“I lift up my eyes to the hills
from where is my help to come…” Psalm 121
For flatlanders the hills have always been holy places of mystery. There is a pantheon of famous peaks hosting a panoply of gods, beginning with Mt. Othrys in Greece which was home to the Titans as they warred against the gods of Mt. Olympus. Mt. Ida in Crete was home to Rhea, the mother of all gods. Remote Mt. Athos is where Jesus’ mother was reported to have landed and which later became a fortress monastery. No list would be complete without Mt. Sinai and Moses receiving the commandments. But there is also Mt. Machapuchere in Nepal, Mt. Koya-san in Japan, and of course, Mt. Fuji itself. No fewer than five religions view Mt. Kallash in Tibet as sacred, and Mt. Meru is where Brahma hangs out. Mt. Hira is honored as the place where Mohammad received his first revelation.
I am a flatlander from way back. Born and raised in Indiana in a part of the state that is flat on flat, and we thought a mound was a mountain to climb. It makes perfect sense to me that mountains and high places have been seen as sacred and suitable hang outs for the divine. Whether standing below and looking up or on top and looking out, there is something about high places that whisper we are not alone.
This came back to me recently when spending a weekend in Pennsylvania near Bald Eagle Mountain in the Appalachian range. Layers of quartzite, shale, and sandstone covered with aspen, abundant maple, elm, and locust surrounded the narrow pass in which our rented house was nestled. Sitting on the ample front porch it was impossible not to look up at the steeply rising hill on the other side of the grassy plain. The fact it was autumn at high color made it even more captivating. Even so, I believe in the middle of winter with naked trees revealing the brown carpet of death below them, my eyes would still be pulled upward. “I lift my eyes to the hills…” the psalmist whispered.
According to Neuro Linguistic Programming, when we are looking up we are engaging the imagination or reaching for a visual memory. In other words, we are ”seeing,” not what is immediately present in our view but what we imagine or remember. Looking up opens our mind. We know this intuitively and from experience, even if we haven’t quite put our finger on why we like high places so much. The reports and writings of prophets and mystics often have them retreating to high places to be alone and pray or meditate – an obvious choice when the desire is to become more open and the recipient of wisdom and revelation.
Looking ahead in an unfocused way, as we might while allowing our gaze to sweep across a wide body of water like Seneca lake, is comparable to looking up according to neuro-linguistic studies. Sitting and staring out on the lake is doing a similar thing to wandering up the side of a mountain or looking out from the summit: opening the mind to let in the imagination and release visual memories. Ah, what a good time of year for gazing.