High Experience

Human attributes compel us to attempt steep uphill challenges. In the countryside, mountainous regions are there to be explored and climbed. Man versus and in communion with nature. We discover a rigorous spiritual interdependence as we clamber over the gurgling bubbling streams and ankle turning tussocks of high moorland.

Hiking up the mountain our attention is downward, scrambling over loose rocks and rough scree. We see only rocks, and more rocks. What do we discover at the top?

Rocks, on which to kneel and say a prayer of thanks for our safe arrival, and to celebrate our achievement.

Up here maybe the witch is tending the fatal fire that makes us sneeze? On The Reek, a.k.a. Croagh Patrick or Cruachan Aigle, that stony bare pilgrimage route over a ridge to boulder strewn peak, there is solace in a white painted chapel. It is said St Patrick went to this summit to retreat, to get away from the humdrum and mundane. To seek advice from his God. He was truly alone with his God.

Did the mountain reveal it's mystery to him – will it to us? The tradition of gathering on hilltops at Lughnasadh originates far back in pre-history and the grandness of the distant horizon predominates all descriptions of the hilltops. Awe inspiring views. Nowadays it is often related how many counties can be seen, and in times past no doubt landmarks were of prime importance. Surely during the forty days and nights the land below St Patrick disappeared into the clouds many times, blown by the bitter winds off the Atlantic Ocean constantly revealing then veiling the fields.

Patrick had visions of huge protective birds circling over him. We are told these angelic beings sang in a perpetual choir, and hid his sight from the sky above and the land below. The Edinburgh Dindshenchas relates this was a flock from the Land of Promise. But in later centuries they are preceded by black demonic birds who were banished far out to sea, Patrick ringing a bell and throwing it at them and in the action, breaking it.

And then we learn it is more difficult to go down than up. We bend our knees, feel the cramps in our legs, the numbness of our feet and slip and slide, grazing skin from hands and bruising shins. We have to keep moving. Yet the rocks trip our unsteady feet, put us off balance, and we topple with a thump. Sore and battered, slowly, slowly, we descend.

Peak Experience in Meditation

If you are unable to trek up an actual sacred mountain at this time bring to your imagination a footprint pilgrimage using your creativity. On a sheet of blank paper draw two feet at the bottom – your intentions for your journey can be written onto the feet, possibly those for the external life on the right and those for your internal motivations on the left. At the top of the page place something symbolic of your goal, maybe a flag pole.

Now you commence your climb. Step by step you find a route up the blank sheet, marking your path by small dots and seven symbols. It may be straight or curve and zigzag over the page. After the first three small dots stop and draw a square. This represents a garden. Here you encounter fine-looking plants. These decorate your journey. Visualise picking some beautiful blossoms and weaving them into a garland. This you will carry up the mountain and leave as a gift at the top. There is also a harvest of ripe fruits and vegetables ready to be gathered. Within the square write the name of a flower, fruit or vegetable and a description of how you feel about it. A snowdrop for instance would remind me of hope, purity, strength and fragility.

Move on drawing your path with another three small dots. This time you draw a circle, it represents a holy cave. Place inside the cave a good wish for yourself. You will often find tokens, stones, prayer flags or cloths, at holy caves asking for blessings or thanking the guardian of the place for gifts revealed or received. Onwards with the three small dots, keeping in mind the intentions for your pilgrimage trek.

The next stop is a snack break. Draw your symbolic bowl of plenty for this and place within it words connected to food. Consider how bread, fruits and drink energise and enliven your physical body. The sensual pleasures of tasty morsels in your mouth. These nurture your journey. Imagine enjoying feeding on these delicious feelings and thoughts. They sustain your long trek. And bring some as a store for later.

Continue up your route with wavy lines for your fourth stop. In your imagination you have encountered a stream which has to be crossed. Is it gentle or rushing, will you leap across or is it just a single step that is needed? Perhaps there are stepping stones. Call to mind anything you need to cross over to achieve your goal. At the fifth stop you reach the holy well source of the stream.

Stop and rest and draw a spiral, representing the water flowing out of the ground. What words recall the source of your initial intentions for this pilgrimage? You have gained enough height now that in the far distance below you can just see the foot of the mountain and remember why you started out on this hike. Here is a chance to review your journey so far, and the peak is in sight. As you draw your three small dots and tread the imaginary path to the sixth stop you may become aware of someone joining you, and of sounds of a great crowd assembled level with you on another route up the slope.

At the sixth stop draw a letter Y, for here the path splits into two. You can make a decision whether you want to continue unaccompanied and have the summit exclusively for yourself or whether the companionship of friends would be welcome. This maybe a human form, an animal, a bird or whatever comes to mind. Take whichever arm/path of the Y will lead to your favoured outcome at the peak.

And finally the seventh stop is the summit. The first action is to gift the garland of flowers for your safe journey and arrival. And then look around. Take in what the ground under your feet consists of. This is supporting you. Would you like to change it? This is your imagination and visualisation. You can make it whatever you want it to be. Then consider the sky above your head, whether it is day or night-time. Again create what you would wish for at your peak experience. Look out over the long vista and notice any landmarks, or perhaps your view is curtained with clouds and you can only inspect those objects close by. You might like to take a deep breath and metaphorically blow the clouds away.

You relax, release and let go the experience of the pilgrimage to the summit. That is behind you now. In the past. You have reached your goal. Now you can enjoy the fruits of your journey. Harvest from your experiences what you wish and then turn your mind again to your original intentions for the path you have taken. Perhaps you would like to build a temple or shrine here, or leave it pristine and untouched by your hands. If you decided to travel with friends at the sixth stop are they still with you. Who is in the assembly at the top? You can always ask them to leave if you wish. And if you decided to be unaccompanied would you now like someone with you? They followed another steep path but are only an invitation and welcome away.

You still have food in your store from the bowl of plenty. You can invigorate your body, mind and soul by feeding now, nourishing and nurturing your time at the peak. There is plenty to share if you have friends with you. Enjoy your feast on the mountain top. Once you have eaten what you brought, you are thrilled to discover a delicious cake sitting on a large boulder. It has been baked especially for you. It has your name on it. Perhaps it is a cheese cake, one with fruit, dark chocolate, one with many layers. Is there icing on the top, jam in the middle. Or a simple plain cake. What makes this cake extra special? Are there candles? If so light them, saying a wish as you blow them out. You can cut a slice for yourself and share it with any others present. Remember to also spread some crumbs on the earth to thank and bless it for providing the ingredients and fuel for cooking the cake.

You can spend as long as you wish at the summit, but be aware that you will have to leave. You might choose to fly on the wings of an eagle or angel back to the mountain foot. You may prefer to find your own way down, revisiting the stream and to collect a flower or harvest produce from the garden to bring into your everyday life. Look at the words you used as you climbed upwards. Are they the ones you would use now for these stops on the way? Perhaps now you have reached the top you can look back on these stops with new wisdom. And finally you return to the feet at the base of the mountain. Back on the ground, ready to walk off into your continuing life story.