Over the years, I have been introduced to many different types of meditation and mindfulness practices.
However, there is one that stands out and has become my go-to when I feel untethered and at the mercy of the spinning world. It is called the “mountain meditation.” This appeals to me—like anything involving nature that gently pulls me to my center.
During this guided meditation, we are invited to sit strong on our mountain and witness the storms of our life just as a mountain witnesses clouds and weather passing over its landscape. A mountain sits in unwavering stillness in the face of everything that changes around it, minute by minute.
Indulge me for a moment—I would like to take you to meditation class with me.
We hear the instructor asking us to take a strong sitting position either in a chair or on the floor, inviting us to take a moment and connect with our breath.
I am sitting, criss-cross applesauce style on the floor with two folded blankets beneath me so that my hips are in line with my knees. I spend a few moments fidgeting, trying to settle myself. And then I take a deep breath, which seems to want to remain stuck in my throat. I’m already looking at the clock.
The instructor asks us to notice where we feel our breath. Is it in our chest? Our belly?
No. Actually, I don’t feel it anywhere but my neck. Arghh. I inhale a bit aggressively, “directing” my breath into my belly. I do it again and force my chest to expand. Come on breath, move.
Something shifts and the inhalations and exhalations begin to relax. I begin to feel my breath moving through me, no longer stuck stale in my throat. I watch the inhale travel—belly, ribs, chest, throat—and then I follow the exhale out my as my belly sinks, my ribs fold together, my chest collapses, and it rests in my heart, climbs up my throat, and flows out of my nose. I do this five times. Slowly, I feel the sadness, grief, and anxiety that I brought with me this morning begin to lift from my upper back and my neck.
“Notice your alignment. Are your shoulders over your hips? Ears over your shoulders? Leaning forward indicates you are in your future; leaning back means you are in your past. Can you center yourself in the present?”
I observe that I am not aligned at all. My head is jutting forward. It’s not shocking that I am in my future—the future that I am terrified of and can’t stop thinking about. I gently shift my head back so my ears are over my shoulders. When I make the adjustment, my jaw releases and I sink a little deeper into my seat.
“Can you let your chin drop ever so slightly as an act of reverence to your heart?”
I begin to cry. Just the mention of my heart makes me cry. When I think of my heart, I see it covered with a constellation of tiny holes. The little black vessels contain hurt, betrayal, deception, fear, shame, and guilt—pock marks of resentment that I have clung to for so many years. The invitation to drop my chin toward my heart as an act of reverence floods me with emotion and I am unable, unwilling, to stop the flow of tears. I bow.
“Are you here now?”
Oh, I am here. I am breathing. I am crying. I am a hot mess. But I am here—now.
The instructor presents the mountain meditation:
“Close your eyes gently and create an image in your mind’s eye of a mountain—the most magnificent, majestic mountain you have ever seen. Take in the beauty.
Notice the wide base, rooted in the bedrock of Mother Earth.
Does your mountain have just one peak or several? Are they snow capped? Are the sides of the mountain hard with rock or covered with trees? Do you see rolling meadows of wild flowers? Waterfalls spilling down the sides?
Note all of the qualities of this beautiful mountain.”
I think of my mountain. It has one tall peak, covered just at the top with snow. A waterfall spills along the side that feeds many streams and ultimately the lake beneath it. On either side of the waterfall, pine trees stand tall like silent sentinels protecting the land. I have hiked this place so many times I can see the paths covered in moss and granite just beneath the green canopy. I notice my tears have stopped and I am grateful for this diversion from my heart into this place I love so much.
The mountain meditation continues:
“Now allow yourself to step into the mountain, melding into this mass of land.
You are now sharing the majesty of this mountain. Your head becomes the peak. Your shoulders and arms are the sides. Your buttocks and legs form the solid base. You are connected to the earth’s center.
Can you feel a sense of lift from this base to the sky? Feel yourself get taller. Become a breathing mountain. A centered, grounding, unmoving presence.”
This is strange, but I have completely allowed myself to be my mountain. I feel so light. With each exhale, I feel taller, like I am breathing much-needed space into my mind and body with the help of all the trees around me that breathe with me. So strange. So magically peaceful.
“Become aware of the sun as it moves across the sky. Notice the light and shadows and colors as they change your landscape from moment to moment.
Feel the change in temperature as day turns into night. Notice the darkness of evening until slowly, light is rendered, first from stars and then from a beautiful full moon.
Witness the weather. Do clouds move in? Do you feel rain? Wind?
Through it all, your mountain remains still, strong, unmoving. Just experiencing change in each moment. Constant change is happening but the mountain always remains itself.
The morning sun rises and with it, steam is released from the earth. It begins to feel hot. There is no wind; there is no escape from the heat. The mountain accepts everything just as it is. Her magnificence and beauty abide.
As we sit strong in our mountain, we learn to experience unwavering stillness. We can embody this same stillness in face of changes in our lives over minutes, hours, and even over years.
In our lives and in our meditation practice, we constantly experience changes of mind and body. Do you notice your thoughts shifting?”
I begin to think of the changes in my life of recent months. I am overwhelmed with a feeling of abandonment. Everything, everyone leaving. My chest hurts. Again, I begin to cry.
“Just let these thoughts—whatever you are thinking—float across the sky above your mountain. Acknowledge them and observe how they are not you. Clouds, changes—they’re all moving past you.”
My internal vision shifts to the clouds and I watch as their heaviness casts shadows on my side. I breathe deep again. The pain in my chest starts to dissipate. I feel my tears are just part of the waterfall; I let them come, forming streams of their own.
“Changes in our inner and our outer worlds will forever be a constant. We experience our own storms and unsettled weather. We encounter periods of dark and high winds, as well as sun and clear skies.
Stay strong in your mountain.
Take the strength and stability of this mountain and adopt them for your own. Let this awareness open your eyes to see how your emotional storms and crises are very much like the weather, like the seasons. They happen around us, not to us.
When we are strong in our mountain, we allow ourselves to rest and feel who we are. That’s a very important moment, because when we feel who we are, we have the confidence of goodness no matter what experiences we are having.
Can you feel your strength? The strength of the earth beneath you, connecting you to all that is good? You have beauty inside and all around you. Breathe that in. On your next inhale, breathe in the memory of this place. The power. And on your next exhale, gently open your eyes. Allow yourself the space to adjust to the room around you.”
I feel different—actually grounded for the first time in months. My breath feels unrestrained. I am gratefully aware that my experiences are happening but they will pass and what remains is me. My lips lift into a smile at the thought that I am my own strong mountain. And this is a special kind of place indeed.
“As you move forward in your day, I invite you to stay strong in your mountain.”
Class is over. Thank you for joining me.
Author: Kathy Washburn
Image: Elephant Journal on Instagram
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis