A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Mad, Mystic Moments

Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail/The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder/That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze/Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder Chimes Of Freedom BOB DYLAN

I've just returned from 5 days' camping and walking in the Lake District. Except for a damp and drizzly Tuesday, the weather was hot and sunny all week - though rather hazy for good photographs. It certainly wasn't a repeat of the thunder, lightning and hailstones of my recent Welsh trip - though the Dylan lines quoted above are more relevant than you might at first think. For I did experience some of those mad, mystic moments which ambush you just when you're least expecting it. I had one here (1st pic, a footbridge in Wasdale) and here (2nd pic, Great Gable from Wasdale) and here (3rd pic, water lilies on Muncaster Tarn).

I can't really describe adequately these moments. I'll leave that to the otherworldly poets, the spiritual gurus and the mystical writers. But they come at you without warning, disarm you, take you completely by surprise. They soften you, melt you, slay you. And then they're gone as quickly as the sun ducking behind cloud. They're evanescent.

Colin Mortlock in his book Beyond Adventure (Cicerone, 2001) relates one such mystical encounter (specifically with a raven on a Lakeland fell), and he generalizes thus about the defining characteristics of these spiritual flashes:

There was always the sense that I was experiencing something I could never really understand let alone explain.

They were unexpected and unpredictable. I would suggest therefore that trying to seek them would be counter-productive. I had hoped in my older and wiser years that my long, solo wilderness journeys would increase the likelihood of their happening, but I knew I could never make them happen. They were beyond control and more elusive than rainbows.

They were timeless. The ego or unconscious self was suspended; thinking was suspended. In terms of feelings - and words are inadequate here - individuality was replaced by a merging of performer and action, observer and observed, person and place.

They were immeasurable, and yet I felt they were of elemental importance in any quest for happiness.

The beauty of the experience was awe inspiring and unforgettable.

They could happen anywhere. They might be expected to occur at places of worship, gardens and in the presence of artefact and architecture which intensely affect the emotions. Inevitably, because of my own enthusiasm for adventure and wilderness, I could see the latter as the major environment for such experiences, and especially when alone. It is possible that being aware that such experiences exist, spending time away from other people, and developing a natural skill and a sense of place may help to create an atmosphere where they occur.

I could have sworn I met Colin Mortlock half-way up Sca Fell on Thursday morning. If not, he was a dead ringer for the guy in the photo on the back cover of his book.


Dominic Rivron said...

These moments may be "unexpected and unpredictable" but I'm convinced certain places are more likely to provoke these magical feelings than others. Last time I was walking in the Lakes I came across a pool that so transfixed me that I stopped and sat for some time. The people behind me caught me up. I said how amazing I thought it was. They told me it was Innominate Tarn,a favourite of Wainwright's - so much so that his ashes were scattered there. (This sort of experience highlights the advantage of not reading about places before you walk in them!)
Closer to home, there is a spot a hundred yards or so from our house, up the lane.
I remember hearing there was a word in Islam meaning something like "a place on which the face of God shines" - but I may have remembered this wrong. It could be applied to sites such as Iona, Stonehenge, etc.
I'm sure there's a good quote from WH Murray on the subject (probably several) - but I've just lent Mountaineering in Scotland to a mate. (Lending favourite books is always tempting - and foolhardy).

The Solitary Walker said...

I was on Haystacks myself in the spring of last year and sat for a while at that exact spot by Innominate Tarn. Very popular now, though, there were hordes of people up there. And why not - it's such an interesting summit, with all kinds of nooks and crannies.

I'm afraid one of the rules of life is: if you lend books or CDs you NEVER get them back.