Three mountains

I was talking yesterday with somebody I know who is very spiritual. She asked how I was doing, and I told her that my life right now is focused on a big grant proposal (due in about a week), followed by a major talk/presentation (a few weeks after that), followed by a publication deadline (about a month after the talk). They are all on the same general topic, so it feels like one continuous journey. A very challenging journey.

As I was describing this to her, I automatically switched over to language appropriate to talking with someone who thinks about spiritual things. After describing the specifics, I said “so I have three mountains to climb, one after the other”, which I guess made it sound like a spiritual journey.

And as I said the words, I realized that it is a spiritual journey. Working continuously toward something you believe in, over a sustained period of time, requires a level of mental awareness and physical preparedness that cannot be achieved by intellectual effort alone. On some level you really do need to transform yourself into a proper vessel for the change you want to make.

As we got off the phone, she said to me, in a wonderfully warm and supportive way, “Good luck climbing your three mountains.”

13 Responses to “Three mountains”

  1. Sharon says:

    Why is it that mountains are such great metaphors for spiritual journeys?

    A friend of mine, who is an amazing leadership coach, has a wonderful mountain-themed (mental) exercise that she uses in her classes for helping people to map out projects (of any kind—work, personal, spiritual). Using the metaphor of getting to a mountaintop for reaching an ambitious goal, consider standing at the bottom of the mountain as you embark. It is very difficult or impossible to see paths to top of the mountain from that vantage point. Maybe you can see one or two that you think lead to the top but it is hard to tell. It may be hard to know where to start. Now consider standing on top of the mountain, having accomplished what you set out to do. The view from there is much clearer, and perhaps you can see many paths that lead from the base to the top. The exercise is to imagine yourself having accomplished what you want and to work backwards from there. What happened just before you, e.g., got that grant/got the standing ovation for your talk/got the best paper award for your submission to that conference? And just before that? And before that? And so on down to where you are now. That’s one path. Now do the exercise again with different answers working backwards. And again as many times as you like. Have fun with it. Some of the paths will merge, but you may find surprising steps that you didn’t expect. (Up until recently, when my friend would do this in classes, half the people would have “go on Oprah” in their paths. I don’t know what they’ll do now that the show is cancelled :-).

    Ken, I’m not suggesting that you need to do this now, since you seem to be well on your way. The mountain metaphor just made me think of it and I thought I’d share. +1 on the good wishes for success reaching your 3 mountaintops. It is nice that they are all on the same continent :-)

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Sharon! I can say definitively, with no hesitation whatsoever, that I have never had “go on Oprah” in my path. :-)

  3. Sharon says:

    Mmmm, we can chuckle about that for now. However, if you ever had a project where you wanted to reach a large portion of the general population to disseminate information or inspire action, Oprah might occur for you as a plausible step on the path. Too late, though 😉

  4. Sharon says:

    It just occurred to me, *15 years* after first learning my friend’s mountaintop exercise, that it has an analogy in computer programming. The practice of program derivation ( constructs a computer program by working backwards from its postconditions (what should be true at the end of the program) rather than forwards from the beginning to the end (approximately the way most people program, I think). Program derivation isn’t a practice that I’ve used as a professional programmer, but my husband (a Dijkstra aficionado) is fond of it. I doubt any “go on Oprah” statements have ever appeared in his programs either :-)

  5. sally says:

    well, ken, of course there is always this:


  6. Sharon says:

    So perfect, Sally!

  7. admin says:

    It’s funny, I wasn’t thinking of the Donovan song when I wrote the post, but as soon as Sharon posted her “envision yourself at the top of the mountain” comment, that song started running through my head. Not only that song, but also “Mellow Yellow” and “Try and Catch the Wind” — even a bit of “Hurdy Gurdy Man”.

    Which points out what Sharon has already noted — there is a huge difference in practice between (1) trying to get up a mountain and (2) staring at a view of three mountains, one after another, that you’ve already committed to climbing.

  8. Sharon says:

    I never heard that Donovan song before (or most Donovan songs—maybe I’m just a few years too young). So simple and yet so profound! “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is”. Yep, that’s life. Okay, I’m not sure I get the “lock upon the garden gate’s a snail” lyric—“things are not what they seem” or, “what did they put in that weed?” :-)

  9. admin says:

    Wait … are you saying that lock upon the garden gate isn’t a snail???


  10. sally says:

    There’s also “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” but it’s more sisyphusian.

  11. sally says:

    By the way, I measure time in units of “Donovan.” A “Donovan” is the time it takes to listen to “Mellow Yellow,” “The Mountain Song,” and “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”

  12. admin says:

    Sally, there are worse things. You could be measuring time in units of the time it takes to listen to the complete version of “The Bear Climbed Over the Mountain”. 😉

  13. sally says:

    Oh, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with measuring time in “Donovans.”

    I do, however, think it would be incredibly frustrating to measure it in terms of “BWOTMs.”


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