A couple of years ago a great movie came out named Everest, which inspired me to write this article about meditation. Everest was based on a true story surrounding the 1996 tragedy that claimed the lives of 12 climbers during a blizzard on Mount Everest. This was one of the deadliest days and climbing seasons ever on Everest.
I’ve seen Everest twice and both times I was completely enthralled by the story. I like movies that highlight the triumph of the human spirit and Everest certainly does that. I was also intrigued by the question: why would anyone do this to themselves? Why pay thousands of dollars and risk life and limb just to get to the top of a mountain?
In one scene, Jon Krakauer, a journalist on assignment from Outside magazine, asked the same question. Beck Weathers, who survived the disaster, but lost his hands and nose to frostbite, later revealed that when he was at home, a dark cloud of depression followed him around, but when he was on a mountain – any mountain – it would disappear. For some reason, Beck’s depression left him and he found peace when he was on a mountain. I wonder if the peace that Beck found on mountains is the same peace that called the prophets of old to the top of the mountain too.
There’s just something calming about being on a mountain. Maybe you’ve never climbed Everest – neither have I – but if you’ve been on any mountain, perhaps you can relate. Perhaps it’s the way in which mountains are unshakably “grounded in being”. And “Ground of Being”, of course, is a term that is often used to describe the divine. My guess is that this is why people have often sought the divine presence on top of mountains. Muhammad received his revelation on Mount Jabal an-Nour; Moses met God on Mount Sinai and the Jewish temple was built on Mount Zion. Jesus often went up to a mountain to pray and even Mount Everest is home to its own deity. The Sherpa people, an ethnic group of Nepal who live in the areas just below Everest, believes that the mountain is the home of Miyolangsangma – the Goddess of Inexhaustible Giving.
I find the mountain imagery very helpful with regards to meditation as well. When I think of Buddha Nature / pure consciousness / Christ consciousness; I like to think of it as a mountain inside of me. The idea behind Buddha Nature is that inner peace isn’t something that needs to be attained; rather, it is something that is already there, but needs to be rediscovered.
Another image that is often used is that of the sun. When it is overcast, it might look like the sun isn’t shining, but in reality, the sun is always shining. What is lacking is our ability to see the sunshine due to the cloud cover. Meditation is a practice that “clears the clouds” so that that which is most true of me can be revealed. Meditation is a practice in letting the thoughts, concepts and feelings I identify myself with dissipate so that I can bring my awareness back to my purest nature.
It’s so easy to get caught up in a blizzard of thoughts and emotions and get totally lost. We tend to identify so much with our raging thoughts and emotions to such an extent that we begin to believe that we are those thoughts and emotions. But there’s a place in me that is unaffected, untouched and unshakable. Meditation helps me return to that place. This is why I think Everest is such a fitting name for that great mountain. Imagine a raging blizzard surrounding Everest – much like the one that took the lives of all those climbers. Now, imagine the blizzard subsiding and the clouds opening up, revealing Everest – completely unaffected. Everest is forever calm, grounded and unshaken, no matter what is going on around it. And so it is with my true nature.
There is a story in Mark where Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee in a boat. While they were on the lake, a furious squall came up and began to pummel their little boat. The disciples were terrified, thinking that they were all going to die, but Jesus, on the other hand, was in the stern – sleeping. When they woke him to inform him that they were all going to die, he got up, told the wind and the waves to be quiet and said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mar 4:40 NIV)
The picture of Jesus sleeping in the stern reminds me of Everest – “ever resting” and unshaken by the blizzard raging around it. This story reminds me that, while my thoughts and emotions might feel like a storm that can sink me at any time, my true nature remains calm and unaffected. Meditation is helping me return to that place, where the calm quiet whisper of my true self simply asks, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”