Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ongons, Respect, and Belonging

Have you ever wondered why people name their cars?  Sometimes they name their computers, too.  I find it interesting that we only seem to name computers and cars.  These objects are apparently the only ones we are close enough to these days to warrant naming.

In other older cultures, even our own, I think there was a lot more honoring of the tools of everyone's trades.  If you were a smith, there was great care taken of your tools.  They were your livelihood, steady companions to your life's work.  You wouldn't think to let them rust or lose them.  Meticulous maintenance was a matter of course.  Today, most tools are mass manufactured and often even plastic, considered easily replaceable, and of little importance to us as individual items.

What happens when we stop to consider the great benefit our tools give us?  My tattoo machines are really important to me.  I have been guilty of generally neglecting them beyond the routine cleaning and oiling.  But what if I took the time to make that interaction more ceremonial?  What if there was an aspect of gratitude given to them for the livelihood they afford me, and a more thorough regard for them in general?  The basic tending of them as tools might take on more significance.  I could find that the rapport between each machine and myself grows deeper.

This sounds silly at first, because common culture tells us that they are only machines.  But I find that already I know which of my several machines I prefer - which ones work more tirelessly for me, which ones are cranky and need more tweaking that I rarely feel moved to give them.  We pick favorites, but aren't sure why those ones are more appealing than the others.  Could it have to do with the amount of attention we give them, the amount of appreciation?

Many cultures speak of the spirit of objects, or even of inviting a spirit to live within an object and lend its power to it.  In Mongolian tradition, an ongon is an object that holds a spirit.  It is important to honor the spirit that dwells within the object or it will depart or even cause bad things to happen.  This is a foreign concept to us, but I think instinctually we all have a sense of this being true.  When our cars break down, we talk to them.  We plead with the car as though a spirit does live within it and can respond to our need.  And sometimes, it seems to react exactly as though it heard what we said.

Samurais cared for their swords as treasured companions, mindful of them as powerful helpers capable of great protection and aid.  They would never allow them to fall into disrepair or drop them carelessly.  In fact, they were actively respectful of their swords, giving them a place of honor and acknowledging them through many subtle rituals as they were used and maintained.  I wonder how my life would change if I honored my tattoo machines in the same way, or any other objects in my world.  At the least, I would start to have a deeper appreciation for my daily activities and an awareness of the objects that make my life possible in its current incarnation.  I might become calmer and less worried about gaining more objects, since I would be attached to the ones I already have.  I could become satisfied with the relationships I have with the objects around me, and gain an ease of interaction with them due to a greater familiarity.  I would likely need a lot less objects in my life, and be able to get a lot of use out of a few well-cared-for ones.

It is this attentiveness that I feel is lacking in my daily habits.  I barely notice the plates and glasses I eat off of and drink from each day.  Even my car is taken for granted until it acts up.  As much as I use this computer, I don't really think of it beyond its functionality.  If it stops working, I would curse it and replace it rather than attempt to resuscitate it, especially if a repair was costly.  So much of my life is replaceable, and I find that I dislike that.  It's the great confusion and frustration I find myself stuck in - an eternal cycle of thoughts swirling around "what if this" and "how about that."  But really, everything can be replaceable when nothing is important to me.  If I am doing nothing of value and merely flit from subject to subject without becoming deeply invested in any of it, why not replace everything as it wears out from neglect?  The constant exchange of objects around me mirrors my own inability to focus and make connections with depth.  And that sucks.

What is so scary about becoming deeply invested in situations and people?  Certainly a fear of being rejected or ignored.  An underlying worry that nothing ever lasts anyway and so it's safer to keep a distance.  Why get attached to a house or way of life when it's going to change anyway?  Why not preempt the change by forcing it along?  Actively choose to do something different so that the precariousness of the situation feels a bit more controlled?  Am I doing this by wanting to move to another house?  Why have I never gotten very attached to this one?

I have lots of answers for that, which is a separate post entirely.  Some of them have to do with my own personal wounds, others with practical considerations.  But underneath it may be a lack of faith in my ability to fit in anywhere or belong to anything.  With that attitude, nothing really belongs with me, either.  It's easy (on the surface) to let go of everything.  Clothes, cars, computers, books, temperamental tattoo machines.  Even people.  But it is lonely to create an existence where all of the connections only skim along the surface.  I think I'd rather have great fights with people and objects alike in order to know them better and love them more.  My usual way of always following the path of least resistance, especially in personal relationships, results in lots of neglected frustration and misunderstanding.  If I am willing to know myself a little more, but afraid to know others, or let them know me too, am I really getting to know myself better at all?  Probably not.

It turns out that it is difficult to step out of our protective bubble, which includes not having deep regard for anything or anybody around us.  If we stop talking ourselves into thinking we are caring about it all (thoughts about emotions that prevent us from actually feeling the emotions) and actually sit still enough to feel caring for something or someone, we can know the difference.  It feels naked, and scary.  Right now, for me, it's a bit overwhelming to even get beyond just touching the real emotions. Starting with picking just one object or set of objects to acknowledge feels easier and less complicated than tackling the nuances of human interaction.  I hope that if I can stick with it for any length of time that it can help the human relationships grow as well.  Little steps.

So this week, I am going to set up a more thoughtful space for my tattoo machines, and do the routine cleaning and oiling with more intention.  I'll work with the machine that gives me trouble and see if I can figure out a way to help it run smoother instead of throwing it aside until I have no choice but to use it.  I may even order replacement parts for the worn out plastic bits on the insides, and a few new hose connections for the machines I pirated parts from in order to nurture the favorite machines.  It feels like apologetic action, a considerate way to start on a fresh page with them all.  Perhaps they will begin to have happy spirits and work well for me more often.  Even if it is just a result of better attention to their mechanics, I'll be happy to see an improvement.  And I'll keep my eyes open to any improvements that happen in other areas of my life.  It can't help being connected.

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