Learning from the Mountains

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy

Forty-five minutes west of home, I drive over just the next hill and catch sight of them: the gentle layers of the Blue Ridge Mountains rise in the distance. I take a deep breath and “drop down” into the center of my being. The traffic has thinned by now and, captured by the tranquil beauty of this ancient geology, I feel my breathing slow and my shoulders relax.

I did not always love the Blue Ridge. I’m embarrassed to say that the first time a friend pointed out the distant “mountains” to me, I burst out laughing. Growing up in the Midwest, “the mountains” were the Rockies, dramatic and breath-taking! It took time and many visits before I came to appreciate the difference that an additional 320 million years had made to softening the Blue Ridge.

mountains_LeahWhat is it about these time-worn mountains that calms my body and opens my spiritual heart? Perhaps because they are among the oldest mountains on the planet, they instruct me in deep time. How can I fail to stand in awe of mountains that began forming before modern humans walked Earth? The breadth of creation simultaneously stuns me and infuses me with joy.

And yet it’s even more that these mountains offer. It’s almost as if I pause to match my breathing with theirs. I reflect on how easy it is to come into the present during our Shalem staff meetings when we gather in shared silent prayer for 30 minutes.   As a part of a spiritual community, my prayer is strengthened, sustained, and enlarged by the silence and prayer of others. And sometimes are graced to sense that our prayer is one prayer, and we are blessed with an awareness that we are truly one.

So too it is with nature, I believe. In the same way that one heart entrains to the rhythm of another’s heart, our hearts are fashioned to entrain to the rhythm of the natural world. The heartbeat of the mountains, the rivers, and the trees steady us, support our open presence, enlarge our compassion, and remind us of our unity with all of creation.

In my busy life, I too often forget that I am – that all are – woven into the amazing collective of being. I return to the life-giving trees, the verdant valley and the primeval mountains to remember to be present to our oneness. Job 12:8 reminds us: “Speak to the earth, and it will teach you.” May I become an ever-better student.


Leah_FBLeah Rampy, Shalem’s Executive Director, has a background in corporate management and leadership consulting as well as a deep passion for contemplative living and care of the Earth. She has a PhD in Curriculum from Indiana University and is a graduate of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening; and Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats Programs. Leah’s 5-day online leadership seminar is registering now.

Top mountain photo by Ana Rampy; inset photo by Leah Rampy

Waiting for It to Clear

Today’s post is by Kathleen Moloney-Tarr

A couple of weeks ago I spent a week alone writing in the North Carolina mountains high on a ridge overlooking a wide valley and long mountain range beyond. The first day I settled in with my journal of the last few months and the intent to gather pieces of poems to my computer screen where I could work them over, print them, and revise until they became whole. I was looking forward to being in a creative flow and accomplishing a lot happily in one of my favorite places.

Mountain clouds Di BundyThe first evening a thick fog settled in. Tuesday morning I was sorry to see it remained and thought, “It’ll burn off by lunchtime.” At noon, I hoped the view would clear by late afternoon. When I went to bed, the lights in the valley were obscured by a dense white cloud. Wednesday morning I was disappointed to miss a second sunrise behind the fog. Even though all the doors and windows were closed, the tiny squares of every screen filled with water drops. I could not see the mountain range or the valley or even a poplar tree. Surrounded by a blanket of white moisture, I felt a little uneasy and claustrophobic. I don’t like being closed in. I sleep with my bedroom door open and choose not to have curtains or blinds in my kitchen, living room and dining room. I like light, and I like to be able to see what is outside.

When I write I love looking up from the page to see what Nature is up to—the dogwood changing through the seasons, a hawk soaring, the blond squirrel scurrying up the lavender oak trunk or the native grasses swaying in the breeze. The very presence of the natural world keeps me company and settles me into writing. Often I rely on the external world to jumpstart me on to the page.

But in the fog, the only external presence was the cloud wall pressing against the screen and glass. For more than four days in this white world, I tried to keep myself moving to the computer or my journal. A dozen poems and a couple of essays slowly made their way onto the page. I was forced to stay internal, to notice what was happening to me as I experienced living in a cocoon. I was uncomfortable. I wanted out. I walked from room to room, made tea and took time-outs to read a novel.

By Friday I woke up and took charge. I made a fire to keep me company. I kept a candle lit all day and let music quiet me down. I burned incense and breathed deeply. I wondered why it took me so long to remember to do these things to support myself as I wrote. I know what works with me, but for days these things never occurred to me.

I was waiting for it to clear. I was waiting for the external world to change. I took for granted that I was fogged in and that was that. I relinquished control and could not even imagine the view beyond.

Sometimes this is how the spiritual path is for me. I have a deep sense of knowing something is “out there.” I wait for it to come to me. I may sit in stillness or read wisdom writings, but I don’t really see or experience what I desire. I am in a fog, what the ancient mystic called the Cloud of Unknowing. I am in a world surrounded by the sacred presence, but I am unable to see past what is right in front of me. I smile now to realize that this white world was a gift. Opaque white fog blocked the valley and mountain range. The blank white page in front of me awaited my words.

I sat with it and let it be. It was uncomfortable and disconcerting. I wanted the mountain view to distract me, but I was given space and time to understand that the mountain, like Mystery, lies behind the fog both literally in the beautiful living world and figuratively in the ever present sacred. The view is always just behind the fog just like Spirit is present no matter my mood or disposition. My challenge is to do what I know works to keep me on the path of becoming as I keep relearning this truth.


This post appeared in the September 2012 Shalem eNews.

Kathleen Moloney-Tarr, a graduate of Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program, enjoys the privilege of offering spiritual companionship to those of all faiths who seek contemplative, prayerful space to notice and turn toward the sacred Presence in their lives. She holds membership and the ethical commitments of Spiritual Directors International, The Unitarian Universalist Society for Community Ministries, the Shalem Society for Contemplative Leadership and the Unitarian Universalist Spiritual Directors Network. Kathleen also writes poetry and personal essays, weaves and knits, and leads workshops such as Writing Your Spiritual Journey.

Photo by Dianne Sharma Winter