As awesome as elephants are, that is not the direction I’m going in.
Mountains. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about mountains. They have become very important to my practice and sense of wellbeing. I grew up surrounded by mountains and for me the mountain is like a goddess mother. Big and indomitable, the mountain is an unmoving beast, providing us with her bounty, her protection, her nourishment. The Mountain is sturdy and stable. All knowing – rich with wisdom. The mountain is the witness to universal developments and declines. The mountain can be both nurturing and protective, and fierce and unforgiving. I hadn’t realised how much I was missing the presence of mountains in my recent life until now. I write this from Guatamala. I am currently looking across an open body of water to not one, but two volcanoes. Yesterday I was pretty up close and personal with another two volcanoes. These glorious, fiery mountains itched something inside me and inspired me to share.
There is something undeniably energetically powerful about mountains, in form, function, association, etc. Women are often especially drawn to the mountains. The divine feminine, or wild, empowered energy, is raw and taps into the natural female state. Whilst it is important for all humans to spend time connecting with the earth, this is especially the case for women. The mothering instinct is directly reflected in the uncorrupted earth. Women trying to align themselves to their powerful internal guide and feminine intuition, should spend time engaging with the mountains, meditating upon them. Religions/tribes/sects/pagan faiths all over the world have a special relationship with the Mountain. A few examples: Mount Zion (Christianity, Judaism), Machu Picchu (Inca), Sinai (Christianity, Judaism), Kailash (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism), Black Hills (Native American), Olympus (Greek Empire), Vesuvius (Roman Empire), and Arunachala (Saivism (Hindu denomination)).
The mighty mountains are a reoccurring theme within the Vedas, and provide an opportunity for the introduction of some important figures. Many holy men (sadhus) live in the mountains for peace and isolation, to get closer to God. The Nepalese refer to Mount Everest as the Goddess Mother of Earth. The close ties between the mountain and the goddess extend beyond Nepal to the entire Hindu tradition. In many mountainous areas, Hindu’s will centre much of their devotion upon the Divine Mother, Ma Durga or Parvati.
Goddess Durga is now more commonly recognised as the
goddess of war. Durga means the “Invincible One”. Sometimes known as Kali, Durga Devi is the supreme soul, the source of all phenomenon of creation, existence, and destruction. However, there has been an ideological development of Durga over the centuries. The now goddess of war and the personification of all-destroying time, once had much more primitive associations. The dwellers of the Himalaya’s would worship Durga Devi as a mountain goddess and female vegetation spirit. * For more information on this see Ramaprasad Chanda, 1916 *
Parvati is worshipped as the goddess of fertility, devotion, love, and divine strength. Where Durga (Kali) is ferocious and forceful, Parvati embodies the gentler and more motherly, nurturing aspect of Shakti. Parvati is a hugely influential goddess within the Hindu tradition. She is the wife of Shiva, who is the regenerator of life, and many Hindu’s believe that Parvati demonstrates the recreative energy and power of Lord Shiva. Very importantly to my mountain theme – Parvati’s father is Himavan, the mountain king, or personification of the Himalaya mountains. Himavan is mentioned in the Mahabharata as the ruler of the Himalayan kingdom. His wife is Minavati, the daughter of Mount Meru. As well as fathering Parvati, Himavan is the father of the river goddesses Ragini and Ganga.
In my spiritual practice, my closest mountainous relationship is with Govardhana, which is a hill near the holy town of Vrindavana, India. Govardhana Hill, or Giriraj, is especially sacred to Vaishnava traditions of Hinduism as it is identified as the natural form of Krishna. There are two translations of Govardhana. The first is: “go” – cows, “vardhana” – nourishment; Krishna spent his childhood caring for the cows of Vrindavana and playing with the gopas and gopis (cowherd boys and girls) in the vicinity of Govardhana hill. The second is: “go” – the senses, “vardhana” – to increase. So Govardhana is the hill ‘that increases the senses’ to produce greater attraction to Krishna. Those who are blessed by the personality of Govardhana will experience an increase in their devotion to the Lord (bhakti), and their life will be filled with the divine pleasures of performing the Lord’s service.
Recently, at the end of October (the day after Diwali, the festival of light), devotees celebrate Govardhana Puja. This annual festival involves a mountain of food being prepared in remembrance and in honour of Krishna lifting the sacred Govardhana hill to protect the inhabitants of Vrindavana from the onslaught of rain sent by Lord Indra (a Vedic Deva – king of the devas and god of rain and storms). The history is as follows: Krishna witnessed the inhabitants of Vrindavana preparing for the annual offering to Indra. Krishna questioned his father, Nanda, about the reasons behind the offering. Nanda replied that Indra was responsible for the rains necessary to keep the land fertile and provide them with their food. Krishna argued that the true dharma of the farmers was not to do service to Indra, but to concentrate on their cows and their land. He argued that rather than praying for Indra’s blessings for a natural phenomenon, they should instead express their gratitude to Govardhana Hill, which provides them with grazing, shelter, and fertile soil. Indra was so angered that his offering did not proceed that he sent a storm to destroy the village. But Krishna lifted the entire Govardhana hill (with his left pinky finger) and sheltered all of the villagers and their cattle beneath the mountain. For seven days the rains continued, but the mercy of Krishna and Govardhana provided shelter and a bounty of food for Vrindavana’s inhabitants. Eventually, Indra accepted defeat and offered obeisance to the Lord.
While this story provides a powerful lesson about dharma, what always strikes me is the pivotal role of Govardhana hill in the lives of the inhabitants. As an extension of Krishna, the hill provides all that is necessary for the people of the village. Without the hill their survival would be compromised. For me, this is a truth of all other mountains as well. So often they go unappreciated when really we should be offering thanks to these graceful giants for the wealth that they provide.
So, how can we incorporate this gratitude and appreciation for nature’s beautiful giants into our daily life and our practice of yoga?
Sounds simple but hardly any of us do it enough. And when I
say outside, I mean real outside. Unpolluted, clean-aired countryside. Find grass, find rocks, find trees. Take off your shoes. Walking barefoot creates a much greater sensitivity to the occurrences of nature. You feel more connected to the earth, more stable and
supported. Many yoga āsanas (postures) great strong bodily connections to the earth to encourage this sense of connection and feelings of stability and strength. Mediation
happens seated on the ground as this is where we are at our clearest and therefore best able to engage in spiritual pursuits. Take some time to engage with each of the senses in nature. What can you see, hear, smell. Touch things and notice their textures. You’ll be amazed at how much we miss by casually, unobservantly, walking and chatting through the
environment. So take time to be in silence and to sit and breath. Recognize the five Great Elements (Pañca Mahabhutas) that exist within every single cell you see: ether/space (ākasha), air (vāyu), water (āpas), fire (āgni), and, importantly, earth (prithvi). Allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the amount of power and activity nature holds and how all is supported by the steady, constant earth. Try to find time once a day, or as often as possible, to spend time with the earth – whether you go on an epic hike or just drink your tea outside on a little patch of grass in the local park, allow yourself this time to reconnect. I find this nature connection can be particularly supportive when experiencing stress, tension, anxiety, depression, or any other psychological imbalances. We all come from the earth, so sometimes we need to check back in for a little bit.
GIVE THANKS FOR THE MOUNTAIN’S PRODUCTS
Giving thanks and expressing gratitude for your situation is vital to a spiritual, yogic path, but also is great for just being a nice, humble person! No matter what faith you have, we all must accept the reality that something is providing us with the food we put on our plates, the water we drink, the land we build our homes on etc. For some people (as in the case of Vedic literature) this universal provider is God, whatever name you give Him/Her/It/Them. In Vaisnava Hinduism, food is offered to Krishna before taken by the devotees. In most faiths it is the practice to pray before a meal and give thanks for “what we are about to receive”. Even if you are not a religious believer, take some time to look at all of the components on your plate and think about where they have come from, how they were produced, what elemental components are present within them, and whether they were cooked with love. Extend gratitude to the cook, the farmer, the sun, the rain, the earth. Not only does this brief contemplative practice aid you on your journey to a closer relationship with divine nature and cultivate a greater sense of awareness and compassion, but it can actually help to improve digestion. The process of cooking a meal is great preparation for digestion as we are conscious of the cooking process, of all of the various elements involved, and of the nature of each individual ingredient. The body processes all of this information and then prepares to digest just such a meal. But of course, often we are blessed to have our food cooked or provided for us. We don’t farm it ourselves and often don’t cook it either. Therefore, it is important just to take a little bit of time before eating to visualise this process and allow the body time to prepare.
CARE FOR THE MOUNTAINS
During my time in Guatemala I have been endlessly impressed by its cleanliness. There is no littering to be seen. The mountains and their jungles are in pristine condition. Schools teach about recycling and NGO’s reward collected litter (plastic bottles etc.) with new clothes or school books. For this reason, Guatemala is producing a youthful society, proud of its environment and nurturing of the earth.
So, again, my suggestion for the care of the mountains is a very simple and perhaps obvious one. Everyone just needs to do their own bit for the protection of the earth. Recycle. Don’t litter. Avoid buying products that are destructive to our environment. We rely on the earth for our lives and we are currently running the risk of destroying our necessities out of greed, disregard, laziness, or ignorance. We live with so much unnecessary excess. Just by limiting ourselves ever so slightly, we can personally have an impact on the care of our planet.
We are lucky to have a wealth of knowledge about changes happening in our climate. Personally, I find this an incredibly serious issue and I think it is each and every single person’s responsibility to educate themselves about these issues and act accordingly.
The mountains are our teachers and our providers. They are beautiful, powerful and sacred. The wisdom of the mountains aids the progression of our yogic paths. Celebrate them.