On my recent trip to Japan, I visited Fushimi Inari Taisha, the primary Shinto shrine for worship of Inari Okami (one of the principal Shinto deities). I’ll write about that experience in more detail in the weeks to come, but today I’m riffing on the theme in a different way.
There are many ways to climb a sacred mountain.
Some people walk the thousands of steps in groups, while others go in pairs. Some fill the time with chat and laughter. Others move in silence up the path. Since this was my first time on the mountain, I chose to walk alone, and in silence–during the four-hour round trip hike, I spoke less than a dozen words.
The path to the summit of Fushimi Inari is lined with red torii gates, each of which symbolically marks the entrance to a sacred space. The gates at this particular shrine were donated by people (and companies) who want to thank Inari or acknowledge the kami‘s contribution to their success. Passing through the gates represents the individual’s journey from the worldly and profane existence at the bottom of the mountain to the sacred spaces at the summit.
A fitting analogy for the writer’s journey.
Every writer’s path is unique, and very writer walks in a different manner. Some surround themselves with friends, while others prefer a few trusted companions. Some of us may choose to walk alone.
Our path is lined with obstacles and achievements, each of which is another milestone on our journey to the pinnacle of our personal writing journey.
Some days, the obstacles seem overwhelmingly close together, leaving us no room to breathe. We can’t even see our way to the top of the path.
On days like that, it seems we’ll never clear the bottom, or reach the rarefied air that other successful writers seem to enjoy.
Even after publication, sometimes the writing path seems insurmountably steep, and the obstacles we thought we left behind us…well, they keep cropping up in unexpected places.
The difficulties we thought we left behind stack up ahead of us, daring us to find the strength to continue the journey.
When does this get easy? is a question I hear quite often…and not only from authors still seeking publication. Long-time veterans, bestselling authors, writers with a list of awards too long to fit on a single page…none of us has it “easy”–all of us struggle to walk the gates, no matter how much we smile or how simple our paths might seem.
And, like the path at Fushimi Inari, the victory doesn’t actually lie in reaching the top of the mountain. Ironically, the view from the summit isn’t nearly as nice as the ones that lie along the approach (and the descent).
Don’t believe me? Here’s the summit:
There’s no view out from the other direction. All you see is the shop at the top that sells prayer sticks, incense, and drinks. (And trust me, you need the drinks by the time you get there.)
Meanwhile, here’s a view from the walk:
Which would you rather look at every day?
The lesson is fairly simple–so simple I hesitate to spell it out for you at all. Writing, like climbing a sacred mountain, isn’t about the end. It’s about the journey.
It’s easy to get so focused on the obstacles and unfulfilled dreams that we forget to observe the beauty and enjoy the path itself. All the end of the journey holds is a check mark in the “been there, done that” box–a check that means absolutely nothing if you haven’t stopped to understand why you took the path in the first place and appreciate the lessons that you learned along the way.
A few of my writing friends had setbacks on their journeys lately. A few of them are discovering “gates” they hadn’t expected to pass. This post is for all of them, and for you, and for me as well–because I need the reminder as often as anyone else (and more often than some).
Take the time to enjoy the journey. Notice the beauty of the gates.
The path, and the process, are lovely, if we take the time to see them.
Don’t forget that there’s more to every dream than reaching “the end.”