TATTOOS & SAMSKARAS: NEW GROOVES FOR A NEW YEAR

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I recently got a tattoo on my wrist. No, it wasn’t my first tattoo, it was probably my 18th or so, as tattoos, over time, often coalesce to become one mosaic tapestry of ink. That’s when you stop counting. I consider myself moderately tattooed (although it depends on who you’re asking). I’ve always been conservative (in my opinion) in my choices, getting tattoos that progressively creep down to the elbow, then below the elbow, and then to the forearm, over the course of many years. Huge risks, if you really think about it, even in the modern day, especially if you’re trying to navigate different social and occupational spheres. Tattoos carry varying degrees of social acceptance depending upon the demographics of the wearer, the size of the tattoo, the location of the tattoo, the tattoo design, message or embodied meaning.

 

This article, though, is not really about tattoos, but, instead, posits the idea that we, ourselves, have the ability to change our own thinking, in our own way and on our own terms, without having to rely on external forces which have already shaped us into who we are – like it or not. That ”who,” however, is not static, nor is anything for that matter. Using “That’s how I was raised” or, ”That’s how I’ve always done things” as a strategy to validate a personal inability to change, grow and evolve, are not facts, they are excuses. Bottom line – facts and excuses are not the same. The Buddha taught a profound lesson when he stated in the simplest of terms, “Everything changes.” This also includes you and the excuses you might come up with to support your own stagnation.  I say this from a place of love. Tough, but compassionate love.

 

YOUR GROOVE, YOUR SONG

I first learned about samskaras from a great friend and yoga instructor, who is also a fellow audiophile. She explained the concept with an Al Green record in her hand. Yes, a record, an album, pressed on cool, black vinyl! She likened samskaras to the tiny grooves that the needle rides along in order to produce the sound heard from the speakers. Each and every time you play the same record, you will hear the same songs. Over and over again. While the record, or even the head of the needle itself, may accumulate some lint and dust affecting the sound quality or a small scratch could make the record skip, the song remains the same. Those grooves go nowhere unless some extreme heat melts them, and then the record is, well, no longer playable – it’s just a piece of plastic. We have our own “grooves” as well – except that they are neural pathways in our brain that affect everything we do, everything we feel, and all that we think and say. Yeah, pretty much everything.

In the more formal sense, samskara is the concept that all beings have past impressions resulting from previous lives and/or experiences that judges or guides one’s present actions, shapes one’s personality, and directs one’s life. There are three types of Samskaras: inborn, imposed, and acquired. Inborn are samskaras carried from one’s past life (lives) and into the present life. Imposed are samskaras that are brought upon through a young age from one’s parents and surroundings. Acquired samskaras are created from experiences and actions taken by oneself throughout their life. For a Westerner who seeks personal change in a new way, understanding this type of samskara is easy becuase of its universal relatability.

MAKING NEW GROOVES

As adults, many of us reflect on how we were shaped as children. There were many experiences that were well out of our control, imposed upon us, as were the ways in which we integrated those experiences into our psyches, most of which lingers into our adulthood. Of course, each of us does this in a unique way and experience varying degrees of retention. Nature versus nature is a long conversation, so I, instead, like to focus my energies on what I can do, individually, to “fill in” some of those grooves in my own vinyl that I no longer wish to keep and create new ones of my own making.

There are many things that I want to do differently and think about in new ways. I don’t want to repress, I’d rather understand and expand. I’ll be honest, breaking habitual patterns is extremely challenging, but not at all impossible – there’s a difference! How do you influence self-change, you ask? Simply this: you exert efforts inward.

Creating and utilizing mechanisms for establishing and maintaining continuous and frequent reminders is a good start. For some (including me), post-it notes are effective; for others, electronic reminders that come to us through mobile phones apps and text messages help reinforce the new ways of thinking, feeling, speaking and doing. Some people put things on their wall calendars and others record voice memos to themselves and play them back at various intervals during their week. You can use as few or as many as you like, but they ultimately serve the same purpose.

SEEKING A BIGGER MESSAGE

As I approach 50 years of age, I find myself needing to rely on reminders not only to influence change, but also to get things done without forgetting. While the smallest, seemingly insignificant things in life can be important to our functioning, I need more. I need to be reminded of something bigger than the drudgery of day-to-day “adulting” in the modern day. I need to be reminded of the significance of just being alive. I think we all do.

Putting a tattoo on my skin is not something I take lightly, at least at my age. I hold no judgment for self-expression – whatever tickles your fancy and is tattooed on your body is fine with me. I support that. I support expression of any kind, so long as it is not as harmful to oneself and to others. When you have something written on your skin in a readable language, versus something more visual or with a symbolic meaning or gesture, you have to make sure that that is going to be a statement about you. I decided on “everything changes” because it encompasses all that I struggle with, and perhaps something that everyone else struggles with, too, and that is the struggle with accepting change.

Change is hard. Over time, the body changes, the mind changes, our relationships change as does our financial circumstances. Change also encompasses where we live, how we live, and how we view the world. For me, wearing a message that has been permanently etched onto my skin, a message so powerful and inclusive, is putting new grooves in my vinyl and making me want to sing and dance to new tracks. Grabbing people along the way and pulling them out onto the dance floor with me not only helps to reinforce my own personal change, but helps us all groove together!

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Akello Stone

Stone is an adjunct sociology professor, a content creator and a Buddhist. His latest project called #pushing50 (www.pushing50.me), is a 22-minute, interview-style documentary that offers honest, real-person, self-taped confessionals on aging and impermanence from those who are moving through middle age and are facing the societal milestone of turning 50.

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