The Mountain Meditation
When it comes to meditation, mountains have a lot to teach, having archetypal significance in all cultures. Mountains are sacred places. People have always sought spiritual guidance and renewal in and among them. The mountain is the symbol of the prime axis of the world (Mt. Meru), the dwelling place of the gods (Mt. Olympus), the place the spiritual leader encounters God and receives his (her) commandments and covenant (Mt. Sinai). Mountains are held sacred, embodying dread and harmony, harshness and majesty.
Rising above all else on our planet, they beckon and overwhelm with their sheer presence. Their nature is elemental, rock. Rock-hard. Rock-solid. Moreover, mountains offer visions, seamlessly connecting nature’s vastness with life’s resilient fragility on a panoramic scale. Furthermore, mountains have played pivotal roles in both our history and prehistory. To traditional peoples, mountains were and still are mother, father, guardian, protector, ally.
In meditation, we borrow mountains’ qualities to strengthen our resolve, fostering elemental simplicity and focus. The mental mountain image refreshes why we sit, reminding the essence of non-doing. Mountains are quintessentially emblematic of abiding presence and stillness.
Practice the mountain meditation as suggested or adapt it to suit your personal vision. I prefer sitting cross-legged, embodying the mountain’s strength both visually and internally. Being in the mountains or in sight of a mountain is helpful but not at all necessary. It is the inner image which is the source of power here. Picture the most beautiful mountain you know or know of or can imagine, one whose form speaks personally to you. As you concentrate on the mountain’s mental image, observe its peak, rooted base, and slopes.
Observe its massiveness, stillness, and beauty from afar or close, emanating its unique “mountainness. Perhaps your mountain has snow at the top and trees on the lower slopes. Perhaps it has one prominent peak, perhaps a series of peaks or a high plateau. However it appears, just sit and breathe with the image of this mountain, observing it, noting its qualities. As you’re prepared, merge your body with the mental mountain, uniting both in harmony.
Envision your head as the peak, shoulders and arms as the sides, legs the rooted base. Experience in your body the sense of uplift, the axial, elevated quality of the mountain deep in your own spine. Embrace being a breathing mountain, rooted, still, transcending words and thoughts, a centered presence. Now, as well you know, throughout the day as the sun travels the sky, the mountain just sits. Light and shadow and colors are changing virtually moment to moment in the mountain’s adamantine stillness. Even the untrained eye can see changes by the hour.
These evoke those masterpieces of Claude Monet, who had the genius to set up many easels and paint the life of his inanimate subjects hour by hour, moving from canvas to canvas as the play of light, shadow, and color transformed cathedral, river, or mountain, and thereby wake up the viewer’s eye. As the light changes, as night follows day and day night, the mountain just sits, simply being itself. It remains still as the seasons flow into one another and as the weather changes moment by moment and day by day. Calmness abiding all change. Summer unveils a snowless mountain, save for its peak or shaded crags. Fall brings vibrant fiery hues, winter drapes it in snow. Clouds, fog, and freezing rain cloak it in any season.
The tourists who come to visit may be disappointed if they can’t see the mountain clearly, but it’s all the same to the mountain – seen or unseen, in sun or clouds, broiling or frigid, it just sits, being itself. At times visited by violent storms, buffeted by snow and rain and winds of unthinkable magnitude, through it all the mountain sits. Spring comes, the birds sing in the trees once again, leaves return to the trees which lost them, flowers bloom in the high meadows and on the slopes, streams overflow with waters of melting snow. Through it all, the mountain continues to sit, unmoved by the weather, by what happens on the surface, by the world of appearances.
As we sit holding this image in our mind, we can embody the same unwavering stillness and rootedness in the face of everything that changes in
our own lives over seconds, hours, and years. In our lives and in our meditation practice, we experience constantly the changing nature of mind and body and of the outer world. We experience periods of light and dark, vivid color and drab dullness. We experience storms of varying intensity and violence, in the outer world and in our own lives and minds. Buffeted by high winds, by cold and rain, we endure periods of darkness and pain as well as savoring moments of joy and uplift. Even our appearance changes constantly, just like the mountain’s, experiencing a weather and a weathering of its own.
The birds have vanished into the sky,Li Po
and now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together,
the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.
By becoming the mountain in our meditation, we can link up with its strength and stability, and adopt them for our own. We can use its energies to support our efforts to encounter each moment with mindfulness, equanimity, and clarity. It may help us to see that our thoughts and feelings, our preoccupations, our emotional storms and crises, even the things that happen to us are much like the weather on the mountain. We tend to take it personally, but its strongest characteristic is impersonal. The weather of our own lives is not to be ignored or denied. It is to be encountered, honored, felt, known for what it is, and held in high awareness since it can kill us.
In holding it in this way, we come to know A deeper silence and stillness and wisdom than we may have thought possible, right within the storms. Mountains have this to teach us, and more, if we can come to listen. Yet, when all is said and done, the mountain meditation is only a device, a finger pointing us toward somewhere. We still have to look, then go. While the mountain image can help us become more stable, human beings are far more interesting and complex than mountains. We breathe, move, dance like mountains. Simultaneously hard as rock, firm, unmoving, yet soft, gentle, flowing. Vast potential at our disposal. See, feel, know, understand. Learn, grow, heal; especially by listening to inner harmony, holding the central mountain axis through thick and thin.
-His Holiness Swami Advaitananda