The Other Side of the Mountain

I’ve been recently following a guided meditation that uses a mountain as a focus point. Picture a mountain vividly, then take that mountain inside you, and experience the times of day, the seasons as the mountain. Powerful storms buffet you, changes happen around you, and you continue to stand, firm and rooted, unchanging at the core.

It’s a powerful meditation. Too often we feel pushed, pulled, pursued by events out of our control. Or even pursued by all the things on your to do list, as if they were a large bear or a pack of dogs snapping at your heels. To stand a few moments while the chaos parts and flows around you while you remain, unchanged at the core, is restful.

I’ve been working with this meditation for about a week and each day I discover something new. My favorite mountain is a peak in Antarctica, visible from the Lemaire straight, feet deeply buried in a snow pack that dwarves the ships that pass before it. The peak rises firm, black, monumental, scarred by deep grooves, dusted by snow, the clouds whispering around its shoulders. In spring the ice in the sea before it breaks up, shifts, and the penguins return to the colony on the other side. Even as spring storms move through with thick, wet, snow, the sound of penguins communicating with each other carries across the water. In summer, the skies stay light day and night, the sun coloring the water copper, silver, gold at night. In the motionless waters, humpback whales emerge with a sigh, then slip back below the surface. Huge chunks of the snow at the base fall in the water, creating new icebergs. In autumn, the penguins move out, the storms move in, the channel ices over. As winter descends, the skies darken. On clear nights, the stars and the Southern Lights appear above and around, winds move in, scouring stone with icy blasts.

And then today is occurred to me that the mountain has another side. I’ve been thinking of the one side because that’s how I saw this mountain. But a mountain doesn’t have a front and back; every side of the mountain is the front, and the back, and the sides. On either side of my mountain, stretch other mountains. On the side facing away from the channel, there are deep valleys, and more mountains and, in the distance, a long flat stretch of ice and snow that extends toward the horizon.

We often approach problems from one side, seeing only the side that faces us, without considering the other approaches. One of my early mentors was methodical and disciplined: when you worked on something with him, you plotted out your path, and moved logically from Point A to Point B to Point C, like a PacMan eating dots or, if they got in your way, ghosts. I loved working with him and learned so much – he shaped my approach to everything from writing to management to project management. Eventually, things changed around us and I began working with a new manager, someone who promised (threatened?) to change how I approached my work. A completely different personality, she moved in an erratic pattern, starting at Point A, then jumping to Point C, then jumping to Point 22, then to Point µ, eventually ending up at the destination. She made me crazy – sometimes I looked at her and promised myself I would never do that as a manager – but I learned much from her approach.

And I learned, when faced with a problem that everyone said was impossible to solve, to ask the question, “If this weren’t impossible, how would we solve it? What would make it possible to solve?”

Sometimes all you need to do is consider the mountain from a different perspective.

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