The Enlightenment of Elsie

‘We are an onion,’ Marnie said in her soft sing-song way.
‘I feel a bit more like a pumpkin,’ Mrs Harris said but Elsie lay on the mat contemplating the tired light fittings and wondering why she’d agreed to join the weight loss meditation group.
‘Have you ever thought about meditation Mrs Parkes? Maybe join a group?’ Doctor Mortimer had asked her at yet another appointment.
‘No never. That’s a bit new age for me, can’t you just give me some tablets?’
‘We’re moving away from tablets Mrs Parkes. Pills aren’t really the thing these days, we try and encourage our clients to think about why they have aches and pains and address this in a more holistic way.’
Elsie hadn’t realised she was a client, she preferred patient but Doctor Mortimer was quite young and lacked the directness of old Richards who had been the family GP since she was a child.
‘I’ve always been on the big side doctor as you’ll know from my records but those orange tablets Dr Richards gave me last year worked a treat and I lost a stone which certainly helped the aches and pains.’
‘Yes Mrs Parkes they did but we had to stop you taking them because it was only supposed to be a short-term solution to help you get started on your weight loss journey. However you put two stones back on and the aches and pains have come back so pills aren’t the answer.’
She thought perhaps he had picked up a few tips from Dr Richards after all.
‘Well the thing is I can’t afford meditation classes so I’m not likely to join a group.’
‘These classes are free. We’re looking at ways to help our clients and Marnie Mitchell is a highly regarded therapist and we’re very fortunate that she lives in the village.’
Elsie reluctantly agreed spurred on by the prospect of passing Ali’s cake shop on the way home.

The classes took place in a small ante-room in the community centre. The main hall was used by various community groups so Marnie thought the smaller room, big enough for only seven people, was better suited to a meditative space in the afternoons. Today was Elsie’s first class and she was struggling to picture herself as an onion.
‘You may be wondering what onions have got to do with meditation?’ Marnie said, ‘Well if you picture an onion you’ll first notice the outside skin is dry and flaky, is uneven and you can peel it off quite readily in pieces. Today we will try and peel away your outside layer so put your hands by your sides and close your eyes. Relax your feet then your legs, relax your chest and belly and finally your shoulders and face. Don’t think about anything.’
There was a sweet scent wafting from several burners, all manner of oriental looking bowls and objects were scattered around and Elsie’s brain was whirring and she thought Marnie must be slightly nuts. How was it even possible to not think of anything?
‘Open your mind to your inner voice. The inner voice represents your strength. Breathe deeply and let it out, keep breathing deeply, concentrate on the breath and by now you should have no sensation of touching the mat. You’re freefalling.’
Elsie could still feel the mat, she could also feel the parquet floor and there was a distinct draught coming through the gap under the door and she hoped the session was nearly over because if she lay there any longer she’d never get up.
‘Release those inner demons and feel that papery outer layer fall away,’ Marnie’s voice drifted away.
Elsie was awoken by the main lights coming on, everyone else was standing up and putting coats and shoes on. She felt rather foolish.’
‘Oh dear I must have nodded off.’
‘Don’t worry about that Elsie it shows you were really relaxed and although you might not realise it straight away I’m sure this first meditation session will pay off,’ Marnie helped Elsie off the floor, ‘see you all again Wednesday and I’m sure you’ll feel lighter now that outside layer has been shed.’
Elsie fastened her coat and pulled on her boots, tying her scarf around her neck. She felt odd but couldn’t put her finger on it.
When she got home she put the kettle on and made an egg salad for dinner and John mentioned how nice it was to have something fresh for a change and she had to agree. She also realised she had walked past Ali’s cake shop on her way home and hadn’t even noticed.

On Wednesday she wore leggings and a loose top, more comfortable than jeans. Marnie had the mats laid out in a circle and asked them to lie down with their feet to the centre.
‘Roll the small blanket and put it under your neck for support,’ she said, ‘I hope you all felt better for shedding that papery outer layer on Monday. Today’s layer is a bit tougher, it covers the whole onion and you will need to be prepared to feel the layer peeling off.’
Elsie thought Marnie was possibly a little bonkers but she lay down with her feet opposite Mrs Delroy’s glittery pink socks and she wished she had worn a jazzier pair instead of the plain black one’s she’d chosen. Marnie’s voice ebbed and flowed as Elsie followed her instructions, her breaths in and out calmed her overactive brain and she felt as if she was floating just above the mat and at one point she could see the others below her. She managed to avoid the light fitting on her way to the ceiling.
‘Thank you ladies, you all did very well. Nice to see that you managed to stay with us this time Elsie.’
Her fall back to the mat was softened by a feather quilt but as she put her hands down she realised there was no quilt just the usual pink mat. She definitely felt lighter which was a bit of a surprise.
‘See you all again Friday,’ Marnie said as they filed out of the door.
Elsie walked home the long way through the park and past Mrs Farouk’s fruit and vegetable stall. She bought several interesting looking vegetables and Mrs Farouk gave her some suggestions on how to cook them. John was met by the smell of exotic spices when he came home and was surprised to have a brightly coloured curry with a crisp salad for dinner.
‘This is lovely Elsie, is there any more?
Elsie served the remaining curry to John, she didn’t need anything else as she’d had sufficient. It was some time since she felt that sensation, she would usually be reaching for something sweet after dinner but she simply didn’t have the urge today.

On Friday the mats were again in a circle but Marnie asked them to lie down with their heads in the centre. Elsie felt a bit odd because when she turned her head a little she was met by Mrs Delroy’s face to her left and Mrs Shah’s to her right. It was a strangely intimate circle but nothing ventured, nothing gained. As always Marnie led them in deep breathing and then asked them to raise their arms over their heads and grasp each others hands.
‘Lie still and feel your neighbour’s pulse, feel the warmth of their blood pumping through their hands. Connect to each other and mentally ask the circle to peel the next layer of the onion. It’s quite a thick one but it’s juicy and fragrant and when it’s peeled back it reveals the inner onion where the layers are younger and fresher.’
Elsie lay on her mat with Mrs Delroy’s right hand, which felt soft but cold, in her own left hand and Mrs Shah’s left hand, which felt rougher but warm, in her own right hand. She was glad she’d taken time to massage hand cream in that morning and wondered how long it had been since she held another person’s hand? She couldn’t remember holding John’s hand for a very long time and tears pricked her eyes. Elsie had no idea where she went after that but was brought round by Mrs Shah,
‘You can let go now Elsie, it’s time to go.’
Elsie was a little embarrassed to find that yet again she’d been far away.
‘I think you’re doing marvellously,’ Marnie said as she was leaving, ‘I thought at first you might struggle but you’re my best student.’
It was good to hear Marnie was so pleased with her progress but Elsie didn’t tell her she’d been practicing at home while John was at work.

Over the weekend Elsie and John drove to the beach and walked several miles along the coastal path.
‘This is great Elsie, I didn’t think I’d persuade you to do this with me again. It’s been a long time.’
‘I often walk along the path when I’m meditating to be honest. I can see the sea and smell the flowers in my head.’
John nodded but didn’t even try to understand what she was talking about. They both agreed they should make time for days out together more often.

On Monday Marnie had the mats laid out side by side and asked them to lie down with their heads to the wall and close enough to each other to touch hands. The session was 40 minutes but Elsie felt like she’d had eight hours sleep and she walked home in the rain which felt soothing and life affirming on her face. The lights were on which meant John was home and she walked in to find dinner was already on the go.
‘Homemade tomato soup, followed by chicken breast with cauliflower and broccoli. I got the recipe from Ruth at work, she spent last summer at a health retreat.’
John never cooked and she briefly wondered if he had an ulterior motive such as wanting something expensive or had planned a jaunt away with his mates.
‘I think it’s time I started supporting you, it’s obvious whatever you’re doing is working so you don’t need me messing it up with beer in the fridge and crisps in the cupboard,’
She kissed his cheek and he put his arm around her waist, it was the closest they’d been for months.

At the end of the four week programme she had definitely lost weight but more importantly she felt she had better control of her life. She was more active but also more measured, food was a necessity as fuel but it no longer ruled her days. She also spoke to Marnie about the possibility of learning to teach meditation.
‘I do classes for that too,’ she said, ‘but I do those at home one to one. I have lots of free time and only charge what my pupils can easily afford. You would make a great teacher Elsie because you’re fully onboard with the process and the results are clear.’
John took her to the theatre to celebrate and they had a glass of bubbles at the interval. They walked home hand in hand and as they closed the front door she kissed him and whispered in his ear and they went upstairs.

©Nita Lewsey 2023

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By Nita Lewsey

I'm a writer of short stories, flash fiction and am currently working on a novel. I've had stories published in anthologies and self-published a collection on stories on Amazon. I have long dreamt of writing full time & this dream is now a reality.

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