It’s difficult to go anywhere in America without seeing tattooed people. At one point, tattoos were only expected to be seen on sailors and punk rockers, but in the past few decades, they have become a more acceptable form of self-expression. According to Statista, 26 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo.
Yet tattoos are not a recent phenomenon. For thousands of years, tattoos have served as markers of religious beliefs, military or prisoner status, declarations of love, status symbols, and even forms of punishment. From the women of ancient Egypt to the Māori in New Zealand to the impermanent henna designs used in India, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, humans have marked their skin for a variety of reasons throughout history all around the globe.
It’s true that, today, tattoos for many are just a fun way to express themselves. For many others, however, tattoos can be a meaningful way to affirm spiritual truth on the blank canvas of skin. They can be a visual representation of beliefs, a reminder to take a breath and be more present, or even a documentation of important lessons learned.
What My Tattoos Mean to Me
I have eight tattoos myself, all of which are references to my love for creativity and artists who have changed my life—the singer Morrissey, poet T.S. Eliot, Radiohead, the Smashing Pumpkins, and actor/singer John Cameron Mitchell. This may not seem spiritual on the surface, but I have always been able to feel divine love—a connection with All That Is—in the goose bumps on my arms when the guitars hit that perfect note; in the text of the pages of the old, worn book of poems from my 20th-Century British Poetry class; or in the back of the theater when the actor’s soliloquy brings tears to my eyes.
For me, tattoos mark my love for art, but they also tell the stories of different chapters in my life—even if I’m the only one who knows specifically which chapter Radiohead refers to.
Tattoos as Visual Affirmations
Tattoos can also be reminders—visual affirmations—to draw our attention wherever we need to focus. They can remind us to be in the moment, to respond with love instead of fear, and to live from the Christ within.
For many, the act of getting tattooed can be a practice in mindfulness. While you are being inked, it’s essential to remember to breathe—and a good time to go within and meditate.
This is the case for Rev. Julie Boniger, creative director of Unity North Atlanta, whose wrist has a tattoo of an infinity symbol intertwined with a butterfly and the words: Be love. “This tattoo is a spiritual reminder that love can infinitely transform any situation,” she said. “It’s on my wrist so that when I metaphorically want to ‘put my dukes up’ in conflict with myself or another, I see this and am reminded to return to love.”
Practicing Mindfulness While Getting Inked
For many, the act of getting tattooed can be a practice in mindfulness. While you are being inked, it’s essential to remember to breathe—and a good time to go within and meditate. Focus on your breathing, and pay attention to your senses. What are you seeing? Smelling? Hearing?
You may even want to contact the tattoo artist ahead of time and tell them your intentions for the session. If they are also spiritually minded, they may have some recommendations or will ensure there isn’t loud music playing to distract you.
Not Ready for Permanence? Try Temporary Tattoos
So what do you do if you are interested in wearing affirmations in this way, but you aren’t quite ready for the permanence (or pain) of a real tattoo? One great way to explore this is through temporary tattoos.
There are several advantages to using temporary tattoos. You can test how they look before committing to a permanent tattoo. You can try different designs or affirmations to see which one resonates most deeply with you. You aren’t making any decisions that are expensive and painful to reverse.
Another positive aspect of temporary tattoos is that you can change the affirmation as often as you like. So if you want to remind yourself to Be still and know, but then an incredibly difficult situation comes up for you, you can switch the affirmation to Wherever you are, God is.
Unity has created Here and Now Wearable Affirmations that allow you to experience all the spiritual benefits of having a tattoo without taking any of the risks. Their designs, affirmations, and images will remind you of the divine love that is always available to you.