A mountain forces us to look up, which is not our usual way of seeing the world. Have you ever noticed a different perspective when you bend back your head and gaze upward? It is quite a different sensation to look up instead of looking down constantly at our computer keyboards, cell phones and IPads. When we look up, a subtle shift in awareness takes place because our habitual way of using our eyes rarely sees what’s above us.
Spirit of the Mountain
by Cynthia Overweg
The morning sky was a dance of light and shadow as I drove across the Hood Canal Bridge in Washington State, sipping hot coffee and feeling invigorated by the cool March air. Traffic was light so I slowed down to glance at the turbulent water rushing under the bridge. Then I looked up at the sky and saw a cluster of clouds shaped like cotton candy, and wondered if it might rain. The weather in the northwest can change quickly, and it did.
Without fanfare, the sun made an unexpected grand entrance like an exuberant movie star flashing a radiant smile to an adoring audience. It lit up the sky and sliced through billowing clouds to unveil the jagged, snow-capped Olympic Mountains in all their magnificent glory. The clouds receded as if someone had called them away, and the mountains stood in grandeur like triumphant sentinels against a blue-gray sky. I wanted to pull over to enjoy the sensational view, but that’s not possible when you’re driving on a bridge. Snow dusted mountains always draw my attention and often leave me speechless
The Olympics are a beautiful mountain range on the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington. Its eastern slopes rise above Puget Sound and when they appear out of cloud cover, they are a feast for the eyes. For many of us, mountains inspire visions of another dimension of being; a ladder to heaven; the promise of reaching the summit of our own aspirations.
The Scottish-American conservationist John Muir, (quoted above) loved mountains and forests. He climbed mountains, not to “conquer” them or to prove his endurance, but to listen to the mountain and hear what it had to say. He was an early activist for preserving and protecting the treasures of our natural world. In America, he’s known as the father of our National Parks.
Muir’s devotion to the natural world was so fierce that for decades he advocated that large portions of the American landscape, which include California’s Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, be set aside for the public good. His work has given millions of visitors from around the globe the chance to experience some of the world’s most beautiful places in their natural state. The quiet company of a mountain was a spiritual adventure for John Muir and he wanted others to have the same opportunity.
If I see an airplane or a hot air balloon in the sky, I look up, but it doesn’t have the same effect as a towering mountain. The sight of a mountain can fill me with wonder, and when that happens, the spirit of the mountain invites me into a mystery.
Mountains are sacred in many cultural and religious traditions because they are considered to be the abodes of powerful deities, Gods and Goddesses. In Greek mythology, Mount Olympus was the home of the Gods. In Judaism, Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Near the base of Mt. Sinai, early Christians established a monastery honoring Saint Catherine.
In Tibet, Mount Kailash is sacred in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Bon Po, a Tibetan tradition which preceded Buddhism. In Peru, Machu Picchu was sacred to the Incas. Wherever there is a mountain jutting above the landscape and soaring to heaven, our spirits seem to rise with it. The spiritual meaning we attribute to mountains may help us access an inner longing to transcend the burdens of every- day life.
It can take millions of years for a mountain to become what it is. Powerful unseen forces deep within the earth have created the Himalayas and every mountain range on the planet. Geologists tell us that mountains are created by the clash of two tectonic plates of the earth’s crust which cause a large portion of earth to rise up and gradually form what we call a mountain. It’s a long evolutionary process that produces the spectacular peaks of the Rocky Mountains or the Swiss Alps.
Mountains grow and refine themselves over vast reaches of time. And maybe that is why we are captivated by them; their journey in time reflects our own evolutionary sojourn from birth to death, and the questions we have about what comes after. A mountain is born from volatile, unfathomable energy that ruptures the earth from below and then raises it to dazzling heights. Perhaps the life of a mountain reminds us of something mysterious in ourselves that we have long forgotten.
In our depths, maybe we sense that the fiery transformation of the earth’s crust into a serene mountain is a metaphor for the alchemy of inner transformation, and the spiritual pilgrimage we must undergo to consciously realize our enormous human potential.
We want to become untethered to what binds us and see our lives from a higher vantage point; to understand our place in the universe and feel the divine pulse within us. If we could open to it, isn’t that the real yearning in our hearts? Perhaps the spirit of the mountain knows our hearts better than we do.
Wishing you every Blessing,
“We are in the mountains and they are in us,
kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver,
filling every pore and cell of us.”