My Mindful Tattoo: A (Self) Love Story

Via on May 18, 2010

This is the story of a 22-year-old girl and her first (and only) tattoo, a lotus flower.

My parents have always hated tattoos, and while it may not have always seemed that way, I respect them, and thus never thought about tattoos that much (did I respect them enough not get my tongue pierced at 16, ear cartilage at 18, and eyebrow at 20?  Well no, but piercings come out. They all are now, in fact).

The lotus is ubiquitous in Buddhism, Hinduism, and yogic tradition…but I had been practicing yoga for almost a year before I found out that the lotus flower blooms in the mud.  I immediately knew that I wanted a lotus tattoo.  I feel like I’ve been through a lot in my life (privileged as its’ been).  By 18 I’d survived an eating disorder and a date rape, which are honestly stuff that way too many women and girls have to deal with.

But at the time I heard about the lotus, I’d just come out of a very emotionally unstable and verbally abusive relationship.  I don’t think I would I have left my boyfriend when I did if not for the strength I learned through yoga (I think I broke up with him the day after I first held myself up in side plank, ironically).

Yoga gave me back to myself, but that’s a different post. When I heard the lotus bloomed in the mud, I thought, yeah, I did too.  I’ve been dragged through the mud, stuck in shit, and I came out the other side, a beautiful, strong person.

I held off on getting the tattoo though.  I thought it would be respectful to wait until I could financially support myself to get one (I’d still be waiting if that were the case, as my parents still help me out quite a bit—that said, I’m no trust fund baby, and I need a job, you got one for me?).  But then something happened.

An overzealous gynecologist thought I had HPV and decided to give me a punch biopsy.  I didn’t really know what that was either, but let me tell you what is, or rather what it felt like.  She took a chunk out of my vagina, and when I looked at it later that night sitting on the toilet in my apartment reeling in pain, I felt like an enormous chunk of my vagina was missing, and I wailed, and curled into a little ball because a painful hole seemed like a literal manifestation of all the emotion I still held onto, from my past to my relative present with a boyfriend that regularly called me a slut and a whore and told me everyone hated me.  I shut down completely.  I was supposed to go to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival the next day, but I sold my ticket because I was overcome with emotion and crippled with fear about the possibility of having HPV.  Yes, a lot of women have it, it’s largely very manageable, and most never have symptoms, but it can still cause Cancer and that’s scary.  If I’d been diagnosed at that point, it probably would’ve have come from my ex-boyfriend, and I probably would have associated it with him.  More than that, I couldn’t stand the idea of having to go through one…more…thing.  I…just…couldn’t.  I didn’t want to, I didn’t think I was strong enough.

While my friends went to Telluride, I ate an excessive amount of milkshakes and watched Weeds non-stop.  One line for the series stuck out in particular. Nancy is telling Helia that she can’t pay her the money she owes because her pot was stolen by a campus security guard, so it’s not her fault and it’s not fair, and Helia says, “Honey, the only fair I know is the bus fare.”  I felt like Nancy though, it wasn’t fair, and I couldn’t do it.  It turns out I didn’t have HPV, but Helia’s right.  Life isn’t fair, and it won’t cut you breaks just because I’ve already been through a lot okay! And then I started thinking about the lotus.  I’d been missing part of the metaphor.  It’s not always what you are after the mud, but what you do in the mud.  The mud itself is the time to bloom.  It had all worked out this time, more or less, but life wasn’t go to stay like that.  Regardless of what I’d been through, bad shit will always probably still happen.  And I can tell you right now that it did.  Three people I grew up with passed away over the course of the next year or so.  It was a very painful year, much more so for many others who lost children, a sister, a brother, close friends, or their significant other.

But what I realized thinking about the lotus after the week I spent holed up, afraid to live my life, paralyzed by my past and scared of the future, was that I can’t run away.  I can face it, and I can bloom.  I can live in the mud, not wait until after.  And I got my tattoo.  From a guy named Mike who had dreamy blue eyes and was about to leave the shop, but heard me grumbling as I walked up the stairs about how no one would give me a tattoo without an appointment.  My exact words: Why won’t anyone tattoo me?!

And the next day I told my parents, and it just so happened our closest family friends had just told them that they were getting a divorce. So, in short, my parents could have given two shits about the little lotus tattoo on my wrist.  The other family is like family to us.  And as I heard the news, I looked down at my tattoo, and I smiled through new tears.  And there hasn’t been a time since then when the goings gotten a little too rough that I haven’t looked down and been damn glad my lotus is there to remind me that I can do this, especially when I think I can’t.

That’s life. For or better or worse, it goes on…

On a not un-related note, the hole healed within the week, and there wasn’t even a scar.  It reminded me of what Eve Ensler wrote in The Vagina Monologues, comparing the heart to the vagina in her monologue about childbirth, “I Was In the Room.”  They both heal.

My tattoo is a reminder (And sometimes I just look at when I miss the train by lessthanasecondwhatthefuck!). Therapy helped too, though, don’t get me wrong.

And, lately, it kind of feels like the lotus is in constant bloom.

This blog originally appeared as “My Tattoo: A (self) Love Story” on my blog woman of steele.  It wrote it after being prompted by a first tattoo story contest being held by Emily Gould.

About Rachel Steele

Rachel Steele originally hails from Charleston, SC, but schlepped all the way to Boulder to play in the mountains and study at the University of Colorado. She graduated with a degree in in Political Geography in 2008 and then briefly traveled in India and was certified as a yoga teacher in 2009 at Holy Cow Yoga Studio. She has since returned to her mother's ancestral home of Brooklyn, NY and is proud to call the Williamsburg area home. Despite what her mother recently said, she doesn't think she's become a hipster. She does wears many hats, including a fedora with a pin of Lindsey Lohan on it, but the one that is most important to her is that of a feminist filmmaker. She also loves live music, enjoys cooking, and is happiest when rabble rousing. She does miss Colorado, but feels very connected to her college home when writing for elephant. Her personal blog can be found at womanofsteele.tumblr.com and on imdb.

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3 Responses to “My Mindful Tattoo: A (Self) Love Story”

  1. Tee says:

    Your spirit shines. Namaste'.

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