Everyone has moments when they find it difficult to see themselves as beautiful either on the inside or out. It’s even harder at times for people with disabilities and especially disfigurements. For me, I had trouble accepting my inner and outer beauty because of abuse. When I was about to enter kindergarten, my father said I wouldn’t have any friends because I was fat. I took it to heart and cried most of the first day. Sometimes he would get angry and say I looked like shit. Because of of my low self-esteem and other health issues, my weight bounced back and forth through all of my teenage and college years. In 1999, my husband and I went through a severe case of the flu and my immune system attacked my skin. I developed morphia which is hard discolored patches of skin that spread all across my torso and a large portion of my lower back. I felt scarred inside and out.
At my first Pantheacon in San Jose, Calfornia I attended a workshop held by members of a Yoruba temple in Oakland called The Sacred Well. The workshop was about connecting with our ancestors. I can’t remember why I chose to attend. I had a lot of anger toward my broken family and I was concerned my ancestors would be just as dysfunctional. There must have been some instinct that said I had to go.
I do recall how vivid the meditation was. The temple members were dressed in white. The tall, robust dark skinned women who presented walked proud, taking sure footed steps with her head held high. I knew right away that was how I wanted to feel. She had a deep soothing voice that easily guided us along a path to a field. I encountered many spirits that appeared just as wisps or light. I felt some interested in guiding me and others simply curious as to who I was. I met my maternal grandfather who had passed just a couple of years earlier and a Norse woman in furs. (Interestingly my maternal aunt this year traced our ancestry back to Norway in the 900s. Who knows how far back it goes.) Because my childhood was abusive the feeling of family was extremely overwhelming. I sobbed and sobbed, feeling so embarrassed, as the event ended. The presenter had to pack up but promised to speak with me.
I told her how I was a surviver of abuse and she confessed she was as well. I recalled her sense of presence and felt better about my prospects. She promised me I was a fighter and could grow stronger. She worried that my chakras were wide open and since so many people were at the convention someone would take advantage of me. She helped me and when she found out I hadn’t brought a stitch of white clothes she told me to sleep with a towel or pillowcase around my head that night.
I also attended a workshop with author Luisah Teish. She is a priestess of the Ifa/Orisha faith. (Her websites have been relocated at the time of posting.) Just like the presenter on ancestors, Luisah had a sense of presence that drew me in. It appealed to my spirit. I wanted to feel confident instead of broken. Part of the workshop was about Goddesses such as Yemaya, Goddess of the ocean, and Oshun, Goddess of rivers. Both embodied beauty and abundance though Oshun especially signified love. She explained how important it was for people to find their sense of self worth. That was the first step toward rebuilding community. At the time it was easy for me to relate to the water aspects of both goddesses, ocean and river, instead of their beauty and confidence.
Since childhood, my favorite way to connect to the Divine within and around me was to lay in a clear river, head low so all I could hear was it’s sweet song while watching sunlight pour and squeeze through the thick canopy. At the ocean I would sing out to the goddess from the shore. More often I couldn’t resist the urge to feel her embrace and walked out until her water rolled past my knees. It’s much like my favorite chant “The river is flowing flowing and growing, the river is flowing down to the sea. Mother carry me your child I will always be. Mother carry me down to the sea.”
After the conference, I wore more white to rituals and during women’s group meetings all the next year. I also practiced moving energy smoothly through my chakras.
At the next Pantheacon I searched out workshops once again being held by Luisa and The Sacred Well.The same woman presented on Yemaya and lead us on a journey into the ocean. I dove deep and found a treasure filled with gold plates, necklaces, goblets, pearls, and much more. I filled my hands and struggled to the surface. I couldn’t budge until I promised to share my treasure with the world. As I broke surface the treasure in my arms burst forth with light transforming into the sunset. Joy permeated the world around me and in me. After the meditation we were given the opportunity to share what we saw. When it was my turn the woman smiled and said she remembered me and could tell I had been doing my spiritual Work. She explained that Yemaya was represented also by the sunset and ocean. The next thing I needed to do was create a full size mirror and hand held mirror with gold decorations of beautiful things like flowers or symbols that represented her more directly. This scared me. I hated mirrors because I hated my looks. I didn’t allow them in my bedroom. I only looked in them in bathrooms to make sure my nose was clean. If I was staying in a room with mirrors I would do my best to ignore them.
The Universe, my higher-self, my guides or what have you wasn’t going to let me run away from my issues. At Luisah’s workshop about Oshun, people of all shapes, sizes, and genders danced to drums. The steps had us strutting our stuff and our hands moved as if we held mirrors “oh I look good” or fans for flirting. There I was instead of being a nervous wreck about my body type, I was laughing and dancing among strangers.
Eventually I practiced smiling in the mirror. Mostly they were a quick glance and a tight lipped smile with barely upturned corners. Now when I catch my reflection I’ll grin and maybe touch my bangs thinking “That’s me! I’m here. I do exist. Looking good beautiful.”
IMAGE: The hand held mirror I created dedicated to Oshun and Yemaya. The handle and edge is clear. Both sides are reflective. It’s decorated on one side with a large flower surrounded by swirled leaves. At the edge are different sized dots representing jewlry.