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.

 

Advertisements

My lessons from a classroom in Nepal.

image

To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.          Douglas Adams 

 What is Grace? G-ive of yourself, R-elease the love from within, A-sk nothing in return, C- ompassion shows love, E-njoy your salvation. Calvin Dillard

I was truly honoured to have the opportunity to visit the Khangandra New Life School for handicapped and orphan children while in Kathmandu recently.  My thoughts wander to the children and teachers often now, wondering how they are in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

I accompanied a group of friends led by three Aussies who, having fallen in love with Nepal and her people,  chose to  give something back by raising money for the school to improve facilities for the children. We strangers from another land were so very warmly and generously welcomed one would think we were rock stars or royalty come to visit.

Our van, on entering the drive, was flanked by excited children, who had given up a day off school to meet us. The children quickly formed orderly lines and sang a rich and warming folk song. We reciprocated with a rendition of Advance Australia Fair and were warmly applauded for our efforts.

After each of us were individually welcomed with a kata (blessing scarf) and posy, crafted from flowers and foliage within the grounds, we were ushered inside, out of the sun, and offered sweet milk tea ( a real Nepalese treat).

Our hosts, the Headmaster and teachers, each introduced themselves and shared their vision for the school and its pupils. A vision made possible by the funding my friends had provided.  You see, Khangandra school receives no government funding and relies solely on donations.  Several times I teared up listening to the grand dreams these amazing teachers held for their young charges. Grand not so much in western terms but grand considering the adversity these young people face with regard to distance, poverty and disability.

The school facilities are humble to say the least. Scanty, bare bones, dire even. The classrooms are small. On the day we visited there were 80 children in attendance so there were about 20 students in each classroom. That’s pretty comfortable until you realise there are 300 students enrolled. If they all attended, these dark, cramped classrooms would be terribly overcrowded.  The library was closed due to ill repair. The ceiling and walls were not just flaking but literally disintegrating. The playground was merely a dust bowl with a slide but it offered great joy to the children who have an incredible innocence and zest for life.

The money my friends and others have donated enabled the school to deliver safe drinking water to the children and improved the sanitation of the toilet facilities. Services and facilities I take for granted living here in Australia. Again, I cried.

Oh course, there is always more to be done and plans are underway for major improvements. Perhaps these plans will be bought forward as a result of damage caused by the earthquake.

The welcome we received was so unexpectedly warm. The kindness and unconditional acceptance so very humbling that I began to feel shame. I began to question my integrity. You see, many, many times I have been asked to host visitors in my workplace and more than once I’ve grumbled. More than once I’ve believed myself to be “too busy”. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been rude to my guests but my actions haven’t always come freely and with grace.

Watching those children and their teachers in their tiny classrooms and seeing their incredible energy and love of life, it dawned on me, not for the first time, that we don’t need stuff, we don’t need lots of things to make us happy.  Here were people with very little who sang for us, played and conversed with us and who showed a great interest in us. They were genuine and authentic.  They were happy with their lot.

It became clear to me that it’s the ‘wanting more’ or something else that erodes true happiness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t aim high but accepting what is, right now, can liberate us from the bonds that tie our minds and hearts in knots.

What a wake up call I got that day in that tiny school in Kathmandu. I realised there are times when I need to forget the hustle and bustle and honour others by being totally present and giving freely of my time, my knowledge and myself. I can’t see myself presenting anyone with a posy of flowers, a hearty rendition of the national anthem or a scarf anytime soon but I can honour them with an open mind and a warm heart.

To serve and honour another is not beneath us, it does not belittle us, it grows connections, it deepens our humanity, it enriches others and it enriches us in the process.

In honour of my Neplaese colleagues,

Shannyn

Haves, have nots and humanity in the city

Image by fastcodesign

Image by fastcodesign

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. Dalai Lama

I have a story to share. I hesitated at first because I didn’t know how it would be perceived. I didn’t want anyone to think it was about me. Because it’s not.  Well, it says a lot about me, I guess, but the gorgeous soaring love I felt for humankind  arose, not from my actions but as a result of another’s.

I shared my story with a friend and she said to me: “Blog your story. That is a beautiful story, you must share it. Kindness does not go unrewarded! It makes me all teary again, how the haves are sharing with the have nots cos they want to and it feels right.”

So, one day, not so long ago…. there was a homeless man on the street. He had a message scratched on a sign, I glanced and walked away. How do explain myself? I can’t except to say I have always felt confronted by homeless people. I’m not sure why or where that comes from. I’m not an unkind person or lacking compassion but I do have a serious issue with knowing how to respond to someone in such need. How much is enough, is a little adequate?  Excuses I know.

Anyway, I felt guilty that I didn’t stop. But the further away I got the more embarrassed I was to turn back. I told myself stories to abate the guilt – I only had large bills or credit cards. I don’t really like to give money. Etc etc. I was surprised to sense a little voice in the back of all of this justification saying if he was there the next day I’d stop and read his sign.

As it turns out he wasn’t there but the day after that he was.

I’d left work early for an appointment but I stopped and tried to read his sign, it made little sense to me.  However, I spoke with him and told him I’d seen him a couple of days ago. I asked him where he slept and if he got any benifits. Then, as if watching myself from out of my body, I heard myself asking him if he’d eaten that day. He said he had but not much. I suggested we go see if the posh cafe I’d just walked past was still open. He agreed and quickly gathered his meagre belongings.

When we entered the cafe the guy behind the counter eyed us strangely and I almost thought he’d ask us to leave. When I asked for sandwiches he said he had none. I could see sandwiches, rolls and wraps in the fridge behind him. He told me they were stale and no good for eating. He said he wouldn’t even give them to me as they were too dry.  I turned to the homeless man and explained the situation. I was a little unsure how to proceed. Then I saw a cabinet with delicate sweets, I didn’t want to buy him sweets with no nutritional value but I spotted salads on the bottom shelf so I asked him if he’d like a salad. Yep. He did.

The young man who served us was so lovely, he kept calling the homeless man sir and asked him if he’d like to eat in or takeaway, if he needed a fork etc. He said he would add a danish and a croissant for later. He asked us if the meal would be eaten shortly or carried a long distance. He was concerned, as it had egg in it and didn’t want any health issues arising from overheated, unrefrigerated food. I asked my companion if he’d like a drink and we got a cappuccino, with two sugars. Again our waiter was charming and continued to address the gentleman by the title of sir, ensuring he had what he wanted. He made the coffee beautifully. Taking care to add just enough extra milk to top it up, wiping the cup free from spillage. He packaged it all up in a carry bag with a napkin and utensils and wished the man an enjoyable meal.

Once his package was in hand  the man left and I turned to the waiter to pay for the meal.   The lovely young man, who had treated a homeless man with dignity and respect looked at me, waved his hand and said, “There is no charge. You are a good woman. It’s on us”. I was blown away. Honestly, how lovely is that? How often have you witnessed something so beautiful? I walked  up the street on clouds of gratitude and love, with a swelling heart, marvelling at the depths of human kindness and grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Aren’t humans marvellous?

This whole interaction occured as if within a bubble.  We three were connected for a short moment in time. A time within time. I felt buoyed by the love, respect and kindness I’d witnessed. I was reminded that we are all equal and that everyone, regardless of background, means or circumstance deserves to be treated with respect. I was reminded that we can share intimate meaningful moments by treating others as we would like to be treated. Gosh, imagine what we could do in the world if we were all a little more like the young waiter who served us.

(Here I am talking of intimate moments with two souls and I didn’t even asked either gentleman his name.)

What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.
These are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.  Joseph Addison

Embracing beautiful connections and never underestimating small actions.

Blessings to you all,

Shannyn