My heart raced and my throat was dry as Michelle and I trod across the moor toward the foot of the steps. A thousand questions lit up my mind. I voiced none of them. It was as if all we could do was make our way toward the rocky staircase, to prove to ourselves it was real. We hurried across the sodden ground for what felt like an age, the mountain growing ever larger before us, until finally the bottom of the ladder drew near at hand. The light-figures continued their slow ascent; others now converged from the far corners of the moor. We stared fascinated, scarcely believing, at these translucent glowing wraiths – for wraiths they seemed. They were far from flesh and blood and some at least were evidently weightless for they floated above the grass. It was impossible to tell if they were men or women; they were lights – that was all I was sure of. We watched them tread silently toward the foot of the mountain. Here, a stone archway marked the beginning of the path of ascent and the lighted figures filed silently beneath it.
“Are they – dead?” Michelle whispered. “Are we dead?”
“They might be,” I murmured. “I am very much alive.”
We halted just outside the gate for a short time, hanging back while the solemn procession continued to file beneath the arch. I glanced back in the direction of the rocks. There was no longer any sign of a fire on the top. ‘chelle clutched my hand tightly and together we craned our necks, studying the towering stair. It rose to the immense height, undoubtedly many thousands of steps, way up to where the lofty summit stood framed against the night sky. A few sparks of light were just visible near the very crown.
I looked at Michelle. Her eyes were wide with myriad emotions. “Come on,” I said.
She nodded and we joined the procession, passing beneath the plain stone arch. Thereafter we found ourselves traversing the uneven granite that lay immediately prior to the beginning of the stair. The ground rose in a series of shelves and the bottom step was cut into the highest of these. Michelle and I drew near and as I gazed upward it occurred to me that the chances of our making it even halfway to the top were extremely remote. The staircase was so high as to appear virtually limitless. Even an athlete or equally physically fit person would surely have baulked at the prospect.
Nevertheless even as I thought this the ascent was upon us and our feet hit the lowest stair as one. A great rush of wind immediately seized us and our eyes were full of cloud and sky…blue sky. I felt as if I was rolling and tumbling through the air like a twig caught up and swept along by a swollen and tumultuous current. This sensation lasted for an unguessable time and it made me fill nauseous and giddy – but throughout the experience Michelle’s hand remained tightly clasped in my own. Then I was back on my feet on solid ground, gasping for breath as if I had indeed been submerged but was now free of the angry river. The wheeling heavens stabilised and I found myself up on a high mountainside, gazing out across an immense vista; many different landscapes, if not entire countries, lay prostrate below.
Michelle was likewise heaving for breath beside me. I put my arms around her, still trying to recover myself. Far down below, I saw mountains, forests, deserts, towns, cities and high seas. I saw them all at once, in one huge impossible moment.
“Michelle and Steven,” a commanding voice spoke up. “You would aspire to greet the very roof of the world, this I know, but this is as high as you may rise for the present.”
We both turned to our left. We stood on a narrow rocky ledge far above the world and all the lands below. I realised that the mountain stairway continued on upward at the far end of the ledge – glancing up, I saw thousands of further steps leading toward the highest peak. I looked down again and tried to estimate how far up the mountain we had come. It was difficult to judge.
A man approached us along the ledge, clad in white robes that seemed curiously unaffected by the keening wind. He carried a length of scroll in his hands and he was studying it as he approached. The sun was rising far off to the east and the brilliant rays cast warmth across us.
We stood and stared at him. My mind felt fragmented and it was hard to think.
“The disorientation will pass,” he declared calmly. “Embrace it and it will dissolve all the quicker.” He smiled pleasantly. “Think of it as a kind of altitude sickness,” he added, apparently considering this some sort of private joke.
Michelle and I glanced at each other. I was glad we did; I never forgot that moment. The reality of that eye contact grounded the entire incredible experience.
“Just now, you were the twig tumbling in the river,” the man continued. “Life is indeed like the river, forever rushing on, seldom ceasing, never giving us time to catch our breath. Up here, in this lofty place, you may – for a moment – catch your breath. But you may not stay here long, beloved ones, for every moment you linger here is an experience denied on the battleground below. For on the plains of living far down there are hewn the precious steps that lead far up here. Remember truly – it is by living in the canyon and learning on the plain that the mountain is conquered in time. Think not so much of planting your flag in the blessed snow at the summit of the holy mountain! Think instead of managing your little earthly life one step at a time, always realising that it is yet one tiny part of your greater sphere.”
He gestured across the panorama below. “I speak from bitter yet hallowed experience when I tell you that on the lesser mountains of the world, in the deep forests and deserts, cities, meadows, villages and streets are sown the seeds of your immortal life.”
We continued to survey the multitude of lands far below, both of us entirely speechless. Our companion stood side by side with us.
“Consider the sky,” he said. “Your mind is like the sky – vast, infinite, seemingly beyond reach. You cloud its purity with your little whims, fancies and imaginings and thus do you obscure its immensity. Always is the infinite mind accessible, if you would just tend to your thoughts and drive them away, even as the western wind drives away the storms and sweeps the heavens clear. Clear your mind of imperfection and you will meet your One True Self, who resides in the ethereal reaches of your mind.”
“Think of the clouds,” he continued. “You love to watch them do you not – be it the drama of the storm or the peaceful haze of sunset, be they high and aspiring or low and stormy-brooding. You would make shapes from their form and enter into happy reverie. Yet reverie this is, not true contemplation. A cloud is a little passing thing – always the clouds are passing; always the heavens are enduring. It matters not whether they be the blue heavens of morning or the dark starry evening: the heavens endure. Yet be not satisfied with the sky! Look beyond the visible firmament to the heaven beyond! For there is Ardour; there is Love, Eternal and Watchful, compassionate beyond measure, all and silent-knowing. Every feature of your little earthly life is known to Us, yet ever we pray that you will join us and awaken to your heavenly being, which is measureless, fathomless, All-Knowing and All-Seeing. Confine yourselves not to the form and the ground!”
“You must learn not only to see,” he continued, “but to be on two levels. There is firstly your insubstantial yet vital life on terra firma, away down there somewhere, pinpointed in some land or other, some little fragment of passing space and time, swept up in the effervescence of the mortal charade! Yet too must you see yourself astride the Holy Mountain, away up here in this rarefied space, firm-footed, deep-rooted, filled with knowledge and understanding, wisdom and peace, observing yet not reacting, cognisant of all that transpires below, moved yet not moved, remaining as still as a mountain indeed even as the world whirls around the Sun!” He closed his eyes and seemed to summon some great force to himself. “May you come in time to not only stand on this mountain, but perceive that you are the mountain, as old as the Earth and older still, made before time and space began, beyond time, beyond space, beyond air, higher than the roof of the world, brighter than the Sun! May God speed you toward recognition of your brilliant Holy Being!”
“Consider the mountains of the world,” he continued. “Mighty majestic peaks rising to meet the firmament. These are but a reflection, a reminder of the one true mountain, the holy hill on which we stand! The mountain that rises to reach the crest of forever, from where it is but a short step to Eternity and all that lies beyond. Allow your contemplation and understanding of the earthly mountain to instil in you the aspiration to conquer in time the Eternal Hill, an ascent born of the will of the spirit, whereby as the man ascends his soul rises to greet him until the two stand face to face on the threshold of tomorrow. Look back! Look back on all your yesterdays, uncounted lifetimes of joy and sorrow, love and despair, knowledge and forgiveness; witness the tableau etched beneath you – every loss, every battle, every love, every insight, every experience you ever had in a million years of freedom! Throughout this time, although you knew it not, you were marching on the holy mountain. Yet ever did it recede before you, until at last you renounced yourself and came to stand at the bottom of the Divine Stair. Then did you learn to listen! Then did you learn to forgive! The and only then did you learn the Other Way: Violent Compassion, that tears the heart in two and points the way!”
He glanced fiercely at us. “Do you have compassion,” he said, “and thus prove yourselves fit for the Grand Journey? Seeking solace in each other’s arms, have you truly seen each other, heard each other, known each other truly and shared each other’s sorrows and anguish? Have you truly heard and understood? Or have you only briefly assuaged your personal sorrow through the embrace of the other, and looked no further? Only by bearing the load of the other will you come to the Forbidden Stair. Only by carrying the other’s cares in your own heart will you cast your gaze up to that sweet summit. Know the other as yourself and carry a lantern in your heart – this is the way off the nighted battlefield, across the fields of peace towards this holy place.”
He paused. “Your love for each other may prove only a dim reflection of the Love of God. Yet a reflection bears promise, even if it is only an imitation. For it is not mere imitation but, I tell you truly, aspiration, without which no ascent is ever made.”
THE LAMP OF THE SOUL
“You have heard it said that it is a wicked world. It is assuredly a dark world, until such time as the spark of love flares in the heart. Once that flare is lit, it cannot be extinguished by any power on Earth. Learn to see not only through your physical eyes, but through your heart too, not the physical muscle but the lamp of the soul. Allow love to be your illumination and carry it before you: it will dispel all illusion, all darkness, every shadow and whim! Let no secret place stand before the Divine Glow – reveal all, defiantly, confidently. Teach others to do the same, through demonstration, through every confident step and action, through ‘I love’ and never ‘I fear’. Though the clamour and clash of violence may disturb you both day and night, you will in time raise your light. Renounce the sword and affirm the lantern, and make your way accordingly from the field of battle. You will not be a Saint – but be not a warrior either, until such time as you are both: a Saint and a Warrior of Love.”
“Do not get ideas above your station! Succumb not to pride as you set foot on the Stairway of Light! You may think you already glimpse the summit, but you do not. You may, perhaps, glimpse a little way ahead but you are apt to mistake a crag or mere outcrop for the highest pinnacle. You have as yet no idea; you have not the vision to guess at the nature of the mountaintop. It lies beyond the reach of your mortal arms. Relish your ignorance; embrace humility. Affirm ‘I know not’ and you will climb faster than the one who proclaims, ‘Behold! I am enlightened!’ You are not enlightened. You are, perhaps, lightened only. You see flashes above your head.” His voice became grave. “Be aware that the stair climbs higher than you would either dream or fear, far above the world, far up through the clouds into heavenly morning, higher and higher again, from peak to higher peak, test upon test, initiation upon initiation, through trial and sorrow, setback and quandary, ever on seemingly without end. Therefore think not of the destination. Look instead to the step you navigate now, which is your present circumstance and situation. This is the way to climb the mountain! Then, some day – some great, astonishing day – you will reach the summit.”
GUILT AND INNOCENCE
The guide came closer and embraced us. He smiled for the first time, warmly. “You are but like children in the eyes of the gods. Do not allow yourselves to fall victim to guilt when you consider the errors of your ways and your many flawed choices on the road to the mountain. When your own children commit error, do you berate them, judge and condemn? Or do you cherish them for their innocence and limited understanding? They will grow; they will learn, and one day become as you – wise and full of knowledge. That is how the gods see humanity; they are patient and wise. Forgive yourselves your foolish steps as the Great Ones forgive you.” He paused. “This is not to say that it matters not when wrong is done. It matters greatly. All must do their utmost to purge themselves and aspire to a greater Light. It is just that self-condemnation and guilt contribute to the problems of the world. At this time, as you set foot out of the valley of shadow, you yet carry the stain of the former state with you. It must be washed clean in the purifying current of the mountain river.”
As he spoke, a gentle rain fell upon us. It was cool and soothing. We gazed up in surprise.
“Humanity has learned too much of guilt,” the guide said softly. “It has much to learn now of innocence.”
“When you look on another,” he continued, “the greatest gift you may give them is to look beyond their form and all their earthly cares and concerns to the light of their soul. Then you will see and acknowledge them truly. In your work, consider others to be as they truly are – a great light, surrounded for the present by the mists and veils, smoke and fume of illusion. Say to them ‘I see you as you are, shining brightly, so that together we may dispel all that would seem to hinder and obscure!’ Make no mistake, the Soul is a light of pure incandescence, bright enough to light the world, from the deepest trench and mire to beyond the highest point, from the home and the hearth fire and far across the sea! In truth, beloved ones, there is no force on earth that can obscure that light! Let nothing fool you into thinking otherwise. Reveal your Light and it will outshine the dawn! It will eclipse the stars and warm the skies! There is no fog, no blanket, no shroud or wall that may hold it back!”
He pointed ahead and out in front of us two great glowing circles appeared. Other circles appeared within them, subdivided and filled with lines and symbols.
“These are your natal charts,” he continued, “containing the details of the planetary positions at the moment of your respective births.”
As we watched, the two diagrams came together, one overlaid on the other.
“Witness the configuration of the celestial forms,” he went on, “and observe the harmony of some, the discord of others.” We stared in fascination. “Yet this too, while holding undeniable basis in earthly fact, is but more unreality in the end. Consider, could the form and content of the planets truly conspire to influence the Soul, that illumination that knows no bonds, no bounds, no constraint of any kind? Could even the Sun itself outshine a Light of Infinite Radiance – and therefore dictate in any way its manifestation or expression?” He paused. “Therefore study astrology and learn it well, respecting its form while understanding that it too is merely a tool for guidance until such time as you are ready and willing to embrace your Light in totality.”
“Your self as you know it in your waking life on earth is in essence a dream. In the lives below, you are not awake. Here in this lofty place is true wakefulness.” He smiled. “Remember, beloved, you are unable as yet to stand on the plain in full wakefulness. Your earthly selves must go on in the fields of experience, until experience has taught you all that it may, even as your spirit climbs this holy hill one step at a time. Strive to regard your earthly self, therefore, not as an aberration or something to be done away with, but instead as a tool or a vessel for your use. The personality, like the body, is a vessel for your experience, essential for growth. Therefore cherish it, but do not identify with it. It is the tool in your hand with which you may hew the rock.”
“Visualise a spark of light above your head, and allow it to flow down your arm and through your hand into your work – be it the labour of the pen, the brush or the spanner. Make your work the work of Light, even if it seems but a flicker to you – for all contributes to the growing pool that will shortly transform the world.” He put an arm round each of us. “I know you feel powerless in the face of a seemingly insurmountable task: nothing less than the establishment of peace on earth. You would say to me, ‘You say my Light outshines even the stars, yet I see it not! How can I change the world?’ But I do see your light and the truth of your intention. I see incandescence; you may barely witness as yet a flicker of the reality of your being. Take that flicker and give it form, and if all would but do the same, there will be more than enough. Each must play his or her part, in modesty, in humility, in sincerity and truth in the coming transformation. I tell you truly – light calls to light; it attracts the same. Always has the struggle between light and dark endured, age upon age, parry for parry, confrontation, and conflagration. Now the pool of light must grow and expand from its tiny nucleus, until it encompasses all things and there are no more opposites nor opposition.”
THE WORK TOGETHER
“Peace on Earth,” he instructed, “begins with peace in the heart of every man and woman. It is everyone’s responsibility to establish this. As partners you are blessed, for you may each help the other in this quest. When you take sides, when you adopt diametrically opposing positions, you enter into the work of resolving polarities in pursuit of harmony. Harmony, you do not need me to tell you, is the way forward and in essence the goal. I do not give you free licence to quarrel, but instead urge you to investigate and understand your differences, and thereby seek reconciliation. Reconciliation leads to redemption. Find peace as lovers; find peace as individual man and woman. Extend it to the world in as many ways as you can. Tear down the curtain of division and discover the light beyond!”
He gestured once more across the world below, splashed in sunlight as the dawn proceeded. “When you find yourselves in sorrow and strife, when existence seems nothing but toil, try not to curse your life, nor berate your time on Earth. It only calls forth further misery. Always you are under the guidance and care of those mountaineers who went before you – who look down now from their vantage point with all compassion and knowledge. Free they may be, but they know the nighted vale as well as you, having struggled there longer, and well do they comprehend humanity’s lot.” He paused. “You stand closer to us and we to you than you realise, and daily now the fissure narrows. Go back now, Michelle and Steven, and may your steps down from here be neither weary nor lonely but light and sure. I will put a fever in your hearts and fire in your hands, that you may pursue your path. And I tell you truly, the Holy Sun is rising all across the beautiful land.”
He lifted his hands from our shoulders and we turned to face him.
He said, “You have waited so long for the world, dearest ones, but you will surely find that the world is now waiting for you.”
We were bursting with questions but already he was moving away, back along the ledge some distance from us. We watched him retreat in silence. Then we looked out once more across the immense vista, all illuminated now by the warmth of the Sun.
“We will never stand here again; we shall never see this again,” Michelle sobbed suddenly. “I just know it.”
“I’m not no sure,” I said, and I put my arms around her. Nearby, the figures of light continued on their way up the Eternal Stair. “But we must go back now.” I was seized by impulse. “We need to write all this down!”
I had barely spoken when a rush of wind came out of nowhere and our feet lifted from the ground. We whirled through space, sky and landscape blurring around us, and again we spun head over heels in dizzying motion for some considerable while until finally we were back on terra firma. We gasped in unison, and found ourselves some way out on the open moor, feeling very small beneath the vast starry heavens. In the near-distance mountains climbed from the moor – but not the Holy Mountain. Of this, there was nothing to be seen.
Not too far away, we saw the rocky outcrop where the man had lit his fire. It stood in darkness now, pointing the way home. I could make out rain clouds gathering in the west.
“Sunrise on the mountain,” I said. “Storms down here.”
Michelle wiped her eyes and put her arm round me. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get inside.”
We started walking back toward the village through the cold dark night. I had a feeling like fire in my heart.