Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Marking Time

Several of my tattoos mark a milestone in my life of some sort, mostly age related. My feet I had done when I finished my first round of Yoga Teacher Training and started practicing Zen. 2009 has seen some really big milestones for me. I finished round two of Yoga Teacher Training (an additional 230 hours). I went to two sesshins. I received Jukai and was given a new name. I started turning my steps towards the truth of myself, even though it hurt both me and others. A big year deserves a big tattoo, a big reminder of my accomplishments.

I have such a difficult time recognizing my accomplishments that maybe it takes a rather large tattoo I can look at every day will help me remember that I owe myself some appreciation & congratulations. It will be my touchstone to reality whenever my Inner Critic says I never finish anything I start.

All that in mind, I had a quite large tattoo started today. It is a little over half done after half a day with the artist. I am exhausted. My right leg aches like it has been burned (normal) and the rest of my body aches from the constant tensing to be still on the point of pain. I'm mostly lying around tonight, leg elevated.

There's interesting practice in tattoos. Really, to be done well, it helps that both the receiver and the giver are present to the art and the bodies. The body receiving, the body giving (which also experiences a specific pain of holding stressful positions and constant vibration starting in the hand). The pain keeps the receiver from straying too far from the present moment and a good artist is focused on the art. The noise both giver and receiver share. Even if you put on noise-cancelling headphones you still hear the noise inside your body. On that point, at varying levels of sharp, insistent pain, the two people stay in complete focus.

Here's what my newest tattoo looks like with all the stencils applied to my leg. In some areas the stencils wouldn't fit right, so the Sanskrit is hand drawn in with a Sharpie. Doing just this part took quite a while because there are three large lines of very straight text. These then must be adjusted to taper down the leg (this was done by Bryan already by means of hand drawing and working with the file on their Mac). Oh, and the lines should have the appearance of being "straight" around the leg. Don't forget - the lower leg is full of flat bits, soft bits, curved bits, hollow bits, bits that stick up, etc. It is not an optimal surface for this kind of stuff.

I took some before shots of my bare leg and some "in progress" shots today. Right now it is wrapped up in day-glo pink compression tape, a large bandage around the ankle particularly, and cling film. I'll take a shot in a day or two once the back starts to clear up a little.

The final product is the first three of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. Each line will be solid black at the top, fading into blue at the bottom of each line. If you've seen the tattoos on my feet, this work is being done by the same artist.

The Sutras go from 1.1 on the top to 1.2 in the middle and 1.3 around the ankle.

The way I translate these Sutras in my practice:

1.1 - Now begins the practice of Yoga.
1.2 - Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.
1.3 - With the mind settled we rest in the Essential Self

That is the beginning of my practice of both Hatha Yoga and Zen Buddhism. First we begin to practice. Practice is the stilling of all the mind-noise. When we experience the stillness of a quiet mind we experience the essential truth of the self, or of the no-self.