Mountaintops and magic moments

This entry was cross-posted to The Network Buzz

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.

Rene Daumal

A moment this past weekend reminded me of this half-written blog post, which I started back at the end of January.  At the time, I was reflecting on the month that wasn’t – the crazy blur that was Conference and Strategic Planning and the office retreat all rolled into one.

There’s something about those moments that take me outside of the day-to-day.  Whether it’s a retreat, a conference, a vacation, a reunion… these events can take on a surreal quality – where, for a few precious days, my regular routine is interrupted and replaced by a completely different way of being.  A safe and trusting space – a community with a common cause – and a renewed sense of motivation and purpose.  Where my daily concerns are placed on hold, and I am fully in the present.  An experience that is often compared to being on a mountaintop; when I can suddenly see the big picture, and when I am simultaneously observing the world from a distance yet still living in it as well.

Perhaps you have had similar moments.  They don’t happen often – but when they do, they leave me wondering if I can just live like that all the time.

But of course, I can’t always live like that.  None of us can; we can’t stay on the mountaintop.  Not only does the experience become routine if we overstay our welcome, but the experience is actually meaningless in and of itself.  It is only magical when placed in the context of the rest of our lives (where it comes full circle, also giving context to our lives).  And so, I’ve come to realize that the descent from the mountaintop is just as important as the time I spend there.

I remember how, after a particularly powerful mountaintop moment many years ago (Fall of 2007, to be exact), I found myself on the streets of Toronto in the rain.  My apartment was just… hollow.  Empty.  Rather than relishing the quiet familiarity of my home, as I usually do after a retreat or similar event, that night I couldn’t stand it.  And so I wandered the neighbourhood for hours in a daze, cold and wet but not feeling any of it, until my mind cleared and I was able to go home and fall asleep.

In retrospect, I had climbed too high and come down too fast (not that I was aware of any of it at the time).  And I had no idea how to channel that experience into something that could feed into my regular routine.

Now, conversely, I look back on the month of February, and wonder how it was affected (or, rather, largely unaffected) by the events of January.  Was I too anxious to get back to the day-to-day and re-establish a routine?  Did I neatly compartmentalize the experience and file it away in my brain as I switched back into day-to-day mode?  And if that was the case… what was the point of climbing the mountain in the first place?

But there is also that sweet spot – when the magic of a mountaintop moment is neither overwhelming or fleeting… but where it fuels and gives purpose to our day-to-day actions. That’s what I’m grasping at.  And in the meantime, I’ll hang up my climbing gear until we reach the next mountain.