“We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains” — Li Po.
I have been conditioning almost every day since the new year, taking regular 5-mile walks to the park and back, with two sizable hills to overcome along the way. While I walk I sometimes listen to lectures by The Teaching Company, and yesterday I listened to a couple of lectures on Buddhism. Doing so inspired me to really commit myself to the Buddhist path.
I have been reading about and adapting my life to Buddhist philosophy for about twenty years now, mostly on an intellectual level, but never fully committing myself to it. I don’t meditate much, I only occasionally pick up a book on Buddhism, and yet I know it is the one ‘religion’ for me. I believe in compassion. I believe that much of the world is based on human illusion and misunderstanding. Buddhism effects me on a soulful level that nothing else does. Nonetheless, I have still been reluctant to commit myself.
I realized as I walked and listened to the lectures that there is much about the act of mountaineering that gives it a commonality with Buddhism. It requires the practitioner to be fully immersed in the present moment, it requires courage, it requires dedication and commitment. In some ways one could say that alpinism is a form of walking meditation. So it dawned on me that I could somehow merge the two, Buddhism and Mountaineering, and perhaps write a book about my experiences.
I made the decision as I walked. I would become a full Buddhist, rather than a semi-Buddhist.
Truthfully, I don’t know what this entails exactly, except that I will immerse myself more fully into Buddhist literature and — most importantly — begin a practice of meditation. My walks, in a sense, can be a form of meditation, although for now I will still continue to listen to lectures for the most part. Yet meditation must become a regular part of my practice.
How will this effect my climbing, my adventuring? I don’t believe it will hinder anything, in fact, I believe that there is a rich mine of untapped Buddhist ideals behind my risky adventures. After all, one of the principles of Buddhism is the study of our own mortality, and that is, in a sense, what drives many of us to take up these higher-risk sports. By facing death, we feel our own lives more keenly. I have always found that for me, going kayaking, rock-climbing or mountaineering has a much larger element of spirituality than plain-old fun. A lot of people do these things because they are fun, and that is it, but for me, stepping onto a mountain or crag or paddling down a river is much more about seeking unity with the universe. When I am paddling well, I flow with the river as if I am part of it, when I climb well, I am essentially doing a form of vertical yoga.
I am seeking something larger than myself, yet I am also trying to understand myself in the deepest way possible. Hopefully this new direction will allow me to expand that quest, and I truly believe it will.
The path awaits. It is time to enter upon it.