I got a new tattoo. It is the first that is a tribute for someone else. It began with an idea of flowers on my arm, but it grew into much more. My new tattoo is a symbol for the strong, admirable women in my family. Each is represented in her own flower, which wrap around the profile of a woman’s face. She looks ahead, with a brave, calm presence.
“What do you love about being a woman?” My favorite podcast begins each episode with this question. I enjoy the richness and variety of individual answers. Many times, I learn from what others have to say and feel enlightened with new ways for how I can love, embrace, and celebrate being a woman myself. My own answer to this question changes from day to day. On the day I began permanently printing this tattoo on my body, I felt a new appreciation for my womanhood.
In case you’ve never gotten one, let me confess that tattoos hurt. A lot. It may not shock you to hear that a stabbing needle to your skin for over two hours will test your mental strength. I brought all my tools to the table: breath work, positive mantras, and the right mindset. It took me at least three marathons, years of working with a life coach, and several crying sessions in yoga to simply begin to understand the power of my mind and the strength of my body.
In my recent practice, I have been discovering more about how to listen to my body and honor my needs. This process is carried out in several areas of my life including sleeping, eating, hydrating, activity, rest, work, and creativity. I am frequently checking in to notice how I am feeling and what I can do to better care for myself. When my artist began to put needle to skin, I felt like I was betraying this practice.
My body is fascinating. It sends messages in an instant to me, ready to protect me from danger or harm. In the middle of a tattoo, I have to calm my body down- assure her that she is not in danger. This is quite similar, actually, to the struggle I have with my body during races. At some point during a marathon, my body will tell me, “I’m good-let’s walk now,” or even, “Time to collapse on a bench over there, okay?” Physical challenges present mental obstacles–both of which we are amazingly capable of overcoming.
As I lay on the table, twenty minutes into the first session, I began to feel the pulse of menstrual cramps. I started my period just the day before, and I hadn’t realized the serendipity of it until that moment. Here I am, showing up fully expressed as a woman, while marking a tribute to the women in my life. I wanted instant relief from the discomfort. With few choices and a determined mindset, I instead chose to accept the pain and send love to it.
Once I embraced this uniquely feminine pain, I began to open my thoughts to the pain of women in my family, both those whom I know and those from generations beyond. I imagined their lives, incredibly different from mine. A wave of gratitude came over me as I appreciated the place and time of the world in which I am living, where I am free to fully express myself as the wild, innovative, adventurous, spiritual woman I am. I thought of how brave every woman before me has been, as they lived in the conditions of their place and time while creating a family. I wondered: what challenges did they face? What losses did they grieve? Where did they find their strength?
As I asked myself these questions, a stillness brought the clarity of an answer. This strength resides within us. I carry the strength of the generations of women before me. Even when I have doubts, my body is capable. Of climbing mountains. Of running fast. Of growing a human. Of taking a needle. Of feeling grief. Of shedding its own inner layers. My body is incredible.
I look at the flowers on my back and the face of the fierce female I feel both proud and grateful for how I was brought into this world.
What do I love about being a woman? Today, it’s the body I live in that never ceases to leave me in total awe of her beauty, power, and natural resilience.