The Mountain Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn encourages us to be like a mountain, to seek inner stability and peace in everyday life and in the face of life’s challenges. This is an adaptation of his classic guided meditation.
The Mountain Meditation
Sit with a straight back, your head held erect on your neck and shoulders. Allow your shoulders to fully relax and place your hands on your knees.
Close your eyes and bring your attention to the flow of your breathing. Feeling each in breath and each out breath. Just observing your breathing without trying to change it or regulate it in any way. Allowing the body to be still. And sitting with a sense of dignity, a sense of resolve, a sense of being complete, whole, in this very moment, with your posture reflecting this sense of wholeness.
And as you sit here, picturing in your mind’s eye as best you can the most beautiful mountain that you know or have seen or can imagine. Just holding the image and feeling of this mountain in your mind’s eye, letting it gradually come into greater focus. Observing its overall shape, its lofty peak high in the sky, the large base rooted in the rock of the earth’s crust, its steep or gently sloping sides. Noticing how massive it is, how solid, how unmoving, how beautiful both from afar and up close.
Perhaps your mountain has snow at the top and trees on the lower slopes. Perhaps it has one prominent peak, perhaps a series of peaks or a high plateau. Whatever its shape or appearance, just sitting and breathing with the image of this mountain. Observing it, noticing its qualities and when you feel ready, seeing if you can bring the mountain into your own body so that the body sitting here and the mountain in your mind’s eye become one. So that as you sit here you share in the massiveness and the stillness and majesty of the mountain. You become the mountain rooted in the sitting posture, your head becomes the lofty peak, supported by the rest of the body. Your shoulders and arms the sides of the mountain. Your legs the solid base rooted to your chair or floor. Experiencing in your body a sense of uplift from deep within your pelvis and spine, with each breath as you continue sitting, becoming a little more a breathing mountain, unwavering in your stillness, completely what you are, beyond words and thought. A centred, rooted, unmoving presence.
Now as you sit here becoming aware of the fact that as the sun travels across the sky, the light and shadows and colours are changing virtually moment by moment. Night follows day and day follows night. A canopy of stars, the moon, then the sun. Through it all, the mountain just sits, experiencing a change in each moment. Constantly changing, yet always just being itself. It remains still as the seasons flow into one another and as the weather changes, moment by moment, and day by day. Calmness abiding all change.
In summer, there’s no snow on the mountain except perhaps for the very peaks. In fall, the mountain may wear a coat of brilliant fire colours. In winter, a blanket of snow and ice. In any season, it may find itself at times enshrouded in clouds or fog or pelted by freezing rain. People may come to see the mountain and comment on how beautiful it is or on how it’s not a good day to see the mountain. None of this matters to the mountain which remains at all times its essential self. Clouds may come, and clouds may go. The mountain’s magnificence and beauty are not changed one bit by the way people see it or not or by the weather. Seen or unseen, in sun or clouds, hot or cold, day or night, it just sits, being itself. At times, visited by violent storms, buffeted by snow and rain and winds of unthinkable strength. Through it all, the mountain continues to sit unmoved by the weather, by what happens on the surface, by the world of appearances.
And in the same way, as we sit in meditation, we can learn to experience the mountain. We can embody the same unwavering stillness and rootedness in the face of everything that changes in our own lives over seconds, over hours, over years. In our lives and in our meditation practice, we constantly experience the changing nature of mind and body and of the outer world. We have our own periods of light and darkness, our moments of colour and our moments of drabness. Certainly, we experience storms of varying intensity and violence in the outer world and in our own minds and bodies. We endure periods of darkness and pain, as well as the moments of joy. Even our appearance changes constantly, experiencing a weather of its own.
By becoming the mountain in our meditation practice, we can link up with its strength and stability and adopt it for our own. We can use its energies to support our energy to encounter each moment with mindfulness and clarity. It may help us to see that our thoughts and feelings, our preoccupations, our emotional storms and crises, even the things that happen to us, are very much like the weather on the mountain. We tend to take it all personally but its strongest characteristic is impersonal. The weather of our own lives is not to be ignored or denied. It is to be encountered, felt, known for what it is and held in awareness. And in holding it in this way, we come to know a deeper silence, and stillness, and wisdom. Mountains have this to teach us and much more if we can come to listen.