Chrysanthemum Lore

For the last month or so, I’ve been spending so much time (and money!!!) on something that I decided on rather sporadically and which has resulted in something mostly new to me. Color tattoo! Until now, I’ve had five tattoo, but none in color really (the closest I’ve come to that was some Persian poetry inked between my shoulder blades at the base of my neck which was done in a VERY faint henna-like color and which is now so faint some have asked if I had it lasered off, as though they were looking at the remnants).

Years ago, at the place all my other ink was done, “Old Man Jay” consulted with me about an abstract swirly design idea I wanted. We weren’t very specific but he basically understood what I asked for. But only VERY basically. And then, unlike any other tattoo I’ve gotten, Old Man Jay took a Bic brand ball point pen and started free-handing a design on my left bicep and upper shoulder area. When he had finished, I looked in the mirror at his handy work. It wasn’t what I pictured, but to be fair I hadn’t pictured anything really, thus the concept of an “abstract” swirling design. I knew that I didn’t want anything that looked “tribal” or gaudy or like what I’d seen on so many other people. That’s actually a little funny now because what you’ll see below is something MANY people have had done. At any rate, when he was finished, it was good enough at the moment to give the green light… And so he began scraping the design into my skin. When he was finished, I was pleased enough and so I paid and left and the rest (for that tattoo) is history. It was never something I loved, but also never something I actually regretted or felt I didn’t want others to see. Sometime later, I learned from others at that tattoo shop that Old Man Jay was sick with testicular cancer and not expected to survive. (I more recently found that not to be the case at all because he’s upright and doing business at that old shop! Cancer survivor or big fat liar?)

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in a different tattoo shop (one suggested by a friend) to make a purchase unrelated to tattoos and decided to consult with an artist about doing some “cover up” work.

There were only two tattoo artists employed there at the time, one of which being the owner of the establishment. But both were out. So instead, I consulted briefly with the piercer who said he was apprenticing under the owner. He gave me a general idea and said I should come back the following Monday to talk with the man. So I did. The owner’s name happens also to be Jay. Something about the name Jay and tattoos! The consultation with Jay went well and we scheduled and appointment for a week or two later for me to come in and get started.

That appointment was a Thursday and all my appointments since then have been on Thursdays. The first session lasted 3.5 hours and cost me more (I paid per-hour) than probably all my other tattoos, combined. That evening, before leaving, I made an appointment for two weeks later, for color. I came in a week after the first appointment to brag to Jay about the compliments I’d gotten on his line work, to discuss color ideas, and to confirm my appointment the following week – which was last week.

And so last Thursday I arrived, I went to the shop and pulled my shirts off (I’m almost always wearing two t-shirts) and he began etching hues into my skin. Fact: When basic lines are being tattooed into one’s skin, a single needle is used. Another fact: When shading and color are being done, multiple needles are used at the same time and my guy had NINE needles in the gun he was using on me that day. I spent four hours there and all but about the first 30 minutes was excruciating. Seriously – I’ve had things pulled from inside my body, out through my penis, and later a 3-feet section of tubing removed the same way (the tubing was removed while I was awake and sitting upright) and those experiences were nothing compared to this pain. Soon in, the pain had me sweating so much that it was running down my back and dripping off my elbows and soaking his chair. Half of my body trembled due to the pain. Once, I even jerked my arm away from him – almost involuntarily. That usually gets you kicked out of the establishment right then. I lucked out because right as I was jerking my arm from him he was letting go to refill the ink. It was pure misery and a real test to my pain threshold.

The design settled on was one of waves (at the bottom and throughout), clouds (at the top, only), and chrysanthemums, or as we call them here locally, “mums.” If you click here you’ll be taken to a site that details some lore about different flowers and I found it really fitting and an encouragement for choosing as I did. Among the great things you’ll read by following that linkout, below are meanings and symbolism that resonated a lot with me and I wanted to share here.

The Chrysanthemum means… lasting friendship and non-romantic affection, support of family and friends, rest and recovery after trials or challenges, cheerfulness, positivity,  & life and rebirth. This flower is associated with the month of November – the month in which my birth mother died. And it’s also associated with All Souls Day (Usually considered a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox holiday but is connected to what we now call Halloween, and in this context links to honoring the dead, which means much to me). Added personal meaning from my side is that there’s a flower for loved ones I’ve lost: My paternal grandfather, my aunt (dad’s side, in-law), my maternal grandfather, and my birth mother. It’s possible that in the future, I’ll add a flower for my dear friend Leah as well as eventual other losses.

In closing, I’ll share below a series of pics taken while work was being done on me and during breaks. In the first pic showing my skin, you’ll faintly see the original work by Old Man Jay which was being covered in this effort. The final pic is of me after I finally came home that night, showered off, and was totally spent by the long day and terrible physical pain it held.

 

The owner's workspace

The owner’s workspace

 

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Colors!

 

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A colorful mess

 

Basic shadowing completed

Basic shadowing completed

 

First color outside of the color used for lines

First color outside of the color used for lines

 

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Finally, a very VERY tired me

Finally, a very VERY tired me

 

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

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Dem Bones

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About a week ago I thought I had my entire weekend planned out. I was to work all day Saturday. That evening would mean adult beverages and color hard-baked eggs festively. The following day, Sunday, was meant to be spent in Ohio at Ikea with only my beloved as we took our time wandering the immense place and gathered a handful of new display cases for his Masters of the Universe collection and my collection of Ganesha murtis.

Mother nature had other plans, though, and those plans included dumping a bunch of snow. Everywhere I looked and every new person I asked gave me a different answer as to the ETA of said snow storm. Hoping to play things safe rather than sorry, we postponed the egg coloring and moved up the Ikea trip. It was all the same, I suppose. And even better, it meant my best had his first trip to Ikea.

We get to Ohio that night and, with less time than we preferred, we made our rounds and got in line at the check out.

The crowds at Ikea are typically very mixed. I suppose Ikea has something for everyone. I recall noticing an unusually large percentage of Indians. Wearing a bright red t-shirt with nothing but a nice white Om on the front center, and with dharma tattoos visible, I assumed I’d catch some attention while we wandered Ikea’s acreage. But I didn’t really… until we reached the checkout.

Before us in the line were a small Indian man, only slightly older than myself and two female companions. We had been standing behind them for some time (the line was moving VERY slowly) before they actually noticed me. Then, the man turned around and began questioning me.

He asked about my Om shirt. He asked about the Om Purnam ink I have on my left wrist and the abstract Ganesha ink on my right forearm. He kept saying things to me as he questioned me and my response was always either, “I know” or to basically finish his sentences with the point he was assuming I didn’t already know.

I’ve said it before, and I suppose I’ll say it a million more times before this life is extinguished: Not all Hindus have brown/olive skin.

Everything this guy asked me or started to point out I explained I already knew. Eventually, he said something like, “In the fall we have a Ganesha holiday. It’s called Ganesh-”

And I cut him off, “Chaturthi. I KNOW.” I followed that with a very casual, but slightly annoyed, “I’m Hindu, too.”

His response? “No.”

I could feel my face reddening and my eyebrows being drawn toward the third eye. “What?” he asked soon after. As patiently as I could I explained, “I know those things already, sir. I’m also Hindu.” He virtually ignored what I’d just said and began to ask about the leg tattoo I’d referenced during his earlier questioning of me. To this, I turned slightly and exposed my calf where my newest Ganesha ink is located. He nodded (mind you, to the Western eye this nod is more of a bobble), flatly told me I could only have tattoos of gods on my arms, and then simply turned around and said not another word to me.

Me = floored.

Earlier today I messaged an Indian bahin (sister) that I have in Atlanta. She’s very very dear to me and my life has certainly been better since knowing her. In my message I asked her what that bit about my leg tattoo was all about. She explained that he wasn’t necessarily trying to be mean (I’m not sure I’m convinced) and that it IS generally frowned upon to have a god inked onto your leg – because the legs is connected to the foot and the foot is “dirty.” Knowing what I know about Hindu “protocol,” this sounds about right. My bahin wouldn’t lie to me and I know she wouldn’t say something to hurt my feelings.

But now I also know why religion often has a bad name.

For one, I think this points to an interesting …um, allow me to call it a double standard. It’s not really, but for now I’m calling it that. The feet are “dirty” and yet gurupadapuja is a heart-touching ritual that I, and many Hindus, adore. I understand that there’s an immense element of humility involved in padapuja… The feet are so dirty and the only part of my guru’s body I’m even “fit” to touch are his/her feet. I get it – I get it. But I don’t buy it.

For another, all things are connected and interconnected. I’m reminded of that old children’s song, “Dem Bones.” For your enjoyment, you’ll find the lyrics to that song here. Check it out and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

If my unholy foot can cause my calf to be “soiled,” then by extension my thigh, my hip, my waist and my torso are also unclean simply because “dem bones” are all physiologically connected. And virtually every other part of me branches out from there. Using that math and following that logic, it shouldn’t really matter whether Ganesha sits permanently on my arm or my leg (in my case He’s to be found on both!) because not a single square inch of me is fit to bear an image of god.

And forget the Ganesha on my leg. The “Om Purnam” shloka wraps around my left wrist. Traditionally, the left hand is also a no-no. Does that mean that this is also viewed as disrespectful? Please picture me rolling my eyes and tossing my arms up in resignation. That’s just about where I am by this point.

I once read a book titled, “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America.” (Or something like that) It broke apart the essence of Islam, and also the essence of what America represents. In both cases, culture gets in the way. Islam offers great things to the world, but Arab culture has virtually ruined it. The founding principles of America are what has, since its beginning, made it an incredible world power. And today we see the culture of Americans ruining so much – in our homeland AND abroad. I think I apply the concept of that book to my expression of Dharma.

As a practicing white American Hindu I’m freed from many of the ridiculous, detrimental, and selfish aspects of the typical American lifestyle and culture. And as a practicing white American Hindu I’m simultaneously freed from the proportionate ridiculousness of Indian culture.

I’m never usually for “picking and choosing.” Consistency. Dependability. Predictability. Stability. Those are all super valuable words and concepts that all should strive to implement in their lives. But I also think as we move in life it’s necessary at times to pick and choose. True or not, the Buddha is often quoted as having said, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

To think that God would ever feel disrespected by this particular expression of my bhakti definitely does not agree with my reason or common sense. I understand the cultural/religious background involved… but I simply don’t agree with it. And you can bet I told that man in the Ikea checkout line, too.

I told him with my mouth.

Om Shanti

Circularity

A reposted pic that came on my Facebook newsfeed recently said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” I’m adding that pic to this post for your viewing enjoyment. This struck me, actually, and it reminded me of the quote by Alexander Hamilton that “if you stand for nothing you will fall for anything.” I think the superficial understanding/interpretation of these two is bologna, and I plan to explore them in more detail here. Tune out now, if you care not.

Let’s take the second one first. So, apparently, if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything. I don’t think so, really. I think one implication here is something like, “If you don’t know where you are, you might end up anywhere.” (Which, conveniently enough, ties into the other saying being examined in this post!) My husband is actually a great example of why this is bullcrap. He’s not religious in any way, but he does know devotion. He doesn’t focus on humanitarian stuffs, but cares much about the well-being of our society. He votes, and usually Democrat, but he’s not officially affiliated with any one side. He shirks the label of vegetarian, but he’s like 98% plant-based in his eating. In more than one area of his life, it could easily be said, he doesn’t actually stand for anything. And officially, he pretty much refuses suchery. Yet, he’s actually quite clever and reasonable and is by no means a person I’d suspect would “fall for anything.” I think this particular phrase, from someone of western culture and of the Abrahamic background, is typical. In a billion other religions and cultures around the world, folks have been encouraged to know their path and stick to it. But historically this has been taken to extremes in the West by the Abrahamics, who perpetually insist that not only must you be wrong for them to be right, but that if you’re not for them you must automatically be against them. And so, for people of that mindset, it naturally reasons that if you stand for nothing you’re an idiot who will fall for anything. My spouse refuses to stand for most things (at least in the way most people would expect someone to stand for something), but he is by no means someone who falls for anything. In his case, it’s almost more a matter of avoiding the drama of standing for something else (for the record, this is not the same as being lazy!). I’m probably not doing him justice in this encapsulation, but he’s the best example I could think of right off. And that’s that. Standing for nothing does not equate or necessitate falling for anything. And so we move on.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

I think, in short, this implies that if you don’t know where you’re going you’ll never really arrive. Unfortunate, aimless, wandering is the tragedy implied here. No? As with the previous saying, I think the inadequacy of this one is solved when taken from a dharmic perspective.

In most parts of most dharmic religions, a central understanding revolves around the concept that all comes from the same Source. The other side of that coin is that all returns to the same Source. Also understood, is that the Source (Brahman) is beyond all classification. “Neti, neti,” we say in Hinduism. Not this. Not that. The Source is not only everywhere we look and in everything we see, but simultaneously transcends all of phenomenal existence. Something else that highlights this point is known as Om Purnam, and it goes,

“Om purnam adah, purnam idam, purnat purnam udacchyate. Purnasya purnam adaya, purnam evavashishyate.”

This translates roughly as, “That is infinite, this is infinite. From That Infinite this infinite comes. From That Infinite, this infinite removed; The Infinite still remains.” It can be kinda lofty  to wrap your mind around at first, but it’s one of the best descriptions of Brahman, the simultaneous Source and Destination, that I’ve found and because of this I’ve had it tattooed around my left wrist/forearm.

So, coming back to our original topic, it’s quite literally impossible and illogical to not only not get where you’re going but also to mostly even to cognitively know where you’re going. It then reasons that not only are most folks who read things like the sign above misinterpreting it, but also are reading the very Truth! It’s technically easier for the human manas/buddhi/ahamkara to know where it’s not going that where it is, while at that exact moment and forever after, any road will get you there.

Om shanti

The Lady in the Elevator

Tonight I found myself alone with a woman in one of my school’s elevators. Ummm… please trust that this is not going where that first sentence might suggest.  I was walking into the elevator when, from clear down the hall, she comically hollered, “Hold the door!” I held it.

Soon enough I found myself alone in the elevator with a super friendly and casual women nearing late middle-age. She noticed the white binder in my arms. This binder is one of those with the clear plastic wrapping the outside of it, wherein one can insert pictures or labels or whatever. I have slipped in a full-page sized print out of the image of Ganesha and his vahana into this part of my binder. She noticed. See the picture below, followed by the same tattooed on my leg.

“That’s a cool-lookin’ elephant on the front of your binder!” she exclaimed. I thanked her with a smile. She then asked if I’d be coloring in the image (it’s just a black and white image and could easily be turned into an art project). I answered in the negative, but then explained that I’d done one better and had the image tattooed on my leg. Her answer to this was to gleefully explain to me that her grown daughter likes trees and octopuses, and that she’d got a large tree tattooed on her front upper leg. This woman is surely about as innocent as an ignorant person can be, and what I’m about to admit will surely make me sound bitchy.

Truth be told, it REALLY annoys me when someone refers to Ganesha as an elephant. He’s not that. His head is about as elephant as it gets. In fact the rest of him is entirely human, and then some (aka, He has extra human body parts, such as His numerous arms/hands).

It doesn’t upset me or offend me, really, that people mistake Him for any old elephant. But it bothers me that people see one small portion of the picture and react as though they understand the whole thing. This obviously easily translates into a much bigger context, and is a lesson most of us would do well to learn more fully.

Something that does, kind of, upset or offend me is that if the tables were turned, I’d surely have been ripped a new butt hole. Picture the reaction you’d receive if you found yourself next to someone with a sticker on their binder of Jesus Christ on the cross, and you say to them something like, “Hey! Sweet sticker of a nearly naked Jew being nailed to some boards!”

You might have the sincerest intentions, but the recipient of your words would likely take exception. Don’t you think?

<sigh>

Om Shanti