By Andra Denslow
May 8, 2018
Where on the mountain are you? Standing at base camp, gazing up with awe at the snow-capped peak, or planting a flag at the summit, beaming with triumphant victory? Or perhaps somewhere in between?
The spiritual path is often likened to a mountain climb, requiring conscious effort, grit, determination, and savvy orienteering. It’s a funny and paradoxical metaphor, though, when you really think about it.
Firstly, what does the mountain represent? I suggest the mountain is our own ego. I think climbing the mountain means recognizing the tricks and stratagems of our egos, mustering all our will and energy to face them down through regular meditation practice, constantly gathering up grit and determination to carry on in spite of backslides and falls, and faithfully following the polestar-compass of our Guru to skillfully find our way to the top.
The paradox here, it seems to me, is that while we are trying to conquer the ego, it is what we are standing on! We have both feet planted firmly on terra egoa, even as we try to make our way up and past it. Swami Kriyananda said (if I understood correctly) that the ego is our vehicle to self-realization, and what we need to do is learn to use it to our advantage. So that means we need to use the mountain as our means of getting to the top of the mountain. Makes sense, right?
To carry the metaphor one step further, what happens when we stop, look around and try to figure out where on the mountain we are? Storm clouds gather! Low pressure front moves in! I think this is worth examining, because the ego likes to be in charge and try to figure out exactly how far along we are spiritually. It likes to compare us to others and tell us that we are farther up or not as far up the mountain as others. A psychologist friend of mine once told me, “Whenever someone speaks to me, I always consider the source.” In other words, she always looks at who is speaking and considers their words in that light, asking herself, is this someone I trust? Following that advice, when we notice we are comparing ourselves to someone else, we should remember it is always the ego feeding us that thought.
That thought comes in countless forms, and has just as many rationalizations and justifications. For example, say Joe had a vision in his morning meditation, and later that day he overhears someone saying they never have any experiences when they meditate. Joe’s ego is likely to preen itself a little and say, that poor person, I guess they’re not as far up the mountain as I am. That thought comes from a source that is 100% untrustworthy! Joe would do well to set that thought aside and ask his Guru for help. The funny thing is, it’s possible that Joe had a vision because he needed it to stay motivated, whereas the person who said they never have experiences may not need them, because they have more self-control and will power than Joe. The cosmic joke is probably on us when we think we are further along than someone else! LOL!
I’m reading a great book called Halfway Up the Mountain: The Error Of Premature Claims To Enlightenment, by Mariana Caplan. It’s a big book, 547 pages, all devoted to the ways the ego subverts our spiritual journey by trying to make us think we have arrived. I don’t have space here to do the book justice, but I wanted to mention it as a valuable resource to anyone on a spiritual journey. Suffice it to say that the size of the book corresponds to the size of this potential obstacle!
About a year ago, I took the Yoga Sutras class at the Expanding Light with Parvati and Pranaba. It’s a great class that I can’t recommend highly enough – just take it, you’ll be glad you did. During the class, Parvati and Pranaba stressed that we can never know how far along we ourselves are toward self-realization. There is just no way for us to know. If we think we are far along, it’s the ego thinking that and we can’t trust that source.
So that’s what I try to remember whenever those thoughts cross through the Grand Central Thought Station of my mind. I hear Parvati and Pranaba saying, we can never know where we or anyone else is on the mountain. Then I turn to my Guru for help, turn my face into the wind, and continue putting one foot in front of the other.
From somewhere between base camp and summit, this is Andra, signing off for now. Happy Trails!