We need mountaintop experiences. We need to be in a place where our view of things is different, a shift in perspective, where the air is crisp, the wind is strong, and we are exhilarated. We need to see the scale of our life in that moment, independent of life’s busyness, giving perspective on the impact of our efforts and problems. Being at the summit is a gift. We stand there, slowly rotate 360 degrees to see pure beauty, and think – wow, I just climbed a mountain.
Scaling a mountain is intentional; it is not a walk in the park. Most of life is spent on the lower slopes and in the valleys. It’s not that these physical or emotional places are deficient. They just don’t have the intensity of the mountaintop. People can pretend to commit to getting to the summit. However, people cannot pretend to do the work necessary to achieve that success. For those that want to just drift along, there’s a problem: we can’t drift our way to the top of the mountain.
The peak can look insurmountable, the attempt can even feel a bit irrational. It will be physically and mentally exhausting. That is what makes the top so special, any roadblock or struggle we have along the way, will fade and make room for a deep sense of accomplishment. The best view comes after the hardest climb.
Setting the physicality and intensity aside, ascending to the top of a mountain is not rocket science. Most everyone is capable of it. In essence it is simply taking one good step, then another, repeatedly. We must prepare – have the right equipment, the proper fitness level, allocate the right amount of time, and remain pointed upward with forward motion. These are all things we can control.
We can compare the mountaintop to many things – getting married, graduating from college, a successful weight loss program, a successful business year, writing a book, running a marathon, almost anything that takes effort to achieve. The mountain top is a point when we experience accomplishment. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” – T.S. Eliot
In my character coach role, I advocate for my high school athletes to be climbers, not campers. Climbers work to get to new heights; to fully experience the mountain top and the view. Base campers also work, just with less risk and rarely have that exhilarating experience. Most leaders are looking for climbers, people who have goals, people who understand there’s risk involved and potential failure. Base campers never see the top of anything and never learn their true capacity by staying where they are.
Having a daughter who lives in Colorado has given me the opportunity to scale some summits and breathe in fresh crisp air with a slight level of sweat, tired muscles, and an expanded consciousness. I have seen the view from the top, above the treetops, and it is better than the view halfway up and considerably better than at the base looking up.
Mountains have a magnetic allure for many people. They are the highest places we can get to on the surface of the earth. Ascending a mountain is a symbolic act, and one that ties closely to being closer to the sky and escaping the commonplace ‘surface.’ There’s also a sense of wonder with “on top of the world” feelings of pleasure and elation.
I am not a big fan of the expression “It’s lonely at the top.” I doubt a true leader ever said it. A real leader has people who join in the effort to reach the top. People that would have our backs and encourage, cheer, and laugh with – and at – us, make the trek enjoyable, the mountaintop attainable, and the success satisfying.
Martin Luther King was an expert at using metaphors in his speeches. On April 3, 1968, he gave his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. This was considered one of his most powerful and relevant metaphors. It revealed King’s hope for the nation to become the promised land and balanced seeing the nation not just by its problems, but by its potential. The metaphor also placed King as a Moses type figure.
Mountains have been significant from ancient beliefs of a three-tiered universe, in which God resided in heaven above the sky. Therefore, a mountaintop brought human closer in proximity to God. God dealt with His people on various “mountain-tops”. Mount Sinai is where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Jesus had several significant experiences and lessons in His mountaintop moments. He appointed the 12 disciples, delivered the Beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount, resisted Satan’s temptation, conducted healings, spent his final moments, commissioned the Apostles before his ascension, and perhaps the most significant, the Transfiguration of Jesus appearing with Moses and Elijah, who themselves had encountered God on the mountaintop.
Mountaintop moments can serve a purpose much greater than just for the individual. When Moses was on the mountain, he received the Law for the people. The experience wasn’t for Moses. God had others in mind. Jesus had others in mind then too. Peter, James, and John didn’t stay on the mountain. They went right back down into the valley with the ministry and message of hope, of the coming of the Kingdom. In fact, Jesus didn’t even let them linger in the mountaintop moment.
I still have mountaintop experiences ahead of me, physically, metaphorically, and spiritually. I believe that my journey, or pilgrimage, through life, will continue to lead me upwards to the summit. I am blessed to have people with me to make the climb enjoyable, the mountaintop attainable, and the experience purposeful.