The inner mountain.

This image, taken from Athanasius’s fourth century Life of Antony, refers to a remote, beautiful place in the Egyptian desert to which the monk was drawn following many years of solitary searching and struggle. It also evokes a hidden, interior place of mystery and wonder, known only to the monk and to God. A place of the heart. A place in which to engage oneself, others, God and the world with compassion.

The inner mountain has long interested me, not only because of its importance to the ancient Christian monastic story, but also because of its symbolic power: its capacity to illuminate the meaning of diverse traditions of contemplative practice including our own. This, then, is a space for reflecting on what it might mean for us to enter and inhabit the inner mountain; and for considering how the awareness and ethical commitments arising from our encounter with this place can help us meet the enormous challenges facing us in our own historical moment.

I have been influenced in my thinking and practice by the witness of monastic communities, both ancient and contemporary, Christian and non-Christian. Such communities have been and continue to be places where ancient traditions of contemplative practice are preserved and renewed. But contemplative practice as I am considering it here cannot be confined to monastic traditions or even to explicitly religious traditions. In our own time, contemplative thought and practice is also emerging as crucial to the work of artist, poets, cultural critics and political and environmental activists among others. It is becoming critical to the development of a variegated but shared vocabulary and ethics of attention: to the sacred, to the other, to our still-beautiful but diminished earth. The particular object of that attention will likely remain open and indeterminate as we struggle to find our own way of proceeding. This too is in keeping with traditions of thought and practice arising from the desert: there, the ground is comprised of silence, emptiness, and darkness.

My hope is that this will be an open, collaborate space, with diverse voices contributing to a communal effort at articulating and bringing into being a vibrant contemplative vision and practice.

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