My Body Project: Tao Henna Tattoos

December 19, 2009
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I am a devout Taoist. This vital truth has been the core of my being for over two years. Tao or ‘the way’ is believed to be the force that flows within all things. Its powers can be observed through its manifestations in nature and can be use to become in tune with Tao. To be one with Tao is to be live righteously and in serenity. After I baptized myself a Taoist, I knew that there would be a long religious journey before me, especially since I had no teachers to guide me.
While reading the Tao Te Ching (basically the Taoist Bible) I desired a method that would constantly remind me of lessons I was learning so I would apply them to my everyday living. An idea materialized. While I was preparing incents to burn, I found two bottles of henna my friend had given me for my sweet sixteen. A thought dawned on me and without another thought I used the plant paste to tattoo Chinese calligraphy from Deng Ming-Dao’s Everyday Tao. I found the richly dark results to be beautiful. I also knew the natural base product was safe for my health and would fade away in time. For months found symbols representing qualities of living the Taoist way copied them onto my hands, wrist, and ankles. I tattooed ‘above’ on my wrist to remind myself to be receptive to the higher power and not to be bounded to the earthly manners. I pasted ‘fate’ onto my ankle as a reminder that things are destined to change and that I must follow the currant of change. ‘Water’ on my hand was used to teach myself that the strongest forces are also the gentlest and how it is possible to go within the flow of the environment while maintaining my own identity.
Certain individuals didn’t know what to make of my body art. Abercrombie girls in my math class figured I was self inflicting bruises. Even my teachers had to take a second look to realize that the markings were plant based not blood based. I remembered an instance with my brother after I painted the symbol for bamboo on my wrist. I was inspired to do this after witnessing the miracles of this organism and thus making me think of Tao. I had seen a whole group of bamboo poles bent over in a curved manner due to an ice storm. Their curves formed a cave in which I attempted to shoot artistic photographs and rested under in wonder. I later read in my book that, “The insides of bamboo are hollow, but the plant can withstand wind and snow, and grow with vigor. The ancients admired the bamboo’s emptiness because it showed ‘no mind,’” therefore they exemplified the power of being, “… wholly integrated with the great natural order.” They stayed fixed in their arc for days while they remained as arced icy statues. Once the ice had melted they miraculously erected themselves perfectly straight, not a pole cut down or shattered. I wanted to remind myself of this example of being in tune with Tao and express it in a way that would be tangible to me. My brother noticed my wrist and, already thinking me strange from my actions over the years, commented on how the calligraphy looked like seagull prints left in the sand. I laughed and told him it was Chinese for bamboo. He then proceeded to ask me, “Bamboo? Why are you tattooing yourself with the word for bamboo? That is so lame!” I proceeded to say, “Because the bamboo is strong yet flexible and I want to be strong like bamboo.” I knew that this statement would only perplex my eighteen months younger brother but I wanted to be honest anyway. He didn’t ask me about the symbols I chose to encode into my skin later but I believe he began to realize these were messages for me that did not necessarily need to be understood by others.

Through my Tao henna tattoos, I expressed my beliefs in a healthy manner in order understand my faith. While I don’t tattoo myself anymore, I feel it this was a positive teaching method for my religious journey while expressing it in a physical manner on my body in a beautifully artistic form.

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This article has 11 comments. Post your own now!

sarahmichelle98 said...
Nov. 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm
i love the way you shared you opinion, experiences, and religion with us but did not do it in an imposing way. im personally and jew/adnostic but im studying philosophy and world religion. even tho im young, im checking out books and articles all about these types of subjects and im planning to study them in college
sarahmichelle98 replied...
Nov. 29, 2011 at 4:50 pm
sarahmichelle98 replied...
Nov. 29, 2011 at 4:50 pm
lol sorry *a jew/agnositc
StarryRoss said...
Oct. 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm
I'm Catholic but i so enjoy hearing about other religions, I think that is so cool! The henna was a wonderful idea because permanent tattoos never quite end well. I've done henna and not only does it look artistic, you're expressing your religious views and reminding yourself of your faith without being outlandish or vying for attention. I believe that one should be involved with whatever religion that personally clicks makes them the best person they can be, and you've certainly achieved this! ... (more »)
sarahmichelle98 replied...
Nov. 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm
completely agreed
Bubbles99 said...
Jan. 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm
That's incredible. It makes me want to learn more about Taoism. I'm agnostic and don't usually relate to religious stories but this one really interested and inspired me. (: Beautiful article.
Cofloyd86 replied...
Aug. 2, 2011 at 2:50 pm
Congrats. I was the same way. Then my English teacher from high school. From alooong time ago told me about Taoism. He and I talked until two in the morning. He told me to go out at Tao of pooh. It is very simplistic.
Aehro replied...
Jun. 14, 2012 at 11:09 pm
I adored  The Tao of Pooh. There's also The Te of Piglet, if you liked it.
SassyJones said...
May 6, 2010 at 11:22 pm
wow thats really cool. How come you don't do it anymore? 
the_Horsegirl This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 14, 2010 at 5:04 pm
Thank you! This was a very interesting, informative and beautifully written piece.
PSVirgo said...
Jan. 10, 2010 at 9:46 pm
It is a beautiful and introspective piece of writing. It is the journey that is more significant than the destination but serenity is a product of both
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