Mountain and lake meditations

A week ago I was on the treadmill at Bridges, reading the most recent issue of Yoga Journal.* There was an article about how to meditate by imagining yourself as a natural form: a mountain, perhaps, a lake, or a tree. It seemed like good advice, but I don’t have a regular meditation practice — and I do have way too many magazine clippings sitting around already — so I didn’t save the article, nor did I read it very carefully. So I don’t actually know what it says about this mountain/lake/tree meditation.

But that evening, I was given an unexpected opportunity to try out this technique in portrait-drawing class (of all places)! It was the first class and we didn’t have a model, so we paired up and took turns drawing each other. We did profile and three-quarter poses, but when it came to doing the head-on angle, it was just too unnerving to stare at each other, so the teacher told the models to close their eyes. After I closed mine, my mind wandered around a bit and then remembered the meditation article. I decided to try imagining myself as a mountain.

I sat up very straight, relaxed my shoulders and face, inhaled and exhaled deeply, and told myself: “You are a mountain. You have existed here, in this place, since time immemorial… you are part of the earth, but you reach up into the sky. You look immobile, but you are made of stone and dirt and microorganisms, constantly changing, giving life, breaking down. Seeds settle into you and sprout up into great trees. Birds circle your peak and come to rest on your shoulders. Animals roam up and down your sides. The wind blows and storms rage, but you remain strong and upright. Your surface may erode, but your center remains the same… you are a mountain.”

This was such an interesting sensation, embodying mountainness, that when it was time to switch artists, I almost didn’t want to. It was so peaceful being a mountain! After all, what does a mountain care for a mere human’s anxieties? The mountain has been there as long as humans have known, and will outlast us all too. It was impossible to hold my own ego at the same time as I was truly trying to be a mountain, so I let the ego go, and it was very restful.

The next morning, I went to yoga class and tried out the lake meditation during our savasana. Just as it was easy to be a mountain while sitting upright, it felt natural to be a lake while lying down. I imagined expanding laterally in all directions, and vertically into the depths of the earth. I imagined water plants and fish and birds living in me, and the sun shining down on my surface. Again, it was immensely calming and peaceful. A lake has no fear; what can harm a lake? Even a drought, pollution, changing climate conditions all take at least years to affect a really large lake, and even then, the lake may continue to be, just in a different form than its previous one. Worry cannot touch a lake, and so, for the brief time that I was a lake that morning, worries couldn’t touch me.

It all sounds a bit dreamy and kooky, but these meditations were the most calming thing I’ve ever been able to do on my own. Even writing this journal entry, I feel some of that relaxation come back into me. I urge you to try it. Find a quiet place, sit up or lie down comfortably, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and really begin to feel into what it is like to be one of these natural forms. Just see if your problems don’t recede far, far into the distance.

*The gym provides a huge stash of climbing magazines, but after one session with those, I decided I’d better just bring my own. They are way too intimidating for a novice!