Lots of people either don’t like tattoos or don’t understand them. I agree that some of them are pretty awful or dumb or poorly done. There are plenty of websites where you can see some of the worst, like on Ugliest Tattoos and Bad Tattoos, even Ellen Degeneres has a gallery on her show website, Bad Paid-For Tattoos. If you don’t like them, you shouldn’t get one. And, it hurts to get a tattoo. Depending on where you get it, it might hurt a lot.
But when thoughtfully chosen, beautifully designed and inked, and well cared for, they can be amazing works of art, of the heart, pleasing to look at and significant to the inked. As a writer, I appreciate the permanence of the ink, the art, understand the importance of writing something down, making a record of experience that other people can see, having a story visibly written on my body. I like the idea of being illustrated, marked with symbols, pictures, and words. I like the embodiment, the manifestation of meaning a tattoo can be.
You might not know this about me, but I have two tattoos, and plans for a few more. My first is on my lower back. I got it about twelve years ago.
The where of my tattoos matters. I got one on my lower back because I have always had trouble with my back, weakness and pain. I have Scoliosis, one leg is slightly longer than the other so my hips will never rest evenly, and I fell off a horse when I was 18 and did more damage. There is a chakra at the base of your spine that represents survival, the right to exist, and is thought to manage your ability to stand up for yourself. I felt a strong need to have a symbol of power and enlightenment in that spot. As for the one on my wrist, I am a writer and right-handed. I wanted to have the same symbol, a similar reminder, near the spot physically responsible for manifesting my heart’s work.
The same person did both. Her name is Tara and she owns Enchanted Ink in Boulder, Colorado. I picked her specifically, drove all the way to Boulder when there are plenty of tattoo shops in Fort Collins, because she’s an artist (whose work I liked), a nurse, and a woman.
Both of my tattoos are lotus flowers. I’m glad I waited until I was older to get a tattoo, because if I’d gotten one in my 20s, it most likely would have been a dolphin or a whale. Getting a tattoo when I was older helped me to make better choices, grounded and clear, intentional.
Besides lilacs, a lotus is my favorite flower. I love to look at them. They are exotic and rare, (at least considering where I live), ancient and mysterious. “Under favorable circumstances its seeds may remain viable for many years, with the oldest recorded lotus germination being from that of seeds 1,300 years old,” (yes, that quote is from the Wikipedia entry, but isn’t it amazing?). They represent an Asian sensibility that I admire, brilliant and precious but simple, potent while remaining calm.
The lotus flower is thought to represent the full cycle of life, including reincarnation–the flower closes and sinks underwater at night, and then at dawn it rises again and the bloom opens. “The roots of a lotus are in the mud, the stem grows up through the water, and the heavily scented flower lies pristinely above the water, basking in the sunlight. This pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment,” (Jendhamuni).
Lotus flowers have a connection to my spiritual life and practice, and have significant meaning in the Buddhist tradition. They symbolize beauty and purity, growing as they do from the muck. They stand in stark contrast to the dirty water in which they sprout. They also symbolize spiritual awakenment, enlightenment, faithfulness, purity of the heart and mind.
This is why both of my tattoos are lotus flowers, and even my mala (Buddhist prayer beads that are used to count while meditating using mantras) is made from polished lotus seeds.