A view from the top

Exactly when it started, I cannot recall, only that I was very young. How I came to love mountains however I remember vividly. It was the pencil box – yes, the famous Swiss brand – with a picture of the Matterhorn on the lid. I was totally smitten and I haven’t recovered since from this strange love which was and is a painful one at that, for I am a Dutch girl, living in one of the flattest parts of the world. Although I did have the pleasure once, when I was in my twenties, of living on a mountain for half a year. And of course I travelled the Alps many a time ever since I was sixteen.
Every single time I have asked myself precisely why I love mountains so deeply and dearly. And every single time I haven’t been able to answer this question. So I rather focus on what I do know and understand. Apart from the scenery that meets my constant need for beauty and the rich variety of landscape that keeps my hungry mind satisfied, it has something to do with dimensions, proportion and perspective. Because that is what happens once you start climbing mountains. Your perspective on just about everything in life changes tremendously.
This notion hit me full in the face as I was standing one day on a mountain ridge opposite the Dachstein, quite high, above the tree line. It was a late afternoon in October, the only sounds to be heard came from birds, a brook and my own breath. Imagine yourself so high up that you can overview Greater London or the whole of New York from Queens to Newark, and yet you are not flying, you’re standing firmly, both feet on solid ground.
Realizing that was only part of the experience, as I stood there watching pinkish mountain tops and behind that the deepening blue of the – soon to be – evening sky. Way below my feet the Ennstal valley with a river, a railway, a motorway, villages and towns. What really hit me was the almost inconceivable contrast of what I so clearly saw around me – giants who had seen dinosaurs come and go, survived about any kind of weather and had witnessed billions of suns and moons passing by – and the small, familiar world I knew down below, the quaint little farms and houses, factories puffing out cigarette smoke, people driving Dinky toy cars, riding Märklin trains.
The sizes from down there, the yards and inches, don’t fit up here. Neither does time. The minutes, the hours, the days, here they mean nothing. And vice versa, the movements of evolution happening here cannot even be perceived in a lifetime, let alone in one hour.
Coming up here and being up here has put everything from down there in a totally different perspective, and yet that is the world we live in from day to day. That is where we work and feast, eat, love, study, sleep, play. That ‘s where we dream our dreams, count our gains and losses, laugh and cry and deal with our everyday, sometimes ever so petty problems.
It’s only from this height and distance that we see how small and almost insignificant that life of ours is. And it is only on this height, and so distanced from our everyday life, that we can truly experience the overwhelming beauty and vastness of creation and the dazzling boundlessness of time, and beyond that eternity. We would never have seen and felt it, had we stayed down below, in the ordinary world where we live our ordinary lives.
Precisely that’s how this view generates new perspective. Here we are free, at least for a while. Free from and free to. Free from whatever it is that fills our days and minds and hands with things that have to be done. Free to receive whatever messages, ideas, insights were held in store for us. For make no mistake, all those beautiful things that can and will be given to us, all the wisdom and knowledge, all the light and love, are not new. They are as old as the mountains around us and were laid aside for us from time began. Only we were to busy to notice, driving our Dinky toy cars and living our lives in our tiny houses in our miniature towns. Our eyes and hearts, our hands and minds were not open. We were not open.
Climbing a mountain, going into the desert or a retreat, making a pilgrimage, meditating, fasting, it’s never about deliberately searching and finding something specific. It’s about stepping away from whatever occupies you and enabling new things to enter your life. It’s about distancing yourself from the familiar, the tiresome rut, the everyday drama, and thus creating openness in your heart and mind and life for the unfamiliar. It’s about shifting your attention in a different direction to see what was shown to you all along and to finally understand what is revealed to you.

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3 Replies to “A view from the top”

  1. So beautifully put into words. You yourself could be from Andromeda! Your creativity, your finding and searching for the beauty in life…

  2. Yes, Maria, a change of perspective. For a while. However refreshing and reinvigorating it is up there, we musr return to the land from whence we come, the land of the little train and little pepple. The land of us. Lovely piece

    1. You’re right Enda, but I think we can have both. We must have both, either one will not make any sense without the other. As Saint Benedict said Ora et labora. I think there should be indeed a constant pendulum movement between reflection and action. And yes, we live in the land of us, but with the awareness of being embedded in something bigger, space wise and time wise.

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