How a tattoo helped to connect a mother to her son by reminding her to let go of worry and embrace mindfulness instead
Last summer my son and I decided to get matching tattoos.
He was heading to graduate school ten hours away, and I was having some trouble with the distance. Instead of sharing in his excitement for the challenges and opportunities ahead of him, all I could focus on were all the potential things that could possibly go wrong that I could not fix from afar.
I would not consider myself a control freak but would definitely acquiesce to be a type A personality. I like to know what has, is and will happen to those that I love. So, I guess you could say I like to be in control, which technically would make me a control freak (which is incredibly hard to admit).
He was tasked to picked both the symbol and design that we were tattooing on our wrists — a symbolic sign of unity, so to speak. The symbol he chose was the Farsi calligraphy for: This too shall pass. My son, who is a deeply spiritual young man, convinced me to get this image by explaining the meaning behind the saying.
Apparently, there was a king who wanted to get a ring inscribed with words that would be meaningful for every moment of his life. One of his servants came back with the phrase, “this too shall pass.” The king was thrilled because in this one simple quote he could encompass the fluidity of life.
Being a wise man, he knew that the secret to a happy life is to accept the pain because it is transient and relish the pleasure because that too will end.
For me, these words were perfect. They seemed appropriate for our situation and their meaning gave me a sense of calm, albeit temporarily.
Unfortunately, a leopard cannot change its spots and a mother cannot change her ways. As I much as I tried, my need to control what came before and what will come later is encompassed in an all-too-familiar word: worry.
We all worry about daily aggravations, but my mother has mastered the art of worrying and has very graciously handed this down to me; I have made worrying an Olympic sport. Even when there are not things to worry about, I can create things. I can lose an entire night’s sleep on the what if’s or maybes.
I remember being told that worrying is the most useless emotion we can have. We are spending a lot of energy trying to control things that are going to end up exactly the way they were meant to be.
But once my brain starts going down this rabbit hole, there is no way to know just how far my negative thoughts will spin. Not the most useful life tool.
Many years of therapy and soul searching have brought me to the realization that there is an interesting dichotomy between the word ‘worry’ and the now popular term ‘mindfulness’. Magazine articles, talk shows, and therapists around the globe encourage us to seek mindfulness. But do we really know what that word means and how to find it?
Here is a simple way to look at it: Worry involves fretting about things that we can’t control, while Mindfulness is about awareness, and with that, an acceptance of the world that we live in. Obviously these two emotions cannot co-exist.
If I just stopped worrying about what might happen, maybe the result would be that I could live in the moment. But this is a big change for me as I live to worry.
My big challenge is to push aside worry and to seek mindfulness on a daily basis. Although this change has taken a little time, what I do now is take each moment and say, “Do I have the power to change it?” The majority of the time the answer is a resounding, “No.” As much as I want to control the outcome, that is just not part of my skillset. The more I ‘let it go’, the more I became aware of what is within my power to change.
That is what I think mindfulness means. It is enjoying the moments that we have been given, possibly turning our backs on this digital world with information coming at us every three or four seconds on YouTube, the Internet, and our watches. Whether you’re a worrier like me or someone being held captive by technology, so many of us have stopped living in the moment. I think that’s therein lies the value of mindfulness.
Ironically, while I was fighting my demons of worry, I accidently found the key to mindfulness. I am far from perfect, as I occasionally still slip into worry mode, but a simple glance down to my wrist reminds me what a brilliant king before already knew.
If I just hang on for a minute, this too shall pass…
You may also enjoy reading Tenderly Holding the Bitter & Sweet: Finding Gratitude Within Life’s Beauty and Pain by Indira Abby Heijnen