In Sweet Company

 “I think spirituality is also about the reconciliation of opposites. It’s about diving deep inside yourself beyond the polarities to a place of unity where everything holds together. … Initially, it seems as if you have to choose one thing or another … but that’s not true. When you operate out of the wounded places within yourself, places that are not your truest, the extremes seem irreconcilable. Life is too deep for cynicism or polarization.”  — Sister Helen Prejean, IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE

I was in Japan several years ago, in Tokyo and Kyoto. Tokyo was a blur of cars, blinking lights, and teeming masses of people who moved in group-think like centipedes. I asked my tour guide to take me to his favorite restaurant and he headed to a TGIF Friday’s.

Kyoto was glorious. At the Sanjusangendo Temple, I stood in a room filled with 1032 nearly identical statues of Kannon, the Japanese aspect of the Divine Mother. At Kenninin-ji, the  2000-year old Zen Temple, I sat with the emptiness, the Great Void that is the heart of Zen practice. I went from the fullness of the everywhere present Mother into the Void of nothing but God all in one day.

No matter where you go in Japan, the graceful often vermillion-colored tori gates flank the countryside like centurions. In the Shinto religion, tori gates mark the transition from the profane to the sacred. Even before I knew this, I had a sense of their power. When you walk through a tori gate you move into a new way of seeing yourself.

I look for tori gates now in the photos and videos of the devastation in Japan. Those that have been left standing remind me I must stop being a tourist in my life, going from fullness to emptiness in quickstep. The earth shakes and the tides rise to throw me off course, to trick me into believing one thing is better than another. I want to stand unshaken come what may.

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