The Inconstant Moon

Photo by Roman Klimenko on Unsplash

I finally got up the nerve to make an appointment to get my second tattoo, 20 years after my first one. I’d known what I wanted for quite some time. It wasn’t until the day I was going to get it, though, that I completely understood what it meant to me.

The Moon

I’ve always been fascinated by the moon, from the time I was a toddler and named it “noom.” Its obvious influence on our planet and artful appearance has kept me looking skyward at night ever since. You can stare up at the moon on consecutive nights, and it will appear differently each time, but in a predictable cycle. Waxing crescent, half, full, waning crescent, new. Comfortingly, it even has a name when we can’t see it. Regardless, the whole moon is always there, apparently consistent. But…

It gets about one inch further away from Earth each year, and its tilt on its axis has changed over time. In the past, it has sustained impacts that have altered its landscape, adding new craters and debris. There’s no reason to think there won’t be more. There has been some evidence that our stolid moon is rusting. The moon, a constant in the night sky with its soothing, reliable cycles, is changing.

In the wee morning hours of yesterday, I observed the moon, Venus close at hand, in its Cheshire Cat form, grinning at me from above. I then fell back asleep on the couch and had a vivid dream that was a very literal interpretation of killing the past. At the end of the dream, I looked skyward to see that same smile of a moon. A letting go of what no longer exists, a look toward the present and future.

Middle Age

Middle age can seem like it sucks. My body is doing all sorts of socially undesirable things — getting bulgier, wrinklier, less predictable. Involuntary physical change can be distressing regardless, but when it’s in defiance of our cultural worship of youthfulness, it can feel downright alarming. Suddenly, I’m different. But I’ve always been different.

To paraphrase Heraclitus, you can’t step in the same river twice; you are different and so is the river. My body is plumper now than it was five years ago, my hair is purple, and (as of yesterday) I have a tattoo of moons along my forearm. But look back a little further, and you’ll see a creature with a pregnant belly, a blond bob and a naked forearm. A bit further, a fiery young person with long pink hair and a chip on her shoulder. A strong, tan little girl who happily spends all day in her own head. Remove the societal stigma of aging, and this body I have now, this person I am now, is just the latest iteration. Remove the stigma, and I actually feel pretty damned good about it.

My body is changing. My mind is changing. Yours is, too. In a world where even the moon isn’t truly constant, we should expect no less. Instead of fighting the inevitable, wouldn’t it be more fun to embrace it?

Thanks to Maggie Hughes at Little Pricks Tattoos for honing my idea and making it a beautiful reality

The Middle Way

In the original teachings of Buddha, there is a concept known as “the Middle Way.” It means avoiding extremes and adhering to moderation. The origin of this concept comes from the Buddha himself. Born into a wealthy family as Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha became dissatisfied with his life of riches and left his family to wander and seek happiness. He tried out abject poverty, eschewing all material possessions and found this didn’t lead to happiness either. What he eventually came to was the Middle Way: possessions are fine, even good, but it’s important to avoid becoming obsessed with them. They can bring some happiness, but letting the craving of them overtake you can lead to your stuff owning you instead of vice versa. Buddha applied the Middle Way to all aspects of life – possessions, status, sex, money, etcetera.

It occurred to me just today that this is applicable to something I’ve wrestled with in my head for a long time: the aesthetics of the human body. On the one hand, I fully believe media and society has led to a lot of our unhealthy striving for a certain kind of body, with very narrow, unrealistic parameters. We all see media images and, at least subconsciously, think, “I’m supposed to look like that – be that thin, that muscular, that young, that color.” This is definitely a negative. On the other hand, there is no denying the human form. We exist as physical entities, and it is in our genes to look at a group of people and prefer how some look over others, even if we’d been raised by wolves, devoid of media contact.

We are all exposed to media images. We can reduce our exposure, but we can’t eliminate it. We can’t pretend we don’t see physical differences, either. But, it would be folly to go about pretending we feel good and healthy about ourselves always trying to look a certain way. I have, at times, gotten to the point where I am scrutinizing myself in the mirror at close range, noticing all my supposed flaws – wrinkles, sun spots, sagging this, too small that. That is obsession, and it isn’t useful.

Where is the Middle Way in this? Well, there are a few pointers for finding it. First, limit your negative media exposure. Second, look at your whole person in the mirror ever so often and find all the good things your body does for you – “whole person” and “ever so often” are key. Acknowledge that you find certain people more attractive or less attractive, but don’t focus too much on it. The people you meet are more important to you for who they are, not how they look. As for clothes, wear the stuff that makes you feel good and comfortable – colors you like, soft fabrics, but don’t obsess over picking out just the right thing or how you look all day. Focus on being present in the things you do.

This applies differently to each person’s life. Everyone has different negative tendencies to overcome. But, I wanted to offer this because I’ve found looking for the Middle Way in a lot of things in life that bother me has put them in a comfortable perspective. Perhaps it will help you with a few things, too.