What is an unalome? It’s a symbol.
There are many styles of unalome, but this is a post about the meaning. But one particular unalome has an even more profound meaning for me than the “definition” of the unalome.
The unalome symbol represents the path to enlightenment in the Buddhist culture. The dots at the start of the symbol represent when we are conceived and then born. Essentially, this is the moment we become something from nothing. The spirals are meant to symbolize the twists and turns in life, and the straight line the moment one reaches enlightenment, or “peace and harmony” in life. The dots at the end of the symbol represent death, or the moment we fade back to nothing …
In the months leading up to Suzanne’s final diagnosis, she was training to be a yoga instructor. She was 100% devoted to the work. She dived in head first, learning the physiology of the poses, the Indian (Sanskrit) names of the poses and the reasons behind each movement. She read voraciously. She devoured the course content and worked hard to build her skills.
She worked extremely diligently to complete the course in its entirety. It was 200 hours of training. She started in late February 2018. The course was scheduled to finish on May 30, 2018. It was just a few days before our youngest daughter, Emily, was due to arrive home from her first full year at college in London.
Suzi and I were grateful for the opportunity to all be together again for the summer (our oldest, Rachel was living with us, and Emily was arriving home, so with exception of our middle daughter, Laura, who was working in Northern California). We were also excited for Suzi to finish her course so we could once again have our Saturday morning’s back… In the 20-weeks preceding Emily’s arrival, Suzanne had been at yoga for 5-hours on a Wednesday afternoon and again every Saturday morning.
The commitment to train had really impacted our newly acquired “relaxed” lifestyle that we both wanted when we moved to San Diego. But it was what Suzanne wanted to do, and when she reached the end of the course, she was truly excited to start teaching yoga.
We were both pleased with her decision to teach. Just prior to finishing her course, she was asked to teach a children’s class at the studio where she trained. She had also been asked to act as a substitute for another teacher who was traveling for a few weeks. This gave her the perfect opportunity to “ease into” the teaching. The other thing she was excited for was her first tattoo.
She never taught a single class… But she got her tattoo. You see, at the yoga studio where she trained, it had become a bit of a tradition. Each successful class went to a tattoo artist the day they finished the course. Unfortunately, the tattoo artist the yoga teacher trainees used was unable to do Suzanne’s tattoo the same day she finished, so she went in on May 31.
When she got home and the redness/soreness cleared, she noticed it had a few “mistakes”. If you look at the picture above (in this post), it represents what hers was supposed to look like. This artist actually forgot a circle and didn’t complete the circle in the middle of the path to enlightenment. Suzanne planned to go back to see him to have it “fixed”.
The next day, on June 1st, I got my second tattoo. The first one I got was two Chinese symbols representing the words “Father” and “Husband”. When I came home with it in 2004, Suzanne joked, “That was dumb… I mean, you will always be a father, but you might not always be a husband!” She was wrong…
But the tattoo I got on June 1, 2018 was just as symbolic as the Chinese words were to me. My second tattoo was of the Sanskrit mantra “Saht-Chit-Ananda”, which means “truth, consciousness and bliss”. To me, they are the words that encapsulate the meaning of life.
A week later, on June 7th, Suzanne and I went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for a member’s evening event to celebrate the grand opening of their new Australia Walkabout enclosure (filled with wallabies, kangaroos and numerous other Aussie animals). While we were there, Suzi began complaining about how she was struggling to catch her breath. She had been suffering what she thought was muscle fatigue and shoulder pain for a few weeks as the yoga training came to its end.
As we made our way to the new exhibition, she was really struggling. Yes, it was warm, and she was a wilting English Rose… But still. At one stage, an old lady with a walker went past us and I knew something was wrong.
The next day, June 8th, I went in to work instead of working from home on a Friday like I would normally have done, because my boss (who was based in the UK) had told my only other colleague and I that we “needed to be seen” in the office by our new Chief Marketing Officer (who had recently started with the company). Around 1:30PM, Suzanne called me on her way to the ER. She had been to urgent care and the doctor there had ordered a chest X-Ray. Her left lung was completely occluded with fluid. I met her there around 2:30PM.
Just 12-hours later, around 2:30AM on Saturday June 9th, our worst fears had been confirmed. Her cancer was back. It had spread. “We saw some nodes on your lungs and liver”, they told us. And that began the journey that would take us from “we will beat this” to it’s all over in just 10-weeks (she died on August 19. It was a Sunday morning. Just after 1:00AM).
After receiving the news, they admitted her to the hospital until June 11th so that they could drain the fluid and decide what we needed to do from there. They inserted her IV catheter into her arm just below her new tattoo. “I guess I won’t be going to get it fixed any time soon”, she said…
She never did that either.
By 2:00AM on Saturday June 9, our worst fears had been confirmed. Her cancer was back. It had spread. “We saw some nodes on your lungs and liver”, they told us. And that began the journey that would take us from “we will beat this” to it’s all over in just 10-weeks. She died on August 19. It was a Sunday morning. Just after 1:00AM. They admitted her to the hospital so that they could drain the fluid and decide what we needed to do from there. They inserted her IV catheter into her arm just below her new tattoo. “I guess I won’t be going to get it fixed any time soon”, she said…
She never did that either.
When she finally started treatment, nurses and doctors would ask about the tattoo. She would often say, “It’s the Buddhist symbol for the journey of life. I guess I am on one of those twists and turns somewhere… Maybe the yoga training I have taken has prepared me for a different journey altogether.”
My journey, the path that I am now walking, still has twists and turns. Even so, I have reached a place of peace and a place of harmony.
I have achieved a state of peace and harmony with life and with death. I have found a place where I can live from my heart with love: for my Self and for Suzanne, for my daughters, for my friends, even for those who I do not know. This is the straightest my path has been.
No. I’m not saying I have reached “nirvana” or enlightenment. To the contrary. I have only come to acceptance. I have surrendered what I thought was control of my life and accepted that the only thing I can truly control are my emotions and feelings.
And I choose to feel love. I choose to be love. I choose to spread love. It is truly what the Beatles said, “all you need is love.”
A few weeks after she died, I got my third tattoo. It is an unalome. It is one that I love.
It is on my right forearm, stretching from about 1.5 inches below the elbow crease to around 2.5 inches below my wrist. It is the exact same as hers, in the exact same spot as hers. The only difference is that mine has some of her ashes mixed into the ink… and that means Suzanne, who will always be my wife, will always be a part of me. Literally.