I would like to tell you of something that happened to me this week that has given me immense pleasure. I don't know that it has got much to do with AIDS Competence, but never mind.

During the week a friend fowarded an e-mail from one of her friends about a review of a book called 'The Living Mountain' by a woman called Nan Shepherd. It was a reprint of a book that had been out of print for a long time. The book is about the Cairngorm Mountains in the north of Scotland and as my friend knew that I love these mountains deeply she thought I might be interested. I was indeed.

More than 30 years ago as a young man I went to work in the north of Scotland for 4 years. And during those 4 years I had the opportunity to get to know these mountains in all their moods. And in the middle of these 4 years, the very thin volume called 'The Living Mountain' was published. And it was completely different from any other book I had come across about mountains. Most people who like mountains like to go to this peak or on this route. But Nan Shepherd wasn't interested in going to places, she was interested in BEING in places. And that was exactly how I felt and somehow she gave me permission to think like that. So over those years, I went to the places she described and I learned to love the book. And then I left Scotland and the Cairngorms and over time the book faded from my mind. I always came back to the Cairngorms and I still do, but I never returned to the book.

So when I got the e-mail I searched frantically for my old version of the book. And no, I couldn't find it. I was sad, but such is life. And then a couple of evenings later I was reading in bed, and I could see exactly where I would find that book. Up I jumped out of bed and there it was and all the memories came flooding back. Wonderful.

Well, ok, you might say. That's nice. But over the last few days something more interesting has become clear to me. When I read Nan Shepherd's thoughts, it's as if she is describing how I see the world TODAY. Could the reading I had done 30 years ago really have had such a profound influence on my thinking 30 years' later? I really don't know, but there are so many things that she discusses that I had thought had appeared in my life only recently. But this experience has been an exquisite pleasure. I am prepared to explore the idea that this slim volume of 95 pages laid down many of the lines of thinking that I've followed over the next 30 years.

I would like to finish with two paragraphs from the book that I find beautiful.

"And so my journey into an experience began. It was a journey always for fun but with no motive beyond that I wanted it.... But as I grew older, I began to discover the mountain in itself. Everything became good to me, its contours, its colours, its waters and rock, flowers and birds. This process has taken many years, and is not yet complete. Knowing another is endless. And I have discovered that man's experience of them enlarges rock, flower and bird. The thing to be known grows with the knowing."

"I believe that I now understand in some small measure why the Buddhist goes on a pilgrimage to a mountain. The journey is itself part of the technique by which the God is sought. It is a journey into Being; for as I penetrate more deeply into the mountain's life, I penetrate also into my own. For an hour I am beyond desire. It is not ecstasy, that leap out of the self that makes man like a God. I am not out of myself, but in myself. I am. To know Being, this is the final grace accorded from the mountain."

So to those of you I have had had the pleasure to meet and to learn from during the year AND to those of you that I have still yet to have the pleasure of meeting please consider these thoughts as a small gift.


(If you would like to see the review of The Living Mountain here it is:


and if you would like to see some photographs of the Cairngorms from my walking there this year try this link


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Comment by Jean-Louis Lamboray on December 22, 2008 at 9:10pm
"The thing to be known grows with the knowing"
Isn't that one of the connections with aidscompetence? The more we get to know communities, the more they grow...
Many thanks for your posting, Phil;
What greater Christmas gift is there than sharing emotion and insight?
Merry Christmas to you


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