The Mystery of the Mountain Top
By Steve Nation
Christmas is a great time to be working in meditation for world service. There is a lightness, a joy, an open heartedness in the inner atmosphere at this time of the year - or so it seems to me.
Around the world significant numbers of people have time off work. Families come together. People relax and there is a pause in much of the tension of our lives. I know that now days we tend to be very aware of the tensions and relationship stresses that can be part of the festivities, and its good that we have this sensitivity, but I wonder if we don't give it too much attention, ignoring the simple joys of family and relationship that are a feature of the collective experience. There is something else that also surely helps to make this a special time. During these days, deep religious communities in the Christian tradition (I am thinking of all the spiritually alive cells of Christianity) are thinking about the Christ: His birth, His meaning and His livingness. This helps to condition the inner atmosphere; and we can sense this in our meditation work. We can imagine that this period of concentrated reflection on and celebration of the life of Jesus provides a field of thought that can be overshadowed by the Christ, and is evocative of His energy.
Having said this we also need to be mindful of the obstructions and difficulties for meditation created by the Christmas festival. It is not just the materialism and the consumer driven culture of the season- but the greatest hindrance to clear meditative work comes from the sentimental thinking that reduces all of the fiery realities of our deepest nature and of the higher kingdoms to mushy, fuzzy, feel-good clichés. Sentiment generates huge clouds that distort our view of reality and mask that which is truly beautiful and good.
Using the opportunities of the special inner atmosphere at this time, let us take a moment to sense the Christ's presence, like a shining star over-lighting the mind and heart of humanity; and sound together the Gayatri:
O Thou Who givest sustenance to the universe,
From Whom all things proceed
To Whom all things return,
Unveil to us the place of the true Spiritual Sun
Hidden by a disc of golden Light
That we may know the Truth
And do our whole duty
As we journey to Thy sacred feet.
So here we are in Capricorn, reflecting particularly on the goal of the Path through life, the mountain top experience. A week or so ago I was fortunate to attend a talk by the Buddhist writer, Stephen Batchelor. He was speaking about the role of the Devil in different religious and philosophical traditions (suggesting that the Devil is an image for all that obstructs our path or brings us to a full stop - challenging us to find within ourselves the energy and vision to move on). It was a great talk, full of rich imagery. I especially enjoyed his comment on the Path. We often think of a path as something that is laid out upon life, something we try to follow that is separate from ourselves - rather like a path through a field looks from a distance - like something that has been placed, as a whole, onto the field. Yet the reality of the path is that it is created out of ourselves; out of each step we take, each choice we make. It is not something imposed from outside. Just as the path is not separate from the field where we find it - it is simply a part of the field where the grass has been trampled down over time, some of the vegetation and growth has been cut down, and perhaps some shingle has been laid.
The thing about a path is that it leads us towards a goal or a destination. The most vital area of the path is in our immediate present - as we take our next step in life - yet it also gives us a very important view of the future - of where we are headed towards as well as where we have come from. And that is the thing about Capricorn - it gives us so much in terms of our sense of the future - both for our own evolution and for the direction of humanity as a whole. The thing about the future is that we know something of where we are headed in general terms, but because we have not yet experienced it, it is always a little vague and uncertain - something of a mystery. So it is not surprising that Capricorn is described as "one of the most mysterious of all the signs". We might have some understanding in abstract of the sign and of where the path is ultimately leading us to - but for most of us, what this might mean in terms of our lives and our experience remains something of a mystery.
Yet, mysterious or not, the direction or destination that our path is leading us towards plays a very important part in our lives. Without some sense of where we are headed we can easily get lost in the present, meandering around, easily influenced by the vision or charisma of others, and losing a sense that our small steps are part of a purposeful direction leading us towards where we ultimately want to be. In Capricorn we are thinking of a goal that may lie several lives ahead - for the discipleship path is soul sized, and it sets our feet upon a journey that persists way beyond birth and death.
The discipleship themes for Capricorn are to do with light, illumination, initiation and transfiguration. Heady stuff! Our natural inclination might be to think of the element of fire or air, but we would be wrong for Capricorn is an earth sign. What does it mean for a sign with a discipleship keynote, lost am I in light supernal, yet on that light I turn my back, to be associated with earth, and with the earthy image of the mountain goat?
Reflection on this apparent contradiction is a useful way to approach this special Christmas energy. It leads us into the mystery of transfiguration, the third initiation, and that momentous event in the life of Jesus when, on the mountain top, soul and personality were fused. The light was no longer outside, above, or in the realm of soul, but was brought right into the substance of life. The substance of physical, emotional, mental matter became lighted - the very life of the atoms carried light. In other words light supernal was earthed, became earthy. And it was done as a service. That is what Capricorn holds out for us - it is where we are headed.
The earth aspect means that this energy is all about the process of manifesting, concretising, crystallising, making material. When all the focus of development is about building the personality, Capricorn brings with it an enormous stimulation of ambition and personal desire. Through will power and concentration of purpose things can be achieved, and material goals can be pursued with persistence. But then the world of earthly desire is shattered and gradually the focus shifts into the higher purposes of the soul. Then Capricorn brings this quality of dogged persistence to bear on the quest for illumination. For the disciple the sign indicates a new cycle of effort and of testing leading to the mountain-top of initiation.
The image of the goat fits so well. It is such an earthy creature - rugged, tenacious, not to be messed around with. It can survive in the most difficult of climates, roaming through deserts and rocky terrain in search of what little food and water is available; and at the same time it is so sure-footed and wilful that it can climb right up to the top of the mountain when other creatures would give up or perish.
In the poetry of the imagery of the sign the goat that takes the path up the mountain and keeps on keeping on up the most testing cliff-faces gradually changes shape as it approaches the summit. We suddenly see the rough and rugged creature with its two battered horns transform into the mythical unicorn. Now our whole impression is of a being of radiant beauty - the strength is still there but it is a pure inspiring and uplifting strength. And the two horns have become the golden, single horn of vision, insight and enlightened direction.
The unicorn stands on the mountain top, gazing outwards towards the great beings of light, the stars and constellations of the Milky Way. The journey now appears to have come to a stop, for, while still keeping the feet firmly on the ground, there is no further ascent possible. So having stood for a time bathed in the light supernal the path now leads downwards again, taking the insight and understanding back to the valleys and plains in service.
The meditation keynote is all about light. And what interesting images of light we are given! If we are tracing the path of the unfolding consciousness, Capricorn indicates the later stages of soul consciousness when Illumination governs the intuition, with the keynote of I realise. The sign is referred to in Esoteric Astrology as indicating the Light of Life, and the Light of Initiation. This is the light which clears the way to the mountain top,and produces transfiguration, thus revealing the rising sun. [p.330] A little further on in the book we read that Capricorn energy acts on the disciple like a magnet, drawing the soul steadily away from form life and experience - a radiant light which leads the soul in safety to the mountain top. And then in the keynote for meditation we have the idea of being lost in light supernal.
As we sit with these images of light, and that phrase I realise perhaps we sense something of the mystery of the sign and its offering of initiation into identity with Life itself.
Capricorn is one of the arms of the Cardinal Cross, together with Aries, Cancer and Libra. We are told that there is little to be said about this cross of energies because it holds the secret of Life. At the risk of accentuating the mystery, and without attempting to offer any sort of explanation, I wanted to just draw attention in our meditation to the idea that the vortex of force of these four energies forms a "pool of pure, fiery light" through which all those who take the higher initiations must eventually pass. Those taking the first two initiations must tread the Path as it passes through the Burning Ground. Those taking the higher initiations have to plunge into the sea or pool of fire which is essentially the fire of God as it has been cleansed from every aspect of the material form through the complete purification of desire. [P. 316]
So … a little something to lead us to look down from the mountain top, turn our backs to the pool of pure fiery light and to look out at the world of incarnated humanity. The ethics and values of Aquarius are in process of taking shape, form and structure in the desires, ideas and ideals of communities and nations. Observe that the coming year has been declared by the United Nations to be International Year of Microcredit (focussing on the role that small loans can play to enable families living in poverty to develop small businesses and creative enterprises); International Year of Sport and Physical Education; and International Year of Physics.
Observe too that the coming year brings with it unusual opportunities for progress in efforts to reduce poverty in the world. This from The Economist:
In 2005, poverty reduction is scheduled to dominate the global policymaking agenda as never before. First will come some visionary reports, led by Jeffrey Sachs's study for the United Nations (in January) and Tony Blair's Commission for Africa (probably in March). In July, if Mr Blair does not unexpectedly lose a British general election in the meantime, he will host a G8 summit of rich-country leaders which will focus on tackling poverty, especially in Africa.In September, the UN will hold a special General Assembly Summit to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000, which include a commitment to halve the proportion of the world's population living in poverty by 2015. As progress has been slow, there are likely to be plenty of new initiatives and promises of fresh action. In December, it is hoped, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong will bring the year to a triumphant close with the announcement of a deal to further liberalise global trade in ways that should give a big boost to the economies of poor countries.
And so friends, to work: with the shining star of the Christ and the Christmas blessing above us, standing, with the world group on the mountain top; looking out and becoming aware of the human community as a growing, living, moving, field of lights.