I have tattoos all over my body. Across my chest is this statement, or perhaps only this reminder: “I surrender”. A thorny, but long-stemmed rose blooms there, perpetually. One of my first conversations with Nick, the night we met, explored what color that rose should be. I only had the line work, then. He thought pink, and so pink it is. I’m glad we’ve stayed together, because it’s heartbreaking to wear a rose colored with such hope, otherwise. We’ve…”negotiated” is too euphemistic a word…endured a lot of conflict, and it’s not always clear what the path of surrender is, or how to accomplish it.
On my right thigh, a large, screaming eagle grasps a filigreed six-shooter in its talons, across a field of flames. Down by my knee, a banner says “love in the middle of a firefight”. That tattoo is, for sure, a reminder. Firefights are a given, and so is love I suppose, but the two feel mutually exclusive in the moment of their confluence.
Vertically down my back, along the right side of my spine, it says “breathe”, in script so esoteric it’s mostly just a doodle. And when I need that reminder, it’s behind me and I usually don’t remember to focus on breath until it’s too late.
My first tattoo, the oldest and best, is a Taurus bull, my sun sign, but rendered in the style of the Bhagavad Ghita. I grew up marveling at those full-color illustrations in my father’s copy — Krishna and Radha, sacred masculine and sacred feminine, bound energetically in a love deeply spiritual but magnificently sensual, surrounded by animals. Animals cannot resist the appeal of deeply embodied love — in fact, they are our teachers in that regard. In the Bhagavad Ghita, animals’ spirits and beauty are made evident too, with jeweled headdresses and wreathes of flowers. Their eyes are deeply soulful and utterly trusting. Krishna and Radha are, for them, utterly trustworthy.
This was my earliest vision of religion, heaven, transcendence — not a rejection of my own body, not a rejection of physical love, and not a jackbooted “dominion” over animals.
The tendons of my hands and feet have always reminded me of the spines of paper fans. I cherished several collapsible, richly colored paper fans I had as a young girl. They were so fragile, but useful, and lovely. So of course, the image of a paper fan is inked across the top of my left foot. The fan is a gorgeous blue, but pink chrysanthemums and cherry blossoms spill across it.
Down my left side, with wings outspread across my ribcage and back, and feathered tail lashing and coiled down my hip, is a dragon, my eastern zodiac. The dragon rares back and breathes fire, but the fire turns to harmless flowers.
My tattoos represent, collectively, my various responses to conflict in my life, and my hopes for myself as regards future conflicts. Most of all, they represent my commitment to transforming discomfort into beauty, which is the only way I want to wear it.
My tattoos, and tattoos generally, are distasteful to some. Er, to many. I’m a nice, pretty, respectable-looking gal — why would I want to permanently mark myself up like that? Similarly, Nick gives a first impression of excellent, even extreme, muscularity. He meets with clients and discusses their strength goals, and they sometimes say, “Well — no offense, but I don’t want to look like you.”
This is not a discussion of why, or if, anyone should get tattoos or muscles — I am musing, though, about how we transform our conflicts into something beautiful we can display, that we can be proud of.
I’ve been contemplating conflict a lot, lately. It’s uncomfortable, but stimulating, and certainly chronic — one of life’s metabolic processes we can love or hate; to which we can become numb, or neurotically averse, or fetishistically excited by. We all display our conflicts, with or without tattoos, or big muscles. We wear them on our faces, in our eyes, on our shoulders, in our fat stores. We trudge along with them, heavy in our shoes or nervously in our hands. Our conflicts are there. And when they’re there for long enough, they become moods, then attitudes, then opinions, then beliefs, then physical afflictions, then observable circumstances.
Instinctively we know this, and seek to stop the momentum at lower levels, but without fully transformation; without making the pain truly beautiful. So this looks like alcoholism, addiction, toxic relationships, allegiances to super specific groups unified by everyone being enraged about the same thing. Most frequently, we seek to stop the momentum through control of others’ behavior.
I’ve experienced and displayed my own personal conflicts via all of these un-beautiful formats, in case you’re interested. Any that I’ve missed have been conveniently and thoroughly explored by my partner, Nick. Together, we represent a compendium of What Not To Do, both individually and in relation to one another. (We never run out of things to talk about, obviously.)
Our conflicts accrue within ourselves like opened folders, programs running in the background, slowing us down and making everything load more slowly. How do we effectively clear our desktop? How do we transform pain into beauty?
One answer — certainly the answer of tattoos and muscles — is to fight fire with fire. But, there’s an important caveat: only clean pain transforms dirty pain. Only clean conflict transforms dirty conflict. Only clean wounds heal dirty wounds. When you’re subjected to discomfort that’s out of your control, you can certainly try to run from it. And if that works, then great — maybe it was some exception to the universal law of attraction; a problem not of your creation. You had nothing to do with it, so all you have to do is run away. That’s usually not the case, but hey, it’s worth a try.
If that doesn’t work, though, what then? Ideally, you would immediately ascend to a Christ-like state, exemplify both the problem and the solution, with perfect clarity, and simply align with the latter, forsaking the former.
Yeah fucking right.
It’s love in the middle of a firefight, and no plan survives first contact.
For most of us — certainly for me, and I know for Nick — the agony of conflict just happens, and it won’t be truly understood for months, or years — or ever — after the fact. In this case, as the shells of dirty pain explode all around you, simply choose the answer of clean pain. It’s almost arbitrary, at this point. Some kind of personal practice or expression that is, by its very nature, uncomfortable, and therefore totally absorbing. (Clean pain is relative to dirty pain — for instance, fasting. Fasting isn’t something I recommend per se, and I’ve done a lot of it. But fasting is a choice far preferable to cutting, for instance.) A practice of clean pain shouldn’t harm you, best case scenario, and it certainly shouldn’t harm anyone else. Clean pain often, but not always, re-engages the body consciousness, thereby disengaging the mind consciousness. Mental anguish is not improved through more mental anguish, rule of thumb.
Clean pain doesn’t even have to be painful, per se, but it could be a long motorcycle ride (not exactly comfortable, but demanding a higher degree of focus); a deep house cleaning, a commitment to being non-verbal for a period of time, a raw vegan fast — anything that takes the dirty energy, of which you are mostly likely a contributor, and alchemically clarifies it, making it beautiful; making it yours.
Then, and only then, is it “wearable”, and something to be proud of.