I stood on the edge of the world and magic happened

“Breathe next to me. And I will capture a piece of your soul along with mine.”
Marikit dR. Camba, 

Once, many years ago, I stood on the shore; quiet, desperately sad, with eyes closed, and magic happened. I became one with the ocean. I felt I was the ocean and it was within me. I felt the magnitude of the universe in those seconds. For an instant the whole universe was inside me, I saw it, I felt it, I travelled through it as it travelled simultaneously through me. I was connected to it in a way I had no comprehension of, no prior experience or examples. I did not experience it again. Until recently.

Sitting on the hill of a natural amphitheatre, alone but surrounded by approximately 150 000 people I felt a connection to the hearts of each of them, like I felt with the ocean all those years before. It was New Year’s Eve. I was at Woodford for the annual music festival, six days of music and noise, action, laughter and lots and lots of people. Candles had been distributed throughout the day and at 11:30 they were to be lit, followed by three minutes silence.  The idea of three minutes silence in that place was incomprehensible to me, but I was assured it was a ritual that was adhered to every year.  At 11:30 I passed a spare candle to a man sitting nearby.  He asked how we were meant to light them.  I told him that I believed that was part of the magic.  Within 30 seconds the amphitheatre was alight with the glow of thousands and thousands of candles. And a hush fell over the whole of Woodfordia and I wept.

In the silence, in our quietness we all came together and connected.  It wasn’t like we were holding hands, that’s not the connection, it wasn’t even like an embrace. The sensation began as a ripple then became a gentle, undulating wave that rolled up the front of my body, opened my heart and passed into the depths of me and surrounded me. It was like all those souls were gathered into gentle arms and sent lovingly into the night, into each other. In those three minutes I again touched the inky darkness of the night sky that opened to the universe beyond, and I soared, filled with the souls of those around me.

I wear my art on my skin — it’s the ink of my heart

“Our bodies were printed as blank pages to be filled with the ink of our hearts” 
― 
Michael Biondi

“Wear your heart on your skin in this life.” 
― 
Sylvia Plath

The study found that people who had three or more tattoos were likely to have low self-esteem.  “The findings of this study suggest that tattoos are not just fashion accessories but driven by a wide range of motivational factors that are significantly associated with self-esteem.”

Interestingly, Truman Capote agreed, “There’s something really the matter with most people who wear tattoos. There’s at least some terrible story. I know from experience that there’s always something terribly flawed about people who are tattooed, above some little something that Johnny had done in the Navy, even though that’s a bad sign…It’s terrible. Psychologically it’s crazy. Most people who are tattooed, it’s the sign of some feeling of inferiority, they’re trying to establish some macho identification for themselves.”

Reading these viewpoints, I wondered if I got my recent tattoos because my self-esteem was low.  Marie Randle, from Liverpool Hope University, who carried out the study mentioned above, added that “not everyone who had a tattoo had poor self-esteem.” I reflected back to when I got my other tattoos, more than 20 years ago, and while I couldn’t pinpoint the exact reasoning I believe the motivation was likely starkly different to my recent desire to ink my skin.

Other reasons people get tattoos include attention seeking, self-expression, artistic expression, rebellion, addiction, identification with a group, sentimental reasons or even impulsiveness.  In the past, tattooing was linked to psychological conditions and considered self mutilatory behaviour.

Was I seeking attention? I don’t think so. There are easier, cheaper and less painful ways to do that, right? I’m not trying to identify with a group, far from it. I am not recording any sentimental beliefs on my skin, it wasn’t an impulsive action.  I thought deliberately about them and took considerable time to discern the right size, image and placement. I shopped around for the right artist as well.

I was surprised to realise that I could see a leaning to self-mutilation but, again, there are other ways to do that too so, no, that wasn’t my motive. It might have been an act of defiance, for sure. The new tattoos are visible to the world. Part of me wants to stick it to the rules, the labels and the expectations of how I should show up in the world. I want to break free of repressiveness. To challenge expectations.

Johnny Depp said, “My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story.”  I guess, in some way, a story is unfolding.  My earlier tattoos were images I liked that symbolise freedom, joy and inner strength. The tattoo I got last year is a simple word that speaks for itself – free. It’s a reminder that I am now free to choose anything – but mostly to be fully and unapologetically me.  This year, to date, I have two more etchings. A Latin phrase that translates to “she flies with her own wings” on the inside of my right bicep and a small snake on my left foot a symbol of transformation. I thought I would get the Phoenix tattoo I have been considering for the last 14 months before ever getting a snake. So many snakes crossed my path in the last several months, whether real snakes, images of snakes, sculptures, paintings or stories of snakes. Snakes showed up in tarot readings and in oracle cards and messages from friends. There were so many occurrences that I simply couldn’t ignore that the universe was sending me a message. The message was to do with the power of snake medicine linked to transformation, life changes, healing and primal energy. Hence, I now wear a reminder that the universe has my back.

There are several other tattoos I am drawn to and will, over time, probably have them inked on my body.  They are symbols that signify who I am becoming and who I have always been at heart. My tattoos are a statement and a way to express myself though more than that, they are badges of honour. They are emblems of my strength and courage, of change and a time of moving forward, of breaking free, of creating a new identity.  These new tattoos have raised my confidence and are reminders to me of what I have been through and survived. They are reminders that I am strong, that I am brave, that I am a survivor and that I should be here in this world.  I may well be judged by my tattoos but, you know what? I don’t actually care, because my skin art, my ink, is a celebration of life and of me and I wear it proudly.

 

The powerful persuasiveness of scent

Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.    
                                                     Helen Killer

It’s a grey Sunday morning. I am content with a pot of chai, soulful music in the background accompanied by the sound of rain falling to earth to quench my parched and neglected gardens. I sit at my desk watching a colourful parrot suck sweetness from the golden Grevillea outside my window and I have the scent of Indian sandalwood incense floating in the air around me.

While in India I picked up a copy of Diane Ackerman’s A natural history of the senses. It’s a tantalisingly rich book. From the very first line I was drawn in and felt myself blissfully sinking into the heady world of sensory delight. Ackerman tackles smell first. She calls it the mute sense because “it is almost impossible to describe how something smells to someone who hasn’t smelled it.”

Reading more about smell last night I was intrigued that the author had a similar experience to one I have had, and I will get to that shortly. Being sensitive, smell has always played a large role in my life, even before I could comprehend and articulate its power.

The smell of my grandmother’s house signalled safety and love to me.  It was a smell I never grew tired of.  Her powdered cheek, camphored linen cupboard and simmering braised steak were olfactory sources of contentment.

The moist, dank smell of undergrowth and dirt on the forest floor combined with the freshness of eucalypt or pine needles is a reassuring, grounding smell.  The spray of the ocean on a light breeze can raise my spirits. Fresh mown grass transports me to summer afternoons of my childhood, when the day was ending, and the mosquitos were just coming out to play.

A particular spray deodorant repulses me.  I return to whole days of morning sickness where that smell permeated the rooms I lived in.  Chemical fragrances burn my eyes, irritate my skin and the lining of my nasal passages. I prefer now natural scents whether in the world or captured and bottled.

Scent enhances our experience of life. The waft of a roast dinner in the oven is a prelude to a satisfying feast.  Inhaling the aroma of a glass of red wine or a good scotch before imbibing, readies the taste buds and enhances the experience. I am sure babies smell so good to make us want to take care of them.  Smell protects us also. Foul, putrid, acrid smells warn us something is not right.  They prompt action, either to remove the offending item, or remove ourselves.

I had an unusual experience last year related to smell and memory. I had been attending a spiritualist church to reconnect with that part of myself that I had to hide in my marriage.  One night at circle we did flower readings. We each brought along a flower without revealing it to others and put it in a basket. The basket was handed around and we took a flower out and did a reading for the person whose flower it was. Richard (not his real name), got my flower.

Richard was 100 percent accurate in everything he said. He picked up that my heart was racing like crazy. He said it wasn’t a health issue but that it was terribly strong and that he could feel it. He held out his hand and it shook. He was overwhelmed. He hadn’t felt that connection before. He also knew instinctively it was me.  He looked directly across the circle and spoke to me.

My heart had been racing for three days before that meeting. It was so strong my clothing fluttered with its strength. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Richard wanted to talk to me that night and find out more. In that moment of speaking with him I realised we had met before. I remembered his smell. His breath. I usually remember people’s faces. There was a flicker of visual recognition but so slight I almost missed it. The smell got me and instantly, in my mind’s eye, I saw us at a healing centre. Then he said I should be healing and asked what healing work I did. Turned out we both did the same healing work. We had the same teacher. That’s where I thought we’d met. He had a vague recollection of meeting.  It wasn’t until weeks later we realised our timelines didn’t match up. Was it a future projection or a past life remembering?  I don’t know but the feeling of knowing was strong and convincing.

Then, like the author of my book, I had another experience that turned me away from someone.  Ackerman writes,

“I once started to date a man who was smart, sophisticated, and attractive, but when I kissed him I was put off by a faint, cornlike smell that came from his cheek.  Not cologne or soap.  It was his subtle, natural scent, and I was shocked to discover that it disturbed me viscerally.”

I met a witty, intelligent man who is great fun to hang out with. We share many similar interests with enough differences to make things interesting. We had been out a few times and had a hoot. One day he kissed me and I mentally and energetically recoiled. There was a smell about him I had not previously detected.  Like Ackerman, I knew it was not a layered scent of soap or aftershave.  What was of particular interest to me was how this played out.  Despite all his strengths I did not in my heart feel the connection he felt to me. I didn’t know how to bring it up and so had avoided it.  The smell was a sign to take action.  We had a frank conversation and I was able to convey how much I enjoyed his company and would like to continue as friends without an intimate physical relationship with him.  He agreed, and we have continued to be firm friends.

There are scents I wish I could bottle and sink deeply into as the mood arises; like the smell of India, the scent of ripening stone fruit on the wind in Tanunda or the smell of a lover and our lovemaking that lingers on my body when we part.  Odours and scents have a powerful persuasion over us, they can transport us to a time and place from our past, repel us and draw us in and lull us.  Smell is the mute sense.  It is so very hard to describe and convey to others because of the uniqueness of each smell and also, I think, because of how they make us feel.