It hurt more than I thought it would. It was bearable enough though. After a few seconds of pain he would let up, gifting an immediate moment of relief before he’d continue again. I felt so out of place in that room- surrounded by people and images that years of conditioning taught me to judge so harshly. Topless women, bleeding hearts, demons and gods— Tattoos, they said, defiled the body.
As a child, I remember Sunday School teachers asking, “would you spray graffiti on the walls of God’s temple?”
“No!” I’d answer confidently. Of course I wouldn’t. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have sprayed graffiti on so much as the side of a dumpster, never mind a sacred building.
“Well,” the teacher would explain, “God says your body is a temple. So if you’d never spray graffiti on God’s house, you must also never put graffiti on your body.”
Some parents at church would even frown upon those temporary tattoos that tempt all children, calling out from the 25 cent vending machines which were often situated beside innocuous bubble-gum dispensers. I remember scrubbing a conspicuous one off before church on more than one occasion, lest anyone get upset that I was meddling with the dangerous gateway-tat.
Perhaps they were right. After all, here I was decades later, the day after Christmas no less, feeling the piercing needles inject black ink into my virgin skin. I closed my eyes, because it felt safe, and I considered again this narrative I had so quickly adopted as a child. In truth, many of the walls in those temples were painted by artists who imagined landscapes and told stories with colorful murals both simple and complex. It was art. And so was this. I even designed it myself.
The story I had been told was meant to keep me safe, but it also taught me to see the world through a particular lens. Ink on bodies was graffiti, not art. It conjured images of delinquency and sin and ugliness and it shaped my attitude toward tattoos and the people who sported them. I realized, perhaps too old to proudly admit, that continuing to live by that script was infantile- like being a full-grown adult caged in a child’s playpen.
Somewhere along the way, in the recent years that led up to my lying face down on that tattoo parlor table, I realized that I had been living in a cage constructed out of hundreds of scripts like this one, written by the anonymous hands of countless strangers who lived before me. The moment I was born into these narratives, they became my own and and began to shape my reality. As children, we don’t have the tools to filter the information being fed to us. By the time we do acquire them, if we acquire them at all, we have already accepted the framework that threatens to cage us forever from any other possible reality.
“Away we go” became a part of my being that day in that dusty corner of Salt Lake City. It seems that somehow, writing in ink what was merely an idea was an act of creation that would bring forth my new reality. Coincidentally, a few days later, the wind picked up. And a few days after that, I loaded everything I owned into my car and began my 3-day, 2,000 mile drive across the country to more fertile ground. I didn’t know then just how significant those words would become in my life. But then, I suppose you can never be sure what lies ahead, when you give yourself to the whims of the wind.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Saturday, October 17, 2015
Solitude is an interesting thing. It is perceived to be one of the worst kinds of punishment, as in solitary confinement, and yet it is also spoken of as the gate to enlightenment. Monks and various religious figures speak of time in the wilderness, cut off from the world, with a sense of reverence and awe. We typically busy ourselves every waking hour almost so as not to have to be alone with ourselves. Perhaps it is because we know deep down that if we were to be still and allow our senses to be directed inward, we’d enter into a state of desperate loneliness as we became increasingly aware that we have become estranged from our true self- the one that exists underneath all the noise. But, I believe that if we embrace that silence and face ourselves- we can unlock something incredible within us and that loneliness would be eradicated forever.
From the moment we are born, we begin learning from the world around us, adopting the various creeds of men. Children believe their parents to be Gods- all knowing, all-powerful. Perfect. As we grow and become adults we realize that it is an absurd assumption, but children don’t know any better. Their parents are the light, the way, and the truth. They brought them life. The life-experience of these adults seems a lifetime in the eyes of a child who cannot even properly comprehend the length of a lifetime. As children, we simply accept the world we are born into as “the way things are.” We inherit a narrative the moment we breathe our first breath and have no reason to think that it could possibly be wrong- it simply, is.
Everything that I’ve believed about myself, about life, and about the world was an illusion constructed by generations of men before me. It wasn’t until enough of these narratives failed me and I found myself on stage without a script that I realized that I had no idea who I really was underneath all that scaffolding or what it was that I actually wanted out of life. It wasn’t just the religious narrative that didn’t seem to be quite right. It was every part of the world I found myself in. What it meant to be successful or beautiful or educated or wealthy or happy. My view of love and relationships. How political and economic systems function and operate. In an instant, none of it made any sense.
The only thing that made sense, in fact, was that I was alive. And so was the tiny red mite running across the sidewalk. And so was the bird flying playfully in the breeze. And the grass. And the bee. And that somehow, all of this was connected- That I was a part of the earth and the earth was part of me. And that we were all experiencing what it meant to live right then in that one profound and joyful moment. Nothing else mattered. We were what it was to alive- and it was beautiful, and wondrous, and exciting.
It was the beginning of several months of contemplation and study which helped me start to unlearn the things I had previously accepted without protest- things the world at large simply accepts. What I learned in the process was so much more simple and simultaneously more profound than the things I had once believed before.
My experience over these last months has confirmed these words over and over, and I'm no Einstein, but I think it goes further than this. I think that a more complete idea would be to say, “we shall require a substantially new manner of being if mankind is to live.” Though they effect how we see and experience the world, we are not our thoughts. And the concept of survival is bleak- it could just as well mean keeping the machines on which pump our hearts and fill our lungs with air, but offer no substance to our existence. We require a whole new way of being if we are to really grasp and appreciate what it is to live.
Over these past quiet months, I’ve found myself struggling to know how to face the world again and take my place on it’s stage. What part will I play? I’ve been expanding ideas and developing exciting plans, but found that they always seemed out of reach. I imagined obstacles which prevented me from bringing these ideas to life. The main one being money.
I decided that I wanted to help facilitate the shift into this new way of being, but I was approaching that goal with the same capitalist start-up business mindset that we have accepted as the way, the truth and the light. Thinking of it this way was a serious impediment to the creativity required to imagine a new reality.
So, I have a new plan. I am simply going to start doing it. I will not be waiting for money. I will not put it off until I have a perfect business model. I am not even going to do it in order to make a living. I am going to do it because it makes me feel alive and because it sparks passion within me and because I believe in it and because it feels authentic.
My plan is to launch my new website at the start of 2016. Everything I create will be housed in that central location, including my blog. But I’m going to commit to working on this project daily and I am not going to wait to start putting that work out. In January, visitors will be redirected to www.awaywego.life for my hard-launch and much of this content will be repopulated there. In the meantime, consider yourselves beta users.
I’d love feedback on what things resonate with you, why they resonate with you, what I do well, and what I should work on. I’m excited to embark on this new endeavor and hope that it is something that brings value to the lives of my readers. Thank you to those who have reached out and urged me to keep writing.