The Skull & the Buddha: The Roots of Good Charma

The Skull & the Buddha: The Roots of Good Charma

In the late 1990s, I was working for a clothing manufacturer in Manhattan. The hours were long, the clothing was uninspiring, the company was in the red. I felt like the whole city was baring its teeth at me — grunting, growling, challenging my faith.

Then, something much realer bared its teeth — a dog. The dog leapt at me, sinking its teeth into my face. I was fortunate that a cosmetic surgeon was able to mask the injury. But I came out of the hospital seeing the writing on the wall: The grind of the city had traumatized me, leaving me long on stress and short on purpose.

Out of the blue, my best friend from high school called, asking if I wanted to go to Bali with her. She had planned a trip with her husband, but her husband couldn’t go, and she needed a companion. I didn’t know anything about Bali. But what I did know was that I needed a way out. Even if it was only a temporary solution, Bali with my bestie sounded great.

A Menagerie of Buddhas

Walking around the marketplace in the town of Seminyak, I saw a menagerie of buddhas.

Outside of seemingly every business, Balian shopkeepers had set up altars. They contained burning incense, rich arrangements of green-, yellow-, and orange-petaled flowers, and the universal centerpiece of buddhas.

There were buddhas in the classic meditation pose, their eyes closed, a hand raised before them in a solemn gesture of peace. There were buddhas laughing, their eyes turned up in delight. There were buddhas reclining, lying on their sides, made of gold, bronze, clay — everywhere you looked, buddhas emanated serenity.

I wasn’t a Buddhist, and didn’t have foreknowledge about what buddhas represented. All I knew was that when I looked into their smiles, their postures, and of course their bellies, I felt a calmness that I hadn’t felt in ages. I felt peaceful — reminded that, in spite of what the chaotic mess of New York suggested, it was possible to balance out the frenzied energies within me.

Later, on a solo trip to Bali, I followed a hint from a friend of mine to check out a Balinese woman’s jewelry. When I saw what she was making — miniature items strung on bracelets — I immediately had a vision — a vision for a stack of sterling bracelets in a theme of peace. I ordered 25 of her pieces, and brought them home to give to friends and family. The best way to feel love is to give love, I thought, and the same must go for peace.

My friends and family loved the pieces, telling me that I was onto something. At first, I wasn’t sure what. But, letting the idea grow organically in my head, I woke up one day hearing the name “Good Charma.” It seemed too good to be true — a phrase I must have read somewhere, inadvertently stolen from someone else. I asked my brother, a lawyer, to look into it. He came up empty. 

Good Charma was mine.

Skulls for Toughness

I’ve always felt like an unlucky person — that life is tough for me in a way it isn’t for everyone else. Work that others can do in an hour takes me four. Dogs see me as targets for facebites. I had accidents as a child, I’ve run into roadblocks as an adult, my mind has a tendency to roam…the grace and simplicity with which other people seem to navigate their problems has, for whatever reason, eluded me.

When I wear skulls, I feel tough. I feel like I can process surprises peacefully, follow life wherever it wants to twist. To some people, skulls connote death and darkness. To me, they say: You’re not gonna get knocked down.

Where buddhas give me peace, skulls give me solidity. Peaceful and solid: unmoved, and immovable. On a spiritual level, that’s what I aspire to be.

In the 20+ years that I’ve run Good Charma, I’ve needed those reminders. My production partners and I pioneered the rise of charms in jewelry; as our style was copied by innumerable big distributors, I needed peace and strength to stay committed to the vision that had struck me in Bali all those years ago. No matter who you are, life will eventually try to knock you down. One phase of life transitions to another — habits, friends, lovers pass in and out of the frame. The change alone is enough to shake our foundations. 

And when the change comes — either slowly or all at once — we all need reminders that peace and strength are available to us. Sometimes it seems like a big burst of toughness is what we need, when in reality, we benefit from small, daily reminders of who we can be if we choose to be.

That’s Good Charma — how we started, and what we still are today.

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