“Just like a tattoo…”

Next Monday is my 33rd birthday. If you’ve read any number of my previous posts you know I’ve been talking about getting a new tattoo. Well I officially have an appointment Tuesday afternoon/evening to get it done. This way it’ll have time to heal during my stay-cation. The tattoo has 3-fold celebratory reasoning: to celebrate my birthday, to celebrate losing 100 lbs (not quite there though. at 93 lbs right now), and to honor my mom (who loves all things panda and geisha).

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before that I’d like to get a Panda Geisha. It’s a tad more complicated than that though, because I can’t just be easy. I want a maiko, which is an apprentice geisha. They’re characterized by longer obi, longer kimono with longer sleeves, red under-collar, taller okobo (shoes), and red silk in the center of their hair bun. When a geisha graduates, so to speak, she becomes a geiko.


It is said that geisha inhabit a separate reality which they call the karyūkai or “the flower and willow world”. Before they disappeared, the courtesans were the colorful “flowers” and the geisha the “willows” because of their subtlety, strength, and grace.

Their jobs consist of performing songs, dances, and playing the shamisen or the koto (traditional Japanese instruments) for visitors during feasts. They emulate culture and grace.

World War II brought a huge decline to the geisha arts because most women had to go to factories or other places to work for Japan. The geisha name also lost some status during this time because prostitutes began referring to themselves as “geisha girls” to American military men. Since the war though they’ve gone through a resurgence and modernization.


On the obi tail, instead of the normal geometric or flower pattern, I’ve requested a lotus unalome.


The Unalome is originally a hindu symbol that graphically recalls Shiva´s third eye and it represents wisdom and the path to perfection. The spiral shows the beginning of the path, without knowledge or a given direction, that leads to discovering the world through inevitable errors (the knots along the line, or yak), each being a teaching moment, and finally becoming a straight line leading to enlightenment, often represented by a dot or a circle (the sun).

In the Buddhist tradition, Unalome represents the path each person takes throughout their life. That road can be straight, circular, or winding. It might be filled with anxiety, fear, terror, happiness, or love. This path begins at the center of a spiral, which represents the way we’re trapped in our own weakness, fear, and uncertainty. As the path unfolds, the mind finds clarity, eventually freeing itself from the cycles of suffering. When you learn to see yourself from a more objective standpoint, you’ll realize you’re attached to a web of emotions that cloud your mind. However, since we are merely human beings who tend to commit the same mistakes over and over again, it is not easy to abandon that cycle. That’s what the spiral represents, that inability of letting ourselves go completely. The pursuit of enlightenment is what straightens the line of the spiral. This symbol is a visual metaphor of that journey: the ultimate goal and culmination of our search for awareness. Finally, the dot that appears far away from the rest of the Unalome represents the uncertainty of life. We ignore the final truth. And even if we can’t perceive it, it does exist. This is the ultimate reward life can give us.

The lotus flower symbolizes overcoming adversities towards perfection, thus perfectly integrating the meaning of the Unalome.

The lotus has been a symbol of purity since before the time of the Buddha, and it blooms profusely in Buddhist art and literature. Its roots are in muddy water, but the lotus flower rises above the mud to bloom, clean and fragrant.

The mud nourishing the roots represents our messy human lives. It is within our human experiences and our suffering that we seek to break free and bloom. But while the flower rises above the mud, the roots and stem remain in the mud, where we live our lives. This plant is known to be associated with rebirth. This is a consequence of it supposedly retracting into the water at night, and emerging afresh in the Sun the next day. The breaking of the surface every morning is also suggestive of desire. This leads to it being associated with spiritual enlightenment.


And finally, why a panda you ask? Because my Mommy loves them. Growing up our house was covered in panda figurines, pictures, blankets, stuffed animals, etc. When she went into the nursing home after her stroke 5 years ago, you seriously don’t even want to know how much panda stuff we had to find a new home for. Also, the panda is kind of my (and hers) spirit animal, or Patronus if you will.

The panda is a powerful spirit animal inspiring tranquil strength and determination. Under its soft and fuzzy appearances, this animal totem brings forth the importance of strong personal boundaries to feel safe and grounded in life. Symbolic of the ability to find a balanced and nurturing path through life, it will encourage those who have it as totem or power animal to integrate different aspects of their personality in an harmonious whole.

The panda is a symbol of gentleness and strength. The general meanings associated with this animal are:

  • Gentle strength
  • Peace
  • Good luck, positive outlook on life
  • Connection with Eastern wisdom

The symbolism of the panda also encompasses personal and spiritual qualities, such as:

  • Integration of polarized aspects of yourself, such as feminine and masculine energies
  • Heart-centered energy, nurturing ability
  • Importance of emotions
  • Calm determination, ability to take time to reach your goals
  • Importance of private space and personal boundaries

This animal is characterized by its very high sensitivity to its surroundings and can quickly become stressed when there is too much movement or noise around. If you identify with the panda totem, you’re likely very aware of your environment and the energies around you.

The totem of the panda has affinities with bear energy. Despite its gentle appearances, it is a strong animal with an unstoppable determination. Like the bear, it provides powerful support for those who need courage and steadiness in their endeavors. Those with the panda totem tend to be able to be firm and gentle at the same time and demonstrate a gentle strength in any circumstance. The wisdom of the panda teaches us to move through life calmly and with determination. You can call this spirit animal to help you maintain a steady pace and direction. In the Eastern culture, this animal is symbol of peace and harmonious resolution of conflict.

So basically, after that very long winded, detailed description of my future tattoo, there’s multiple hidden meanings in it for me. It represents that, like a maiko,  I’m still learning, constantly learning, not only in life but on my weight loss journey. That I’ll hit bumps along the way but with determination I’ll eventually get there. I need to have grace, courage, patience, and perseverance to rise above any obstacles. This is my story of rebirth, into the person I’m becoming. I’m not only changing physically, but mentally as well. Finally, it’s also to honor my mother. At an early age she instilled a love of learning, and a love of reading, in me. She taught me to always want to know more, and gave me the strength and courage to seek it out.


I won’t see the tattoo artist’s actual design till I physically go to the appointment. She’ll be working on it right up until then. I went in and talked with her last week, told her all my wants and desire, and she measured my leg. After that I just had to leave it in her capable hands to interpret my spew of information overload into something amazing. There’s time built into the appointment if we need to tweak her design at all though.

I’ll, of course, do a post chronically the whole thing. As of right now my loving husband is going to go with me and entertain me/feed me. I could be there upwards of 6 hours, depending on how fast she works. Since there’s going to be a fair amount of detail and color work I fully anticipate being there the whole time. My previous 3 tattoos are just small things that took less than 45 minutes. I’m hoping I can last as long as I need to before tapping out.



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