The Inverse of the Summit

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White Peaks, Derbyshire, taken on a walking holiday

Most people who enjoy hiking know that getting to the top of a mountain can be difficult. But for those who are experienced, perhaps after about 40 years of climbing those mountains, we begin to understand that it is the descent that is actually the more challenging of the two. Sure, you become breathless as you make your way slowly up the mountainside, sweat on your brow and your legs muscles pumping.  But on the way down, you have to take special care, your balance comes into play, and one wrong move can leave you stranded on that mountainside awaiting rescue.

And it’s this analogy that I’ve come to understand as the integration of those rare moments of epiphany in our lives. Getting to the mountaintop can be the easy part; coming back home can be the more difficult. We got to the top, now we’re on our return journey, tired, but taking the memory and experience with us to internalise. Having the epiphany is easy – integrating it into every day is the more difficult part of the journey. It’s the inverse of the mountain’s peak, and once we’ve traversed this sometimes treacherous way, it’s then that we can find that lovely and level middle ground.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a small realisation or a grand epiphany that you’ve come to in your life; the really important thing is how to integrate it into your soul and your life. You can’t just have it and then forget about it – or, you could, but then what’s the point? The real point is to make it a part of your life, each and every day. To live the realisation, to make it a reality.

And it’s not easy. Our everyday lives can be so busy, and filled with a plethora of tasks and minutiae that can take precedence unless we are careful about how we manage our integration. It’s all good to go on a retreat, to meditate, to do pathworking or journeying work, even spellwork, but then it’s up to us to bring that into our lives as well, and not just let it rest “out there in the universe”. We have to make it manifest, we have to make time and integrate the work. We have to come down that mountain.

And it can seem dull and boring, all the repetitive tasks that we have to do each day, when we’d rather be receiving even more epiphanies. We have to do the dishes, clean the bathroom, cook our meals, teach our kids, feed the cats, mow the lawn, pay the bills, etc. We have to get on with the chores of the day.

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My little Kiri cat 🙂

But these elements, numerous as they are, form such a large part of our lives. So why shouldn’t we make them even more special, and give them more significance? Why can’t we internalise our hard work and let that inspiration flow out in everything that we do? It’s all a matter of perspective. On the summit, it’s easy to see all around you, to have that greater perspective. Scooping out the poop in the kitty litter box isn’t nearly as grand.

But that revelatory experience doesn’t have to fade with time. We can carry that in our souls, even when we’re running to the bin with a very stinky scoop of poop. For me, the act of service helps me to continue my revelatory experiences in everything that I do. It’s something that we’ve always taught at Druid College, and something which I’ve expanded even further in my studies and work with the Sisterhood of Avalon. That service, whether it’s working for your community or taking care of your stinky cats can be the thing that connects you to everything else. It is in those moments of interconnection that we realise that we are all a part of a greater tapestry of life, woven from many threads, stronger and even more beautiful when we support each other.

That larger perspective is carried in our hearts and minds, and into everything that we do, from the choices we make each and every day to the way we interact with people every single moment. And it’s not easy. Coming down the mountain there are loose rocks and stones that can trip us up or roll under our feet, causing us to lose our balance, wrench our knee, put our back out. But if we’re careful, if we’re mindful, we can hopefully get back to everyday life intact and in good condition to keep that momentum going. There are the pitfalls of losing our way, losing the daylight, losing the map or compass. But unless we’re really unlucky, most of us will make it back and into our nice, warm homes where we can integrate fully the experience. And it’s keeping that feeling in our hearts as we go about our daily tasks can be equally as challenging. That is the real inverse of the summit.

But once we have achieved that, then we find the level path that allows us a good vantage point, and is much easier to manage as well. We find that balance point in our heart and souls, and the way forward becomes more pleasant. So the next time you reach that mountaintop in your life, find a word that summarises the experience, something that you can recall when you are cleaning a clogged drain, dealing with a difficult neighbour, or sitting in a lonely silence. This is what you can use to make the vision real, to make the intangible, tangible. Manifest this in your life, and then all that work will truly be worth it.

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The valley where I grew up in Quebec, taken from the lovely and level trail of an old disused railway.

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Rhiannon and the Art of Side-Saddle

jo weddingRiding side-saddle is both easy and difficult. It’s a strange dichotomy of being securely “locked in” and feeling like you’re going to slide out the side at any moment. I took lessons riding side-saddle, and also did some jumping. I even rode down the aisle at my wedding side-saddle!  When I compare this to working with the goddess Rhiannon, I can see how she is often portrayed as riding side-saddle, and I think the fact that she’s wearing skirts is only part of the reason.

If you have a voluminous skirt, it’s quite easy to ride in the normal fashion. Your ankles may be showing and perhaps even your calves (gasp, shock and horror!) but really, it’s quite do-able. But side-saddle just looks more elegant, even though it perhaps fits in with the conformity to “keep your legs together” so as not to be considered a “loose woman” in any shape or form. However, all that nonsense aside, side-saddle is fun and a challenge for any rider, whatever they choose to wear, whatever gender they associate with. My husband tried it, everyone in our Western riding group tried it, just to see what it was like. It’s good to try new things.

Riding side-saddle, you usually have your legs hanging down the left side of the horse. Your left foot is in a stirrup as usual, but your right leg is held above the left and “hooked in” with a curved bar just above the knee. This keeps your right leg in place, though you have to hold your right foot flat against the side of the horse the entire time in order to truly maintain that grip correctly. It’s almost like sitting with one leg crossed over the other, but not quite.

You need to have some flexibility in the spine and torso in order to keep the head, chest and hips facing forward as much as you can, while the legs are over on the left-hand side. It feels really good after a ride to get down and stretch out the other side of your body! It also takes a bit of balance, as it can feel like you are going to slide off the other side of the horse. As mentioned above, keeping the right foot in the correct position helps with this, but that feeling is still there. The emptiness on the right-hand side can be a little daunting, even as you feel fully strapped in with your right leg securely tucked under the leaping head, lower pommel or as it is sometimes known, the leaping horn.

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Rhiannon from The Avalonian Oracle, written by Jhenah Telyndru, artwork by Emily Brunner

This delicate balance, of security and instability, finds resonance within me with the stories of the Welsh goddess Rhiannon. She is often portrayed as a horse goddess, riding a white mare from the Otherworld and marrying into the human realms, there to face the trials and tribulations of such. She works to re-establish order, correcting her husband and fixing his gaffs, seeking her lost child, and enduring hardships and injustices while remaining true to herself. She literally carries the mantle of sovereignty, as a horse carries a rider, to take it where it needs most to be, to work in the world in co-operation and in compassion.

It can be a tricky ride. One minute you can feel secure, locked in and riding in the correct posture. Forget that posture for a moment, and then you are insecure, literally, feeling like you are going to slide down any moment. It’s a great teacher in remembering to hold true, figuratively and literally. Be mindful of everything you do, if you want to enjoy this ride. Because the moment you aren’t, you could lose your seat, whether that’s the seat on horseback or the seat of sovereignty, in the soul and in the wider world.

But once you understand the delicate balance, once you come to terms with this new way of being, it’s glorious. It’s elegant. It’s graceful. And I’m not just talking about riding side-saddle. This is what Rhiannon can teach us as well. To find a new way of being, to be in balance and staying true to yourself, being present and knowing that some things need to be endured in order to find the beauty in our lives. To carry the burdens with grace, to stay true to yourself.  Rhiannon is both the horse and the rider, enduring and carrying, guiding and taking the reins of sovereignty unto herself.

rhiannon bookI’ll be working closely with Rhiannon over the next few months, and I look forward to the insights that she brings. If you are interested in this goddess, there is a brilliant book written by Jhenah Telyndru, called Rhiannon: Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons. Jhenah works closely with Rhiannon and other Welsh goddesses in the Sisterhood of Avalon, which she founded in 1995. Do check it out, and all her work, it’s brilliant.

May you ride forth in the present moment, finding your centre and staying true. And remember, when it all comes down to it, horse-riding is merely the art of keeping the horse between you and the ground.