Most spiritual paths have some form of retreat — a time when you step out of your everyday life, physically go somewhere else for a day or two, and focus on various aspects of spirituality. Often it means spending time in nature (but doesn’t have to), or in a beautiful place (though I remember one meaningful retreat in a barrio of Tijuana, Mexico). You may spend time in the company of others, but there is almost always some alone time. The idea is that you get a different view of life, commune with Deity (in whatever form appropriate for your path), and return to your mundane life a changed person. In the Christian churches I used to attend, they likened this to Moses going up the mountain and receiving the ten commandments, hence they were called mountaintop experiences. In the first sermon after the retreat, the pastor always talked about the challenge of integrating the mountaintop experience into your everyday life.
Last week I had a mountaintop experience, on top of a hill, in a beautiful place, surrounded by nature, with very good conversation, and enough alone time to consider it all. It took some effort to physcially get there (I forgot to mention, that is also often an ingredient), but even the drive was enjoyable. (See my previous post.) It wasn’t planned as a retreat — I was just visiting a friend I don’t get to see often. We did mundane things, and laughed about mundane stuff. We talked about our lives, the good stuff and not-so-good stuff, and the spiritual focus was a part of that. We talked about some of the stuff that really matters to us, and heard new viewpoints from each other in response. Then there was time alone, to digest what we had talked about and its relevance to our lives. There were “rituals” to focus on, in the form of tarot readings and some energy work. We both got something meaningful out of the time, and finished it with determination to make changes in our lives.
Which brings us to coming “down” off the mountain, and how do we ground our experience? My first thought when I got home and entered our house, was that I REALLY need to get rid of a lot of clutter and maybe do some redecorating. At some point I realized I was trying to ground my experience by recreating the ambiance of my friend’s house. While I DO need to get rid of a lot of clutter, recreating the physical surroundings is not where the real grounding needs to occur. It’s a lot like sex — the important stuff is what goes on inside your head/heart. Of course, it took me a couple days to apply that to what was going on, during which time I got a bit depressed. However, that is also a part of the mountaintop experience — when you return to everyday life, you no longer have that spiritual high. Like sex, you want to recapture that good feeling. The real trick is to merge the two states. Machaelle Small Wright talks about it as merging the mundane and the fantastic, so they are not separate states of being between which you bounce back and forth.
So, how do you DO that? How do you ground the mountaintop experience, and live a fantastic mundane life? Recreating some of the ambiance of your retreat is one way to do that, though they are apt to be small changes. Think of how you experienced that place with your senses — what were the smells, textures, sights, sounds, and tastes? Even very small triggers will bring back the feelings you experienced, and help you follow-up on the changes. What were the changes or ideas that came to you during that time? How can you accomplish them in your everyday life? Real change takes time, so don’t expect everything to be different overnight. Even the people who make radical changes in their outer lives eventually discover they are still carrying the same emotional/mental/spiritual baggage they struggled with before. So find small ways you can incorporate your new ideas into your everyday life. Do them until they become a part of you. And then go a little farther. If you do decide to make radical changes, remember to work on that inner stuff (thoughts, emotions, habitual ways of looking at things), because THAT is where the grounding occurs.
I’ve been writing about this in terms of the spiritual (because I believe the spiritual permeates every aspect of our lives), but mountaintop experiences manifest in many ways. They may relate to an occupation, or returning to school, or a new relationship with nature, or your health, or your relationships with other people, or creative expression, or . . . well, you get the idea. These are the experiences that inspire us to become the people we are meant to be. Namaste.