“Okay, that’s it,” said Alex, a young female tattoo artist in my neighborhood, “we’re all done.”
Wearily, I lifted my head from its face down position on the table, looked at her with disconcerting eyes and said, “What? Really?”
“Yeah. All done.”
I wanted to cry.
But I didn’t, because there were people around: Fong, the tattoo shop owner; his wife at the front desk; Eddy, the tattooist from Pamplona; and a bevy of cute Chinese girls giggling nervously about getting inked in uncomfortable places.
When I stood up from the table and saw my new arm for the first time — an arm that took 5 continuous hours of hardcore tattooing, after several weeks of artistic brainstorming and dedicated organic design, I had the same feeling I get after finishing a hard marathon or ultra distance race: complete ecstasy. And exhaustion.
(click to enlarge)
That actually happened? It did happen. And it hurt. A lot!
So how did I do it? How did I endure such consistent agony, minute by minute, for five hours? I conceited to the pain. I knew it was going to hurt. I welcomed the hurt. Physically, yes, I squeezed the shit out of a now bounceless tennis ball and I grit my teeth, taking deep, controlled breaths over and over again. But in my mind — where the real pain was festering — I acknowledged the discomfort, accepted it for what it was and invested in the idea that it wouldn’t last forever — that the fruits of such endurance would be so sweet for so long that it was absolutely worth it, an ideology in which I am well versed.
My exploration into the world of meditation has been aided by my passion for long distance running. I have been very open here about how the rhythm of the run puts my anxieties to rest, how it puts me in touch with my emotions, with my core self. Through it I have learned compassion. I have learned patience. And I have learned to be at peace.
By acknowledging the pain and suffering of my physical self, allowing it to draw my focus, I consciously decided to let it be. The 5-hour tattoo session with Alex was a monumental back and forth test of my ability to endure. There were times when my mind championed the physical discomfort — where a conversation with someone or the blasting musical force coming from my Audio Technicas was able to distract me from the agony. I closed my eyes and went somewhere else — somewhere far, far away: the volcanic mounds of Las Canarias, the shambled rocks of the Wild Wall, Santa Monica Beach at sunset.
To my surprise, those places appeared in my mind as real as I wanted them to be.
I found them through suffering.
It may sound silly, but I don’t care: when I toe up to the line of a race, I cease to be Jeff Lung, writer, hobby jogger, baseball fanatic.
Instead, I become A WARRIOR. A real, live warrior.
I push myself to the limits, to see what I am capable of, and I never take for granted the circumstances that led to my own self discovery.
Every race is a new challenge, a new journey, a new exploration of the guts and sinew and brains that make me who I am.
Sometimes it hurts, no doubt about that. But it will always feel good for so long after, forever and ever.
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If you’re in the Chi and looking for a good place to get a tattoo, check out Tattoo Union on Halsted. You won’t be disappointed!