Got a new tattoo yesterday. Sitting on the corner of my left wrist, I see it every time I look down; it's there to remind me of my commitment to living the hell out of life. Not that I need a tattoo to do my mental butt-kicking, but being such a visual person, it's a nice little replacement for a permanent string on my finger.
The Back Story
When I was about eight, my mother was a member of a spiritual, meditation group led by her best friend, Betty. They met weekly to channel in the good spirits and sift out the bad. Sometimes I would join in, peering out from underneath a table in the candle-lit dark, "ohhm"ing along with the rest of the crowd and trying to sit still in the lotus position. Most times, the night would end with my mom shaking me out of a snore coma and dragging me home while I managed to linger in between my dreams.
Unfortunately, it turned out that this "meditation group" was more like a cult (i.e. best friend Betty began to starve herself-one of the less crazy things she did in the name of religion), and my mom quickly saw the signs and left. She and Betty eventually lost touch, but we still held onto the positive aspects of spirituality, especially since it had already been a large, but subtle, part of my mom's life before me. I will always remember that one evening when Mom told me about Poda.
When I was really young, like three or four years old, I used to always stay up late to watch the moon. I could see it very clearly from my window, hovering big and white just over our house. Many nights, I would stare up at that moon until it disappeared. One night, while I was sitting in bed, looking wide-eyed into the midnight sky, I saw something move in the corner of my eye. When I turned to look, I saw the tiny figure of a boy peering from behind my bedroom door. His skin was very pale, he had an unusually large forehead, no hair, and large playful eyes. I wet my bed and screamed until my mother ran into my room and turned on the lights. I told her about the boy, sobbing in fear, but after a thorough search, there was no boy to be found. With a sigh, my mom tucked me back into bed, and turned out the lights. Looking out from under my covers when she left, I saw nothing in the darkness.
"Who was it, mom?" I interrupted.
I thought the story was really neat. At eight, I didn't understand the full meaning of spirituality or religion or other worlds. I "ohm"ed because it made a funny tingly sensation in my throat, and I wanted a soul like Poda because having an imaginary friend seemed like a great idea.
That evening, I went to bed extra early, in preparation to channel my own Poda. Completely tucked under my covers, I closed my eyes as tight as I could.
"Okay, Soul! Show yourself!" I exclaimed out loud in the dark.
All of a sudden, a little cartoon-like man popped into my mind's eye: short and rotund, with big bright blue eyes, bushy white eyebrows and a funny white mustache that turned up on the sides. He stood there in my mind, feet turned out, smiling peacefully. That was easy, I thought. But what was his name? I scrunched my eyes closed again, even tighter than before.
"What's your name, Mr. Soul?"
Letters started popping into my head. First a V, then an A, N-U-P. Then, blackness. I held my breath in silence, in case any more letters were coming. But they didn't. Vanup? I thought to myself. What a strange name. The next thing I knew, it was morning, and I was running to catch the bus to school.
Over the years, Vanup has stayed with me, just like Poda did with my mom. But even to this day, he only shows up when I call him. And I call him by stopping to listen to what he has to say. I put him on a pedestal, and on my wrist, because he represents that never-ending itch I have to to get everything I can out of life.
It's not religion. It's not crazy voices in my head. It is what it is: something that keeps me going. It's a form of relief, when my problems get bigger than my ability to find their solutions. Instead of stressing, I listen. Instead of worrying, I give it to Vanup. Most people who meet me comment on my calmness; it took me a while to realize that it was because of him. He is the culmination of everything I have learned from my mother, all my life experiences, both real and vicarious; he is a method of survival in a world where not enough emphasis is put on nurturing our mental health; he is my private visualization of motivation, encouragement, and the knowledge that all puzzles can be solved, as long as I listen - to my inner voice, to my soul, to my Self. Vanup comes in all shapes and sizes, and is given different names and roles by different people. But he's there. Maybe not all day, every day, but there is a little bit of Vanup waiting in everyone. And it has been important in my life to find, work with, and lean on him.
I got my last tattoo sophomore year of high school: the three characters of my Chinese name, piled on top one another in a column on the small of my back, in my mom's handwriting. I might have been the only 16-year-old in town to have their mother design the art and accompany in the ink process. It only seemed appropriate to consult with her this time. And I don't see it being my last consultation, either. Yeah - my mother's awesome.