Our places and spaces are often sprinkled with personally meaningful symbols and artifacts that are usually invisible to others. These are small everyday reminders of what we value and how we aspire to live. They travel alongside the humdrum of our days and fade into the background such that we mostly forget they are there, until we need them.
Two examples from my spaces—I have a small tattoo on my wrist that reads “Momento Mori”; it is my foremost note-to-self in life that reminds me of the inevitability of death. Reflecting on this reminder helps me dissolve doubt and fear. Mostly though, when I randomly glance at it during the normal course of my days, I surf the surface of the text without actually absorbing this message. In these moments, my wise tattoo is simply a collection of letters that are permanently etched on my body. The meaning steps forth in intentional moments when need mixes with solitude. The second example: WordPress asks me to select a specific time to publish my blog posts. I wanted to pick an early morning time that was reflective of my US Pacific Coast residence and rather than selecting 6:00am, as was my initial thought, I picked 5:55am PST. 5.55am is the time of my birth. Since every time I write it feels like I’m accessing an un-birthed part of myself, I felt this slight time adjustment was symbolically appropriate. This was also my way of honoring my parents, who nourished me with life, love and dreams.
These and the many other talismans of my life stay mostly hidden, even from me, until I need them.
It may seem silly to share our personal talismans broadly because, by definition, they lack emotional resonance for others. Nevertheless I share mine because in reflecting back I see that they have been valuable guardrails that helped me stay the course during difficult solitary moments of slog. It can be hard to devote waking hours to life if it feels bereft of meaning, especially when we are walking on a slow and painful path. In those moments, personal talismans can feel like micro reminders or…prayers, as if the soul is bowing its head in respect.
“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”― Thomas Merton