I remember trudging home from school when I was a girl, daydreaming about my life and singing “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music”. There is something invigorating about the image of steadily climbing a mountain toward the summit in pursuit of one’s goals. I think we all have this vision in our minds when we are working toward a degree or establishing ourselves in a career. When we reach the top of that mountain we will have arrived, we will have achieved our dreams.
I have discovered, however, especially after those occasions when I have tripped and fallen on the way toward my goals, that the image of going down, going deeper, can be even more meaningful. In that quest to ascend the mountain we are often quite demanding and critical of ourselves and others. This is exhausting and even counterproductive. It’s very easy to get stuck by self criticism on that mountain path. Going deeper, on the other hand, means cultivating the feeling of compassion for oneself and others, as we experience the many trials and challenges of being human beings. Going deeper means developing a gentle respect for our human vulnerabilities. In Buddhism this awareness is called bodhichitta, which is translated “awakened heart”. When we experience this awakened heart we discover we don’t need to rise above the hard stuff of life. Rather we discover how it feels to be kind – to others and ourselves – in the midst of the hard stuff. The Buddhist nun, Pima Chodron, writes about discovering the “healing water of boddhichta” when we go down, deeper into ourselves and the experience of compassion. Psalm 23 in the Bible has this same sense of going deeper and healing though compassion. It’s no wonder that many of our grandmothers and grandfathers turn to this Psalm for comfort:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
In your life you will climb many mountains. Each time you reach the summit, make sure you enjoy the view. Those experiences will be enriching for you. They will help you discover who you are. But don’t be afraid of the times in your life when you must go down the mountain or into the valley. They are an opportunity, as well, an opportunity to deepen your understanding and awaken your heart. If reaching a summit helps you discover who you are, going deeper into yourself, into the valley, helps you discover who we all are. I like the thought of resting beside the still waters. As you read this, I invite you to come down and rest for a time with me.