A permanent tattoo, for many, is the ultimate form of body modification. Made by inserting ink into the dermis layer of the skin to alter its pigment, the process of getting a tattoo is painful. Injurious to such extent that having a tattoo is often viewed as a right of passage. It is a membership, in a sense; a portal into a new way of life or thinking. It is something you live with forever. And it is not for everyone. But how exactly do those with tattoos, especially those with several, large pieces of art, endure the perpetual anguish and torture of getting one?
As a preliminary matter, tattoos are ordinarily created using a tattoo machine. A tattoo machine, or a tattoo-gun as it is often begrudgingly referred, is a hand-held device that uses electromagnetic coils to move an armature bar up and down.
Rotary machines are also in common circulation; and they are powered by regulated motors rather than a coil.
Finally, a third, and significantly less common, method used for tattooing is also available: the stick and poke technique.
Stick and poke tattoos consist of exactly what you might imagine: a needle, a stick, or metal rod of some sort, and some ink. There is no machinery involved, just the slow and calculated piercing of the skin by the artist. What they call the hand-poke.
For a glimpse of my latest hand-poked tattoo I have incorporated a video herein. This piece was done by Alex Empty of Copper State Tattoo in Phoenix, AZ.
No matter the poison you pick, attached to each armature bar, stick or machine, is a needle. And you come to realize very quickly that, yes, it punctures the skin. Over. And over.
Nonetheless, the pain is not always as unbearable as one might think; sometimes it just takes a little willpower. And with the stick and poke technique, without the constant buzzing of heavy machinery, getting into the right frame of mind seems a bit easier.
This is not to suggest that tattoos are fun, or enjoyable in any respect, or even that people with tattoos are tougher than others. They hurt. Even hand-poked tattoos. Bad. And for me personally, there is no "easy" spot to get one.
Still, I do have many tattoos, and I have found that there are those rare moments, too rare, when the universe of my mind is just so uniquely aligned that the pain I am experiencing is slightly less traumatic than in other instances or with other tattoos.
Having practiced yoga consistently for the past two years, I’ve come to better familiarize myself with the basic tenants of meditation. And while I am certainly no yogi expert by any measurable degree, what little I do know has proven to be valuable both in my personal and professional life. Apart from having a few extra moments in the week for some quiet time, and perhaps a brief opportunity to hear myself think, yoga has also afforded me with a more particular set of tools when experiencing hard times. Namely, when getting a tattoo.
The idea with meditation, whether Buddhist or otherwise, at least as I have come to understand it, is that it tends to consistently emphasize the now. Rather than focusing on the past or future, a profound courtesy is given to the present. This rings especially true for feelings and emotions, which are inherently fleeting. Instead of dwelling on what I have felt, or what I would like to feel a few seconds from now, when the pain has subsided, the basic question is simple: what am I feeling right now?
Be it joy, pain, hate, love, or even just a deep and drawn out yoga pose, the purest form of meditation I have been able to realize is that which accentuates, and even glorifies, the present moment no matter the sensation.
At such altitude, there is no hope for a different feeling, and no memory of a better or worse emotional state - only that which I am experiencing right now. It is a painstakingly slow discovery of every minute sensation the instant it runs through my body. In that moment, the needle as it enters my skin, with each puncture and injection of ink, is all I know, and it is all I have ever known.
If you are of the mind to get tattooed, do it. Then go back and do it again. Make note of your physical, mental, and spiritual discipline in each instance and with each tattoo.
Tattoos are excruciating, they hurt, and they do not wash away. Having a tattoo makes you no better or worse of a human being. But it is an experience nonetheless. And not everyone has the chance to digest such intense feelings on their own time and out of their own volition.
Get a tattoo if you are so inclined. You may not enjoy it, but you do not have to hate it. You might consider taking the time, rather, and having the patience, to feel every bit of it.
Counterpoint™ is a shared on-line journal covering current news and opinion analysis; specifically, developments relating to law¹ , philosophy, politics, and other social sciences.
Listen to the Counterpoint™ Podcast
¹ Materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. Contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on a specific legal issue. Read our full Disclaimer for more information.