Mountains and Valleys


I love the spiritual mountaintop experience. There is nothing like feeling smack dab in the middle of the universal flow of rightness; smooth, buoyant, joyful, and effervescently bubbling over with divine inspiration. On the mountaintop, my view is clear and it feels like I can see forever.  Up here, I haven’t a care in the world. I know without a shred of doubt that I am a child of The Divine, I can feel my unity with All That Is, I hear my inner guidance, I trust it, I know that all is well, and that The Universe has my back.

And then there’s the spiritual valley. This is the place where I’m at my lowest; nothing bubbling, nothing flowing except isolation and self-doubt. When I’m in the valley experience, I can’t even feel my connection to God, much less any sense of inner guidance. My trust in everything is shot and I question my sense of purpose: “You think you’re supposed to teach Yoga? You chose wrongly. You’ve been teaching people about inner guidance for nearly 15 years – there’s no such thing! You think you have something worth saying or teaching? Who wants to hear anything you might have to say? Just pack it in, Garrett, you’re a loser.”

I really dislike being the valley.  Actually, that’s a pretty strong understatement. I hate the valley, dread the valley, fear it, and, essentially, do everything I can possibly do to avoid it. I exercise my grip strength so that when I feel a fall coming, I can cling with my very fingertips to stay on that mountaintop, dangit!  No, I will not let go!!

And, of course, something always comes along and causes me to fall…and fall…and hit the ground pretty hard, which really hurts. Then I curse being in the valley, I get angry that I lost my grip and couldn’t hold on, that I slipped – that if I were better at yoga and better at being really spiritual, I would stop slipping into the valley and be able to perpetually stay on the mountaintop.

The past few days, I have been in the valley. Not just any old valley; a pretty big one. A huge teaching opportunity that I was really feeling good about, really hoping would come to fruition, seems to be not happening. I’ve tried all my tricks of the trade: letting it go, turning it over to The Infinite, widening my view so I can take in a bigger picture, trusting the bigger picture…but none of them are working. I’m finding myself smack in the middle of the valley of questioning just about everything thought I was being guided to do, in terms of teaching yoga.

I’ve heard that success is measured by failure. What is failure, anyway? Here’s what the dictionary has to say about it:

  1. Omission of occurrence or performance
  2. A state of inability to perform a normal function
  3. A fracturing or giving way under stress

A fracturing or giving way under stress.  Hmm…I’m pondering this one.

Something I have noticed over the past 15 years of working with yoga and spirituality is that my valley experiences always precede big moments of growth and insight. It never fails. And, the depth of the valley is always directly proportional to the amount of growth that occurs. In other words, the bigger the valley, the bigger the growth. Many mystical writers talk about this. St. John of the Cross refers to this valley experience as the dark night of the soul. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

It seems to me that the real spiritual work lies in embracing the valley experience, instead of constantly clinging to a mountaintop experience. If I want real growth and transformation, I’ve got to let myself fail and fall; to come down off the mountain and let my hands get dirty as I sink my soul into the rich, fertile ground of the valley.

I’d love to be writing the conclusion to this blog post by saying, “Since I’ve discovered this pattern of deep valleys always preceding big mountains, I have learned to trust it deeply; to gracefully let go of my grip, let myself fall, and really enjoy the valley as the very same experience as the mountaintop…” but I’d be telling a big old lie if I said that was that truth. It’s not. The truth is, the more I am willing to talk about and share my valley experiences as well as my mountaintop ones, the more I begin to embrace them, rather than fear them, and the more I begin to lean into trust. Yoga is a journey, a constant discovery, a process of change. And as we change, things in our lives come along to help to fracture the parts of ourselves that no longer serve us so that they can fall away, revealing more and more the radiant truth of who we are. It seems to me like a dance of falling and getting back up again. Isn’t that how we learn to walk and how birds learn to fly?

The way of love is not
a subtle argument.

The door there
is devastation.

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.

How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling,
they’re given wings.

~ Rumi