The Girl With the Draggin' Tattoo
I always warn young girls that the older they get, the older their tattoos will become, so let me begin with that warning.
Chico’s population – especially since it’s a university town-- probably boasts more ink per square inch of human skin than anywhere else in the country. If it doesn’t, it comes close. So prevalent is the practice, I occasionally will lecture a class, just a little, on choosing the right location for those ‘must have’ and uber-cool illustrations.
I teach business, and I know of many instances where a tattooed neck or forearm raised an eyebrow or two, and prevented otherwise qualified job applicants from getting the full consideration they deserved. College decisions don’t always transfer smoothly to corporate life.
I remind students that the ‘you’ that is here today making the decision to be branded forever with an image is not exactly the ‘you’ of the future.
I’ve had a tattoo myself for some years now, all the while maintaining my corporate decorum to use as needed. Most people who know me, however, would not consider me a tattoo type at all and not everyone knows I have one.
I didn’t get my perma-mark for anyone except myself and loved ones, but I also consider it a beautiful reminder in and of itself. It’s in a place easily covered. If I wore sleeveless tops, it would still be hidden depending on the cut of the clothes, but in swimwear or a halter top, it would be out there for the world to see; so it treads that fine line between hidden and not-so.
My kids already know and jokingly refer to the set of words on my shoulder as my cooking instructions, to be read before I flame out literally at the crematorium. I was thinking of death when I got it. Seriously, I am hoping that when I die my four children will remember a message that I believe so deeply that I have branded it into my skin. I want the words to be a comfort to them, which is partly why I will keep the story of Mom’s tattoo alive.
The Mahabharata is the world’s longest and one of the oldest poems, arguably the most important of all the texts of the Upanishad period. While a student at the University of Chicago, I studied one well-known part of it, the Bhagavad Gita. Sound exotic? Probably not as much as most would think, for the Gita and many other works of the period had a profound influence on Emerson, Thoreau, and other American Transcendentalist thinkers.
Within the beautiful Gita, which boils down essentially to a discussion between lowly man and his God, is a subtextual discussion related to our bodies - the flesh with which we carry out our mission here in this world. That very flesh we use to love and be loved, that we mark up, abuse, cuddle, coddle, overfeed, starve, nourish…the shell we use to live out our spiritual and intellectual intent.
Of the many words so well worth reading, I have extracted below the tiny portion to which my left shoulder refers. The indented portion is the English language translation of what I carry with me always written in the original Sanskrit:
(I)nfancy and youth and old age all come to the embodied self… a sensible man is not deceived about that. The contacts of the senses….which produce cold and heat, pleasure and pain, are not permanent, they are ever coming and going…
This, the embodied self was never born
and thus can never die.
Having never been, it will never cease to be.
Birthless, eternal, primordial, primeval,
It is not slain when the body is killed.
There is no existence for that which is unreal; there is no non-existence for that which is real; and the correct conclusion about both is perceived by those who perceive the truth.
Therefore, knowing it to be such, you ought not to grieve.
There you have it, my spiritual philosophy conveniently with me always. Like other American transcendentalist-types and all manner of philosophers the world over, I fell in love with the wisdom of Lord Krishna. It’s an intelligence that affirms the mystic perspectives of other faiths, including my native Christianity. Perhaps it's obvious why I want my beloved kids to have this thought in their hearts and minds when I have to leave their lives. The message conveys something essential that I feel to be true: Sadness is natural, but kids, you ought not to grieve if you can really ‘get’ Mom’s last message.
All existing before you is the way of life as we know it and it can never be any other way. Not in this flesh. Sometimes we need to let go. I only hope I remember to say “thanks” before leaving but that’s another story.
On a practical note, I would like to add the following for anyone considering tattooing themselves with anything holy or revered in another culture. In doing research for my tattoo, I was concerned about disrespect and learned that particularly in the Buddhist traditions mistakes in tattoos abound. Some characters should never be on the lower body, for example. There are also lots of permanent errors made in letters and spellings in English, even more so in the languages of foreign cultures – so pay attention!
In my case, I consulted with a Professor of Sanskrit with whom I studied - a good thing because not all books published in the US reflect foreign or ancient dialects as accurately as they should - and a tattoo artist who had the skill and expertise to execute a precise rendering. I also made sure that no prohibitions existed.
If you hate tattoos and think no one should have them, remember that our times are changing, and people have inked themselves since time immemorial. The practice of self-adornment is ancient.
If you love tattoos, be careful. Be respectful. Be honest; represent yourself as truly as you can, remembering that your understanding of the truth may change and mature as you do, no matter how old you are now.