Today, I got a tattoo. Not a temporary one that you put on with water and a washcloth, or even a henna design. No—I got a real, permanent, forever, Big Girl tattoo.
I like saying that, because I like to see people’s reactions. So far, it’s usually come as a shock to most people, probably because they wouldn’t necessarily pin me as the tattoo type. It’s probably because there’s this societal belief that people with tattoos are “rebels” who ride motorcycles and have a million piercings and dyed hair. Not that those people are bad in any way. I just don’t exactly fit the bill. I’m a straight A plus student who doesn’t even own a motorcycle jacket; what am I thinking getting a tattoo? (Although, in my opinion, I’m still a rebel).
Well, here’s what I’m thinking:
I’ve always had a fascination with tattoos. I admire individuals who have the confidence and are dedicated enough to ink something permanently into their skin. Tattoos are a form of self-expression that their owner carries with them wherever they go. They represent beliefs, memories, stories, loves, and personality. Just like jewelry, shoes, or haircut, tattoos are a way for a person to show who they are in a unique way.
We all have stories to tell, and reasons to tell them. For some, they tell their stories with words. They sing, they write, they rap. Some tell their stories with art. They paint, draw, and create. Some use fashion and develop their own signature style. Others use makeup. There are a million ways to say what we think and feel. I think of tattoos as just another way to tell our stories, through symbolism, art, and design all in one.
Tattoos take the phrase “put your heart upon your sleeve” almost literally. By telling a story or conveying a meaning with an inked on symbol on your body, you are putting yourself out there, and embracing yourself for who you are. What you think or believe in your heart is inked into your skin, and if you choose to make it seen, it is seen by others as well.
For many years, I admired tattoos, but I never thought I would get one. I watched Ink Master and Best Ink on TV (every season), and loved to ask people I met what their tattoos meant. It wasn’t until the last few years when the thought crossed my mind, and stuck.
The past two years have been hard—probably the hardest of my life. I fell down and got back up multiple times. It wasn’t easy, and it was emotionally taxing. It’s not over yet either. Despite how incredibly difficult they’ve been, though, I look from where I started to where I am now and I see progress. Real progress, in a forward direction. I see myself as a different, yet better and more centered person than ever before. I know who I am now, and I can read what I feel. I understand my reactions to stress and I have developed skills to challenge them.
One thing that I’ve learned from this time of ups and downs, struggles and successes, is the meaning of permanence. There was a long time when I thought that I was stuck, permanently, in a very low place. Sometimes I still feel that way. But when I choose instead to think of the moments, however brief they were, when I wasn’t there, I am able to recognize that being stuck was a choice, not an inevitable destiny.
Once I realized that, I was able to create a goal. I set my own vision of where I wanted to end up permanently stuck. Once I knew that, I had a tangible destination. And each step forwards was one step closer to reaching it. The permanence of my position, mentally and emotionally, was up to me. I could give up and stay stuck, or I could make my state fluid until it reached a point where I wanted to be.
That goal was my permanence. Once it was established, I started working towards it. This is where my idea to get tattooed came in. I wanted something to remind me of this permanence, to show me that while I am still here, breathing and alive, I can aim for whatever I want. A step backwards won’t affect me unless I let it. I wanted a constant reminder and motivation to make more steps forwards.
I designed a game plan: nine tattoos, down my back, each one meaningful to me and applicable to my life. One by one, I would get them, at times when I felt I “deserved” them, whether that be milestones, achievements, or personal goals reached. With each one, I would solidify my commitment to loving myself, being who I am, and living my life to the fullest.
Now, it wouldn’t be any fun if I told you all of them right now, but I’ll tell you which one I got today, and why.
The tattoo I got today is the universal symbol for mindfulness. It was created by a Lithuanian graphic designer who wanted to bring the idea of mindfulness to the whole world, and connect us all with one single symbol. When he released his symbol, free for use of the public as an open source, he wrote this:
“Firstly, this symbol is presented like a physical representation of the present moment. Vertical forms represent time—past and future. Horizontal forms represent space—360 degrees. And the one is always in the center—being here and now.
Secondly, you can see a symbol of a water drop. This is the most often used metaphor to represent mindfulness. Only this water drop is presented in kind of a mirrored way. But do not think about it, because as mentioned above, this is time—past and future. Both are illusions, stay centered in the present.”
Mindfulness has been a vital aspect of these past few years for me. Not only have I discovered yoga and utilized it in that way, but I’ve applied it to all aspects of my life.
For me, being mindful is not just knowing what’s going on. It’s knowing the outside, the inside, and the why. It is knowing how an external event or feeling changes your emotion or reaction, and then why you acted that way.
It is also, however, a method of remembering that the present moment is always the most important. Getting caught up in the past that I cannot change, and on the opposite spectrum, in the future that I cannot control, I am stuck in limbo. I lose my footing. Mindfulness brings me back to the moment, to the “now.”
One of my good friends makes a goal for herself every day. No matter what, her goal is to “stay in the now.” That is her mantra. That is mindfulness.
Now, I have mindfulness tattooed on my skin. It’s there, and it’s permanent, but I consider it a step forwards.