Victory and Profit to Others

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From the beginning of my tattooed life, people have been asking me what they all mean, as though each tattoo had to be a talisman of a secret inner narrative, or an ode to some super meaningful story just waiting to be told.

I'm sure I frequently dissappointed people by glibly saying that I just liked colorful tattoos and that many were a whim or a fancy or part of a larger body or work, and that there was no symbolism - beyond a love of tattoos (which for those of you who have read The Good Hustle will know is the real story of my tattoo dharma.)

Recently though, as part of my life in paradox, I have been using my increasingly diminishing blank skin real estate to get pieces of work that are explicitly meaningful and symbolic. I am wearing my ethics and beliefs on the outside, and combining old school aesthetic with an urgency to have conversations about the thematics of compassion, vulnerability, service and surrender. 

'Victory and Profit to Others' is one of THOSE tattoos. It combines my love of three things: Portland, Buddhist philosophy, and selfless service. The image is by a dude called Bert Grimm, one of the founding fathers of American tattooing and a Portland native. His style of slightly off kilter perspective is unique and compelling, as on commentator on his body of work put it, nothing about his drawings are right, and yet everything about them are right.

I love Portland, as a city it is one of my spirit animals, and it is a place that is teeming with ridiculously talented tattooists. Isaac Bushkin is one of those tattooists, and when i'm heading to the weird city, I book ahead to spend some time with his talented hands and gentle wisdom. Being tattooed by Isaac is a twofer, as we catch up on All. The. Events. that have happened in the months since I'd been in town, and have discussions on complex situations socially and politically, which is deeply pleasing and also distracting from those ouchy moments. 

The quote on the tattoo is from one of Buddha's earliest disciples, Lama Atisha. It is contained in a larger body of work called Lojong which is a series of slogans that are designed for training the mind to cultivate bodhicitta or loving kindness directed at all sentient beings. This quote is impactful for me as it is so representative not only of my own body of work with entrepreneurs, and in my leadership practice, but also with the intention of selfless service, that the underlying intention of any endeavour at its heart is to benefit others. The first step is to give away all of the good, to willingly put the needs and happiness of others first.

There is a second part to the slogan which will be a companion tattoo in time that reads 'Loss and Defeat to Myself.' I think this is particularly confronting from a Western mindset, particularly in a world of spiritual materialism and ruthless positivity. To be inviting loss and defeat is absolutely counter intuitive, and to even speak or think those words appears to be inviting the manifestation of a shit storm of some sort (call The Secret STAT!)

The idea however is that good and bad aren't binary, they are in fact the same thing when you aren't reactively attached to the outcome. So in the spirit of putting others first, you are asking to take the pain and loss away from others and take that onto yourself.

This is similar to the meditation practice of tonglen where you visualise breathing in the pain and disease of others as a dark black cloud and breathing out light and happiness into their situations. You are taking on their suffering, knowing that this is your role as a bodhisattva, and until all beings are enlightened and free from the wheel of birth, death, rebirth and suffering you have chosen to stay and work to release their pain.

When we put others first, we cease to dwell in the ego of singularity. We recognise that the benefit of one is the benefit of all, and that there is much to be gained in the act of selfless service. There is no victory or profit, or loss and defeat, only illusion of these things being real, when the only thing that is real is our attachment to them, and the suffering it brings. I should get a tattoo of a soapbox, as that would be a better indicator to unsuspecting citizens who ask me what my tattoos mean and expect a simple answer. LOLs.


Polly McGee