Reflections on Mount Olympus

by Catherine Hogan, Study Abroad

What does enlightenment feel like? I have often wonder what it will feel like when I finally understand the universe and my place in it. What I never considered, though, was when this feeling would wash over me, and suddenly I would see everything for what it was. For me, this feeling came while standing on the Throne of Zeus, at the highest peak of Mount Olympus.

As an excursion through my study abroad in Greece, a group of students and I signed up to hike the highest mountain in Greece. The two day trek didn’t initially seem daunting, as my group of friends and I exercise frequently, but nothing would have prepared us for the intensity of the hike. The first day of the journey was satisfying. For every push up a steep incline, there were several hundred yards of flat trail. The air was thick and smooth with fresh oxygen, the scenery was beautiful, and the clouds overhead created a scene that radiated peace.

The second day, however, made the first look like cakewalk. Our day started promptly at seven in the morning with a near vertical climb up a  rocky mountainside. This was followed by about a mile of directly scaling the mountain, where all that stood between us and certain death were a few wobbly stones. We may have only covered four miles in that morning, but my limbs had never felt so shaky, or my lungs so empty. As we crawled onto the plateau and looked over what we accomplished and I breathed in the cold thin air, curled my toes over the edge of the mountainside and looked out into the nothingness. The clouds created a blanket over Greece, covering the small country towns and metropolitan city from the inclement weather, but from where I stood, you could hear everything and nothing at the same time.

This was my enlightenment: I stood overlooking a country I was visiting and understood that everything around us is placed there after being carefully considered, that every tree and lake has a purpose, and that we do too. I realized atop that mountain that although I do not yet know my purpose, the feeling of understanding that washed through me and cleared my uncertainties confirmed that my purpose is there for me to find.

I now know why people love climbing mountains. The steep inclines and shallow breaths force you to put mind over matter, but also force you to stop listening to your aching muscles and start listening to your heart. I want to say that day changed me, but it didn’t — instead, it changed my outlook. It changed the way I look at each day, the way I experience it, and the way I reflect on it. In that moment on top of Mount Olympus, I was in pure control, of my mind, my body, and my spirit.

Hiking Mount Olympus taught me two things: first, to pack light always, and second, not to say no to fear of pain or failure, because pain and failure make success so much more satisfying.