I remember opening a message on Facebook when I used to have a personal account and seeing this message from someone I had considered a friend “I used to think you were very pretty, I’m surprised you chose to cover that up.” One, I was shocked he had the audacity to write that to me as it seemed a very backhanded compliment and was mildly insulting. Two, I was shocked that he, or honestly anyone, had ever found me pretty. I never saw myself that way.
What sparked this random admission? I had posted a picture of my first tattoo for my friends on FB to see. I, of course, had opened myself up to opinions and scrutiny by posting on social media in the first place, but was not seeking the approval of anyone at the time. I’ve gone on from that first tattoo to get more, as many of you may know. I get asked all the time from friends, acquaintances, strangers; “Does it hurt?”, “Are you getting more?”, “What do they mean?”, but until I was presented with the idea for this blog post (thank you Kristina), I realized I never get asked “Why do I get them?”
What drives someone to endure hours of pain (I have logged over 60 hours in the chair at this point), especially someone who cries like a baby (me) at the sight of a needle at the doctor’s office? I don’t know if I even had a full grasping of why until I started to write the first draft of this blog post. I started to look at who I was as a child; a painfully shy only child who would retreat into the world of my vivid imagination for entertainment. I learned to be a small adult very quickly. I thought when I was out, I was to be seen, but not heard. I started to look at who I was as a teenager; a painfully shy, awkward, insecure girl who covered all my pain with a tough exterior so that no one would attempt to crack it and see the truth. I started to look at who I was as an adult; a pharmacist doing all the status quo things that I thought a good suburban girl was supposed to grow up and do. Then it started to make sense. I had always been stubborn and no longer wanted to live in the suffocating box I had trapped myself in.
I was tough but I needed to prove to myself that I was mentally strong enough to face my fear. I felt like I had been expressionless for years, and all of that creativity I had squelched for years for fear of judgement and abandonment needed a voice. At that time I wasn’t quite ready for the verbal roar of “Here I am, this is me!!”, instead choosing my ink to be my war cry.
By far my largest and one of my favorites is my cherry blossom tree, not only for what it signifies in Japanese culture, but also how its meaning relates to my path with yoga and mindfulness. It was a collaboration with an amazing artist who took my general idea and a sharpie and ran with it. It was a couple of months after I completed my first yoga teacher training and about ten months after the death of my father. It had been quite a year; of losing myself in an abyss, but climbing back out again, of big changes, and of transformation and I had an enormous desire to mark it. Go big or go home and so now my entire back is a work of art (not covering any pretty, but only adding to it) that I hope embodies everything the real life tree and blossom does. Cherry blossoms are arrestingly beautiful, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to see them in person, stopping you in your tracks in wonderment and awe of the power of Mother Nature.
Their beauty is short-lived though, only lasting about 2 weeks each bloom, so they serve as a visible reminder that life is short. Beauty is fleeting, our lives are fleeting and death and change are inevitable. They remind us to stop, be present, look up and around and appreciate what is there in front of you. They have been referenced along with the samurai of Japan, warriors who were taught not to fear death, as we cannot avoid it, and to live their lives with values of integrity, discipline, and respect. Values that I try and use each day to shape the person I will be that day. Values that I think we can all use as a guide.
I am so grateful for one of the ways, tattooing, that I have to learned to use as a beautiful method to self express. Without tattoos as part of my journey of finding my voice and my courage, I’m not sure I would have been confident enough to travel solo to New York to take part of a weekend yoga workshop, to approach the talented photographer whose pictures I had seen of that teacher, and lucky enough for her to agree to meet with me and photograph me among the gorgeous cherry blossom trees of her neighborhood when they were in full bloom. Life, if you choose to be present with it, certainly has a way of making connections, doesn’t it?
I would love to hear from you. How did you find your voice? What ways allow you to express you?
Photos by Kristina Kashtanova http://www.icreatelife.photography/