This past weekend, I climbed one of the tallest volcanoes in Indonesia. I’m sharing this not because I’m looking for a pat on the back (in fact, I’m so sore, if you gave me one I’d probably crumble to the ground), but rather because of a conversation I had with a friend upon my return.
We were talking about climbing mountains (naturally), and he reminded me people often like to use mountain climbing metaphors to describe life, but that the metaphor is flawed because there isn’t an actual “summit” in life.
His take is that life is a series of twists and turns, vibrations and all that, peaks and valleys (if you must, though this gets dangerously close to inferring “summit”), but there is no apex. No climax.
Life is no mountain.
Mountains are linear. Life isn’t.
When climbing, we take one step at a time, but those steps lead in one direction: to the top. I’ve often used the metaphor "climbing a mountain isn’t about reaching the top, but is rather about the climb itself” as a reminder to enjoy every step of the journey of life—to be present.
Yet even here, the presence of a “summit” is alive and kicking. Though we’re encouraged to enjoy the journey, in the back of our minds we still imagine that the journey leads somewhere grand and important. This “summit mentality” is an issue.
See, our society is predicated upon achievement (conquest for the cynic).
The more we peel back the layers of our experience of life, the more we discover that despite reaching the top in a career or the pinnacle of material success, despite becoming the yogi who can put their legs behind their head, these achievements stand as nothing more than a series of false summits. The same can be said for relationship, or for a “spiritual” path.
Be here now.
In essence, life is simply NOT about going anywhere, but rather about deepening our connection with what is right here in front of us. It is spiritual cliché to say, “Be here now,” but these words rings truth. And most cultural traditions predating modern materialist society stand upon this maxim.
When we take the “conquest” approach, we dilute the substance and the beauty of our existence. Yet, it is hard for us not to look at life as so. We have been taught to achieve. Even as you read these words, you are likely disagreeing with me on some level.
You might say to yourself, “Well sure, maybe life isn’t about achieving a big house and a fast car, but it IS about achieving a deeper connection with nature, it IS about achieving peace of mind,” and so forth. And herein lies another false summit.
This is the only reality.
The “place we’re going” already exists as a reality. It is the only reality.
Our effort, our struggle, to get “there” is nothing more than a paradigm. It is a choice we have made, which we reinforce collectively, to make life a mountain-climbing journey, convincing ourselves we have to reach the top, that we must go somewhere. We have chosen this.
Perhaps we have chosen this because we are afraid. We are afraid of the edge, of looking into the abyss of now. We are afraid of giving up what we must in order to live in truth. We cling to our story of achievement as how we define success because it gives us a calming sense of identity. It gives us something to do.
What will it take to break the conquest? What will it take to become the mountain instead of one who must climb it?