To the rest of the world a spiritual retreat implies the need to erect some kind of border or fence, however temporary, between you and the rest of the world. Retreat can suggest a sort of gate that closes behind you as you enter a world of silence and meditation. And on some level this is certainly true.
But like all assumptions, the closer one pays attention the more things change. For one week, each year I attend a silent meditation retreat. And each year, although it may appear that I am leaving the world, day after day of meditation I find myself getting closer to the world. The Italian word for gate is cancello, which for me, reinforces the one-way purpose of gates. But retreat is about opening gates as much as it is about closing them.
So it was with amused interest that I began to take note of the driveway gates in the wealthy suburban neighborhood that surrounds the monastery campus. Each afternoon I would take a walk along the same stretch of road. (The name of the road itself, Deer Park Lane quietly referencing the holy site where the Buddha is said to have given his first teaching).
In my survey of no more than 500 feet of roadway I noted a typology of gates that seemed to mirror my own meandering relationship to the rest of the world. My growing intimacy with these structures was only heightened by this awareness. Here they are in no particular order.
There is the gate so in love with its own image that the exterior world, like Plato’s cave, seems to be nothing more than a surface on which to project itself. It is a gate of limited, but strongly held certainty. Here lies a form not yet aware that its size is nothing more than the play of light and shadow.
There is the gate of the self-contained imagination. The winding road leads clearly around the bend up ahead, but we cannot see where it might take us. It’s intriguing, but, on closer approach we on the outside are not invited to penetrate its very solid perimeter fence.
There is the no-way-no-how gate. This gate demands that you not even look in its general direction. Here, a presence fortifies itself with other gates, just in case.
Then it unconsciously configures the objects of its own housekeeping in such a way to ward off curious onlookers.
There is the non threatening gate, whose exterior and interior landscaping suggests an unbroken continuity. If you enter this gate, the wide gapped fence promises, you will find more of what you already know: the same red flowers, the same greenery.
But don’t be fooled. On approaching this particular gate, one gets the first glimpse of something wild (in this case a metal sculpture of a horse) leaping through the middle ground of the interior.
There is the hidden gate; the one that offers no glimpse of what might lie on the other side and yet intrigues by virtue of its plain beauty. Perhaps its quiet, understated edifice belies a deeper knowledge. A patient awareness that knows eventually we will notice its doorway, even if it is streaked in shadow.
And finally, there is the come-and-stay- awhile gate. In this gate, that is not really a gate, what you see is what you get. One feels the full openness of a structure that has come full circle in its understanding of fences and borders. We are invited to walk through the gate, take a seat even stay a while because life is short and the view from here, so expansive.