Call of the Mountain
On a sunny Autumn day I sat at the window looking out across the Scottish countryside and felt the pull of the mountain far away in the distance. It was calling me saying “Come to me and climb to the top”
I chatted with a friend on the phone and she suggested that perhaps it was a part of me on top of the mountain, calling back to me at the window.
I now know it was both!
Recently I have been resting more, slowing things down and observing my habit of ‘going all the way’, ‘not stopping until I reach the top’, and ‘being pulled by the call to climb higher and higher’. During our phone conversation my friend suggested that I could go part way up the mountain, check it out and ask the part of me up there what she needed and ask her to come down to me. Good advice!
The day arrived and I set off with my trusty old rucksack on my back. Straight away I could feel the pull and hear the voices saying things like ‘Oh it’s not that far I’m sure you can go to the top’ and ‘It’s great view up there’, ‘You’ll feel so accomplished if you do all of it’ and ‘You can do it!’ etc, etc It was hard not to listen!
The 1st thing that struck me walking up the main forest track was the absence of a small spot by a little stream that I was looking for. I’d been to this spot many times and I’d felt the magic of that place. It was just a very small square of grass slightly off the main track but the energy there was different. I had a sense of the vitality and life force of the water, trees, rocks and plants in this spot. The other than human spoke loudly to me there and I had always in the past made sure to visit this special little power spot.
I was puzzled but soon realised that trees had been purposely laid across the path leading to this place. There were very large sawn off tree trunks and masses of dead ferns. It was very obvious without any verbal sign saying ‘keep out’ that this was the message being conveyed. I felt very uncomfortable and the area now felt ‘despairing’ to me. The ‘magic’ had been blocked off by ‘man’s’ intention to keep humans away. ‘Keep out of the magical place’ was the message I felt was intended.
Feeling upset and uncomfortable I carried on up the main forest track reaching the 1st section where the path veers off and rises steeply to start the actual ascent. This path used to be a rugged, natural kind of path made by humans and animals trekking through the undergrowth. It used to pass over various kinds of terrain: over boulders, across tree roots, through muddy patches. Today I was walking on a wide man made path of concrete and small stones, which cut through the landscape like an alien monster, snaking it’s way upwards. Yes it made walking this section easier, yes it went a more circuitous route making it less strenuous to climb, but at what cost?!
The whole landscape was now changed. Trees had been removed to make way for this path, boulders had been taken out to make way for this path, tree roots had been cut out to make way for this path and the soil, the very land itself had been moved, manipulated and man handled to make way for this path.
I carried on walking in this alien landscape feeling bewildered and sad. This place I knew so well had been forever changed by ‘man’ deciding to make walking, climbing, easier for himself by violating, cutting through, and destroying the natural landscape with a man made concrete walk way.
A bit further along I came across 2 men in high vis jackets, obviously workmen, who were stamping their heavy boots down onto the new path, very pleased with their achievements. They were saying things like ‘It’s set really well’, ‘It’s much firmer and solid now’, ‘great job’, ‘Look how tough this is’. They were laughing as I walked past and I had the impression that they wanted me to be impressed also by their workmanship. I couldn’t fault anything they said, indeed it was all true but they seemed so focused on their new path that they weren’t looking up, they weren’t looking around them, seeing the cost to the natural environment. To me it feels like everything we do to our environment as humans all over the planet was summed up here in this little cameo. Does this sound familiar to you?
I carried on and reached the bench, about a quarter of the way up the mountain, where I was aiming to take a short break and decide how far to continue. I looked around and realised I didn’t recognise this place either because just behind me, where the path continues upwards, a whole area of pine forest had been decimated. It felt and looked like a cemetery, a place of death. There was a kind of silence that only exists when life has been extinguished. Even the birds had evacuated and taken their songs with them. Tree stumps half chopped, fully chopped, like dying soldiers on the battlefield, the bones of their dead comrades hacked to the ground. Dead and dying tree debris scattered over the backbone of this land which was now laid bare, exposed, naked, vulnerable and alone without it’s tree, animal and bird companions. The pain of this destruction hit me hard and I had a feeling that the very soul of this landscape had been ripped away.
I believe the ‘soul’ part of me, on the mountain top, was there so she could call me, pull me in to witness and feel this loss, destruction and grief that this land had suffered. I ‘got it’ without climbing to the top. I didn’t need to go any further. I called to my soul part and thanked her for going ahead and having her view and perspective from the top of the mountain. She came down to join me now that her task was complete. I thanked the land for all it has given and suffered and for the life force that once lived here so vibrantly.
I walked the longer main forest track back down, feeling the loss of soul in this place with every downward step. My intention in writing this piece is to honour that land and all land everywhere for everything it has given to us humans. I want to give thanks to the soil, the animals, insects, plants, birds, the very ‘soul of place’, both on this mountain and on our planet, which have been destroyed in order to make ‘man’s climb to the top’ easier. What a price to pay!
The lesson for me personally is that I need to pay attention to the path on the journey and let go of any goals to reach the top. For us collectively as humans maybe the same message is just as obvious? This journey, answering the call of the mountain, for me brought about recognition, feeling and appreciation for nature, the Earth, the other than human. It brought me a deep connection with the despair and desolation that as human kind/unkind! we are destroying our home, our lands, our planet for our own easy access to the top. The top of the ladder, top of the class, top of our profession, top of the league, top of the pile, climb to the top, any top it doesn’t matter as long as you get to the top! This is the message we are given through our Western education system specifically, this is the message we are given blatantly and subliminally through politics, health, sports, and just about every area of life we engage with. If you reach the top then you’ll be happy, if you strive for the best then you’ll be happy, if you become perfect then you’ll be happy. For most people none of this is true! And for most people we make ourselves unhappy when the top is always just out of reach.
This journey was not only a call from the soul part of me but also from the mountain, the very land that had been destroyed. I see this as a co created experience of nature, human and soul, working together to connect feeling with honouring, and bring a powerful message for all us humans to take notice as we travel our paths. If we want to re connect and address the ‘split’ between ourselves and nature then I’m convinced that it’s ‘the journey’ that will show us the way. We need to look away from our electronic devices, pay attention to which path we choose and look up! Trust the call of the mountain, trust the call of our soul, way off in the distance, screaming for us to pay attention!
Notes about Soul: My version of ‘soul’ is from the Shamanic tradition which believes parts of our whole energetic self can and does split off. This happens to humans but also to land, buildings, forests, jungles etc. This is often a response to trauma. As a way of preserving ‘the main identifiable self’ the traumatised part leaves the rest of the system (conscious body/mind/soul) and becomes unconscious or part of our ‘shadow’. This is in order for the whole system to operate without the distressed part, particularly when the distressed part doesn’t have a space or any recognition in it’s environment. In terms of land physically it’s still there but the soul of the place is clearly missing. We all have places where we feel more or less energised and I believe it’s when the soul of land is still present where we feel more energised and drained when we encounter land which has lost it’s soul.
This can happen in a sudden traumatic event but can just as easily happen over a much longer period of time if that ‘part’ doesn’t fit into or have a place to be seen, heard, felt and acknowledged. For example a child who is angry but the family discourage anger. That anger won’t be named, it won’t be acknowledged and cared about so eventually the anger part splits away and in Shamanic terms this is called soul loss. For the mountain the physical trauma was so great that the soul of this place had left.
As humans we feel this as a loss of power and energy and sometimes will present through symptoms and illness. Soul loss to me is a self preservation instinct and probably arises from the fight, flight or freeze response.
In Shamanic terms the ‘soul part’ is still intact (albeit possibly still traumatised) somewhere in the universe. When the main system is ready the soul part can be consciously or unconsciously called back. For example a person can say ‘I want this part of me back’ or a symptom or process happens to the person which makes it untenable or too painful or uncomfortable to carry on without this part of their soul. In the example above the child may now be an adult who suffers from depression and can feel there’s something missing. The world they now live in might be more supportive of the anger and as an adult the person may now be able to offer space inside themselves where the anger can be felt, seen and recognised. The outer world might also be very different and more supportive of this part returning. I do think that this mostly happens when the person has received a lot of support and help, i.e. from counselling or some kind of self awareness therapy.
For the land I believe there has to be something for the soul to return to. Just now the soul of the mountain can no longer be there as the devastation is too great. Once this mountain starts to regenerate and new growth returns perhaps the soul of this land can also return. That is my hope and I intend to return again next year to offer my support with this if it’s needed.
I think many people go through life with parts of themselves split off and never knowing or understanding why they feel disconnected or less than whole. I think addictions are the product of soul loss and as we numb out and ‘get away’ from ourselves and the world perhaps what we’re really trying to do is wander off and find the missing part of us?
In the traditional Shamanic model it’s the ‘Shaman’ who goes off to ‘journey’ in service of the person to find the soul part. Personally, in my work as a Shamanic practitioner, I like to work more from a person centred approach and offer alternatives and choices to my clients when we explore soul retrieval.
I have also witnessed spontaneous and organic soul retrieval happening in my work as a body psychotherapist, in therapy sessions, where there is no construct or structure being named as soul retrieval. So I see this as a natural process that happens also without an intention.
The soul of the mountain may also spontaneously and organically return when there is enough new growth and the birds come back with their songs.
I like the Shamanic structure because it’s alive with imagery and story. It speaks to me, and I know for others too, because of the archetypal nature and symbolic meaning of setting out on a journey to find a missing part of ourselves. It involves using both wilful intention and surrendering to the process.
‘The journey’ is often dreamlike in it’s quality and offers a very ancient structure which guides us through the ‘other worlds’. These ‘other worlds’ can either be seen as metaphorical or real depending on where your belief’s lie. I value equally the spontaneous and natural ways that soul retrieval can happen too. I like to hold one in each hand and be open to the possibility of both structured and spontaneous soul retrievals and both metaphorical and real ‘other worlds’. It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable bridging these two worlds, bringing these two belief’s and experiences together, and to be open to both without closing the door on the other.
The traumatised part of me that was on the mountain was the one who has trouble being in this Western world of materialism, capitalism and consumerism and who from a very young age felt and connected with the despair and distress of the Earth. My level of sensitivity in this part of me was so strong that it was too unbearable to continue feeling this and carry on with life. It would have been like living without a skin, so raw are the feelings she experiences from the Earth’s pain. So she had to go to the top of the mountain or sit on top of a hill and wait until I heard her call. I often used to wander hills as a teenager and sit on the tops, not realising then that I was likely connecting with this part of me who lived there all the time.
I believe the story of ‘The Call of the Mountain’ is my story about the spontaneous and unintentional retrieval of part of my soul. And it’s also about the call from the mountain itself which needed a witness for it’s devastation and despair and for me to hold in my heart hope for the renewal and regeneration so the soul of this land can return home one day. I now have a ‘thicker’ skin in place to protect this raw, sensitive part. She can be with me now and let me know where and when I need to take notice of the Earth’s pain. I now have places in the world where I can bring my sadness and distress about the Earth and I can share my story with you dear reader that you may better understand yourself and this beautiful Earth which we call home.
Jayne Johnson 13th October 2017 – Scotland
I was inspired by various books whilst writing this:
Living in the Borderland ‘The Evolution of Consciousness and the Challenge of Healing Trauma’ by Jerome. S. Bernstein
Becoming Animal ‘An Earthy Cosmology’ by David Abram
Braving The Wilderness ‘The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone’ by Brene Brown