I live in what’s called the Monadnock region of southern New Hampshire. I have been here, in several different towns, for 20 years. If I can make another 20, the locals may acknowledge me as a legitimate resident. Our area is named for the mountain that dominates the landscape, Mount Monadnock. In the local Indian language it means “solitary mountain.” It isn’t part of a range but stands alone, rising out of the surrounding terrain to a height of over 3,000 feet. There was a meeting in our town last year about the spirituality of our region, and many stood up to tell how the mountain is the source and focus of their spirituality. It’s a mountain that Henry David Thoreau climbed four times and wrote about. In Walden he pointed out that climbing a mountain elevates and etherealizes the climber.
It’s this elevating of the person that I want to discuss, because I think it holds the primary clue to becoming a spiritual person. Although all of my work is dedicated to deepening our experience to such a point that we discover the very roots of our lives, I feel it is also important to reach so high that we stand at the very apex of creation, so far in the sky that we behold the crack in the cosmos.
This crack is an opening out of the limited worldview that we have from the scientific imagination and any practical and literal version of reality we entertain. It’s a liberating opening, break, or tear in the fabric of reality that allows us not to know more but to be at the edge of our identity and our reality. This is why Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the Commandments and why Jesus spoke his Beatitudes on a mountain. It’s why Thoreau and his friend Emerson climbed Monadnock. By the way, you can begin your climb of this mountain after a 10-minute walk from my house. I live near one of the cracks in the cosmos.
Maybe my theme is what Jim Carrey’s movie The Truman Show is all about, too. A man realizes that he has been living his entire life on a closed movie set. He finds the door out and is liberated.
We often mistakenly think that our task is to find out what is on the other side of the crack or door. Religions often claim that they know what that is and persuade millions of people to live by their hunch. I think our task is, rather, simply to get close to the crack and be aware of a doorway out of our limited view of things. Just knowing about the door changes us and affects how we live. Paradoxically, arriving at that high point of breakthrough, without knowing what’s on the other side, if anything, contributes greatly to our humanity and to the meaning of our lives. Our sheer proximity to the opening allows us to breathe.
Jesus spoke of his father above. I translate the Lord’s Prayer this way: “Our father in the sky, may your name be revered.” Read all those passages where Jesus speaks of his father above, and think about that opening in the sky. Read where Jesus is standing in the river when the sky breaks open and his father speaks. Doesn’t this tell us something about the fathering of our lives and our cosmos? Don’t we all need to stand in the river of life and listen for a voice speaking through the rip in our universe?
The Tao Te Ching talks about the necessity of doors and windows. The ultimate window is the one that looks out from our compressed and limited world onto something else, or at least outside of this realm. A mystic is one who arrives at the door or window and looks. We are all called to be mystical in this sense, and we are not complete until we have found a window out of our limited reality and have looked through it.
Thoreau says that this is what we’re after when we climb a mountain. The climb elevates and etherealizes us. Maybe this is also what we are really looking for when we send a rocket out into space. Today especially we often do in the external world what we need to do internally.
It’s important not to specify exactly what is on the other side of the door, the window, or the crack. The anxious person comes up with an answer and clings to it for dear life. A person comfortable with the mysteriousness of life only needs the door. It is not given to humankind to know more than that.
Every morning from my house I look at Mount Monadnock and remember that a hike up there would be a ritual, symbolic way of looking for that special doorway that offers me the fulfillment of my humanity and the meaning of my life. Recently a neighbor went with his tent to the top to spend the night. When he woke in the morning he was surprised to find about 40 people milling around his provisional campsite. Many people are wanting to be elevated.
Most mornings I sit and eat breakfast contemplating the sun-blessed mountain out my window and realize that I’m a student of Thoreau. The mountain is now my neighbor, a constant reminder of my deep need to have a path handy for climbing up and being assured that I’m not trapped in a closed sphere of human knowledge and self-satisfaction.
Thomas Moore has been a monk, a musician, a professor, and, for the past 30 years, a psychotherapist practicing archetypal therapy with a spiritual perspective. His latest book is A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World.