For the past couple years, I’ve wanted some new tattoos (as of now, I only have 9), but have held off because The Finance is not a big fan of needles. (Okay, frankly, he has what the schmancy folk call trypanophobia, which is the technical term for “Get that hypodermic away from me before I shit on the floor!”) For a while there, I thought if I just eased him into it — “Oh, honey, look at that gorgeous tattoo!” “Oh, honey, look! That’s the studio where I got my fourth tat!” — it’d be like slowly turning up the heat beneath a pot full of water and frogs, so that before he knew it, he’d be boiling and dead and…
And maybe that’s not the best metaphor.
Anyhow, The Finance and I have finally reached an agreement wherein I can get as many tattoos as I want, as long as he doesn’t have to come with me and watch. This sounds relatively fair, except that for me, going through the ritual of getting a tattoo is intensely personal (I think it is for most people — including my friend @lademoriel — but we’ll talk about her in a second), and The Finance is truly my most personal person. It would be nice to hold his hand and feel his comforting presence while someone carves words into my skin — but I am also quite sure I don’t want him vomiting into my open tattoo wounds, so perhaps it’s for the best.
As for @lademoriel, recently she and I were tweeting about tats — not twatting about teats — and I thought she had a really cool story about her first tattoo. Thus, for the first time ever, I am ceding the blogfloor to a guest, in order that my readers (who are probably a bit sick of a solid year of “blah blah blah Hollywood, blah blah blah ‘Devil’s Gospel'”) will have a chance to read a rad story about someone else.
Though seriously, y’all, the chorus of “Thank God!”s is a little mean.
So now, over to @lademoriel:
It took me awhile to figure out what my first tattoo would be: what did I love dearly enough to permanently mark on my body? When I mentioned to my husband that I just loved a certain graphic of a spiraling spirit, he laughed and told me that it was a terrible idea to get a corporate logo as a tat. I have to admit that he’s right there; no matter how much I align with any group philosophy, it’s a horrible idea to be providing them with lifetime free advertising
And it’s not about a group; it’s about ME, and my body and what I want to put on it. What message I want to convey, not only about myself to the world but to myself in the mirror every day. Tattoos are a spiritually profound addition to my life unlike my husband who covers his arms in dragons and tribal designs “because they look cool.” The ink on the top of his shoulders bled a bit because the needles were inking right on bone; that’s an awful lot of pain to go through just for “they look cool.”
I teased out over a length of time that the most prominent themes in my life were healing, balance, and growth. My first tattoo is dedicated to healing but the ideas for my second tat still live in that limp, uninspired place between a yin yang and “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy” in the dead language du jour. So that idea will have to steep for a few years longer. And my third tattoo, because you can’t simply stop at one, will have to wait for the day I can manage to figure out that whole bizarre kundalini thing. That is a process that begs to be marked and if you can manage to effect that kind of change in your life, getting the tat for it will be the least of your problems.
So my first tattoo is “hon sha ze sho nen,” a Japanese reiki symbol used as a jumon or mantra for healing. I learned how to channel reiki in the traditional Japanese Usui system which includes a series of sacred symbols for enhancing your work. In the age of the Internet, these symbols are the worst-kept secret in the world, right up there with Area 51. I was delighted in the idea of taking something that had an implied secret power and imprinting it upon my body. I imagined horrified reiki masters chasing me around with a shawl to cover up my blasphemy. (At that point I guess I could whip out “At least I’VE been to Mt. Kurama, BETCH!”)
But the fun of flouting secrecy aside, the tattoo is about dedicating myself to health, healing and well-being. Both for myself and others. I had a rocky go of it through the childhood years: a bundle of surgeries and an intense home life that still makes my fingers twitch with matricidal longing every time I hear the phrase “Tiger Mom.” After a while I kept thinking about those Tori lyrics:
She had a January world. So many storms not right somehow.
How a lion becomes a mouse…
While it was my past, I didn’t want it to define my future. I got OUT of the small town. I got OUT of the woods. And I was going to start taking care of myself and the people around me. I was going to embrace health, courage and strength. I was going to heal me, every single day. And I was going to look damn sexy while I was at it.
In choosing the symbol, I thought that the hon sha ze sho nen was the most aesthetically pleasing of the reiki symbols and my favorite part of the whole experience was running it past my scholarly 79 year-old Korean uncle to make sure it didn’t really say “slutty gaijin.”
Since kanji calligraphy leaves itself very open to interpretation and the essence and usage of the reiki symbol is more important than the exact meaning, there are several meanings floating around the net — but one of the more common translations is:
Correct Thought (/Correct Mindfulness) is the essence of being.
I’ve also read that as a Buddhist verbal mantra, it is intended to relieve karma.
I kinda prefer my uncle’s translation. He gently poked a finger down each kanji, muttering to himself: “Bringing… Right…. (in Chinese ‘Right’ means both ‘correct’ and ‘right hand path,’ same as English)… Fire…. and I don’t know this one…”
BRINGING THE RIGHTEOUS FIRE, OH YEAH BABY!