Featured On the Go — 12 July 2017

A superb nature video by Mahendra taken in the Alps during his many mountain hikes, accompanied by a short essay on the significance mountains have for him and how they are spiritually regarded in many cultures.

Being a passionate photographer, videographer and hiker, I enjoy transferring the spirit of the mountains into pictures and films. The latest result is my collection of impressions of various tours in the Alps in summer and autumn 2016.”


Watch on YouTube

One night I dreamt that I was a mountain. It was amazing, to be so strong, firmly resting on the ground. Nothing could shake me, people and animals crawling on my belly were mere grains of dust. Avalanches and landslides were noticeable, but did not affect my calmness and well-being at all.

In the dream, there was a very different perception of time; summer was like breathing in – the heat causing a small expansion – and in winter the contraction felt like breathing out. So one mountain breathing cycle equalled one human year.

The dream occurred many years ago, on my first visit to Nepal when I stayed in Pokhara at the foot of Machapuchare, the fishtail mountain. The mountain towers at 6000 meters over the Phewa Lake, one of the most breathtaking views of the world. Machapuchare is the pyramid in the middle of the picture, placed in front of the Annapurna Range, which is visible to the left and to the right in the background.

The Himalaya from Phewa Lake near Pokhara

Since that dream I see mountains as beings – like humans and animals – only living in much bigger time and space frames. If one second (breathing in and out once) in mountain time equals 1 year in human time, the Himalayas would still be babies in mountain time: not even two years old now. The Alps would be 4.3 years and the Andes 4.8 years old. All three mountain ranges are still growing, slowly but steadily. The senior member of the worldwide mountain family is the Barberton Greenstone Belt (the oldest known mountain range located in South Africa), having reached 114 mountain years, equaling 3.6 billion human years.

Wherever I hike now, my being is connected to the big mountain beings, their ancient wisdom and incredible calmness. When I was circling Mt Kailash in Tibet in 2003, I felt as if the mountain, and with it (him), the whole earth became my master. While this attitude may sound a bit weird in our modern hi-tech-world, it has been a long tradition with many shamanic and animistic practitioners and is still alive in many places around the globe.

In various cosmologies from very different geographical areas mountains play an important role: some have been regarded as the abodes of gods (i.e. Mt Kailash, Mt Olympus, Kilimanjaro, Haleakala). Often the mountains themselves are venerated as manifestations of deities (i.e. Arunachala, Nanda Devi, Popocatépetl).

Throughout the ages, many mountains have given refuge to mystics. They could find undisturbed silence, solitude and receive divine inspiration there. Zarathustra supposedly wrote the Avesta on Mt Sabalan; Milarepa lived in a cave close to Kailash for some years and composed his songs. Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed climbed peaks in the desert where they had their visions of God and received instructions from him.

The Lakotas and other American natives left their tribes for a few days and lived in solitude on the mountains to receive visions from the Great Spirit. Many indigenous people who live in a wide range of altitude zones – like in Bali, Tanzania or Columbia – see mountains as sanctities, whereas the oceans are predominantly occupied by demons. They turn their houses and altars towards the mountains and away from the sea.

It is said that yogis and mystics are experiencing inner freedom wherever they are and do not depend on outer circumstances. But apparently some environments are more favourable for the embodiment of the Divine. It seems that in remote mountain regions the percentage of awakened beings within a population is higher than in the plains. Just look at Tibet, Ladakh or Bhutan, countries where achieving enlightenment has even become the official concern of the state. The average elevation of these places is above 3000 meters.

Edwin Bernbaum writes in Sacred Mountains of the World: “The sense of the sacred awakened by mountains reveals a reality that has the power to transform our lives. Whatever that reality is, however we may conceive it – as a deity, the ground of being, emptiness… the Self, nature, the absolute – our encounter with it frees us from our usual conceptions of ourselves…”

Additionally there are are some practical physical reasons for the magic of the mountains. At higher elevations there are fewer air molecules above a given surface than at a similar surface at lower levels. The atmospheric pressure decreases with increasing height and we have to adjust our breathing. The lungs need to breathe deeper in order to get the same amount of oxygen, which makes us breathe more consciously, which in turn slows down the thought traffic in our minds. So our breathing patterns influence our thought flow.

Also, the air in the mountains is mostly very clean and clear. Provided it’s not cloudy, you can enjoy views as far away as 300 kilometers in daytime and a wonderful night sky with far more stars visible than from the plains, where most of us are also embedded in cones of light from our cities.

At high altitudes not only does breathing require increased awareness, moving on rugged and uneven surfaces requires more attention and body awareness. Also, sudden temperature changes from very hot to very cold and vice versa may result in frequent changes of walking speed. Moreover, the sudden appearance of a thunderstorm or very heavy rains can turn a harmless walk into a risky adventure. In short, circumstances in the mountains often force us to be in the present moment more than usual.

MahendraMahendra (aka Ananya) grew up in Munich; after school he travelled to India overland and took sannyas in Pune. He ran the Vihan Center in Berlin, was a guard in the ashram, a DJ around the world, and also worked on the Ranch, video recording and more. Since 1993 he has been working in IT, video production, as a DJ, event organizer and chanter – and loves mountain hikes. planetoflove.netvimeo.com

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