While the most common uses of henna are decoration and celebration, have you ever considered the value of henna as meditation?
Recently I found myself in a state of hormone infused emotional chaos which I expressed by over reacting to nothing, and under reacting to some things that needed serious attention. While I was in Chicago to teach at the Windy City Mehndi Meet this instability was spiraling to a peak under the stress of the conference, the raising of teens, the running of a business, and dealing with some unresolved issues in a dissolved friendship. I was unable to respond to any of it with appropriate level of intensity. Luckily I was spending the weekend with a house full of people I love who took my near insanity in stride and peppered my day with hugs and kind words. With or without support though, it was clear that I needed to spend some time working this through if I was going to be able to function in an adult human world in the long run.
I was profoundly lucky to have been able to spend time with Catherine Lent over the weekend of the WCMM. We had met once before, but hadn’t really been able to visit and get to know each other. This time not only could we spend evenings relaxing together, but I was also able to see her amazing talents. It seems like it would take multiple lifetimes to have acquired so much skill at so many different mediums. The class she taught at the conference was lettering and she showed us some calligraphy skills and how they can be applied henna art. Before she was finished speaking, I was absolutely certain that I needed a sort of mantra in henna to help me focus on evening out my emotional imbalance.
I started searching my mind for the right word. I spent all day finding and tossing out words. Balance. Temperance. Moderation. Prudence. Control. Continence. All the words I came up with seemed banal at best, and oppressive at worst. Then it came to me in a rush. A sort of Eureka moment. QUIESCNECE! Some will define this word as a state of dormancy, but more often as a state of quiet contemplation. The time for rest and recuperation between periods of great activity and growth. This is a word not often heard in daily conversation. In fact I’m pretty sure Catherine doubted the true wordiness of it. We looked it up to be sure it had my intended meaning and that we were spelling it properly.
I knew the word well already. Frankly even if we’d discovered that it was a completely fictional word, its still the word I wanted on my body to help me focus on the idea I wanted to take into myself. “Quiescence” is the name of my Great Aunt Carole’s lake cottage. My aunt was always a strong model of womanhood for me. Despite a brief laps in mental health that she casually refers to as “when I was nuts,” she did a remarkable job of keeping balance in her life. She had a family and career at a time when that was rare. She still took time to make beautiful dolls, and cakes, and even clothes for herself and her daughters. Despite such a full life, she never seemed to have taken on more than she was able to manage. She was always in the moment. She never shorted herself time to relax and play. And she did that at “Quiescence.” From as early as I can remember going to the lake cottage for a week or even a weekend were the most peaceful and stress free times in my life, but not in a silent, reverent sort of way –in a joyous, refreshing sort of way. That feeling was exactly what I needed to set myself right.
So snuggled up on the couch that night, Catherine made this beautiful design for me. It was perfect. It had that spark of joy in it that I needed, but didn’t feel like I’d expressed verbally to Catherine. It reminds me of a marque for a for a show with a mardi gras or circus theme. The overall feel for me is joyous mindfulness. A happy reminder to take time to take stock, take time to recuperate, and maybe even more importantly to take time for self care that will certainly help me react to the world in a more measured and appropriate way.
Every time I noticed this design on my arm, I would spend a moment focused on what it means to me, and how I could incorporate that into this moment. I took a lot more care at preserving this design than I usually do. I also tend to scrub off the last bits all at once when its close to faded. This time I let the last bits disappear on their own time. Watching it fade helped me stay aware of how much time I’d spent trying to focus on this idea, and what the effect of that focus had been. It also helped me to realize that the time was approaching where I would have to maintain this state of mind without the art to prompt me.
Now, nearly a month has passed. While I’ve still had moments when I’ve let my feelings and actions get out of hand, I really feel much better, and much more in control. I feel aware of my place in the chaos. I feel confident that if I just take care of my self, take time to really absorb the meaning of the next obstacle before I react, that I can carry on the quality of quiescence without the beautiful art to remind me. Now its on the inside.