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Can getting a tattoo be a spiritual experience? I tried it to find out – Well+Good

Posted in Tattooing on Sep 06, 2017

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I always laugh when people ask about my tattoos, then back off and say, Or maybe you dont want to talk about it. Of course I want to talk about it. I had something drawn permanently on my body. You dont think I have a story to tell?

They reveal who I am, reflect journeys Ive made and the person Ive become: Take the lotus-blossom motif I got after a retreat in India, which I half-jokingly refer to as my divorce tattoo.That one was healing and empoweringas were the others before and after. (I have five in all.) Which is why, when I found myself traveling in Thailand earlier this year, I jumped at the chance to sit for a sak yant (AKA sacred tattooing) session with Arjarn Boo, a former monk who studied with the master who did one of Angelina Jolies pieces.

He determined that what I needed was a specific prayer signifyinga blessing that I would be better able to receive and give kindness.

Hes now the resident tattoo artist at the luxurious Siam Hotelin Bangkok, but Arjarn Boolearned the ancient art form (which dates back over 2,000 years) in a monastery. Monks traditionally perform the tattoos (known for their intricate patterns, geometric shapes, and animal or deity designs) on one another in order to impart blessings and prayers for things like health, protection, or fortune.

When I met with him, we spoke through a translator, and he determined that what I needed was a specific prayer, written in the sacred language, signifyinga blessing that I would be better able to receive and give kindness. He didnt know anything about my lifeand barely even spoke Englishbut his idea turned out to be spot on.

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Id very recently moved from New Yorkmy home of 20 yearsto Lisbon, and found the transition harder than Id expected(thanks in part to my complicated romantic relationship). So, Id left to attend the embracing change program at Kamalaya, a remote wellness resort on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand. There, I realized Id been so hung up on the things that were frustrating or disappointing or difficult about life in Portugal that Id lost sight of the fact that a lot of kindness was being extended to me. Enter Arjarn Boo with his blessing.

Was it coincidence or divine intervention? IDK. But what I did know was that understanding how hed settled on this particular prayerhe doesnt offer clients a lot of explanation or choice on the sak yant itself (other than size and location)didnt feel so important as I sat in his studio amongst his Buddha statues, lotus blossoms, incense, candles, and water offerings. What mattered more was that my tattoo, located on my right forearm (I wanted it in a place where I could see it), would be a single, long line rather than the more common pattern of five or seven shorter ones typically used in the tradition. After a (brief) discussion, followed by prayers, offerings, and blessings,Arjarn Booshy, reserved, and wearing all whitequietly set to work.

I was relieved to find that the procedure, hand-done, with a traditional long needle, turned out to be no more painful than a tattoo with an electric one.

While in moderntattooing, artists generally tracethedesignon special paper, transfer that drawing to the skin, and then go over it with a needle, he simply drew a straight line on my forearm and used it as a guide ashe freehanded the actualtattoo tapby tap. (Forearms are really hard, FYI, because of the way your ulna and radius rotate and the skin moves around, so straight line down the middle ends up being kind of subjective.) Anyway, that made it seem like he was drawing with confidence and maybe even intuition.

And I was relieved to find that the procedure, hand-done, with a traditional long needle, turned out to be no more painful than a tattoo with an electric one (which is commonly compared to a cat scratchalbeit one thats deep, slow, extended, and repeated). This was less intenseit felt like a series of pinpricksand he took a lot of breaks to add ink to the needle.

More than the pain, what I noticed was thequiet. Other than thetranslator occasionally asking me if I was holding up all right, there was really no noise during my 30-minute session. Without the unpleasant drone of an electric needle, I was able to reflect on the meaning of the tattoo, my intentions for it, and my choice to invest in it. (Sak yant as the Siam Hotel costs between $900 and $1,800 USD.) The lack of soundalong with the offerings I made at the altar and the prayers Arjarn Boo intonedheightened the experience. But could it be called spiritual?

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Historically, sak yants been more about divine blessings than internal, personal growth. But Arjarn Boo tells me it can be both. It depends on the behavior of the wearer, he explains. What matters most is the self-discipline and morality of the [individual]if they think good, speakgood, and do good, good things will return to [them]. So, basically become a boomerang for positive vibes.

And its not just ancientsocieties (think: Maori people of New Zealand, who have a form of skin art known as MOKO, as well as other Buddhist traditions) for whom tattooing can be a divine act. In contemporary, Western culture, getting inkedcan be sacred, too, says Gabe Crenshaw, PhD, a lecturer at the University of Southern California. The majority [of tattooers] exhibit a positive motivational basis for their behaviorthey seek a deeper spiritual experience that has tangible results, explains thepsychology expert who appeared on Ink Shrinks, a TV special about the potential healing power of permanent body artthat aired on SpikeTV in 2014.

Because endorphins produce feelings of well-being, the tattoo plays a significant role in the therapeutic process by providing relief from emotional pain.

Although theres little scientific research into the spiritual side effects of tattoos, studies have found that painful stimulation releases endorphins in the body. Because endorphins produce feelings of well-being, the tattoo plays a significant role in the therapeutic process by providing relief from emotional pain, relaxation, and clarity, says Dr. Crenshaw. So, would I still feel as happy and transformedonce the pain subsided?

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Sometimes fresh tattoos bleed or are even a little scabby, but my arm was just slightly red when the session ended. And while you normally have to wrap a new piecein plasticfor a day, keep it absolutely dry, and sometimes even have to change that dressing as itoozes, Arjarn Boo said that wouldnt be necessary and would actually be counterproductive.

Instead, I was sentout with a pot of Vaseline (I know, I know, petroleum, but it was still ThailandI imagine any kind of mild unguent would have worked, but I didnt think to ask) that I was supposed to apply twice a day. I was told to avoid putting soap or shampoo on it for a week. And finally, in addition to the everyday healing directions, sak yant comes with lifelong after-care instructions: In my case, not eating star fruitnot a big sacrificeand not disrespecting anyones mother, which is generally a good policy.

And while I loved it then, I love it more nowespecially because I think its helped me; however, I also did a lot of my own emotional work. Since getting my sacred tattoo, Ive become better at accepting kindness (giving it has never been my problem, but I pay more attention to my opportunities to do so today) and happier with my life. Plus, I like telling the story.

Looking to do some energetic healing, heres what happened to another writer who tried intuitive tattooing. And this iswhy your permanent ink might be changingthe way you sweat.

The rest is here:
Can getting a tattoo be a spiritual experience? I tried it to find out – Well+Good

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