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Q&A: Tattoo Talk with Joe Munroe

Tattoos & Spirituality with Joe Munroe, tattoos, spirituality

I met up with Joe Munroe, a tattoo artist from Bournemouth, last week after receiving such an amazing response from the interview I did with Gino a few weeks ago - it received over 4500 views in ONE day.  Joe and I sat in a little vegan cafe and initially, the interview was only meant to be about tattoos and tattooing but Joe is a very in depth, spiritual character, and you guys know how much I talk about the universe and that sort of stuff, so we ended up talking about life and the universe more than about tattooing. Even so, I think you'll thoroughly enjoy reading through his views on tattooing, veganism and life in general.

 I just started mutilating myself and other kids who wanted free tattoos in my bedroom annex at home.

What made you want to become a tattoo artist?

I started working on a building site straight out of school which was absolute dog shite! I couldn’t believe that after looking forward so much to leaving compulsory education, that this was what life had to offer me! Completely gutted, I had a deep desire to do something more enjoyable - surely there was more to life…
It just so happens that I met a guy at the gym called Simon who sold tattoo equipment and I managed to talk him into sorting me out with all the equipment necessary to make a tattoo. He showed me roughly how to put it all together and then I just started mutilating myself, my dad and other kids who wanted free tattoos in my bedroom annex at home. There was a tattoo studio around the corner from where I was living at the time, and because I was making a mess of people at home, they got the hump and sort of threatened me. My old man went around there and had a word, then no more than a month after that, I had a phone call from them asking if I wanted to go work in their studio as they had just fired their other young artist, and needed to fill the space. I was so excited I jacked my job in at the building site and went straight to work for them that week!  I thought these guys knew what they were doing because they had a licensed studio and I was under the impression that they were going to teach me how to tattoo because I had only been doing it for a few months at home, but they just threw me in the deep end and I had to completely blag it.  It took me a couple of months to realise that they didn't have a clue what they were doing either and they were just using me to make a quick buck. They were taking half of my money and not paying the bills. The landlord approached me in the end, asking for rent money that they were supposed to have paid. Once I realised what was going on, I told the landlord I would just pay him directly and cut them out -  so that’s what I did, I had no other choice, I just cracked on with it, messed up plenty more people with shit tattoos and just worked it out as I went really, I was really lucky that the local standard of tattooing at the time was low enough for my shit to pass as okay.

Do you regret messing up lots of people?

No, not at all, there was no other option as people and studios weren’t offering apprenticeships all over the place like these days. I had just quit my job to chase this dream so what had to happen did.  I have always been straight up and honest and whenever somebody came to get tattooed, I always showed them the most recent stuff I had been doing, and they were always happy and willing to suffer through the pain to have me work on them and then always happy enough with the result to pay.

You're being watched so you have to watch yourself, which then leads to introspection and self-enquiry and that has definitely helped shaped my view on things. 

Did tattooing give you a sense of direction or purpose in life?

Yeah for sure! It has completely moulded my life and helped shape my being. It feels like on some level pre-planned, even getting my face tattooed is something I never imagined I would ever do, I never even contemplated the thought of doing it. I actually remember seeing a fella at a tattoo convention who had tribal stuff on his face and remember looking at him thinking "corr mate, that's a bit extreme, why would you do that to yourself?!" then within 2 months of me seeing him, I ended up getting this thing stuck on my forehead and for the next 2 years after that, felt completely compelled to keep doing more and more even though I wasn’t sure I should be doing it. I can't really get my head around or work out what was going through my head at the time, I don't know why 21-year-old me decided to do it but I’m glad he did, it has changed my life in the most remarkable way.

How has tattooing changed your life and has it influenced your spiritual mindset?

Firstly, it has facilitated an easy-going lifestyle that has allowed me the time to think and to be without too much outside pressure. I start work at around 1pm which gives me the entire morning to dedicate myself to a daily Ashtanga yoga and meditation practice. I do a few hours of enjoyable, creative work which stimulates my mind and challenges my imagination, whilst also testing my hand-eye coordination and improving my skill and for this, people pay me money! It's not a bad wage either compared to most people working 9-5pm.
Secondly, tattooing within its self can be a spiritual practice. Like the yoga and meditation, you place yourself in an uncomfortable situation then try to find equanimity and balance enough to get through it, which does something to you subconsciously like the meditation/yoga - it makes you stronger. But what makes the tattooing really special is the fact that you wear the mark of that experience for life! A constant reminder or subconscious feedback loop that affirms that you have the strength, balance and capability to get over difficult situations. Also, when you take into account the changing nature of your physiology but permanent nature of a tattoo it gets pretty mind blowing. I think something like every 7 years you are physically a completely new person but the pigment of the ink under your skin is the same pigment that was put in from however long ago it was tattooed, so the tattoo is more you than your ever changing physiology. Whatever you choose to adorn yourself with becomes more you than you! Tattooing has definitely influenced my mindfulness. When you get heavily tattooed, it changes the way people interact with you. You are suddenly on show all the time, so you have to check yourself constantly. You need to make sure you're not unconsciously being a turd - you're being watched so you have to watch yourself -  it leads to introspection and self-enquiry and that has definitely helped shaped my view on things.

If your reality is defined by the information received from your sense organs and the state of the sense organs is defined by the quality of information (food) you ingest then how do you know the reality you perceive is the way it is supposed to be!? 

You're a strong advocate for veganism, how did that come about?

The guy that tattooed my face, Xed, was vegetarian at the time and through him, I met a guy called Kosmic Neil who is a strict vegan. He was the first person to ever put the argument across to me logically, so I decided that it was worth looking into. Initially, I think I was trying to prove him wrong, but after much research and deliberation, I could find not one valid argument pro-meat. I cut out milk and meat at first but wasn't too strict with other dairy products for a year or so, but while travelling Australia, I watched a documentary called Forks over knives and realised that it was pretty ignorant of me to refrain from drinking milk, but still eat cheese which is mouldy milk anyway, so I stopped, and have been strict vegan since. Veganism definitely clears the mind and repairs the body - your body isn't designed in any way, shape or form to eat meat, the body is, however, a remarkable machine that will do its' very best to deal with whatever abuse we throw at it. If your reality is defined by the information received from your sense organs, and the state of the sense organs is defined by the quality of information (food) you ingest, then how do you know the reality you perceive is the way it is supposed to be?! How can you possibly feel true love or compassion in their entirety, when the machine that you use to decipher the coding of reality is made out of the pain and suffering of other sentient creatures?! It is not the way the world is supposed to be.

How do you think the world should be?

Well, we shouldn’t be eating the animals for a start! And we shouldn't be slaving our lives away doing things we don’t enjoy to earn bits of worthless paper! We should be given basic human rights like food shelter and water for free. The idea that we have to pay for basic human rights that the environment provides for free is fucking idiotic.

What do you think the meaning of life is then?

I think the meaning of life is just to experience life and through that experience, we are supposed to learn, and through that learning, we refine our awareness to a point where it is ultimately innately good. I think the real meaning, the purpose, and the driving force for everything is compassion, to better understand the depths of unconditional love. You can't even begin to comprehend those notions at all until you've suffered. We need a reference point, if we were born straight into pure goodness then we would be nothing more than robotic angels. We are born into this mad world of duality so we can experience everything for ourselves, and make our own decision as to which way we want to refine our awareness - and as far as I am concerned there is only one obvious outcome, all is one god is love. I suppose that if you can get to the point, by the time you die where you are pure of heart and innately good, then maybe you qualify for whatever bonkers experience the infinite cosmic intelligence has in store for us next, but I don’t know, the only thing I do know is that I don’t know anything.

You define everything. You are reality. You are God. ou are the experience - there's nothing else outside of you. 

So back to tattooing, has the tattoo scene changed since you first started out?

I don't know. My tattoo scene, my view of things has changed, yeah. But everything changes always anyway, we live in a universe of constant change. I'm not involved in any sort of 'scene' - I don't do conventions, I don't have a shop - I only exist as a tattooist online really. I travel a lot, I live in my van so usually in the summer I will drive through Europe and tattoo friends and clients in each country I visit. I usually go to India, Thailand, South America or somewhere warm for the winter, I always take my machines with me because there's always somebody to tattoo and it usually helps fund my journey, it's a great job, well, it's not even a job is it, it's a hobby/passion that pays well. If there was no such thing as money, I would still practice tattooing. 

Would you consider yourself happy?

Yes. Completely. Ecstatic. I can't believe how lucky I am every day to wake up in this mad mysterious experience. 
If you're unhappy with something then analyse why you're unhappy and change something. On a larger scale there is no such thing as bad - nothing bad can happen. I see everything as intrinsically interconnected, and so anything that happens to me, at some point I obviously want it to happen to me, there has to be something to be learned from it. Even if I fuck myself up and hurt myself, there's something to be learned and to be gained from every experience. There are no mistakes in life, only lessons so long as we don’t repeat the same detrimental behaviour.

So do you think everything happens for a reason?

Yeah, definitely. Whatever happens to you at any minute ever, is exactly what needs to happen to you to give you whatever relevant experience, thought process, or emotional response it is that you need to work yourself out that little bit more. So yeah, everything happens for a reason but that reason is defined by you. You define your experience. The awareness that runs through you is an interconnected fractal of the overall cosmic awareness that permeates all of reality. You are God or at least a fragment of God. You are the whole experience - there's nothing else outside of you. Whatever meaning or reason you decide to find within it is up to you, you have to work it out. When you find yourself in a situation that you think you don't want to be in, you have to take responsibility for it and think "hang on, if everything is connected, then I can't possibly be in a situation that I don't want to be in because I am everything and this is what's happening so why have I done this to myself? What can I learn from this seemingly undesired experience."

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a tattoo artist?

Just do it. If you really want to do it then make it happen, make an effort and practice diligently! As long as the person you're fucking up is happy for you to fuck them up, then it's cool. Don't lie and tell them you're really good and show them examples of other people's work and then fuck them up, that just not good - just be honest the whole time - tattoo your own leg, buy a prosthetic limb and scribble on that until you get good enough for someone to let you have a go on them, or try and get an apprenticeship with a reputable tattoo artist, but be careful because a lot of the so-called artists are completely full of shit.

Do you believe everything happens for a reason?


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