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Gates to the Divine

Cardboard Cutouts of the Women I Have Been

photo by Daryan Shamkhal on Unsplash


On a particular pathway, one can walk from the Mundane to the Divine by passing through the iterative red gates at the Nezu Shrine in Tokyo. The gates are called torii, and are used to mark the entrance to a Shinto sacred space. Each torii leads farther into the sacred space representing increasing levels of holiness.


The red gates all look alike but have different writing on them. As a confirmed Gaijin with my red hair and blue eyes, I had no idea what they were saying. I just thought it was cool at the time, and saw it as a peaceful walk. I discovered in the gift shop later that they were built according to Shinto beliefs and are in fact a way to get to the Divine through the meditative understanding of each gate. If you allow for acceptance as you walk through the gates you will arrive at your destination. At the end of the destinations will be the Divine.


Staring out to the sea in Baja while sitting on the porch of the Modern Elder Academy (MEA) one morning, I was reminded of these red gates. I thought back to this special place, thinking that when I was there I was in my late teens, and had no idea why I was walking that path through those gates. Does anyone, ever, in their late teens, realize the path that they are on? But now, as an adult, I realize that the pathway is the process, and acceptance is the divine awe.


At MEA I was again confronted with the fact that I have to let go of someone I once was, and will never be again. I struggle constantly with this as I really like the women I have been, and what this one woman, in particular, could do and where she was going. But life has other plans, as It often does, and I am no longer her, will never be her again, and I have to be okay with that. But, I am not. There are parts of her that I just don't want to let go of, and have to find a way to change them into who I am now. I have not passed through the gate of acceptance.


At the Nezu Shrine, each gate represents a different state of personhood or a different way of being, or a different koan to contemplate. Much like we find ourselves to be different people at different times in our lives and wonder about ourselves in different contexts, this is the perfect metaphor. What is even better is that none of the gates are shriveled, wrinkled, or weather-beaten. They are each pristine versions of themselves with new red proud pillars of strength. And while I cannot say that each new shiny version of myself does not have wrinkles, or is not weather-beaten, I can say that the strength that I am starting to feel while standing straight is shiny and painted afresh with the next thing. The gate of who I am becoming is difficult to pass under, and yet I know the divinity waiting for me will allow the beauty of the gate to reflect in who I am when I get there.


But man, it is tough to take each next step.