My journey, my spiritual journey, seems often to resemble my mountain climbing activities in the physical world.
Sometimes there is a long walk in; a time of plodding along, when the mountain is out of sight, or can be seen so far away it seems impossible to reach. I walk and walk but it gets no closer…
Sometimes the climb begins immediately, no warning and no warm-up. Just up. Steep and rough and unrelenting. The mountain towers above me, dark, forbidding and overwhelming. It accentuates my smallness, my frailty, my arrogance in believing I can climb it at all.
Steep and rocky, gradual and grassy, broad ridges, narrow ridges…sometimes the path rises ahead, clear and obvious, pointing the way. More often it is hidden, obscured by false paths, betraying cairns that lead to precipitous cliffs or treacherous gullies or insurmountable crags.
Doubt creeps in and becomes fear. Awareness of the height, of the great abyss beneath and behind, grows. Clouds thicken and drop around me, rain spattering and the wind chilling. and unbidden my feet stop and the temptation to turn and run to safety grows.
It takes then an action of will to move forwards. To reach a level part, to stop and let breathing return to normal, for heartbeat to stop racing and pounding, to ease tired legs. And to take stock, to check the map, to check the surroundings. to ask the questions, am I warm, am I dry, am I really too tired to carry on.
The weather, so fickle, so changeable, bright clear skies and sunshine filling within seconds with dark grey clouds and rain, or sullen yellow-bellied snow clouds, blizzards and white-out, when visibility goes entirely and one cannot tell up from down. And those heart-chilling moments when it becomes impossible to move and real questions about survival are being asked; and those moments when the cloud breaks, and the wind drops and the sun pours through and the way is suddenly clear.
So onward and upward until, just at the point where I doubt if I can go on, I realise that the slope is levelling out and the summit cairn is in sight. There is a rush of energy into tired legs, my step quickens and I reach to touch the stones, to embrace the moment.
A short time to linger, to admire the view and take a photograph to remind me of the day, or to huddle in the lea of the cairn, shivering over a soggy sandwich. Occasionally to lie back on springy turf or smooth ice- scrubbed rock and let the sun and the warm breeze brush and caress.
But, too soon, the knowing that it is time to leave, to continue the journey, downwards now, away from the heights and towards the real world below. Always the glance back and the surprise at how fast the cairn, won with such effort, fades from sight, how fast the slopes rise up behind.
Always, at journey’s end, I pause to look up, to remind myself of what is there even though now hidden from sight. Often, when weather and time and energy keep the high peaks out of my reach, I look up and smile inwardly because I know I have stood in those places and I remember….