A MENTAL TATTOO
I was never really a "wild child" - neither in my teenage years, nor while growing into a young adult. I hardly drank alcohol, came home earlier than most of my peers and put off having sex until I felt it was the right time. My version of being “wild” was to get a belly button piercing when I was 19 years old. I was on my way to school in Munich, when I suddenly decided to get off the train and walk into the closest studio, to have a small diamond looking stone set into my navel. I still remember, I felt so spontaneous, wild and free. I guess, it must have been all the endorphins and adrenaline released by the needle in my skin. In retrospect, I was grateful I was only 19 years old and this spontaneous act didn't cause any real damage since it's removable.
But ten years later, when I was living in NYC for a few months to study with one of my main yoga teachers, Sangeeta Vallabhan, the desire solicited to finally get a tattoo to show my love and sincere dedication to a life of Yoga. I wanted something meaningful, but really tiny. I finally decided on the Sanskrit (The ancient Indian language that has been used in all major epic, philosophical, religious and artistic texts in India) word "prema" which means "unconditional love". I can really relate to the concept this short word contains, as I believe that everything comes down to love. Everyone wants and deserves to be loved, and the greatest form of love is unconditional - like a mother's love for her child.
Since I was not entirely sure about the correct writing in Sanskrit, I checked the internet and I also asked a nice American-Indian guy who I had just met at my yoga studio. He was the one who then actually saved me at the tattoo parlor from getting the wrong tattoo! Some good advice from my end - take it or leave it: Never fully trust the internet. Take time to double check with a different source, especially when you commit to something like a tattoo that is not removed easily. Funnily, he is also "the one", I fell deeply in love with and ended up marrying only a few months later.. The "crazy tattoo story" became even his wedding speech. But all of this is another story to be told another time.
My major takeaway from this episode in my life is another one: Listen to your inner voice when it’s screaming at you and dare to say NO - even you just thought a minute ago it would be a yes. Be brave, don’t be afraid to change your mind and say what you mean!
Despite of having decided to get a tattoo and feeling fairly certain about it, I suddenly hesitated when walking into the tattoo parlor. During the whole process, the tattoo artist actually asked me three times if I really want to get this tattoo and each time my inner voice was screaming at me “NO, I’m NOT sure anymore!”, but I still said “yes”. I didn’t want to appear undecided, insecure or as if I hadn’t thought this all the way through. But I actually felt all those feelings and now I know, those were valid feelings and concerns. It definitely didn’t make any sense to neglect them and - rather literally - overwrite them with a tattoo. My intuition, my inner voice was trying to communicate with me and I simply shut it down. As a yogi, I should have definitely known better. Each time we step on the yoga mat or meditate, we practice to be more aware, present and mindful. Yogis want to become more loving, kind and patient which also includes self-love and care. When we tune inside through our practice, we also practice to listen to our inner voice and intuition without any judgments or labels. We all have this intuition, inner voice, or some people call it gut feeling. But, most of the time we are simply to busy and loud to listen to it.
So why was it so difficult for me to honore my own thoughts and feelings? I was clearly hearing my inner voice saying "NO, get the hell out of here!" and I proceeded anyway!
Now I realize, I'm generally a very emotional, sensitive and indecisive being who dreads any kind of changes and decision making. It is only my regular yoga and meditation practice that helps me to keep my mood swings in check, bring my awareness back to what's really important and grounds me in my daily life which often gets very hectic. Even though I've been practicing Yoga for over 15 years now, I still have moments of getting frazzled and feeling insecure, indecisive and emotional. Once I arrive at that very uncomfortable place, the only way out is to "step aside", get on my yoga mat, breathe, move, sit and turn "inside".Through the practice of yoga and meditation I realize again and again that all those emotions, thoughts and fluctuations of mind do occur, but my being does not consist of those. I am not just a body feeling its pain or a mind being tangled up in its emotions. This realization brings us straight to the center of Yoga, according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutra: "Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha".
It means we are able to experience the state of Yoga, once we stop identifying with our fluctuations of the mind. Yoga is the stilling of the mind until it rests in a state to total and utter tranquility - so that one experiences life as it is: Reality.
Seven years later, I'm actually getting rid of my tattoo. Luckily, laser technology enables virtually any tattoo to be safely and effectively removed. But obviously there is a price to it and it takes at least 10 sessions to remove it. Now it feels ridiculous that I didn't want to waste a $100 deposit for the tattoo back in New York when ignoring my inner voice sitting across from my tattoo artist. However, it's not just about the money, it's about the moral of the story I want to share with you. I have found a more forgiving and positive way to look at it.
Seven years ago, I was looking for true love and I found it. I'm even blessed to say I have found unconditional love. And I definitely don't need a tattoo, makes me love unconditionally - no matter what. It's the purest form of love and neither her nor I need to do anything for that. I feel eternally grateful and blessed for this beautiful experience and pure feeling. No one can take it away from me. And it certainly doesn't need a physical tattoo, I have a "mental tattoo", how I like to call it now lovingly.
Nyla is the embodiment of PREMA for me.