What Getting a Tattoo Taught Me About the Nature of Change

It’s completely normal, and we’re usually not aware of it

I got my first tattoo yesterday.

It’s a star and moon on the back of my neck, that I designed myself to contain within it a subtle reference to my and my fiance’s chosen “true names”. One that only would be noticeable if you know what to look for. It’s fairly small, and can be easily covered by my hair if I don’t tie it up.

I have thought about getting a tattoo since 2013, and this specific tattoo since 2017. The reason it took me so long to actually get inked was that I have been considering the design and placement of the tattoo for a long time and I wanted to make sure I didn’t feel regret over it since everyone always says “it’s for the rest of your life you know!!”

One of the things that people do before they get tattoos is envisage themselves with the tattoo, and try to imagine what it will feel like when they have the ink, and whether they feel comfortable with that being their future self. Now that I actually have the tattoo, I realised something odd.

I don’t feel like I expected to feel. I feel — the same. I just have a tattoo now.

I don’t even know what I expected to feel — some subconscious sense of being permanently changed in a significant way? Like the tattoo was an alien thing that I was making a part of my body forever? And that it would feel alien for a while until I learned to integrate it with myself?

Except it doesn’t feel like that. I’m the same as I was yesterday and the day before, or rather — I’m not the same, to the same extent as I am always “not the same” from one moment to the next.

Getting a tattoo emphasises how “change” is such an inherent part of existence that we usually don’t pay attention to it.

Every day we change and evolve, physically and mentally. We slowly put on or lose weight, we gain or lose muscle, our skins freckle and wrinkle, stretch marks appear, we accidentally injure ourselves and get scars, moles and other skin blemishes appear and usually never go away. We store new information in our minds, develop and change opinions, make emotional connections, create and lose memories. We don’t notice these changes from the day to day because they often happen without us noticing and slowly over time. During all that process we feel “the same”.

My tattoo is now an inherent part of my body, a “change” that happened to it that is now a part of me forever. A change I chose for myself. The normalcy I feel afterwards, how much I feel “the same” afterwards, highlights how change is just part of existing in a physical body. And how much of it happens without our conscious awareness, so that we build up in our minds the changes that we do make consciously, making them more of a big deal in our anticipation than they actually are.

Don’t get me wrong I’m happy I have a tattoo. I want to get another. But it was very interesting realising how much more of a big deal I expected it to be than what it actually was afterwards. This also makes me think about all of the other choices that I make, and how all of them permanently affect me and who I become, to a similar extent as a tattoo does, but I don’t realise at the time how significant they are.

Life is change. Some changes are conscious, some are involuntary, but through it all, the ego maintains the perception of constancy.

“The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds” — Cloud Atlas