespa at that moment was a bit more than a tiny bit dangerous, and I knew it.
The safest place at times like this is probably somewhere near a man who is himself, and who is also fatigued with yogis, so I settled in next to the cafe man, with my back toward my possible enemies, and asked him for the news.
“Bluff Knoll,” he said.
Yes. Now why do I know that name?
“Bluff Knoll,” he repeated, looking straight into my pupils with a strange and slightly bewildered gaze. Bluff Knoll.
Oh yes. West Australia. Remote place. Aboriginal business. Dreaming place. Cold as hell at night, I believe.
“The highest place in West Australia,” the cafe man said, slipping back into his phone.
My best friend is missing there. They’ve been searching for him all night. Helicopters, trackers, night vision – everything.
Cafe man had been up all night, he told me, anxiously following the story. Worried sick – you could see it. Wondering.
Was it a slip?
“His car and bag were found unattended.”
Perhaps he had fallen? Where was his wallet? Had he been out all night?
“He’d been unhappy, “ cafe man said quietly. He looked up, with the beginnings of that strange, wrong gravity that is the dawn of grief, showing in his eyes.
Oh God, I thought. There’s that terrible tide again.
Why are so many of our beautiful men so terribly, unreachably unhappy?
The Australian landscape, and Australian homes, are eating more of our good men than our dreaded enemies: Great Whites, long roads and cancer can gobble, year on year.
Men are jumping and drowning, hanging themselves from trees and heading off on fatal pilgrimages to the bush in Australia in devastating numbers, driven by anxiety, depression, hopelessness and grief as the social fabric ruptures, and progress .. or some cruel beast, drives them to despair. Had cafe man’s friend taken a one-way walkabout into his beloved wild, like I had heard so many of my friends saying they had thought about these last long years of growing misery in the once was Lucky Country?
We sat in silence, slumped together, and caught each other’s gaze for that intimate moment of human empathy shared, wordless with sorrow and helplessness – that exact measure of moment that is acute with mutual care, and held at a proper edge which does not creep into a tangled place, or hunt for other privileges.
While Ubud’s self-proclaimed yogic expert on matters of death and sex and suchlike was sitting right behind us, we did that beautiful, natural thing that is native to good people – we acknowledged the unmeasurable and did not tamper with its power.
It was this sort of thing, anyway, the business of being real, that had sparked my tussle with the yogis here just recently.
People, kids really, were busy in Bali and other places making entrepreneurial forages into the great existential pains and depths of human experience, exploiting the anxiety dollar, hope and suffering, under the guise of yoga. People everywhere here are making big dollar claiming to be fit to deal with the psychological, emotional and social crises exploding across our personal lives and communities as suicide, sickness, depression and disaster unfold in every corner of our anguished globe.
I have seen both sides of this avalanche of pain; adults and children buckling under a ‘normal’ that is killing them, devouring their hope, courage, dignity and best endeavours to be good people, provide decent homes and families, to life, love, fairness and happiness inside their humble worlds, teetering on edge of despair, poverty, survival because of the nightmare realities of government and corporate greed that is undermining good folk, perhaps our best folk, all around the world.
I’ve seen people devoured by depression, confusion, debt, disappointment, cancer, fear and the dread halogen of modern life as they come to realise they might be being farmed, and not fairly handled at all by their own employers and politicians.
I have seen and felt what despair and sickness do to us. And I have seen others trying to digest it too, and the huge, heavy dragnet of this sort of thing trawling through families, communities and eventually the whole subconscious mind of cultures and nations, sending them mad with fear and loathing.
These are real and dangerous pains. These are terrible and primal crises. And I, for one, am not totally ok with dingbat nomad or self-made coaches and psychologists, yoga goddesses or ‘woke’ men’s motivators with outlandish promises of healing and suchlike getting in on this problem with their spunky workshops and therapies when they have barely the smarts nor the actual life experience, or perhaps even the actual real interest in being capable of usefully meddling in such matters.
Actually, entrepreneurial adventures into this territory by juvenile influencers pisses me off. Quite a bit. As I think I have made plain.
I am a defector from the yoga delusion that has over-stepped its capabilities, and hunts on anxiety dollar. And I am not afraid to ask the questions about whether those who hunt these waters for profit are actually fit, or ethically sound, or in any way accountable for their ventures into the boom new market in those millions of us dealing with the crushing blows of life in times of escalating dread and suffering.
I have been pointing to the trail of accidents, sex scandals, injuries and pyramid schemes tucked into the frangipani and litter-strewn alleyways behind the yoga and healing workshop spaces here. And brought much yogic death gaze down upon myself.
But, hey! You’d think, wouldn’t you, that teachers who claim to be shamanic and equipped to initiate others in matters, say of ‘death’, could easily handle a few questions about qualifications, and ethics – apparently not.
The yogis sell big, but deliver on a strict buyer-beware business basis. I don’t like that deal because the buyers, usually, and increasingly, are often either horribly naive, or stressed and vulnerable – and offering them solutions to their deepest personal problems in 3-hours, or even two weeks of yoga workshops just seems, well, it just seems kindof evil to me.
But I hadn’t had my coffee yet.
So perhaps I was over-stating things.
Cafe Man agreed, and suggested I take a day off from writing and fuming and thinking over all this ‘spiritual’ stuff, and just get out of town. Cool off.
I told him I’d tried that yesterday.
I had taken myself to an upmarket hotel to lounge by the pool, take a little dip, refresh my attitude, perhaps do a little freelance cloud-gazing therapy. My respite plan had fizzled out like a cheap firework when I’d stepped onto the graceful patio to find the pool cluttered up with man-sized beanbags, drifting about with cargo of budding new yogis, photographing themselves with their iphones.
I’d gone home a little grumpy, stripped down to my undies in the garden and thrown a bucket of cold water over myself. And made do.
Yes. He sympathised.
We appear to have become a devolving species, plagued with self infatuation and delusion.
It’s horrifying, what’s become of us.
I had to leave, I told him. I didn’t like my chances of getting to the end of the pool without being crushed to death by a cluster of psychotically-piloted flotsam.
Besides, I said, I’m not sure I can stand being at any pool in Yogaland these days, now that I have given up on stretching, and detoxing and all that type of stuff.
You’ve given it up?
I’ve given it up. Totally. I’ve decided its not good for me, I sighed.
Really! his eyes popped out like little creatures on a reef. He’d known me all the ten years I had been studying, embodying, wrestling and teaching yoga in Bali and other places.
Yes. I feel sortof better already. I said.
But I’m a little bit fat.
Good for you! he cheered.
Make sure you document it.
The whole world needs to know, of course, I agreed.
Yes. he said. I suppose I’d better buy a website.
Definitely, he said.
It’ll take a lot of work.
Sure. But you’re really on to something.
I suppose. I said.
Good for you! Congratulations.
Good luck about your friend, I said, as I packed up to take my latte near the window. And then we both stopped short. Feeling the fin of tragedy cut back up through the water.
I’m really very sorry mate, I said. And I really truly meant it. You can call me, any time.
Cafe man nodded heavily, and that elemental cloud, made of forces between fear and grief, washed across his body as he poured himself back into his phone, searching for clues, searching for another Aussie man, out lost in the wild.
I know that look. It’s worth billions if you can trade on it – if you are low enough to dare.
~ * ~
By the time my latte arrived something truly profound had happened.
The Goddess, curve hipped, luxuriously breasted, heavy with mercy, had surfed into my world. She had ridden on the cumulous of desire, anxiety, sorrow, fear and compassion that had swirled through Cafe Vespa in the half hour I had been there.
This was amazingly good news, as it happened, and very unlikely, because only this very morning, earlier, I had, myself, been wondering if perhaps my life had stumbled dangerously off track from being meaningful in any way, let alone profound, and I hadn’t done anything actually spiritual (in a Bali kind of way) for ages.
I’d been sitting on my balcony feeling sort of god-less, and irritated, and uncertain, and even a bit anxious about some tough things unfolding, and noted what all that dredged up. I was very far from the image of an empowered woman, activated yoni goddess, shamanic bitchface divinity grasping dingbat femme vampire that is all the rage round here.
An ominous deck of post-it notes from my past, the flash cards of this mood, presented themselves before my imagination – an odd and pitiful series of go-to goals and solutions I had used all my life when I encountered psychological ‘flat spots’ and ‘anxiety territories’.
“Lose five kilos.” said one.
Become more feminine. another.
Metamorphosise into a more svelt kind of woman.
Get your nails done.
Go on a fast.
That sort of thing.
I had a vivid cascade of flashbacks of myself at 23, 39, 31, 36, 40 and throughout that decade, patching up the rips and air holes in my life with lists like this. Lists that I had clung to to give myself focus, hope and reprimands too – explaining my sorrows, fears or loneliness as the result of not being pretty enough, or sultry enough, or graceful, or dressed right, or good enough as a woman, and therefore not deserving of confidence, or self empowerment or success and desirability and all that.
I saw my beautiful, smart, good hearted 19-year-old self writing lists exactly like this when I felt lost or lonely or insecure and uncertain.
Lists I’d learned from women’s magazines and tv and aerobics instructors and yoga teachers and other women, who knew how to give that elite female death eye, which lets other girls know that they are not good enough to be truly happy girls. And I shivered with sorrow and empathy for my young self – that I had been so very long in a world that slipped me this toxic Kool Aid, and its nasty lies.
I saw the spell that I had been under. The same one pedalled here, every day, by the yogis.
If only you were more beautiful, more slender, more buff, more activated, more spiritual, more fashionable, more death-fit, more sexy, more wealthy, more shamanic … – then you wouldn’t have to deal with all this difficult humanity that’s bubbling up inside you.
I saw how my own natural gifts of caring, courage, empathy and reason had been squashed out of place by the creeping social meem that tells us ‘other’ superior kinds of women are better at female leadership and influence than us ordinary girls.
I saw the hoax and the evil emptiness of all this in a sizzling flash, as the plump goddess, Aphrodite, touched me. And I decided, there and then, to put an end to it forever.
I would align myself with her, goddess of the curve, the buxom edge, the whole and luscious ruler of the full and rounded woman.
My antidote to the curse that I’d been courting would be homeopathic, ayurvedic, common sensicle ,and tinctured with a dose of bloody mindedness, as required for a revolt.
I would detox from the Kool Aid my culture and my yoga crew were dosing in their self improvement, purification, motivational cult of never good enough. I would, as an act of actual self love, dignity and common sense, overthrow the dingbat logic of the super goddess, perfection, and the idol making industry I’d been born to and make the life-affirming pledge to become A Little Bit Fat.
This decision had immediate and profound, (yes, I said that) … consequences.
First off, I found my animal self, the one that lives inside my body and is usually subject to the lashes, deprivations and debaucheries of the bigger me, my mind, suddenly expand and unfold and take up ample extra inches inside my flowery moomoo. Yes, I swelled up very pleasantly with an etheric sort of something that I think could be called just simple, goodly, uncomplicated happiness.
I felt so happy, in fact, that an overflow of goodwill and enthusiasm flooded over me, and I began merrily chatting with my neighbours, and felt no desire at all for the object of my day’s romance; the noble chocolate mousse cake.
I paid with gleeful and authentic cheer, even when the waiters mixed up my bill and miscalculated my change, and popped over to say a cheery hey ho! (and you know, all you had to do was be open to us all about your skills and experience in the powers of death and yoga) to the yoga scorpions at the back of the cafe. And I wasn’t even phased when one of them held up both her hands in a sort of voodoo protection mantra saying “Mirror!” “Mirror!”
As a way to get rid of me.
And when she whimpered, I dont feel safe, when I asked her, Emily, so how is it that you really can offer qualifications to beginner yoga students at the Yoga Barn on death, let alone sex and wealth?
I thought of Jonathon Pike, when he said if you want to be a leader but you cant face up to the questions, or the tough work of critical thinking, then perhaps you’d better fuck off, to your safe space, and stop preying on people’s vulnerabilities.
She was weak, and her goddess mask was all sideways. And I knew it. And I told her so. And it felt GOOD.
I had overthrown something, this morning, at the lovely Cafe Vespa.
Was it my own mean, skinny yoga bitch? Had I been harbouring, all these decades, a mean and superior ideal woman, poisoning me with her constant judgements that women like me are just not good enough, or pretty enough, or wise enough?
More likely, it was the unspoken dark spell of the female hierarchy, which pretends to be all-loving, and all-nurturing but really ranks the ‘sisters’ on scales which fulfil the market’s cruel ideals of beauty, power and worth on scores that are mean, insidious and spiked with hatred for the full, relaxed, natural women of our world?
And which women use, every day, to intimidate, compete, belittle and harm themselves with, in the race to erase the beauty of the goddess curve, and be the prettiest, skinniest, hardest, most successful at the ball.
Yes, joy was mine. And as I went off to prepare my poolside nest at the luxury resort, I smiled at the little muffin top that peeked over my bikini pants, and smiled at my thighs, which are, to be honest, a little lumpy, and stroked my legs, even though they are not exactly as prima ballerina as they once were, gently, and was, truely, happy.
I was happy with the svelt, choreographed ultra-thin yogis laid out next to me, discussing where to get their lips done, and their lashes extended. And I was absolutely happy observing the pudgy white eastern European couple who plonked down almost on top of me; she, shamefully covering her own ample belly, while he, shrunk under his scruffy coat of fluffy body hair, puffed up under the midday Bali sun.
I felt love, instead of slightly superior, to the very large German woman who launched her heat-scorched rolls onto a beanbag in the pool. And I let my own tummy out a little more, and got in beside her without holding my breath or making any unnecessary elegancies, or goddess-type fancy moves either.
I felt waves of love and compassion for the cafe man, his friend and all the other men and women suffering with anguish, lost on cliffs of rock and mind, and the searchers and guides who seek them, and long to bring them safely home.
And it was painful, and it was good. Life was complex, full of sorrow, and life was also good.
And as it turns out I was unexpectedly double-blessed today because I discovered almost straight away, as the cool water folded in around me, and I made my way a little deeper, that I am, as it happens, a little bit fat already!
And the bouncy gifts of that lovely feminine condition gave me a wonderful advantage as a floated buoyantly among the beanbags, smiling at the sky and basking in the fullness of the swelling, curving clouds.