A collection of short-stories and poems written before and during my first travels in Japan in 2003, and later on in Dubai, 2004.

http://serenedaoud.blogspot.ca/2009_02_01_archive.html

Here is one of stories featured:

FUSHIMI INARI: a living code

There is a small town at the base of a small mountain just outside of Kyoto named Fushimi Inari. The town itself is nothing remarkable; a typical village of a major Japanese city, with a declining population and a small train-station so deserted that even its ticket-booth attendant is missing. The first sight that greets you when you first step off the train is the ubiquitous row of humming vending-machines.

Outside, the streets are empty except for the occasional tidy old lady on her mid-day errands. On the day of my visit, it's a hot early October day. The sunlight is pouring down like liquid gold. I had been told a fairy-tale-like story about this place from the Taiwanese tourist I met at the youth hostel in Kyoto: at the heart of this village stands a small mountain, at the base of it lies a large temple. From this temple radiates a network of pathways covering almost the entire mountain-face. These pathways are made of row upon tightly-stacked row of 'torii', or gates. Each torii is a made of a pair of large, wooden columns with a bar across, painted bright persimmon-red.

The pathway begins with a single 'hallway', but soon divides into two 'hallways', then further up the mountain, they divide again into four, and continue on dividing as you walk up the mountain. Fushimi Inari is a pilgrimage sight, monks travel from far to climb to its summit to pray at all the small ancient shrines that are clustered up there. Inari is this mountain's guardian, the white Fox God.

I am a pilgrim of sorts too, I came to Japan from the peripheries of my imagination. It had been a goal for me for so long that I had not formed any expectations. Japan had somehow escaped the planner in my head, it had remained a blank page to be filled up by actual experience. And this blank page was quickly being filled up with experiences so mundane but magically so. A sublime everyday beauty covered everything I saw there. Nothing could have prepared me for the beauty I was about to encounter at Fushi Inari.

Everything that my Taiwanese tourist describes in his story is true. There are white fox statues of all shapes and sizes everywhere. Beyond the main temple, there is a rather underwhelming short row of these red gates or 'torii', the length of the 'hallway' is a mere two minutes' walk. I walk through them, delighted at the way the air around me is tinted red with the sun filtering through the gaps between the bright-red columns. The smell of pine, earth and moss grows stronger as the hallway cuts through deeper into the forest.

The hallway bends sharply and I emerge at a junction. Two hallways continue in parallel paths, for what seems to be a few kilometers. The space interrupting this flow of torii is a small shrine with an open, paved courtyard. There is a strange, large polished stone ball erected at the farthest corner, and it would be years before I learn what this stone represents. One by one, the Japanese visitors ahead of me take turns holding the stone with an air of concentration and hopeful expectation. When they let go, a secret sigh escape from their lips and each one shuffles away looking mysteriously disappointed.

What I learn, years later upon my second visit to this place with a Japanese friend, is the reason for this behaviour: the large polished stone ball is quite old and sacred. It's believed that your wish will come true if you try to lift it and find that it feels light. The plaque next to it reads that this stone will feel as light, or as heavy, as the wisher's heart; if one's heart is pure, the stone will be lifted as though it were made of air.

Not knowing this yet, I imitate the last Japanese woman I watched hold the stone ball. I clasp the smooth stone between my hands as she did, but I don't lift, because I don't know yet that that's what she did, imperceptibly. I let go without releasing a sigh, having made no wishes that will not come true. I walk back toward the red hallway of torii not feeling the heavy condemnation of the stone ball's judgement of my not possessing a pure, light heart.

Before I re-enter the red hallway, I spot a stray cat dozing on stone wall. I deliberate which hallway to take and finally settle on the one on the right.

I walk down the rows of red gates languidly. Every now and then there's a gap between the gates leading to some cluster of old tombstone-like stone structures that have red aprons tied around each one.

Every time I stray out of the red hallway, I take pictures of the strange snake-like body of this structure. Half way through this section of the path, I realize that there's a small river running alongside. I climb between two columns to the other side of the hallway and gaze down at the waters.

A movement in the water catches my eye. I hold still and watch. Between the murky shadows of trees and trails of river-weeds I glimpse the long body of a large fish. A carp, white as a pearl, moving lazily in and out of the pools of sunlight.

The sight of it makes me freeze. There is something very true about this carp, but something also wildly mythical. If myth and truth could merge and manifest physically this carp is their merged form. I wonder if anyone will believe me even though I have no reason to doubt that there is anything unbelievable about witnessing a white carp in a Japanese river. And sure enough, years later, I would tell a Japanese friend about witnessing this white carp down in a river and he would tell me that white carp are rarely seen beyond captivity.
This friend would tell me earnestly: "That was the Carp God."

The sun climbs as I climb. The heat builds and I still can't believe it's Autumn. I stop keeping track of how many times the red hallway has splintered into yet more paths. I keep taking the one to my right, going up, the path has turned into a steep series of stone steps. every 50 meters or so, there are gaps leading to dead-end spiderweb-paths to small shrines. Near by these, there is always a small tea-house flanked by a row of vending machines. At this point there are no more Japanese visitors milling about, and the only sign of people here are the tea-house owners.

Climbing ahead of me is a man carrying a large wooden board. It's thin and so flops like a sheet of cardboard with every step he takes. The wooden board is so large that all I can see of the man are his feet. He reaches the next gap of rest-areas and disappears into one of the tea-houses. Somehow this image haunts me even before any time had elapsed to turn it into an memory. I feel this only. Little did i know that this image would go on to haunt me for years to come. What was he carrying? a wooden board or a life-story? how different are the two? I imagine him starting out as a little boy, with a beautiful, new, crisp square piece of white origami paper. As the boy climbs, his body grows, as does the piece of paper. It thickens and broadens and yellows, as his body ages and struggles under the growing weight of this flat object. His pace slows down, gone from hops and skips, to steady marches, upward, toward no one not even he knew what, only that he must go on climbing and carrying this board that never stops growing heavier and thicker. Must we climb on?

I continue my climb, oblivious to all these future thoughts and their implications.

Years later, a few years after my Japanese friend suggests that I've seen the Carp God, I'm standing on the corner of Jeanne-Mance and Fairmount in Montreal. I'm chatting with Sam, my Tai Chi teacher, before heading off home. It had been a good class and Sam is feeling particularly chatty; the night-time is still warm even though it's the end of September so we take our time parting ways. We have a good conversation about how effective Tai Chi is in instilling in one's body and mind a sense of "Now-Time", or timeless being. Sam goes on to tell me how Tai Chi taught him how to recognize the right decisions to make when they came.

"It's the same with the movements in the form," He tells me, tracing an arc in the air with his cigarette. "You lose touch with the movement as you're doing it and you're screwed. You have to be there at every moment because each moment is a transition."

"Tai Chi taught me that on a physical level first, then," he paused to throw his cigarette down and stomp it. "it started to work on my whole life. I started to see when the right opportunity comes and when to go through it. It's like a door, if you see that it's there and it's the right one so you go through it. If it's the right one, then another door opens after you've gone through the first one. And they kind of happen like that, in a series; you leap from one "right door" to the next "right door". Same in the form when you're doing it right, your body moves incrementally from the right position,through-into the next right position and it's effortless. Same in Boxing (a form of improvised Tai Chi hand-to-hand combat), you'll always win because you'll go through the right movement each time your opponent moves. Beating them becomes effortless."

While Sam continues to talk about Tai-Chi Boxing, something about what he just said triggers a flood of recognition in me. For a few minutes, I'm not even able to hear what he's saying because I'm trying to process this bizarre sensation. The image of a series of doors keeps playing through my mind like an old cartoon, and suddenly I see the doors open and beyond them the space is a filtered orange-red light. A man is carrying a large wooden, floppy board and he's climbing step by step through this red atmosphere.

"But that's what they are!" I cry out suddenly. Sam stops speaking."That's what what is?" he asks in his mafia-don tone; he doesn't like to be interrupted.

I tell him about my visits to Fushimi Inari, about the rows of tightly-stacked red torii gates. The long snake-like path branching out into hundreds of smaller paths tracing a shape not unlike a lung or a tree. As I tell him about this place, a growing certitude in me builds: it was built this way to represent the idea of "Now", awareness of the "Now" in an incessant river of Time, as an action, not a static symbol. Looking at them, these gateways form a long continuous path. But walk through them and they are transformed into magic portals, each one carrying you through into the next. If each moment that is "right" for me is there at every junction in time, every second, and all I must do is recognize it as the right one, then choosing that right "now" leads me through into a possible version of my life that is more in tune with the real Me. If I hone my intuitive abilities to recognize the next right "now" doorway , I leap through that one too . Do that steadily enough and you have a path outlined for you, a path that exists only so long as you need it and are aware of its truth. As soon as you've passed through it, it disappears and a new one forms. One moment at a time, one red gateway at a time, and somewhere along side this glowing red snake of time glides a giant white carp, deep beneath the cool surface of our waking life, like some ancient collective dream.

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