The spirit of tattoos

by Sandra Radja

I read an interesting article on the spirituality of tattoos done by the spiritual research foundation. The article has a drawing done by an artist sensitive to energy (that link is worth a read too). The results don't appear favourable and the biggest drawback, it seems, is an attachment to the mundane world. And then there was this article written by an Acupuncturist on whether needlework done by tattoos or piercings can affect meridian points.  The author found common connections between a persons disease and the placement of the tattoo - it seemed that some people unconsciously chose areas that needed healing and the tattoo was placed in the precise point where the Acupuncturist would have placed their needle.

Tattoos can range from drunken night dares to momentous occasions marked such as the birth of children. It has become a fashion of sorts these days with tattoo artists booked well in advance. I liken it to a kind of a classy rebellion happening - permanent scarification with amazing artwork. You might feel naked without one or you might need to cover up for fear of remaining unemployed; it effects admiration to distaste depending on the community you're associated with.

I shall now mention the way they mark themselves indelibly, each of them is so marked by their humor or disposition
— Joseph Banks (Naturalist aboard Captain Cooks ship HMS Endeavour)

The etymology of the word comes from the Polynesian tatau, meaning to mark something.  Whether for a marriage ceremony or to ward off evil spirits, tattoos make a statement. Take a yoga class anywhere and you will undoubtedly see an OM symbol tattooed. Marking a spiritual rite of passage is not a new idea nor is the creation of identity by the design of our outward appearance. And so the idea that we are bound to the mundane through the glorification of the body via tattoos is a little narrow in it's approach. This skin, and the story that comes with it, may present via fashion or it could be an enlightening life moment that is worth investigating. 

Dr Svoboda told us once in lecture that if you come from a crummy childhood, change the story that you tell. For some, getting a tattoo that marks a spiritual turning point in life can be the transformation needed to move on. For whatever reason, I think they are raw, ancient, interesting modes of expression.  Here are some personal stories.

by Sweethome Teacup (yoga teacher, Portland OR) 

It was in a school bus retrofitted to be a small home on the west facing hillside off Old Discovery road outside of a small town somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. It was a cold night in late autumn and the wood burning stove was brewing a hot fire with cedarwood to keep us warm. 

This was the home of a sweet lover friend, a catalyst of sorts, you know the kind, the one that helps you run away. I was kind of a runaway, for sure, running away from the story that was told to me so many times that I thought it was real, and I thought it was mine, but it wasn’t real. Nothing is the only thing that is real:  a circle, with space on the inside and space without.

We make believe, yet the ones who are believing the making into being, make us believe it’s ours and true. I forgot that I was able to make believe another story, my own, that didn’t have a girl lost finding a boy who fit the picture, but not the heart to make a home where bread baked and garden grew, where he loved me and love held us both tenderly. But broken girls always find others with broken parts. I wanted him to love me, to make me whole….

Once upon a time when I was old when I was young I remember a feeling of clarity. I was unscathed, intact. The wave of time and how it carries paradigms and perceptions altered by hormones and isms, one can get rather tipped and bent and tangled and twisted. 

So I reminding myself with a “tattoo” of sorts. I reminded myself of space and wholeness, emptiness and letting go.

Remember long ago when telephones had cords that connected them to walls and  bells inside to make the sound of someone calling? two bells being hit by a small mallet. Oh yes, cellphones can pretend to make that sound. 

We dismantled an old phone that was laying around in the bus for some unknown reason. We placed one of those metal bells on the hot cast iron stove until it almost became fire. He picked it up with pliers and I told my friend to hold it down until I said ‘take it off’ three times. When he placed that circle on my arm I leaned in as  I screamed take it off three times faster than you can say it once. My entire arm burned and he put a cold wet rag on it to stop the fire that we’d started in my flesh.

In the morning, when we woke the place where the metal touched had bubbled up into a perfect thin circle of a blister. I peeled it off and there was a deep moat in my arm. It was perfect. 
It was a perfect circle, enclosure, circumference, periphery, it was a revolution, it was a compass, it was a wheel, it was a circus, it was a ring. It was a very different ring than the fairytale story ring that I was running from. 

 It took two months to heal. And after twenty five years it is still there and will be till this body is no more.

by Karla A. Cain (Ayurvedic practitioner, Chicago, IL)

Finally. The needle touches my skin for the first time since I was 17.

24 years.

Oh, the searing little pain and small stream of blood.

My adolescent tattoo was dark, strange, terribly placed, abrupt and meaningless. It was done in a haze of anger, confusion and defiance. It seemed to morph into a symbol of years of misfit actions I chose to keep distracted from a home filled with alcoholism, drug addiction, violence and mental illness. The streets on the south side of Chicago are tough enough. Home was supposed to be your sanctuary. Not so much.  When your parents are alcoholics, its not a great idea for them to own a neighborhood bar.

It became a symbol of my robbed youth, my insecurity and my nighttime fears. Who would have guessed it could hold so much power?  It reminded me I was from the neighborhood and that I was a 'tough-girl'. I could handle anything. It was part of my identity. 

Cigarettes, So-Co, black hair and black ink. In your face.

24 years.

Oh, the searing little pain and small stream of blood. I didn't know that after years of working my ass off, I would attempt to hide this symbol while attending fancy cocktail parties as the employee of a prestigious financial Investment firm. The adult me had it laser-removed when I was 27 and living in Denver. 

It hurts and costs a hellava lot more. Just a green haze remains.  After all, I was getting married and making a fresh start. My parents were both gone and I could get rid of it and all of it's bad energy. Little did I know I was entering a new segment of life filled with bad decisions and chaos.  

The green haze remains.

"The next time will be forever".

24 Years.

They have provided a long road of anger, suicide, tears,confusion, bad choices and denial.They have provided lost promises, broken dreams, conformity and a deluge of information I refused to believe. They have provided worry, sadness, depression, medication and skimming the surface of life. They have provided willingness, education, a career, acknowledgement and understanding.They have provided profound friendships, appreciation, laughter, charity, love and trust. They have provided gray hair, fine-lines, soul-searching, quiet stillness, clarity and peace. They have provided exhilaration, accomplishment, growth, acceptance, sunshine and freedom.

24 years. 

Here I am. The needle buzzes. My blood streams. I think of the tribal Polynesians tapping away the ink to the drum and a roaring fire. I think of the evolution of man and the miraculous ways we communicate with each other. I think of the day I have done this before.  It was another life. I appreciate the presence and skill of Dawn Grace. Right Here. Right now.

What was once a symbol of pain is now an even larger symbol of Sattva.

2 months of design.

Over a year to sit down with Dawn.

24 years. Forever.

by Sandra Radja (Ayurvedic practitioner, Melbourne, AUS)

I was living in Vancouver, Canada at the time trying to do my best with the separation from my husband, which eventually lead to divorce in the same year. 10 years of my life, all my 20's, running around the world with him and creating adventures.  It was a moment in time that you initially thought could never change but then life seemed to create desire for change and it just broke down. This was my first real heart break not because of the other but in myself; I didn't understand how to handle change back then, I didn't know that life was made up of ups and downs and this feeling would shift. 



It was a year that I roamed the streets, incessantly. I hated living there because Vancouver can make you feel like it's the most perfect city in the world. And it was a stark contrast to how I felt inside. I seemed to find myself surrounded by wild party people and saw I had a choice - to venture down the road I knew or take up yoga that I saw a flyer for.  I chose the latter and went at it with abandon. It was Bikrams hot yoga and I'm not sure what would have been worse, this or a party habit.  I went 6 days/week, sometimes 2xday to get rid of the feelings that kept burning inside. I limped out of class from a severely irritated sciatic nerve but I persisted, eager to move through and self punish for the mess everything seemed to be.

Through circumstances I don't remember I one day decided the hot yoga was not exciting anymore and found myself a classic inspired hatha class led by a very mystical Turkish woman. I started to finally ground rather than rage and then one fortuitous day walked into a bookshop and happened upon "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahamsa Yogananda.

Read a page, put the book down and hold my throbbing head.  It seemed each word held for me a step into another time and space.  I was transported and it felt like the grooves in my brain were unravelling.  I was hooked. Yoga became such an obsession for me I covered my studio floor with books, each waking minute was spent reading, during lunch hour at work and after work. I meditated.  I ate simply and reduced the drinking. I received an email from a friend that we should go to India to train to be Yoga  teachers.  3 months ended up being a a year.  

Before flying out, I got a tattoo. "Man is silent when God speaks" it says. It was my spiritual awakening and I wanted to mark the occasion. That year, 2003, in India holds a dear place in my heart.  My life had forever changed.

Project Semi Colon is a non profit organisation that aims to lower the suicide rate in the US by providing support, community, love and inspiration to those suffering from depression. addiction and suicidal tendencies. The symbol of the semi-colon denotes that it is not the end but a new beginning.The founder lost her father to suicide and wanted to start a faith-based movement.

"When the foundation of this project was created those involved reflected on what got them to where they are today. The answer was clear that it was the love of Christ. As we set forth in the project, we committed to loving with a Christ-like love those who are struggling. We inspire others through the very thing that brought us to continuance in our own stories. This by no means excludes any other beliefs or religions, as we accept them all. For we are all in this together. I ask you stick around with us for this journey. We might surprise you in the end with the outcome." Amy Bluel (founder, Semi Colon Project)