Indecisive and It Feels So Good
a little story involving two friends, a decision, and a big bellied Buddha laughing at all of us
Before we talk tattoos, a question.
When you were five, did you really know exactly where you wanted to put that sticker? You know, the little gold foil star that the teacher gave you for...what was it? Fluency, proficiency, and academic excellence? What a good little citizen.
Alas, ahem, this was not the case. Those titles were way too presidential, and you weren’t a man about global images anyway. So what were you looking to remember every time you glanced these stars, and their shine winked back?
Personally, I never knew where to put them. Back then perhaps, this commitment frenzy was my preschool way of honoring a classic Buddhist precept - no attachments.
Consequently, those were the two words that spilled out of my mouth when my friend showed me her first tattoo. We were 19, working class, and Californian, so all ink ever suggested was a Vegas haunt. Don’t get me wrong, tattoo art is startling - I so do understand why some dedicate their entire bodies for these unmatched portraitures: bursting, multicultural, and entirely emblematic - especially of all a person’s hearts that plain skin is scant to show (future anthropologists are gonna have fun for sure). I can spend hours following a body’s maze of lines and colors, wondering how, when, where, why, and *sighs* who?
So much for design though. As far as aesthetic goes, I’m as acceptingly eccentric as Willy Wonka. When it comes to meaning however, all tattoo ideas blow over into a world of pure imagination. I seemed to be a stickler when it came to the futility of symbols, for the fact that symbols usually don’t stick. Symbolism, in any use, evolves, revealing perspectives that weren’t there before, and yet remains abstract and incomplete. A mirror for all, and canon for the storytellers.
Therefore, I couldn’t understand why some of my friends, through their body art, literally embodied these intensely meaningful symbols. Intense, for that usually meant a shade of heartbreak somewhere down the line in their tat history. And yet, they are worn lovingly.
I have yet to go under the needle. So I have to ask, do the meanings of these tattoos mature with you? Is it like reading a diary right on your forearm, and do you ever get a glimpse between your own lines? Does one of these symbols, being more or less a timestamp of hitting whatever you call “rock bottom,” now only ever make you laugh?
I couldn’t help but laugh when my friend rolled up her sleeve, mostly because the tattoo was laughing back at me. There on her forearm was an etched Buddha, big bellied and beaming, its unconditional love practically rupturing her skin. “But, no attachments!”
Fun aside, I just had to hit her with the heretic fears and condemnation of some 12th century Catholic monk (I mean, what are friends for?) I suppose the idea of any religious iconography is ironic, yet none so explicitly ironic as in Buddhism. “What about all those late night talks about ‘spirituality’? What could this little picture mean?”
She smiled and strewed together a response that I don’t quite remember, as that was not the point. That’s when I realized, semantics aside, the Buddha looked beautiful on her.
Maybe it was a symbol that her future self wouldn’t only look to for answers, but questions too. Maybe it would be so integral that she’d never notice it again. And yet, maybe ten years from now, it’ll strike her out of the blue, as if freshly pricked.
We don’t really know why we do the things we do, and as luck had it, a very good man had somehow landed right on her arm.
So... what should I get?
This past week, I’ve realized I gotta loosen up. I also gotta break the stereotype that anyone who still says stuff like “heretic fears” isn’t the type of person to get a tattoo. Watch me.
Plain and simple, tattoos aren't always stapled sentiments. They're evergreen, in constant flux, just like the very dermis they lie on. Maybe I'll rival my friend with a hardcore ribbed Buddha, straight from the horror shows of extreme asceticism.
Or perhaps a lotus will do, just to make up for all the time I hated my middle name growing up ("Yara" for "white lotus"). But wait, these little flowers are all the rage in the parlors, so how does one stand out? A glow in the dark lotus.
Surprisingly, the UV lighting mimics the actual shading of some real life lotuses I remember from the lakes near my grandmother's village in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The white blush of their petals do practically glow at night. You're washed over with a wave of holiness when you see their blooming buds, surrounded by the dense, often devilish jungles.
I could even honor outcast symbols and figures, and celebrate history's forgotten aspects of our pantheistic, colorful human nature. I'd go for Shakti (energy, strength, capability), Tara (purity, sensuality), Avalokiteśvara (compassion), or any divine feminine/masculine at that.
Before you know it, I'll fall down the rabbit hole and end up on the other side all tatted up. I realize this is what everyone dreads, but I can't wait for my tattoos to age. Wish me luck.