Tattoo: Stories They Tell, Stories They Write

The Tattoo Stories

Every tattoo has a story to tell.

This is not news.

Many people get tattoos just to tell their story, or a piece of it.

A flower for the death of a loved one.
A picture of a favorite place.
Words they must never forget.
Some just want to be a canvas for beauty – that is the story itself.
(I am quite in love with these ‘watercolor tattoos’ lately.)

But no one tells you how the ink will sink into your skin and begin to tell its own story.
Or to shape your story and your life.

 

The Wrist Tattoo

Fourteen years ago I got this tattoo:

wrist tattoo with the text "always and all ways connected" with flowers and leaves behind the text

It started with just the text, which says “always and all ways connected.” I added the flower motif on top (although it looks like it’s underneath), a few years later.

I wrote those words as a way of commemorating something I was learning at the time: that I was connected to the Divine in all ways. And for all time.

(Lots of people assume it’s for my husband. But, no.)

I thought I was getting the tattoo as a marker for where I’d come from.
What I had learned.

Oh, silly child.

I was just beginning my foray into knowing the Divine.
Just a drop in the ocean.
An ocean I will never leave or entirely know.

The tattoo sank into my arm for a year and then I started seminary.

Seminary was a wild ride into faiths and spiritual paths of all kinds. Many of which I tried on for size. I found ideas and practices and holy-days and texts that thrill me and inform my journey to this day. (Also, I learned about Goddess religion from two gay guys. What more could I ask for?)

I thought my tattoo was an ending.

But it was a doorway.

 

The Back Tattoo

 

A shoulder tattoo showing song lyrics and a quote. A story about marriage and freedom.

The letter ‘J’ in the upper part of this tattoo was the first part of this tattoo. It was something my husband I both got on the eve of our wedding. (He also has a ‘J’ name.) That means it is nearly 18 years old.

There is script around the letter. It is from one of my top 10 favorite songs: U2’s “Mysterious Ways.” The text says, “Lift my days, light up my nights.” I got that part three years ago.

It was intended as a tribute to my husband, who does those very things. (His tribute to me, also in song lyrics, was Erasure’s “Angel” – “My electric symphony in blue.” I’m an electric symphony to someone, who knew?!?)

But as the tattoo was being completed, I knew it wasn’t finished.

There was more to say.
More to know.

I looked for clues about what was to be inked into my body.

I knew now that what I put there could change my life.

The answer sprang out at me from Jack Kornfield’s Bringing The Dharma Home and it said, “Loving within the boundaries of our practice brings freedom of the heart.”

When I read it, I simultaneously knew it was exactly what needed to be in the tattoo – in me – and I was also deathly scared of what it meant for my marriage.

At the time I was going through a huge hormonal upsurge and wanted Someone Else. I didn’t want to leave my marriage, but I sure wanted a Weekend Pass (to go Get It On with this other person). My sexuality and my soul were at odds with each other. Or so I thought.

I gave a little nod of acceptance to the Inner Guide: yes, I would take this on in my tattoo.

Mirror reflection of a tattoo with the text 'freedom of the heart'- a tattoo story about love and marriage.

[This is a mirror reflection of the tattoo so you can read the text. I had the text tattooed in a mirror image – seen above –  so I could read it in the mirror. I can’t read the song lyrics for that reason!]

In quick order, the more decorative pieces fell into place.
I had the tattoo finished.

And for the next three years, I went through a rigorous school that taught me how to love vibrantly within the confines of my marriage. And that my sexuality might not be separate from my spirituality. And that my soul must always win out – even when I choose the opposite of what it asks. And how to surrender every level of something to the greater good of my soul. And that hormones fuck with your lady-brain sometimes. And also how to love myself.

It was a dreadful and joyful school.
And I am still in it.

 

The Hip Tattoo

I got a new tattoo recently.

In part because I was drawn to it. And in part because I want to become it.
I want to walk the path of this tattoo.

I know now: the tattoo will sink into me and become me. And I will become it as well.

It is this:

Tattoo of the word 'dakini' in sanskrit. A tattoo story of dedication and fierce enlightenment.

 

This is sanskrit for ‘dakini.’
(Everybody has a sanskrit tattoo, I know. So much for rebellion!)

Dakini are a class of goddesses. Different from specific goddesses, like Quan Yin or Mother Mary, dakini show up in many forms and walk the path of fierce enlightenment and sexuality (quite often, fierce enlightenment through sexuality).

The interesting things about the word ‘dakini’ is that there is no male counterpart. ‘Dakini’ is not some kind of ‘female Buddha’ (although several paths speak of them in this way, it is not the correct representation). She is not some ‘lesser’ version of a male diety. There is also no such thing as a ‘male dakini.’ Dakini only come in one flavor: girl.

Dakini is translated as ‘light dancer’ and I certainly feel that is part of my spiritual path right now.

Earlier this year, I also took on the challenge of learning to see Life as my Lover, to see God as my Lover. I wanted to know more about everyday ecstasy and so I have set about exploring just that.

I also wanted to learn more about understanding how my sexuality and my spirituality are one and the same. This has been a challenge for me to intellectually understand (with a conservative religious background), and even more so to physically understand it. But I want to know it, in my heart and in my soul.

So, yes, I took this as my tattoo.
This is what I want to explore.
This is what I feel I am being called to.

 I dedicate myself to the path by painting it into my body.

It will tell my story. It will write my story.

 

4

Rumi and Insomnia

Rumi and Insomnia of the Beloved

My beloved has been out of town for almost two weeks. And I miss him quite desperately. I do not sleep well when he is gone. The part of the bed which should be warm and heavy with him is neither.

Sometimes I sleep with his old, dirty t-shirt from the laundry. Because it smells like him.

I love his smell. His touch. His weight on me. His breathing near me. They are, apparently, good sleeping pills.

 

the feet of a couple in bed together.

 

This wanting, this strange not-quite sleeping is one facet of love.

Rumi writes:

When I am with you, we stay up all night.
When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.

Praise God for these two insomnias!
And the difference between them.

 

a soft focus of a bedroom, with open window and soft light, with rumpled sheets from not sleeping

 

I look forward to the insomnia of that first couplet when he returns home.

Until then, I endure, and enjoy the bittersweetness of, the second.

 

1

Both things. (‘Or’ doesn’t work anymore.)

The more I grow up, or maybe the more the world grows up, the more I realize that ‘or’ – the choice between two things – is not very helpful.

Both is helpful.

We need both things.

Ego / Soul

Dark / Light

Making Others Happy / Making Yourself Happy

Sad / Happy

Salt / Pepper

Body / Soul (not really separate anyway)

Connected / Independent

An orange and blue mandala of the taoist symbol for unity.

Truth / Honesty

Masculine / Feminine

Respect / Irreverence

Faith / Questioning

Fear / Love

Unique / Unity

Movement / Stillness

It’s the Taoist perspective, isn’t it? We cannot know one without the existence of the other. 

It may be duality. But it also defines unity.

What ‘both’ do you know to be true? What ‘or’ doesn’t work for you any longer?

 

1

What Church Should Be

Every Friday I wake up at 5:30 am.

I roll out of bed and slink downstairs into the laundry room, wiping the sleep from my eyes and trying to warm up.

Amidst the baskets and bins and hangers and singleton socks, I put on my bright purple sports bra, a pair of black soccer shorts, and a pocketed thing made of neoprene that holds my insulin pump. No socks.

I do all this in the dark, if I can.
It’s easier that way.

Then I take six steps to the bathroom and pull my brown hair back into a ponytail.
(Also: potty break. I’m human.)

I catch the circular cap of my water bottle and head for the living room.
Grabbing my white laptop, I put it on a small IKEA-style table and open it up.

I queue up my music and hit ‘play.’

And I go to church.

 

a woman dancing on the beach at sunset in yogic poses

 

For 35 minutes I dance. I let my body form shapes to music that is flowing. Then music that is staccato. Then chaotic. My body and I move into something lyrical and then into stillness.

I sweat like crazy. The ponytail holder comes out and my hair is a mess- flying strings from one end of my head to the other. I growl and flail. I also gyrate and hiss. I smile and jump and push.

My soul is embodied. Fully in my flesh.

She wants to move like this. And then, like that– lightning!

My soul hits the floor with forceful feet, loud stomps that almost wake the children who are sleeping upstairs (I hope!). I roll my neck in wide circles and spin my body free- arms wide, face uplifted. She and I are one- moving in thoughtless motions that feel right.

We keep moving.

 

fire spun in a circle and looks like dancing flames

 

I am so whole right now – so fucking connected on every level.
There is no division between mind and body.
No fracture between soul and sensuality.

No barriers at all.
My psyche feels clean.

Even when I come to church in pieces, I feel better afterwards.
The bass of the music bounces the shards of my self into a different pattern.
Here you are, it says, and hands myself back to me.

The music slows. Laying on my back, feet in the air, arms open wide, I feel the place inside me that is sometimes dark, but is also very still.

I receive Her into me. She drops into my body – looking and feeling like a black angel. Communion. She is not ‘dark’ or ‘shadow’ – just the color of absolute stillness. Sacred stillness. The unformed black of space. Infinitude.

So fully in my body now I can actually feel myself breathing. (Instead of just thinking I am feeling myself breathing.) I breathe.

And then I gently pull myself up. I drink from the water bottle like this is the first time I’ve ever tasted water.

Dry off.
Put away the computer.
Greet my son as he comes downstairs for breakfast.

Stretch.
Stretch everything out into the day ahead.

And then, get on with the next step in life.

 

pink rose blossom in blue water, sacred symbols

 

7

Life Is Full of Wonder, Love Is Never Wrong


Lyrics to Melissa Etheridge's "Legacy" including the lines "Life is full of wonder, love is never wrong."

 

From Melissa Etheridge’s “Silent Legacy” – a song that spoke deeply to me when I was leaving a mediocre relationship with a boy and a mediocre relationship with god.

“Mother’s tell your children,
Be quick, you must be strong:
Life is full of wonder,
Love is never wrong.

Remember how they taught you,
How much of it was fear.
Refuse to hand it down;
the legacy stops here.”

What our children live is what they consider ‘normal’ when they are grown up.

I teach my children that love, in all it’s forms, is truth.
And that wonder is everywhere if we look with our hearts.

This isn’t just some platitude or cliche. I grew up with a rather fearful definition of ‘wonder’ and spirituality. And it took me years to unravel that and turn it into something loving and integrative of my experience in the world.

Today, love (not fear) is my baseline.
And I hope I will be able to pass that on to my children.

 

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