This narrative begins with a most unusual allegory that came to me in an intensive dream one night which, as it turned out, would foreshadow the direction of my future life. The symbolic nature of the objects and environments I encountered reminded me of the allegorical meanings I read of in Pilgrim's Progress. My dream experience had a similar quality to it: the most provocative interpretative expression of my life up to that point, including various deficiencies not so obvious to me, though they likely were to others.
Also, you will notice that on my title page I included the words, “come further up, come further in.” These few words sum up the primary theme of this book and my new life. If you are familiar with C.S Lewis' works, you may recognize this phrase as the one that was cried out as the characters effortlessly went further up and further into the New Narnia, as described in The Last Battle, the concluding book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Only after my adventure, did I come to understand the meaning Lewis meant to convey with this phrase.
As we ascend our Mountains further up and further in, we continue to gain greater clarity and vision in seeing who we are while we are on earth. Whatever path we may be on, we are all on a trek through life. I wish now to share my very strange venture taking me further up and further in on a journey far beyond what I could have imagined.
A REALLY CRAZY DREAM
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road,
and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. Bilbo Baggins
It had been a very stressful week for me at university as I lectured to several over-enrolled introductory philosophy classes by day, while diligently marking stacks of midterm essay examinations by night. After barely making the submission deadlines this Friday afternoon, I returned to my flat and collapsed on the bed, completely knackered. But there was still too much going on in my mind for my body to rest, so I got up and poured a half glass of rum. Then I poured another and another to settle my anxieties. Feeling much lighter and more relaxed now, I said a prayer to my favourite god on Mount Olympus.
Officially, I would have described myself as an agnostic, as would many of the philosophers in my department who pride themselves on their scepticism. The prayer, if that’s what it was, was ingenuous, or so I thought. In jest I said, ‘Zeus, if you’re still hiding somewhere up there, I need you come down for a while to give me a (bleeping) break. Things aren’t working out so well here these days.’
It was true; I was disenchanted with my life. I wanted to experience more fulfillment but wasn’t sure what that was or where I might find it. I even began to consider dropping out of society for a few years to find what I was looking for in Tibet or the Andes. These places had a lot of appeal to me ever since becoming an avid mountain climber during the completion of my Master’s programme in Canada several years ago. But as I considered doing this, the cynic in me would say if I couldn’t find myself in London, I wouldn’t find myself anywhere else.
I was becoming increasingly troubled with my fledgling career, which did little to allay my financial instability. Also, my inability to establish even one satisfactory relationship with a woman was beginning to frustrate me. Outwardly, I had a number of things going for me including my academic credentials, physical appearance and roguish charm. Certainly, when it served my purposes, I was able to use my debonair persona to attract many women into my life and bed over the years. Keeping them there was another matter.
This evening, however, I was hoping to put all my cares behind me, having previously arranged to meet a very attractive brunette for a dinner date. I had recently met her during a charity event at the university and was most impressed with her confident demeanor. Not only was she well-read and articulate, she had recently earned an MBA and was already working as a senior investment analyst for some major investment firm located on one of the top floors of an office tower in Canary Wharf.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go too well for us that evening. Perhaps I should have imbibed something less toxic while I waited for her. Anyway, by the time she turned up at our reserved table, over a half hour late, I may add, I already decided I didn't like her very much. It appeared evident that this was a power ploy to let me know who was more important and who had the real job. Obviously, she had better things to do than mark term papers by late adolescent students. But considering her pretty face and revealing cleavage, I thought I'd make the best of the situation by being as pleasant as I could, and see where things might lead; hopefully, in the direction of my flat.
My problem, however, in attempting to make interesting conversation with her, was that we lived in two very different worlds – which is why I found it so difficult to relate to her incessant talk involving international commerce and her stellar career. I guess I should have been impressed, but from my jaundiced perspective, I decided she wasn’t authentic. Her upwardly mobile pretences didn’t do anything for me except make me feel inferior, which is not exactly a turn on. In most cases I’m willing to tolerate such affectations if it is to impress me for some amorous intent, but it seemed she was more interested in impressing herself for her own intents.
I tried to be civil, but I’m sure she soon became aware of the bored look on my face, except on occasion, when my eyes may have inadvertently drifted down below her neckline. After a couple more glasses of wine following dinner, I suggested we take a taxi back to my place to get to know each other a little better. She wasn’t stupid, as she curtly declined my less than subtle suggestion. I was further chagrined when she insisted on paying her half of our dining tab, as if to make it perfectly clear I had no claim on her. Most ungracious, I thought; certainly not how I had planned the evening’s outcome.
As she left to catch a taxi to go home, I muttered something most unflattering, which she probably didn’t hear – but if she did, I didn’t care. I can be as obnoxious as any pickled bloke under the influence. And by then, I most certainly was. At the time, I was very upset with how things turned out and how she rebuffed me: cold and dismissive, as though passing on some marginal investment at her office. But as I thought about it the next day, I could hardly blame her for how she responded to my uncouth advances.
Things might have turned out better later that evening had I taken my lumps and gone home to bed. But oh no, I needed to recover some of my ego esteem by finding my way to a somewhat less dignified establishment to chat up a new acquaintance prepared to ride home with me for the night. No such luck, even though by now I was prepared to significantly compromise my standards for the night. I suppose drunk isn't considered very sexy, unless the other is just as drunk. As the saying goes, a wink is as good as a nod, but I wasn’t getting either.
Even worse than enduring the rude dismissals, rejections and rolled eyes was the little skirmish I had after midnight with an oversized Godzilla bouncer standing at the door. I noticed he had been observing my deteriorating condition for some time, and so I decided he needed to be informed of my professional credentials. So I walked over to him, although not so steadily, and informed him who I was. Not surprisingly, he didn’t seem interested in hearing about my career or the scholarly papers I planned to present at the finest institutions in Britain and abroad.
Rather than being impressed, he preferred to treat me as some common drunk. Sure, I told him, maybe I was little drunk, but dammit, I wasn't a drunk. As I staggered to the water closet, he suggested I find a cab to take me home. Likely it didn't help that I had a contrary opinion. Venting some of my more creative expressions I had acquired during my short bout as a sailor probably didn’t make things better. And likely telling him to ‘get stuffed, you fuggin ape,' had something to do with my intimate encounter with the pavement outside after being unceremoniously escorted out the door.
I suppose it didn’t help that I took an inept swing at him. And so, the only thing I came away with from my bender that night was a bloodied face and a badly damaged ego. I suppose he was only doing his job, but in my stupor it felt like the greatest humiliation of my life. On my way home, I pondered how I would explain my new face art to my students in class, not to mention enquiring colleagues in the faculty lounge. Though truthful, I’m not sure how credible falling on the sidewalk sounds. It also occurred to me how thin the veneer of our civil personas can be, particularly when in an altered state of intoxicated consciousness. I was angry with myself in knowing how I would have stood up to him as a sailor in the days of my invincible youth when I survived several late night brawls with several decisive wins mixed in for fun and variety. Generally, I came out relatively unscathed from these pugilist forays when docked at various Mediterranean ports.
Now look at me, I thought, sipping on lattes with the faculty stiffs! What happened to the relapsed street fighter? Apparently I had lost some of my moxie after years of becoming outwardly genteel in the refined academic world. Obviously, I was out of my element on both these fronts tonight; neither much of a fighter nor particularly genteel.
I thought it rather sad how, in an effort to establish a secure career, my esteemed salty sea life had been eclipsed by all the stifling civility around me. Muddled reflections of my misspent youth swirled around in my mind as I lay slouched, half passed out across the backseat of the cab with my nose still bleeding. Unbeknownst to me while riding home that night, I was being readied for something most extraordinary that would forever alter my life and character.
I recognize that I'm not presenting a very flattering picture of myself, especially with regard to my conduct that evening. Hardly what you would expect from a man of letters! But I wish you to appreciate the low point from where I was to begin my spiritual ascent. Though I had to start somewhere, I could never have imagined at the time that I would soon be led towards a new dimension of awareness and reality.
Like most of us, I had my quirks, strengths, weaknesses and a variety of other charming idiosyncrasies, and I suppose I always will. But whatever my foibles, let's just say, notwithstanding my philosophy degree, I still had a lot to learn about life and relationships. As was evident with my date that night, it would never have occurred to me that what I perceived in her had everything to do with projecting my fears and insecurities upon her. It was an established pattern I wasn’t yet aware of.
Then, something very strange occurred to me that night after I collapsed on my bed and passed out; my battered body convalescing from the self-inflicted wounds and dissipations. What came to me as I slept most soundly was a most explicit dream with exquisite colours and images with a mystical twist. I suppose these may be normal for some, but not me. But more significantly, this dream had a disturbing scene at the end: a most dreadful climax without any final resolution.
I had no idea what it meant, but as I awoke in a panic, it seemed I was about to fall into an abyss. I’ve had dreams of flying before, but this one didn’t promise to be a happy flight. Now fully alert, I stumbled across the room to my computer to record my vivid impressions. Detailed scenes remained emblazoned in my psyche, feeling larger than life. Because it was so unusual, I really wanted to capture all I could as quickly as possible, even though I still had a splitting headache. I didn’t bother to turn on a light, since the sky was beginning to lighten with dawn. The more I wrote, the more came back to me with images of strange lands and people that eventually led to an excruciating but exhilarating mountain climbing adventure.
It was a most extraordinary experience. In the days and weeks ahead, I thought often of what I dreamt with new impressions still coming to me which I would add to my journal file. Over time, I sensed my life was taking on a whole new trajectory. It was subtle, but something was unfolding that would eventually alter the course of my life.
Normally, I'm not one to remember dreams too well. In fact, if I do have one, I tend to ignore it unless it involves some uninhibited young feline jumping into my bed. That doesn’t happen too often. However, on rare occasions, certain significant reoccurring dreams will stick with me much longer; some even extending back into my troubled childhood.
This time, however, I knew something profound was brewing in the subliminal spheres of my mind. Rather than fading away, it seemed to become more pronounced, to the point the impressions intruded into my thoughts throughout the day, often distracting me while I lectured. Even the common experiences of daily life had an intriguing mystical hue surrounding them; it was as though my mind was beginning to drift into some rarified domain of conscious awareness. And yet, in some ways life began to feel more purposeful than ever before. My thoughts were deeper and more meaningful, often much happier than in the past, as though I knew I was going someplace without really knowing where.
Though I didn't recognize any of the places or objects in the dream, what I saw felt like symbols and metaphors that seemed to represent various struggles I had in life. Previously unrecognized aspirations were given form and meaning, along with many sorrows and disappointments, which is what made this experience so unforgettable in the days and weeks ahead. I couldn't shake it, and so I remained puzzled by the curious impact the dream was having on me. There seemed to be so many contradicting images and messages that often made me feel both sad and hopeful at the same time.
At times, while sleeping, I would awaken enshrouded in fear, and yet whatever impending doom awaited me, would not reveal itself. On other occasions, particularly when walking along the Thames, I would receive exhilarating flashes of myself ascending a very high and challenging Mountain. Whenever this occurred, I would sit on my favourite bench in a park nearby the river and contemplate whatever was being evoked within me. It felt like a longing to experience something more meaningful than what was currently being offered to me.
Was there some hidden message in the images intended to jar me out of the mediocre existence I was bogged in? Some of the dreary scenes at the beginning reminded me of being stuck and disempowered, others spoke to me about being liberated from everything that held me back. But before I go further with how the dream proceeded, let me provide a little background to my life that may give better context to what these images may have been telling me.
As an orphan, my earliest years living in various foster homes in the Liverpool area where not very happy. Mercifully, I was finally taken in by father’s uncle who must have finally taken pity on me, or perhaps he was just concerned how I may end up tarnishing the family name. Being a retired school teacher, he possessed an appreciation for advanced learning which served me well, since I was naturally endowed with a sufficient degree of intelligence that made learning relatively easy. With his influence, my inner world opened to books of existing adventures and utopian ideals.
Later, when I later became a young adult, this background provided me an ideological basis for me to get caught up in several de rigueur liberation movements, as envisioned and espoused in the humanist writings of Voltaire, Marx and Huxley. Whatever religious moorings I had from my early childhood were tossed aside and I no longer believed in God or prayer.
But by the time I entered into undergraduate studies, I had already become disillusioned and cynical about life and the direction the world was going. I had hoped philosophy would help me find purpose on earth and what I was doing here. But later, after reading Nietzsche, Hegel, Freud, and Sartre, I fell into my own existential Weltschmerz and despaired of ever finding meaningful answers to life’s questions.
I was finally able to break this sullen spell after enrolling in my Master's graduate programme at the University of Calgary in Canada. The Philosophy department was highly recommended for its excellence, with many of its philosophers having strong ties to Britain. My two years there did much to improve my attitude towards life, as I began to develop several significant relationships, both academically and socially.
But nothing could have been better for my soul's character development than climbing the highest peaks throughout the majestic Canadian Rockies. And though I was able to further advance in my academic achievements, still none of the ultimate answers I hoped to find were forthcoming. By the time I completed my doctorate in Edinburgh, Scotland, I had resigned myself to the fact that whatever deeper meaning I was looking for would likely remain forever unknown, at least to me.
Now in my early thirties, I was growing weary and cynical towards science, religion and even philosophy. It seemed that throughout history they had all been tainted with contrivance, distortion and exploitation for power and gain. Being disillusioned, I used it as an excuse to indulge in wanton promiscuity, at least until I grew bored with the futility. These flings only reinforced the existential angst that became part of the problem. And yet, even with my frustration in finding meaning and purpose, something in me never gave up; not completely. I wanted to believe that one day I would find a way to reach higher ground, somewhere far beyond the bogs where I remained stuck. Often I would think of the words of Lao Tzu, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, but I couldn’t seem to get my feet unstuck for long enough to take that first step.
And so it was that infamous night at the pub, when I felt I had hit bottom, both literally and figuratively, this dream came to me as a flicker of light, dimly shining through the cracks of my broken life. A line in Leonard Cohen's lyrics from Anthem speaks of how the light enters through the crack. And Rumi, the Sufi Persian poet, made a similar observation centuries ago: the wound is the place where the Light enters.
For me, I first became aware of this light when the dream shone upon my soul that night. What I first heard and saw in my dream became indelibly imprinted in my psyche, never to leave me. In fact, it was more than just a dream; it was an extraordinary premonition that would soon lead me to several more cracks and wounds that were almost fatal.
Interestingly, during the beginning stages, there was a commentator guiding me through certain images, events and peculiar landscapes I was observing in my sleeping consciousness. I didn’t understand it at the time, but still I could feel this was my story. I thought it most peculiar that someone from another dimension would presume to speak to me about me and my life. Mysteriously, the sonorous voice seemed to emanate from far beyond: a place it identified as being on top of a Mountain far above the clouds. Perhaps Zeus had deigned to answer me after all.
Wherever the voice came from, it spoke with uncompromised authority. I was disturbed at first by how imposing it seemed while enjoining me to accept a new calling for my life. Was this some fate to which I was being beckoned? I wasn’t sure what to think. At first it seemed a distant echo: ‘James, prepare to leave your world.’ I half awoke, startled by the abrupt words. Was I about to die? Then I fell back, this time into a very deep sleep before the voice returned, becoming clearer and more personal than before.
“Listen to us; we speak to you from a high plane on a Summit where you have often unawares sought to join us. From our lofty ridge, we view your life in the lands far below. We may appear very far away but we are very near; we dwell here even while we dwell within your mind to which we now speak, for we are all of one Mind.
“As we survey the wonderful vistas beyond us, we regret those who have no wish to leave the Lowlands below to discover the wonders of what lies beyond. Though you still remain unaware of who you are and where you're going, we can tell you the Lowlands is no longer your home; you belong here with us because you are of us. The people you dwell among have compromised you with their perspectives and opinions; believing their forlorn reality is the only reality.
“They say you live and then you die, then your body’s elements return to the muddy ruts out of which you arose, and so that's how things are. That, however, is not how things are. Perhaps one day you may tell them the story we are about to tell you now. But you can only speak to those who, like you, imagine the existence of a Mountain in the far distance where we wait. Others will neither see nor hear; they have already decided what is real, though what they look upon is not real at all.
“In your sleeping consciousness you have oft heard our faint voice before and questioned whether it came to you from afar or if it was only of your mind. It matters not, the message is one and there is no separation. You sometimes long to join us here on vistas to discover new mysterious realms on our side. We speak to you now because you are ready to be answered, just as all are answered who are willing to open their eyes to see what others cannot and will not see.
“As we stand high on this Mountain ridge with you in our sights, we ask that you put aside all thoughts of how you think this may be and try to understand what we have to say. When you come to discover the wondrous sights that lie far beyond the Lowlands’ foggy images, you will know. You may not understand, for you have never been told, but we are telling you now. Your perceptions were formed in the Lowlands, a chimera you chose to believe and live in.
“Ask yourself why you cannot see this Mountain on which we stand. Is it real? What if it is more real than all you consider to be real? Tell us if you are able, what is real? What makes it real, and how can you tell if it actually is? You need not answer us, but consider these questions as we invite you to join us for a season to enter into true knowledge and understanding, not as your world understands. No, we have something more significant in mind for you. But this will remain your choice: to join with us or forever remain in the Lowlands.
“We didn't make our dwelling on this ridge overlooking your world when we entered this threshold between the old and new worlds. But it’s a special place where you can join us for a spell to discover new vistas of existence before you return. Since we departed your plane below, we have only begun our journey into the infinite landscapes of wondrous splendors. It will always seem we are only beginning to move further up and further in.
“We now understand that there is no end to the ineffable splendour and indescribable dimensions of un-experienced experiences. You have long considering this quest, and so we call out to you now to join us where your soul longs to be; a domain you have long forgotten. Then one day, you too may reveal to your weary world something of the resplendence you have seen, heard and touched.
“Often you unwittingly gazed off into the distance towards the misty and mysterious peaks. There are others who dwell in the Lowland domains who sometimes share your vision, but few wish to give much attention to what lies beyond. But you did. As you gazed longingly in our direction towards heights unseen and unknown, you yearned to know what lies beyond the marshy planes of Lowlands.
“Then, ever more frequently, you began to dream shadowy dreams with strange images and strange voices calling to you. But to where? You didn't know, but it felt right because it came from beyond. Maybe, you thought, one day you would be shown a way that would lead you far from the stifling Lowlands.
“As your unconscious dreams and visions continued to ebb and flow over the years, they seemed to drift and meander without any specific meaning. At first the dreams were just subliminal impressions, but then they slowly congealed into something more; a curious knowingness, an inner gnosis reminding you of something. Perhaps it was of you and what you were to become!
“Within the deepest recesses of your ancestral memories, something seemed to speak softly to you, saying you have not been abandoned, you belong to a reality much larger than the Lowlands. You hadn't heard this voice since you were a child. After your years of innocence, you forgot who you were and why you came to this world! But now you’ve recently became aware of something calling out to you. And so you wonder if you should leave the Lowlands to seek higher ground towards a Mountain you don’t recognize, yet longingly envision when your mind becomes quieted.
“At such times you drifted towards deep mysteries more wonderful and more majestic than you had ever known. But they also confused you. Such hallowed stirrings are contrary to everything you had experienced, just as they are contrary to what the brooding muck-raking inhabitants of the Lowlands understood or wanted to understand! Whatever these inklings may or may not be, you thought it would be best to remain silent. Such frivolous speculation is not well tolerated in the Lowlands, and so you spoke nary a word.
“As time passed, the calling didn't go away and you continued to nourish the hope engendered in your soul until it became an exciting presentiment of what could be. You began to muse that one day you would take the risk and leave the Lowlands, where all was safe and secure, and venture beyond. Whatever was calling you was something much greater than what could be known in the Lowlands.
“And so you grew restless as the amorphous fog hovered in the air where no one could get excited about anything other than their own predictable affairs. With no firm convictions, the air stagnated into thick swamp gases of debilitating apathy. In the mist, you found there was no vision or clarity of thought, and so nothing had purpose or meaning because nothing mattered. Perhaps it was the Lowlands’ somniferous aether, but it didn't seem necessary or even advisable for one to think their own thoughts, since that may disturb their slumber. And so it was considered best not to stir things too much.
“Making one’s way along the boggy base was soft and easy. The ruts required little effort to meander through and there was never any concern about where one was going. Eventually all came back to where they started. For what purpose they continued to wander they weren't sure, but it didn't seem to matter. It was what everyone did. The deepest ruts were always the shortest and easiest routes to get to wherever they were going. With so many treading the same way, certain ruts kept wearing down deeper and deeper, making it increasingly difficult to climb out. Not that you would want to. What would be the point? So life's path was predetermined; the very notion of exercising free will was a fanciful illusion.
“They liked to be told what to do by those who didn’t know anything other than what had always been done. Thinking they had no choice made things seem easier and more secure, greatly preferred to the uncertainties and responsibilities choosing their own path. There wasn’t much worth striving for or to be concerned about. But neither was there anything to become inspired over; they already had enough meaningless amusements to occupy themselves throughout their meaningless existences.
“However things would change when the rain continued to pour for long periods. The soft ground would soon become very sticky, and one could easily perish if caught in a rut. It was especially easy to sink down when the misty drizzle persisted for days on end. But you knew all about being stuck, and it wasn't a great feeling.
“As you reflected on all this, it became increasingly obvious that there had to be more to life than this ennui you endured. At some point you felt you could no longer ignore the call from beyond, yet you remained tentative and unsure where to go since you were unable to see anything past the Lowlands’ veil of mist. You had always been told that there was nothing beyond the mist that could be seen or known.
“And yet, as you learned to focus your eyes on what may lie beyond, you caught vague images and shifting shapes of a Mountain you were not yet certain of. But as you increasingly gave more attention to it, you wondered if there really was a higher domain that beckoned you, or was your imagination deceiving you into believing in something that didn’t exist? You didn't know for certain where to go, but a time came when you realized you must leave in search of it.
“No one would see you leaving behind the mud, sludge, drudge and all that felt familiar and safe to you. You didn’t know what direction you should go, but you followed the mysterious images contained in your unconscious longings. You trusted the inward call would lead you to a higher land. This hope, though still vague and undefined, became irresistible. And so, late one evening you stole away into the darkness.”
And with that, the oratory faded into the distance. I heard no more of the enchanting narration and yet my dream continuing to proceed as I saw myself embarking on a journey out of this land the voice had called the Lowlands. Lucid images continued to be impressed upon my mind throughout this improbable, but epic trek, into the unknown.
I remember feeling it was days, or perhaps years, of wandering aimlessly through the Lowlands’ boggy marshes. But then, gradually, much to my amazement, I sensed a slow and gentle rise under my feet as my leg muscles began to slightly constrict from the incline’s strain. This was rather peculiar to me, since flatness was all that I had known in the Lowlands. Yet here I was, inwardly compelled, ever upward to a region I had never gone. It seemed an unknown universe.
Though the fog obstructed my vision for a time, I forged on ahead, believing I was on the right path to wherever I was destined to go. I remembered thinking how the Lowlands didn't approve of adventures such as this, and so few strayed very far away from where they felt safe. As my austere hovel in the Lowlands retreated further into the forgettable past, I sensed a delectable tingle of rebellion within me.
Yes, I was finally becoming my own man! No matter what I might encounter, life or death, I would live life as a lion for a day rather than a hundred years as a sheep. I swaggered onward and upward with a touch of disdain towards their smug mediocrity and complacency. Though the Lowlands’ inhabitants would always remain insular, I had left their fold. Look at me I thought, I'm no longer a sheep: I'm a lion. Yes, the lion has left and he's not coming back!
As I continued upward, I noticed the ground becoming increasingly firmer and more certain. This was the higher ground I had so long envisioned far beyond the marshes below. I could see the landscape changing and the scenery becoming more interesting the higher I ascended, and yet the journey wasn’t becoming any easier. My weary lungs began to labour as a result of the challenging upward thrusts of the slopes.
No, it wasn’t easy, but it was exhilarating! Though I wasn’t accustomed to these gravitational stresses, my body was feeling vibrantly alive as my muscles continued to strengthen. My determination extended to every molecule in my body's cells as I surged forward with sprints of coagulated energy, stoked by the challenges that awaited me around each corner and over every precipice.
What vision was driving me to ascend further up and further in, I really didn’t know. But it felt as though it was coming from somewhere deeper than just my mind. Though I still remained unclear where this journey might lead, I was now convinced this was the Mountain I had envisioned through my hovel’s window.
There would be no going back to the soft bogs. My footing had become secure on the granite which provided even greater contrast to the marshes below. With each step forward and upward, I seemed to acquire new confidence and purpose, certain I could overcome whatever obstacles might lay ahead. Though the terrain was strange and difficult, I confronted my fears as I scaled steep vertical escarpments, balancing precariously on the narrow ridges and leaping over deep fissures and glacial crevices.
I told myself over and over there had to be a Summit at the top where I could view new vistas of the other side. Then, at last, I would know for certain there was more to life than just languishing in the Lowlands. Although I realized I didn’t know what awaited me, I felt in my gut there was something extraordinary further up here for me.
At times, as I continued to plod along while becoming increasingly fatigued, it seemed there would be no end. Then to my amazement, one day I emerged out of the clouds and into the bright blue sky above me. I could clearly see the sun's full orb as it shone warmly on my face, unfiltered by the gloomy clouds that perpetually shielded the Lowlands below. I can scarcely express how excited I was in discovering how things were here in this new bright reality.
At first it seemed rather disorienting to observe the clouds swirling down below, rather than above me. It was a new way of seeing things, but it was also a vision of how life could be different for me. As I journeyed onward, something inexplicable was drawing me further upward, while a complementary force seemed to be pushing me from behind. What strange magic this Mountain seemed to possess assisting me along my way.
Though I felt a heightened state of awareness in the brightness, the way upward was becoming more confusing as I encountered sheer vertical rock walls and deep crevices that seemed impossible to traverse at times. Often I was forced to retreat to lower altitudes in order to find new passages I hoped would open a way to the Summit.
At times my body would grow cold, weak and weary as it shivered through the dark night. I was uncertain whether it may be the glaciers nearby or my fears that caused me to shiver the most. Sometimes, when I felt the most vulnerable on the side of a cliff, a huge condor would swoop down towards me with a chilling hiss like that of a prehistoric archaeopteryx. To make things worse, my provisions were becoming depleted, leaving me with little more than the clear Mountain air and splashes of fresh water trickling down the glistening cliffs.
Yet I continued to claw my way up these smooth slabs of eroded rock. Sometimes I would think about what the Lowlanders would say if they knew I was attempting to ascend high above them. Likely they would never understand why I would want to do that; then, they would consider me to be quite insane for not remaining where things always remained flat and easy. And with their stilled, stale air, there were no lashing winds of sleet and rain to endure.
Admittedly, there were times I wondered if I had lost my way, causing me to pine for the safety of the old hovel I had left behind. Indeed, it can be disheartening to struggle towards a destination you can’t see, especially when attempting to climb up the loose scree on the steeper slopes, only to slide backward again.
At such times I would question why I was putting myself through this; forever toiling upwards like Prometheus. In these moments of doubt, imagining what everyone in the Lowlands might think, it became difficult for me to remain resolute. Likely they would say it was just a foolish search for an illusionary, make-believe Mountain. I tried to maintain an attitude of what do they know? But in actuality, I wasn’t so sure what anyone knew about anything, including me.
After some time, the journey began to take its toll on my resolve. I even found myself struggling to justify my decision to answer this call. The existence of a Summit seemed more delusional than real at times. What would I have to show for all my efforts other than scraped, bleeding knuckles, twisted ankles, blistered feet and a sun-scorched body? In the depths of these dark and despairing nights, I would hunker down into a narrow fissure to escape the wicked blast of frigid winds. Though the odds seemed against me, I still tried to find inspiration in remembering the vision that drew me inward and upward.
But in these times of fear and adversity, the vision would fade from my mind, becoming elusive and even seemingly ridiculous. Conflicted, I felt the torment of self-doubt picking at my heart like the vultures I imagined hovering over me. When the storms rolled in and pelted me with sleet, I thought I heard voices scorning and taunting me to return to the Lowlands’ safe and secure mediocrity.
Though life in the Lowlands can be awfully boring, with everything so simple and predictable, at least no effort is required to survive. Even when it drizzled in the Lowlands, the slimy mud still has the advantage of keeping everyone very grounded, preventing them from wandering off on rash adventures. And yet, I thought how safe things must be in the Lowlands right now, and how unsafe I was.
Admittedly, there are a few hazardous patches of quicksand on the periphery where the odd dweller wanders and sinks out of sight. But all in all, if you don’t stray too far from the ruts near the safety of your hovel, you will most certainly be secure. Although security is really important to the Lowlanders, most, if they were to admit it, don't actually feel very safe since there’s always an underlying fear of vulnerability, especially towards others they consider different. Many suspect there are raiders and predators lurking somewhere in the distant hills, and so it's important they keep their doors bolted.
The more I reflected on my past life in the Lowlands, even while lonely and disheartened, the more I realized I couldn’t go back. For one thing, it would be very difficult for me to lower myself down the precipices without incurring a fatal fall. Letting yourself down each ridge, trying to find secure footing, as you dangle above the next ledge below, is a lot harder and more dangerous than pulling your body up to the next ledge. And even if I should make it all the way down, I would have to explain where I went and why I left in the first place.
Likely I’d never be accepted in their fold again after deserting them. The scoffers would never believe me if I told them what I had seen and experienced. I could already hear them: ‘something wobbles in that young man's brain; he's not like the rest of us, thinks strange thoughts and imagines things that aren't there; best not to have anything to do with him.’ To hell with them, I thought, as I continued upwards without trails, guides or companions to show me the way. I only knew it was going to continue to be up the whole way; never soft and never flat.
When the sun was shining overhead, I was most confident that if I persisted, I would find a Summit somewhere up there. And if there was a Summit, there would be a world vista I could never have experienced in the Lowlands. At least I still wanted to believe that when I got to the top, I would find something there that would forever change my life: what I longed for, yet couldn’t even imagine.
Having endured several dark nights of the soul in the most difficult terrain imaginable, I felt again the clarion call that had drawn me away from the Lowlands. With my doubts and fears mostly below and behind me now, I felt ready to meet whatever fate may await me when I reached the Summit.
Upon the dawning of what would be the last day of my long arduous ascent, I slung on my backpack and continued along the narrow ledge, trying not to glance over the steep cliffs. I took one careful step at a time as I clutched the jagged sides, fearing the dark void beneath. After a great deal of exertion, I struggled towards a very steep and difficult crag, where I found a clearing on a wide ridge that had patches of grass and moss. I found a soft area to relax and soak in the sun's warm rejuvenating rays. After all the recent discomfort and inner turmoil, I fell into a deep and peaceful slumber. When I finally awoke, my mind and body felt considerably refreshed; my way to the Summit was more promising than ever.
As I rose to me feet, I stood there, noticing how expansive the views had become and how clear everything seemed compared to the Lowlands. I wondered if the dark clouds that constantly covered the Lowlands were actually projections of their brooding thoughts, casting a veil over the land. Having lived there for so long, I wasn’t sure. But as I thought about it more, I began to suspect the Lowlanders had consciously, or unconsciously, drawn the dark clouds to themselves, dimming and obscuring the vision of whatever may exist beyond.
And yet, whether they were aware of it or not, this Mountain existed, not just for me, but for all who’ve ventured forward to find it. From now on, whatever the Lowlanders might say, would no long matter to me; I had now come too far. Leave the past behind where it belongs, I thought, and look forward to where you’re going, not where you’ve been.
As I continued to survey the vastness of all that was before me. I felt a strange new urge pulsating within me, as though being beckoned upwards without any further delay. This was destiny calling me, so in haste, I grabbed my backpack and slung it over my shoulders, half stumbling towards the escarpment.
By the time the sun was lowering, I had scaled most of the way up. It was then the realization suddenly hit me like a boulder catapulting down from the ridge above. Yes, this was it, just over the next ridge. I could see it, not much distance remained to reach the summit. The long, weary ascent was almost over! As I pulled myself to the top of a plateau ledge, I wanted to jump up in celebration, but my leg muscles were too strained and fatigued from this last frantic scramble. So instead I staggered up to my feet and stood there in awe of my impossible feat. I was almost there now! I raised my right arm in victory, fist clenched.
But then, as I looked upward towards the summit, I thought I saw something moving – far off at the pinnacle of the Summit ridge’s eastern end. I dropped my arm. Hardly discernible at first, it moved closer to the edge, becoming clearer and brighter. Yet I had no idea what this was, except it seemed to be a shining orb of shimmering light. Curiously, the longer I focused on it, the brighter it seemed to glow. Then I saw two, now three more orbs; it was difficult to tell what was going on, since they kept shifting about. Suddenly they disappeared! Most peculiar, I thought – and most startling!
I moved forward slowly, with my eyes still fixed on the summit ridge. The euphoria I felt minutes ago was now displaced by whatever was spooking me up there. I felt my heart beating even harder than when I scaled up this last ridge. Then came an eerie premonition that something extraordinary was about to happen; possibly an encounter with something unknown, whatever that might be. How strange that at this moment of triumph, my gut was being twisted into knots. Possibly, this was delirium setting in from the high altitude – was I losing my mind from oxygen deprivation? Or were the Mountain gods not pleased with my intrusion into their sacred domain, sending their flaming chariots to hold me at bay?
I knew something was about to happen, I just didn’t know what. I could sense a disturbing presence – seemingly not of this world. And it wants me! Oh God, I thought, I’m not only delusional, but paranoid. Whether something was out there to get me or not, I could feel the air charged with electrified ions. It was like when a flash of lightning is about to hit the earth, except there were no storm clouds in the sky. So was Zeus about to strike me down?
In spite of these unnerving premonitions of doom, I burst forward to meet the adversary, if that’s what it was. Perhaps it was reflexive, but that's how I deal with fear: head on! I’ve always despised cowards and so always do the opposite of what I think they might do. Or was this more about being a moth drawn towards the light of the candle, only to be consumed by its flame? Lurching now towards the summit with all my might, at times faltering, I clambered up the next crag, as though attacking this final precipice.
I was most of the way to the top, when my legs wouldn’t carry me any further. As I stood hunched over, gasping for air, I sensed I was being watched. Then, as I looked up towards the summit again, I saw the orbs hovering about on top. At the same time, some forced seemed to be impinging on my brain, as though something was attempting to get through to me. Next, I heard something, but I didn’t know what if may have been.
I told myself I was only imagining voices from the winds sweeping over the summit. And those throbbing lights – probably the sun's reflection off something. But off what? It couldn’t be from the landscape of shrubs and boulders. Nothing natural could have that brilliance and then just vaporize in the air. Whatever it was; continued to flit about like fireflies at night, even though it was still daylight. Aliens!?
At this point, I knew there was no way out if they wanted to take me. With my body now overwhelmed with exhaustion, I didn’t know what to do – stay here, continue upward, or attempt to lower my way down the precipice – then run like hell all the way back to Santiago from where I came.
But no; I couldn’t just slink away. I’d rather die. I had to continue forward! Was I being mesmerized by subliminal trance inducing waves emanating out of the orbs, something like the hapless Eloi who would passively stroll into the caves and clutches of the cannibalistic Morlocks? Whether it was an irrepressible impulse or not, I forced myself to proceed further until I found I couldn't go any further. I was at an impasse. On the right was a very large chasm, perhaps the result of a giant earthquake or some cataclysmic overthrust from a million years ago. On the left I couldn’t proceed upwards to the Summit because the vertical rock was too smooth and sheer to grasp.
Bloody hell, I thought! Earlier in the day I was deciding how best to precede upward since it appeared there were only two alternatives. Unfortunately, I chose a trajectory that brought me to this chasm. Had I taken the longer route to the right, I may have spiraled around to the other side to reach the summit. It may have been much easier, although my aerial photo showed evidence of a very steep glacier which may have been very difficult to traverse without ice picks. If I were to retreat all the way down to the ravine below, in search of a less precarious approach, it could easily take another half a day to recover this altitude.
I found the chasm’s walls to be steep and unforgiving, but it appeared there may be enough of a ledge to make it across to the other side. It would be risky though – very risky! Once across, however, I could do a few switchbacks and then scramble to the top. It wouldn't take long; then I would be able to confront whatever was waiting for me up there.
I looked down the deep abyss. It was dizzying. Attrition over eons of time had created a formidable canyon that I hadn’t anticipated from the angle I approached the summit. No person in their right mind would attempt crossing this without proper equipment. It would be insane. So I took a few deep breaths, relaxed my muscles, and offered a quick Hail Mary in case there was a Mary out there listening.
I took the first few steps by leaning inward to the rock face while using my hands to help secure my balance. It seemed I would be able to make it across – provided the footing held. Then after about a dozen steps across, my knees began to tremble as I realized I had gone too far; the ledge was now too narrow for me to turn around. You`re committed now, James, I thought. You've no choice; it's either do or die.
Though looking down was something I preferred not to do, I couldn`t help but gape into the dark chasm below as I continued to carefully position my feet one step at a time. I thought of what Nietzsche once said, when you stare into the abyss the abyss stared back at you. Indeed it was staring – most terrifyingly so. This would be a very, very nasty drop: a very long way down with nothing to break my body's descent until near the bottom. A fall would almost certainly be fatal.
‘Oh God,’ I breathed out frantically, ‘what have I got myself into?’ With still about another twenty feet to go, things weren’t looking good. There was no fissure close enough for me to wedge an anchor to rappel out. Even th en, my rope wasn’t nearly long enough to swing far enough off to the chasm’s side to find ground. At this point, it was difficult to determine how thick the protruding ledge was and whether it would be sufficient to hold me. If only I was able to offset some of my weight by finding something to grasp, even a tuft of grass. But there was nothing to cling to. Again, I tried to turn around, but couldn't. Why didn't I notice how treacherous this would be before I started to cross over? Probably because I was afraid and too impulsive to make a rational choice! But here I was.
Though I wasn’t a believer, out of nowhere in my mind, came the words, Father into thy hands I commit my spirit.
I too must commit, I thought, there’s no other choice. As I stepped forward and placed my foot down, I thought, careful James, this could be your final… And so the dream ended. …but was it just a dream?
 Likely the most famous example of an allegorical story in the English language is John Bunyan’s 1678 classic Pilgrim’s Progress.
 From The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
 Weltschmerz is a loaded German term often found and elucidated in the works of Herman Hess, Heinrich Hein and several other literary luminaries exploring man’s pervasive condition. The word conveys a meaning of world weariness associated with anxiety, pain and existential despair.
 A number of well-known philosophers such as Anthony Flew, Kai Nielsen, C.B Martin and Terrence Penelhum were part of the faculty at one time.
 You will find the lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s copyrighted lines of Anthem on the web.
 An old Italian proverb
 Dark Night of the Soul, is the title to a poem by Spanish mystic Saint John of the Cross (1542 1591)
 In reference to H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel, The Time Machine (1895) and the 1960 film version of the Eloi falling into sound induced trances that caused them to saunter into the dark tunnels of the brutish Morlocks to meet their fateful demise.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, Beyond Good and Evil, 1886
 The words attributed to Jesus as he died on the cross, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke; 23:46 (NIV)