February 8, 2018

What I Learned about Impermanence from a Tattoo.

It wouldn’t stop raining.

It never did in this grey city on the Atlantic coast of Spain. And the cold grey December rain felt even colder as I was going through a breakup.

I walked into a tattoo studio where “What a Wonderful World” was playing on the radio, and I told the tattoo artist what I wanted by showing him a Wikipedia page of a Sanskrit word. Anitya was printed on my skin—impermanence.

Quite ironic for a tattoo.

I walked away from the tattoo studio on that cold December evening feeling accomplished. My first tattoo, wow! And it wasn’t that painful! I went for a stroll along the river, crying what I told myself to be the very last tears…at least from that broken heart (one never knows when disaster is going to knock again on your door!).

Fast forward to 2015, and while doing a laser treatment, the therapist burned my skin badly, removing part of the tattoo. It was painful, and it was itchy, but my very first reaction was to laugh. The irony of the impermanent tattoo had come full circle. Truth is, life is full of change and packed with irony.

I remember looking at my burnt skin wondering who on earth would like to change? Change is undoubtedly the biggest fear people have. Who likes to have their world turned upside down? Yet we all go through it. I am clearly not the same person who had that tattoo done. I have gone forward in some aspects of my life, and I have granted myself permission to go backward in some others. It’s all part of the irony, I guess.

One thing I learned along the way is that I can’t stop change. It is going to happen whether I like it or not, so I have come to the conclusion that it was easier to embrace it. Easier said than done, of course, but, on the other hand, what did I have to lose?

The first question I asked myself was, what scared me so much about change? And the truth was: one day I could also be replaced. Shivering.

The mind can play awesome tricks. It can give us a lot of reasons why we are going to fail at something and, at the same time, it can give us a lot of other reasons why we are the best. Not just at what we do, but simply the best. Or so we want to believe.

I realized that being able to embrace change is being able to embrace the passing nature of our own human existence. It is saying, “One day, when I am not here anymore, this person next to me might love someone else.” It is acknowledging that one day I will also cease to exist—at least in this reality.

At the same time, this same impermanence can be a truly liberating experience. If I know that one day I am going to die, what is preventing me from doing what I want? What is stopping me from going a little bit further? To, at least, try it?

Change feeds on a double fear: the fear of disappearing and the fear of fully living.

If it hadn’t been for that guy leaving me, I would probably be still with him, maybe secretly wondering at night…what if? When I look at it from the perspective of the person I have become, it is not that painful, those tears are not that deep, and I can’t imagine a worst question to ask myself than what if?

Through embracing that change, that breakup, instead of keeping myself stuck and maybe trying to get him back, I gave myself the opportunity to live, to fully live. I changed houses and countries a few times. I changed jobs. I met amazing people along the road. I built myself up again.

Not even once throughout these years did I think it would have been better for me to stay with him. Not even once did I consider the opportunity to go back—not even to him, but to the person I was before.

Embracing that change in my life was the door to embrace myself from the very bottom. Change is painful, and it is very messy. It has made me softer. It has made me be at peace with the reality that one day I won’t be here anymore.

Nowadays, instead of being stuck when facing a new situation, I always ask myself, what do I have to lose? If it doesn’t work, I will start again. And if it does? Who am I to deny myself this capacity I have?

We live in a paradox. In whites full of blacks and blacks full of whites. Why not take them all in together?




Author: Silvia Martin
Image: Unsplash/Allef Vinicius
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Silvia Martin