I would not like to live in a world without cathedrals. I need their beauty and grandeur. I need them against the vulgarity of the world. I want to look up at the illuminated church windows and let myself be blinded by the unearthly colors. I need their luster. I need it against the dirty colors of the uniforms. I want to let myself be wrapped in the austere coolness of the churches. I need their imperious silence. I need it against the witless bellowing of the barracks yard and the witty chatter of the yes-men.

from the book „Night train to Lisbon“, by Pascal Mercier


Mountains are cathedrals: grand and pure, the houses of my religion. I go to them as humans go to worship. From their lofty summits, I view my past, dream of the future, and with unusual acuity I am allowed to experience the present moment. My strength renewed, my vision cleared, in the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn.

Anatoli Boukreev, Russian alpinist, died in mountains in 1997 at the age of 40, after many successful ascends to the highest and roughest mountains of the world

What is the mountain? What associations does it evoke? A heap of stone or a living creature? Some of us do not even pay attention to it, perceiving the mountain as a huge bulk of soil and rock, a simple geological formation. For some of us, it is sensed as a higher existence. A cathedral. Not only material, but also a spiritual manifestation. Many cultures respect sacred mountains. They believe that mountains are homes of gods. The places which are not visited by people. Most of us, so-called proud inhabitants of this modern and prosperous world, will laugh off this belief. Gods?! We conquered the highest mountains in the world a long time ago, but we haven’t found any gods sitting on the summit and welcoming successful representatives of human kind.

However, heights have always exerted an irresistible attraction over the restless human species. The mountain is to serve as a training ground for testing our capabilities. It will satisfy our need for competition against ourselves or against others. It will satisfy our need for struggle, passion, shedding sweat, opening the exhaust valve, discovering unknown terrain. On the other side, it will force us to look at the world from above, relentlessly unfolding new perspectives. It will open up our inner world and purify us. It will give us insight into the meaning of life. It will teach us how to live.

We believe that we climb the mountain, that we conquer it. In fact, we really make our inside steps. We scale our inner being. We raise our own bar. The mountain offers a priceless chance to create our life. In real time. Step by step we ascend; we build a pathway of our life. The mountain sets steep grades, sets stones, takes our breath away, slows us down. The moment we get used to watching each step with caution, the stones start falling down from some upper rock that we have not seen before. We pull on some protective outfit, heavy sole shoes, helmet and other armours which are to protect our inner being. We take a walking stick, carefully leaning on, examining the terrain. We keep on pushing forward…

When ascending, we are exposed to ruthless conditions… We are fond of the sun, we enjoy its pleasant warmth, but at the next moment we get sunburned, sometimes even blind. Then we get exposed to strong winds, rain, severe cold. We walk wet, freezing. Eventually, we get lost in a snow blizzard that kills our strength, tosses us to our knees. Yet, we get up, make a step or two, but feel like giving up. We are not able to find our balance, our comfort zone. We wonder how we have found ourselves in this position. Why struggling? We convince ourselves that we can always give up and turn around, get back the same way. However, do we know the way back or has it been blown away by the blizzard? We lose our track. We look for an alternative way back, probably harder. Suddenly, we fall down to a deep hole. We find ourselves on the bottom. We are tempted to surrender, prepossessed by fear and weakness. But then, we see a track of light above us revealing a hidden path on the way up. We uncover the sense of living. With the last remaining strength, we step forward and everything starts all over again. Empowered by a new experience, carrying some fancy piece of equipment to fight against natural and life challenges, we climb up again, full of enthusiasm and will to succeed. This time, self-assured, we resist to all the obstacles on our way.

Finally, we reach the summit. Our summit. The last step and we stand on the top. The view is stunning. The world is beneath us. We are overwhelmed by emotions. We find it hard to perceive all the beauties around us. Suddenly above the clouds… A unique sensation of freedom and personal power. The power which is individual yet common. We experience the moment. Time and space become irrelevant, we are all one. Simultaneously, we are a part of the world and we carry the whole world inside ourselves. We have run across the finish line with our hands up. We have won the prize. We now forget about the suffering, pain, loss of faith, lack of self-confidence, struggle. Now we know it was worth it. Our efforts have been praised.

When we are up there, we know where we belong, we are acknowledged in our essence, we are in full awareness. This is our little moment of enlightenment which we yearn for, which we wish to experience all over again. With this feeling we can accomplish anything. We cherish it; it gives us strength for each new challenge in life. However, there is a risk that we will lose this sense of triumph on the way back to the valley of routine. In the valley, the fog is the thickest, the summits are not noticeable. We find them unreal, not reachable, only available for some lucky ones. Our self-confidence vanishes; we get trapped by the vicious circle of our weaknesses and doubts.

And then, with a tiny gleam of sun, something sparks up and we identify a new distant summit, absolutely beautiful, utterly striking. Our climbing enthusiasm is back, as well as our aspiration to gaze at the world from above, to experience the fulfilment on the top. Yet, we notice the path is hard, even harder than before. The next moment we lose our eagerness and self-confidence. Dispiritedness is our shadow. We might back down and wait for another opportunity, more convenient time. Or, we accept the challenge and courageously push forward. Even if we fail, we will know we gave our best. Maybe we will reach the higher point than last time. And we will feel contentment. Good enough. We have raised the bar. If we reach the new summit, we will grasp the sense of victory and fulfilment.

The mountain is there to put us in the moment. There is no past, no future, only this instant. Right here and right now. This very step. Everything else becomes irrelevant. The moment we connect with the mountain, we clearly recognize what is essential and what is an oversized balloon of our desires and projections. We recognize our weaknesses, our daily swimming in the sea of irrelevant. We see that our way is blurred, that we are burdened with previous failures, squeezed by our own and someone else’s expectations. Yet, once we step on the narrow exposed path, suddenly we get focused. We uncompromisingly leave behind all irrelevancies and remain in the moment. We are aware that we will recognize the danger and promptly use our inner power. Aware that our mind and heart are finally in harmony, leading us forward. Each step reflects our self-consciousness. At that moment we realize that we truly live our life.

The moment we comprehend that we do not conquer the mountains, we will open ourselves up. The mountains may only conquer ourselves, letting us experience their utter strength which will make us rise. We all look for the ways to be better, more successful, happier. There are many ways with different formulas. The call of the mountain will not be heard by everyone. This is fine. The world is so diverse; there are many opportunities at each corner. There is choice. Everybody will find its media. Its frequency to vibrate on. An emotional and spiritual hub which will help us escalate. We will recognize and choose our own media, our accelerator of growth, an elixir which will give us wings. The mountain is there for those who will feel its call and accept its terms. With no compromise. Thus, the prize is enormously big. It will be our moment of self-realization.

It seems that God does sit up there. Wisely holding a mirror. And the moment we reach the top, God will hand it over so we could look at our own image. When standing back in the valley, we notice some signal from the summit, some appealing gleam of light, we know it is God; signalizing with a mirror, winking and inviting us to the climbing adventure;-)

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves
Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man who climbed up Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world

Written by Sandra Brborović

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