First Steps to Findhorn: The Mountain Not Conquered

Be careful what you wish for, they say…and after a hectic re-entry following two magical weeks at the Findhorn Foundation eco-village and learning center in northern Scotland, I badly needed time to re-ground, re-center, and integrate all I’d experienced into my life and dreams here in Baltimore. And the solution was effortlessly manifested: a case of acute bronchitis that left me flattened on the sofa with a small pharmacy of meds, and just enough energy to contemplate:

What do I do when everything I say I believe – turns out to be true? When some more of the threads binding my allegiance to a materialist-reductionist, goal-driven construction of the world have snapped, opening perception to a living, conscious, and multi-dimensional cosmos, utterly independent of human agendas? When I have taken steps from the frenetic pace of a human doing toward becoming a human being?

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The path not taken (the steep cut to the right) and the path taken (the long line to the left)

The learning began on the very first day, as I checked into the Edinburgh AirBnb, was greeted and given directions by my hostess, and set off with a daypack bristling with necessities and plans to climb Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano presiding over Holyrood Park.

The one thing I didn’t bring, however, was appropriate footwear…

I barely noticed while pausing for a quick breakfast at The Southern on South Clerk Street or doing the touristy “step, stop, snap a photo” progress through the few blocks to the park….but once I reached my destination and looked at the winding, rugged stone steps leading to the summit, and the parade of lissome young day-trippers in tank tops, shorts, and hiking shoes ascending, I glanced down at my chic clogs with nearly zero tread and realized this probably wasn’t going to turn out as planned.

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Gorse – not for grasping

And indeed, before I’d gone 100 feet up the stone stair with shoes slipping, ankles wobbling, and acrophobia/vertigo/poor balance kicking in, I’d discovered that 1) the prickly gorse bushes lining the steps were not helpful for support; 2) wobbly middle-aged non-climbers were an obstruction to the parade of (very polite) high-speed summiters; and 3) if I was having this much trouble on the way up, the way down would be seriously hazardous.

My late father’s voice was echoing in my memory from long-past hikes – Don’t be such a fraidy-cat! – but humiliating as it might be to turn tail and retreat, I preferred a wobbly, painstaking way down rather than a high-speed tumble. Thanks be for the patience of the summiters as I made my slow way down against traffic…

Back at the bottom, I tested my shoes on the dirt paths toward the crags, watching the ravens and realizing: this day wasn’t about distinguishing myself in the eyes of other hikers, or in my late father’s judgment. This was my journey, and it was up to me to set the rules and goals.

Why had I come to Scotland, after all? I wasn’t here as a mountaineer to conquer an insensate geological formation. I was here on the first step of a pilgrimage to a spot on the planet where humans purposefully co-created with the consciousness of nature. How could I begin the journey in a spirit of cooperation with this environment?

In all honesty, I realized, getting quickly to the stated destination of a hike has never been my motivation: from childhood hikes to last year’s treks in the rainforest of Ecuador, I fume inwardly when led full-speed past amazing plants and sights on a myopic drive to destination XYZ, when I am longing to slow down and see what is around me. For me, the experience of the journey, the connection with the land, then and now, is what matters. 

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Judas-ear fungus (thanks to the RBG staff for the identification)

So I took a second look at Arthur’s Seat: was there a gentler path that would allow me to get acquainted with the mountain, on my own wobbly terms? And there was…

I followed it, slowly, in a child’s spirit of wonder and curiosity, feeling the trail firm under my feet. Taking note of the gorse, the blossoming trees, the lichens and mosses, and one breathtaking growth gleaming translucent as a rose on a sunlit tree trunk.  I greeted leisurely strollers and dog-walkers, watched the ravens flying below us….went as far as I felt called, and turned around and returned, impeding nobody’s ascent, when I felt the climb was complete. And saw and felt and experienced it all, as fully as I could….

…And returned to level ground, radiant, and made my way to the Royal Botanical Gardens.

IMG_20160414_080820808_TOPI didn’t know it then, but that experience set the tone of the trip. It wasn’t about achieving popularly accepted goals, repressing the push-pull between the inner “I must/should/shall” voices vs. the voice of the limited – and sensible – inner child for whom depth of nature-connection always came first.

It was about learning to value my own unique perspectives and leadings… respecting my limitations and the gifts they offered.  Respecting my own journey and experience…

….and opening the doors to discoveries that couldn’t be reached during the single-minded pursuit of a summit.

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