Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why a Tattoo?

Today I got my first tattoo. I've been planning this tattoo for years, so it wasn't like I just woke up one day and said, I'm doing this. And I didn't want to carve something into my skin for life that wasn't hugely meaningful to me. I didn't want just a butterfly or something.

So if you're interested, here is the story of my tattoo. First, the question why? I know my hubby wonders why anyone would volunteer to undergo pain and expense. He'd probably rather buy camping gear. The easy answer is it's a means of self expression, a way to visibly display something about myself. For me it goes deeper than that.

I was thinking about what it means to me and why I would go through with it all week as I anticipated the pain. I don't like pain. I have a high tolerance for it, but I don't like it. Here's what I realized. For me, this a a rite of passage of sorts. It's solely about me. All the other rites of passage I've had have been mostly me in connection with others. Which is a good thing. My wedding, the births of my children, graduations. All of those things have importance, permanence, and meaning in my life. Big time.

But over the past years as I have approached 50 (a milestone I reached last year and about which you can read at length elsewhere on my blog), I have thought more about myself as, well, My Self. The self I am when it's not about how I'm connected to others. Not that I don't like being connected to others, mind you, but I've never NOT been connected to others, so it was kind of strange to think about. Perhaps this is a normal developmental process for women "of a certain age." I mean, my children are almost all grown and I have more and more of my life that is my own. I'm fast approaching menopause (with welcome arms I might add). They don't call it the change of life for nothing. I have read that for women, this is a time where we come into our power, ourselves, our true selves. No longer are we living for others, but we can live for ourselves. Follow our dreams. Lots of women have whole new lives from this point forward. I don't anticipate a whole new life on the outside, but it does feel sometimes like there's a primal, earth moving, tectonic motion going on inside my spirit.

It's like a quote my friend Gregory posted recently from Victor Hugo. I'll paraphrase in case I don't get it just right: Forty is the old age of youth; 50 is the youth of old age. That is exactly how 50 feels to me. I'm not young anymore. Kind of a relief, to tell you the truth. I feel like I'm the young one of my generation. I am technically a Baby Boomer, but like that last one born. So I do feel like a youth of older folk. So what a perfect time to get a tattoo, huh? Isn't that the kind of things people do in their crazy youth? But I'm in my crazy second youth. I don't care what people think of me. (Something that was definitely not true of me in my youth.) I am not afraid of messing things up or having to live the rest of my life with artwork on my body. I have a bit of extra money to spend on myself. And I am getting to really, truly, know the me that is My Self.

So about the tattoo. It has three pieces, all of which have great meaning to me and stand alone, but together make up the essence of myself.

First there is an owl in flight. The owl is my spirit animal. You might not believe in that kind of thing. No problem. But I do. I have loved owls since I was a child. They are mysterious, powerful, supposedly wise, silent and yet not silent. They are magnificent, elegant. Cute even. I love owls of all kinds and types. Live and painted, sculpted, or otherwise depicted. On one of the lowest days of my life (years and years ago), David tried to cheer me up. He took me to a creek in the Black Hills, where we splashed and played like kids. He took me somewhere with mountains, water, and peace. On the way home that night, a huge owl greeted me on the road. It was in flight, just above the trees, truly magnificent. It was as if it was telling me everything would be all right. Maybe like an angel or a spirit. Or just an owl. Also, the owl symbolizes for the purposes of my tattoo, my love of nature. Nature is to me the visible evidence of God. Even God itself. In nature is when I am with God. The spirit in which I live and move and have my being.

Second, there are three shooting stars. Basically, these represent my children. They are the best things I have to offer the world. I have raised them, and now they are ready, or almost ready, to shoot off into the world to bring their own version of themselves to fruition. They are my shining stars. Also, last year on my 50th birthday at May Lake in Yosemite, we watched shooting stars. I saw three. I think the number three is the most mystical number there is. Plus, Yosemite on my 50th birthday was just one of the best times in the world.

Finally, there is a Celtic symbol, with three spirals all coming together as one. I could probably go on ad nauseum about the magical number of three. There are religious connotations like Father/Son/Holy Spirit. There are earth based patterns like earth/wind/fire, mountains/water/trees (my own personal recipe for enlightenment and peace), breath of life/air/spirit, mother/father/child, sun/moon/stars. Dozens of others. Probably ones I haven't even thought of yet. In yoga, when we say three Ohms at the end of a session, I have heard it explained this way: the distinct sounds you say when you say "Ohm" represent birth/life/death. You are speaking everything in that breath. I've also heard someone else describe it as the sound of the earth itself. As an earth person, I connect with that very deeply.

So that is what the symbols mean to me. Someone once said they thought it was stupid to have a tattoo that was so obtuse you had to explain the symbolism to everyone. Oh well. What's important to me is that I know the symbolism and the importance. After all, it's on my body. I don't care what anyone else thinks. (See above.)

I couldn't be happier with the results. The sketch the artist did for me was great, but the actual tattoo is about ten times more awesome. Yeah it hurt. I don't know if I'll ever get another. Only if I come up with a design that holds as much meaning for me as this one.


  1. It's a stunning tat! Congratulations.

  2. I forgot to mention the one other connection. The Celtic symbol is also important because my heritage is Scottish/Irish, so it fits there as well--honoring of ancestors kind of thing.