Tattoos are not like haircuts & goddamn that fucking hurts!
So I embarked upon this journey in my heart at the beginning of the year. Instead of resolutions I challenged myself to do things this year that would scare the Hell out of me and intentionally break down some of the fierce type-A constructs I’ve built during my adult life. The goal is to open up as completely as I can while seeing things through different eyes as I turn the page on 50 next February.
The funny thing about this even more than running 5 half marathons and a lot of 5,10,15 k’s, post heart attack, is that it’s made me face some demons that I would normally dance into silence as I check off bullet points across 1000‘s of checklists I’ve built around myself in my professional life over three decades. I won’t lie either. There have been moments this year that brought me to my knees. It took acts of sheer will to get back up. My own strength, Eddie, friends, family and totally inspiring colleagues recharged my banks when the light went out. That’s exactly the point though. Being open means, well, being open. Being vulnerable. Making mistakes. Living.
I remember VagueBooking from ER two years ago. Something like “I am recently reminded that I am not invincible.” It’s the first time in my life that I saw death reflected back at me in Eddie’s eyes with his absolute fear of having almost lost me. It took me a good two years to get where I’m at now. And I still have a lot of work to do but the tattoo journey is exactly what I mean to express this through. My body as a canvass for this internal sea change which the grenade that went off in my chest two years ago caused. Life in the blast radius.
I did my research and met with a handful of tattoo artists after talking with some heavily covered friends and colleagues. When I stopped at Long Street Collective I felt a good vibe. Yeah, I was the oldest guy there. A middle aged disaster of a free spirit. But I felt like I was among kindred folk.
So I proceeded to tell the artist, Andy, about my affiliation with Ganesha from my early 20‘s after having worked with a Tibetan Buddhist. You see, I want to take a pretty radical journey here. One that will probably span three years now that I’m almost midway through the first third. I want to cover my back, chest and both arms with stories.
I’ve already documented the start of this and part of the meaning of the back piece in a separate post.
It was during this last session however where Andy was painting a poppy onto my back that our conversation lead to some strangely comfortable places. I told him I was gay and about my aunt Lora. About parts of my career. That I was raised Baptist which turned me off so violently that I outright rejected all forms of spirituality. I can’t stress that last part enough. Life is not black and white but many colors. I felt that as a teen and have dedicated all my life to that since. However it was when I was going through cardiac rehab when they talked about meditation as being an “incredibly valuable tool for a heart attack survivor” to adopt. I was like Hell no.
Yet while I was constantly wincing and tensing up for 3 & a half hours as the needles punctured my skin and brutalized my spine and shoulder blades, I’m not a tough guy and anxiety works against me, he mentioned that it was interesting when you think of homophobia and Buddhaphobia in the same moment. That’s when I felt like I did when I crested the peak with my buddy Doug in 2015 on Mt Hood. We were here and it was all incredibly beautiful. Looking out over the world with my best friend right then in that single moment.
The first Noble Truth is that life is suffering. The subsequent truths talk about how we create this suffering and how we can escape it given mindful, and very dedicated, efforts. This whole conversation on the tattoo table made a bell go off inside me that rang so deep and loud. I had come to him with the ideas of Ganesha for being the remover of obstacles and bringer of luck and that I felt like he wanted to be on my back as I moved forward through the very doors he opened for me post heart attack. The ones I had the strength to open for myself even though they scared the fuck out of me. I’d done this before. Coming out. Dropping out of forestry school. Creating a career in the wine business. Recreating a career in IT. Battling depression and anxiety without focus and then, finally, with mindful intent this year.
As with the Mt Hood hike in Portland in 2015 or during the half marathons and then the 20 mile race I did… there’s a series of points where you look back and measure your experience along. Kind of like some strange existential calculus you do using a slide rule. This last tattoo session really drove the point home, literally, into me that this is a very real and physical journey I have chosen to undertake.
Andy’s words took me back to ideas that my aunt Lora used to open my closed teenage brain decades ago. Both left me with a feeling of gratitude for the expanded view outside myself. I was saying that my step dad was not perfect. She countered with the possibility that I might not be the perfect stepson. It was the slap in the face that I needed at the time. The Buddhaphobia comment in light of my aggressive meditation efforts seem to speak the same story as Ganesha slowly appears, very painfully, all over my back.
Maybe it’s time to embrace some part of the Greater Universe. I guess that’s part of what this tattoo journey is all about after all.