Exploring the Mountains of the World
Allover the world we can find sacred mountains and mythical stories about mountains. For example, Machapuchare, the fishtail mountain, which towers 6000 meters over Phewa Lake near Pokhara, is very sacred to the people of Nepal. 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.
Believed to be one of the homes of the Hindu god Shiva, its isolated summit sits alone in the sky – unclimbable and untouched. Officially, Machapuchare has never been summited, making its ethereal heights one of the least-visited places on Earth. In the late 1950s, a British expedition ventured to within 500 feet of the summit before doing the gentlemanly thing and turning back – having agreed with the king that they would not set foot on the sacred summit. Machapuchare’s peak remained untouched thereafter, but of course someone always has to ruin a good thing. That someone is rumored to be New Zealander Bill Denz, an accomplished solo climber with the proven skill to attempt such a dangerous climb. It’s widely believed that he made an illegal ascent of Machapuchare in the early 1980s, becoming the first and very likely only person to ever set foot at the sacred mountain’s summit. Since he died in an avalanche elsewhere in the Himalayas in 1983, we’ll never know the full story.
(quoted from https://www.anothermag.com/design-living/8893/the-untouched-holy-mountain-of-nepal)
In 1977 I was staying for a few days in a lodge at Phewa Lake. The sight of Machpuchare was overwhelming. 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 a very different perception of time was happening. 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 equaled one human year.
Since then I see mountains as beings like humans and animals, only living in much bigger time and space frames.
If one second (once breathing in and out) in mountain time equals 1 year in human time, the Himalayas would be still babys 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 feeling with the big mountain beings, their ancient wisdom and incredible calmness. When I was circling the Kailash in Tibet in 2003, I felt like the mountain and with 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 mythologies 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). Many Mountains have been a refuge for mystics throughout the ages, where they could find undisturbed silence, solitude and receive divine inspiration. Zarathustra supposedly wrote down the Avesta on Mt. Sabalan in Iran, Milarepa lived in a cave close to Kailash for some years and composed his songs. Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed all went up on some mountains in the desert, where they had visions of god(s) and received guidance from them. The Lakotas and other American natives left their tribe 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, Tansania or Colombia, see the 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 favorable 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 countries 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:
Change of Breathing Patterns
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 breath deeper in order to get the same amount of oxygen, which makes us breath more consciously, which in turn slows down the thought traffic in our minds. So our breathing patterns influence our thought flow.
Less Noise and Light Pollution
The air on mountains is mostly very clean and clear. Provided it's not cloudy, you can enjoy views as far away as 300 kilometers in the daytime and a wonderful night sky with far more stars visible than from the plains, where most of us are embedded in cones of light from our cities. As an example you can see the light emission of Tehran in the early morning in a distance of about 60 km seen from Mt Damavand camping ground at 4000m.
Increased Body Awareness
In high altitude not only the breathing requires increased awareness. Moving on rugged and bent surfaces requires more attention and body awareness. Sudden temperature changes from very hot to very cold and vice versa may result in frequent change of movement speed or other adjustments. The sudden appearance of thunderstorms or heavy rains can turn a harmless walk into a risky adventure. In short, circumstances often force you to be in the present moment in the mountains.