Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tattoo: Solace In Pain

I have been questioned by some as to why I wear tattoos.

All of my tattoos have deeply personal and spiritual significance. Each has a story to tell.

Our greatest moments of growth are often during our most painful experiences. The only difference between myself and the "un-inked" is that I wear my scars on my sleeve; literally on my skin.

But this tattoo is a summation of my 'journey' and not such a simple story to explain.

"The highest form of goodness is like water.
Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them; nourishing life effortlessly.
It stays in places loathed by all men. Flowing without prejudice
to the lowliest places. Therefore, it comes near the Tao"

Excerpt from Tao Te Ching, verse 8, by Lao Tzu

Although both goodness and badness coexist, it is goodness that flows effortlessly like water, because it is goodness that is more at the core of nature.
I see this 'action' of goodness as the Taoist sees Wu Wei.
Wu Wei literally means 'without action', but often meaning 'action without action', or 'effortlessly doing'. As planets revolve around the sun, they "do" this revolving, but without "doing" it; or as trees grow, they "do", but without "doing".

Goodness, like water, is similar to a valley. All surrounding water naturally flows towards this depression, eventually forming a reservoir; rivers running and flowing into a pond, lake, sea, or ocean, and it is the ocean that is by far and away one of the most powerful forces I have personally ever experienced – whether placid and at rest, or during violent storms.

This passiveness strikes me as more of the Yin; the feminine, inaction so to speak. Nature - as Man - is innately good. Not Fallen, not corrupt, not depraved.

There is no need for me to abandon my cultural references to the bible and/or the book of Genesis either. Outside of the option of allowing for a metaphor rather than a literal historical story, there are other interpretations with this same source material (the book of Genesis) that do not necessitate Original Sin, the Fall of Man, or Total (or even partial) Depravity. For further reading see Gnostique: Genesis Reinterpreted.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can never know which is ultimately true. Innately good, or depraved. I prefer to believe Man is innately good, not 'fallen' and necessarily corrupt. The problem with choosing to believe in these Christian doctrines (the doctrine of Original Sin, or Total Depravity, or TULIP) is that, in day to day life and activities, we really shouldn't trust anybody. They're all corrupt and out to screw me. Now that is a way of life and not a very good one.

I choose to live my life trusting people know right from wrong, and in the most part, attempting to do good. Whether it's correct or incorrect I think choosing to see people as innately good is a better and more respectful way of living life. And if nothing else, at least I stand a chance of being a good example. (Jungshin Sooyang). Ultimately with goals of making a better world.

...thus the water in the tattoo.
The fifth oath in Taekwon-do is “I shall build a more peaceful world”.

Easier said than done. The question is, how do I even attempt to accomplish this?

"Tao gave birth to One,
One gave birth to Two,
Two gave birth to Three,
Three gave birth to all the myriads things of the universe".
Excerpt from Tao Te Ching, verse 42, by Lao Tzu

This basically says that Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis. But this in itself is somewhat useless. I like calling this the Purple Plasticine Problem.
 In the Purple Plasticine Problem, I have a piece of red plasticine in one hand and a piece of blue plasticine in the other. I mix them and work them into each other. In the end, I end up with a large piece of purple plasticine. Few would argue this point. However, it means little by itself. ( Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis).
  So, let's look at it from another perspective:
I believe the sky is blue. So, I go around 'preaching' to everyone and anyone who'll listen why and how the sky is blue. (I can prove it too!) On my proselytizing journeys I stumble across another who's 'preaching' to anyone and everyone how they believe the sky is paisley.
The two of us sit down and have a nice long discussion and come to the agreed conclusion that the sky is really paisley-blue (or maybe sometimes bluish-paisley). Then, the two of us part ways spreading the word of the newly discovered Bluish-paisley sky!
The problem is, it's simply not true.
Okay. Let's start again.

I believe the sky is blue. So, I go around 'preaching' to everyone and anyone who'll listen why and how the sky is blue. (I can prove it too!) On my proselytizing journeys I stumble across another who's 'preaching' to anyone and everyone how they believe the sky is black (And this time they can prove it too!!)

The two of us sit down and have a long discussion and discover a previously unknown truth! Night and Day. It isn't so much that we were both right (or both wrong) but that there was a larger truth we've both missed. Then, the two of us part ways spreading the word of the newly discovered Night-and-Day!

To fundamentalists, the first example (The Paisley-blue Sky Doctrine) is why we cannot enter discussions because, ultimately, the truth - their truth – can only ever suffer being watered-down. Thesis + Antitheses = Synthesis is always a derogatory thing and a movement away from the truth. Ultimately, they are not looking for the truth, but are looking to defend the truth as they know it. This only works assuming that their position is completely and absolutely valid and true.

On the other side of the coin. The Night-and-Day Doctrine people, do not believe they know or hold the entire truth, and are searching for it, rather than defending what little they know.

I belong to the latter, my “religion” best being described as a Non-institutional Syncretist... and Syncretism is akin to wringing the truth out of 10,000 lies.

~ ~

The Dragon is Yang - action, the masculine – to the water's Yin. A good friend of my wife's is from Taipei, Taiwan, and she tells me that, in her culture, the dragon (especially as a tattoo) represents a sort of protection from harm and fear (but only on a man, because the dragon is a masculine power of Yang). However, it isn't that the dragon is tattooed on one's body that gives it its 'power' but that it exists within one's heart.

The Asian Dragon represents many things.

The dragon often symbolizes power, strength, courage, and also Indomitable spirit ("Baekjul Bulgul", in Taekwon-do):
To strive to have indomitable spirit means to have the courage to stand up for what you believe in, no matter what odds you are up against and always give 100% effort in whatever you do.
It symbolizes a protector of hidden treasures (see the above mentioned Gnostique: Genesis Reinterpreted.)

It represents a sort of freedom. ("A piece of Burlap. Strong and tightly bound, yet unbound in my liberty").
~ ~

Worry, anxiety; Fear of what might yet be. Fear kills the Future; murder's its potential; Slays the perpetual Now, for it is in the Now that Fear's price is paid...

Fear, my greatest enemy.
It is a battle I've fought my entire life and one I continue to wage war with.

I have battled and struggled with worry, anxiety, and Fear for far too long. One of the driving reasons why I choose to study the martial art of Taekwon-do under one of the world's Masters (Master Florin Fratean) was to at least attempt to combat this internal Fear. Through Taekwon-do I can see this desire and growth with the meanings of its belt colours:
  • White is innocence
  • Yellow is the fertile earth from which a plant sprouts and takes root.
  • Green signifies the plant's growth.
  • Blue signifies the heavens or sky towards which the plant matures into a towering tree.
  • Red is the colour of the plant's first fruits. Red indicates danger. The student has sufficient skill to inflict injury to an opponent so must exercise caution and control (Guk Gi). The red also acts as a warning to opponents.
  • The Black belt is the exact opposite of white. The black colour represents the student's ability to overcome Fear and triumph over Darkness.
The dragon represents this fearlessness; the confrontation and triumph over Darkness. This Darkness is not only the absence of Light, but includes triumph over ignorance. Some traditions believe that to journey past a dragon is to answer its riddles. But some things cannot be known, therefore defeating this Darkness - overcoming this ignorance - sometimes means actually embracing its unknowability. What might prove to be the most divisive issue on this planet is the question of God. A Question of Theism. I have embraced this divisive issue and have found a peace with the non-answer to this question: The Zen of Contemplating God.

~ ~
 And finally there is an important symbolism of the symbol. The imagery and symbolism of the dragon is most definitely a non-Western one. It is a step outside of what we are and what we know. It is the willingness to embrace a different mind-set; a willingness to challenge and question ourselves before anyone and anything else.
I have sat for 25 hours for this piece, with the artistic talent and company of the tattooist and artist, Milena Fusco. (And if it wasn't for her pleasant company and conversation, it would have been a brutal 25 hours). In my personal, private, and spiritual battle with darkness and Fear I have found Solace in Pain. This tattoo carries Martial Arts, Taoist, Hegelian (or is it Kantian?), and even Gnostic influences. It is not a simple thing to explain. It is a summation of sorts.

(For more see Personal Mara)


Lydia said...

I've been absorbing this post. I think I'm ready to comment now. :)

"The only difference between myself and the "un-inked" is that I wear my scars on my sleeve; literally on my skin"

This struck me right away. I'd never thought of the similarities between tattoos and scars before although they both do mark events (often of a sad or tragic nature) that we pass through. Tattoos have always seemed to be a happier rite of passage to me although I can see how they could also be markers of difficult times. Interesting.

"Nature - as Man - is innately good."

And I love this. It definitely isn't something I was brought up to believe. As a kid I used to worry that I wasn't "good" (that is, kind/loving/forgiving etc.) enough no matter how hard I tried. It really fuelled my anxiety...sometimes it still does.

This might be a dumb question re: Syncritism, but how do you filter out what you believe is true from all of the various belief systems out there? Do you think there is a universal Truth to discover?

'Seph Sayers said...

Re. discovering/understanding the truth.

Before we can even ask the question of ”how do we filter out what you believe is true”, we need to preempt it by asking ourselves, do we have faith in human reason/logic? If we don't, then the entire position of a Syncretist is nothing more than a self-deluded, self-serving one.

Fortunately, I happen to have a great deal of belief, faith and hope in human reason/logic. In fact, I not only think it is a necessity, I believe it is a hallmark of spiritual maturity.

”We don't need to shift our responsibilities onto the shoulders of some deified Spiritual Superman...” The Tao of Pooh, pg. 120

And I don't mean to suggest a position of theism or atheism. This is about accountability, responsibility, and choosing to be a victim (or not).

But to return to your question, how do we know what's true without falling victim to a self-serving 'morality'? That's the million dollar question!!

The most obvious way is finding a commonality shared by numerous belief-systems (ie “The Golden Rule” enshrined by many religions). But this method runs the risk of reducing all belief-systems to a lowest common denominator at the expense of their traditional riches all for the reason of our arrogance (To presume we completely and totally understand all laid before us).

I believe the most (profound) wisdom* is contained within the contradictions, because it is in the paradoxes and contradictions where we are most challenged (See A Pluralistic Sophia)

(And – on a side note considering that Atheism is a belief-system as well – I see no reason why an Atheist could not accept this “method” in a metaphoric sense).

*It's interesting exactly how “wisdom” is defined in the book The Tao of Pooh. I like that definition!