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Ontology as the quality or essence of existence (by Patrick Phillips, Scotland, United Kingdom)

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

Scotland, UK

Patrick Phillips, writer, artist and environmental guide (, offers us his personal vision of the deep relationship that binds humans to nature, through his experience of life in a mountain village in Scotland. The text below is a short introduction to his book "Eternal Mountain: Essays from Afar" (Expressive Press, June 2021):


In the beginning there was rock. Then came water.

Water revealed the skin of the mountain. Then came the stream, river, loch and sea. Then came the forests, woodlands and flowers. And then came the animals and then ourselves. Wilderness had arrived once again. Of course, all of this happened through the last Ice Age. Instead of a beginning and an end, life was recreated, rejuvenated. All came again for us to see, witness and admire – eternally. Everything within nature is eternal. Eternal in expression (appearance and function), essence. Measuring the very beginning of our planet Earth is therefore not so important, what really matters is the presence of our living planet in the here and now. For example, the quality of the presence of mountains testifies to the deep and complex relationship between their form and their essential role in our hydrological system. The presence of a skyscraper cannot offer the same quality of experience as a mountain.

Life, therefore, is a story without end, and this makes me begin to think about my own arrival in Killin (Scotland, UK) and the time I have spent here so far. I have lived in the village for over four years – not a long time for us humans. But when I begin to think about that space of time in terms of experience, it feels much longer. One might therefore be more daring and suggest that I have lived in the village for over 400 years (at least that is how it has felt at times), when I compare my experience to the age of the mountains surrounding me right now – over 500 million years old. I realise with each passing day how unique and rare it is to live in a mountain village and therefore experience the deep time of our living souls within us; which is eternal. The time of mountain formation had contributed to the realisation of this process. In all of this, what I am talking about is the very quality of life itself, what one can experience in the presence of nature on a daily basis. With the mountains, I was able to experience for the first time in my life the weight and depth of my own soul; the deeper our connection with nature, the deeper our experience of life and therefore its richness and true meaning – our destiny.

Living in this mountain village, I have felt and still feel a natural continuity of time living beside nature. A time that is outside modern time, today’s digital clocks and watches. Occasionally, but not all the time, the tyranny of our current socio-economic model can interrupt the flow – the flow of the seasons, for example – and then I have to find a way back into them, grounded. But when the interruption occurs, suddenly, survival takes precedence. It is survival without sense – man-made, often unsustainable (therefore unethical), reflecting the poverty of life that has not been created by nature herself. Monopoly of our common land is a modern example of our deprivations. Let us therefore continue to keep putting nature first at the heart of our daily being, so we can bring about a new culture and the birth of the human economy.

From Afar: Ontology of a Mountain Village

I don’t think there is anything left to experience in our cities today, other than endless consumption and the illusion of infinite choice. Whether in relationships or careers, we still consider that the city represents real progress in life. But the city can never give the same quality of life that nature can give us; when you love a city, it is rarely reciprocated. Take, for example, our mental health and wellbeing – nature is strongly recommended as the cure, the healer, by our doctors (they never advise you to go shopping). This is why we should adopt the ontology (defined as the quality or essence of existence*) of a mountain village as a model for a more ethical way of being. For example, when people come to visit Killin, often they report feeling 'tired' much sooner than they would normally when living in a city or town. This tiredness occurs because our bodies are being forced to slow down and live in accord with the rhythms of nature – at first, it all feels scary.

We are not sure if we can trust the spiritual quality of what we are experiencing right now in the presence of nature through our senses because we have adapted our bodies to survive in busy and stressful environments. Furthermore, the better the quality of our experience of nature, the greater the ebb and flow (gravity) of time appears and therefore the more difficult it is to overcome the force of nature and resist her natural rhythms. Even if we succeed, to do so on a permanent basis is impossible (often we have to give in). When we leave the presence of nature, we take with us an experience that adjusts our bodies to a pace of life that is more natural and attuned to our needs – it is not long before we plan our next trip. Therefore, the experience of visiting and living here in Killin gives us nothing less than what is essential to our living selves. It provides the option of improving our quality of life by putting nature first, at the heart of our local economies. It is possible to live an eternal life now rather than thinking that such a way of being awaits us only after death.

In a mountain landscape such as Breadalbane, one is more aware of living on a planet, than in a town or city today. In a city, nature has no permanent presence, we encounter it only occasionally here or there. All that is left during a full day in a city is the sky – an eternal sky. That might be the only hope for city dwellers nowadays. They look for a cloud in the morning, afternoon and evening (any shape is welcomed), birds, anything that is of nature; the sky of a city is probably the only direct experience of nature that cannot be controlled or destroyed by man. However, with climate change city skies may become greyer, giving us more reasons to leave and begin a new way of being elsewhere. It is without surprise that the essence of living in a city is therefore limited to what we consume, and the people we expect to meet along our journey. Essentially, therefore, village life offers a more ethical way of being and gives deeper meaning to our existence than a city can ever offer. The writer John Berger said the following about the importance of a centre, a human home:

The point about centre, it's where life naturally makes some sense. Home is the centre of the world because it’s like a cross, there’s a vertical line and there’s a horizontal line and along those two lines come the following, the horizontal line is all the roads leading out from the village, from that centre, across to other places and finally to all over the world. It’s the way you get to that home, on the surface of the earth and then there is the vertical line, and that is where the dead and maybe the unborn, go up and down between earth and heaven, and when they cross like that, that is a place which is really home, because the dead and your ancestors are there in the cemetery, the children who are married and will have little children, or perhaps still be there and then there is all the traffic in the world and when you live in a situation like that, the question of answering, why are we here? A question of finding sense is much easier to answer but in how many places in the world is that now true, either large cities or villages in fact in very few.


Between the rocks and water one can place one's soul; a sanctuary has been found. When walking, one can do that. Sanctified. Walking through, with, behind and around the mountains of Breadalbane, one can therefore always find places of rest; inspiration and rejuvenation. It is not long before one begins to feel one's essence is restored; it is not long before one begins to feel content with one's life again. You see, living in a space like the mountain village of Killin, one of the most profound things I have come to know is how one can think of it as only a small place. One has got to know it quickly ('nothing much to see here') and yet there is a surprise around every corner. For example, I am still meeting new people from the village after four years. It is as though the unique space of a mountain village preserves or keeps people a secret: when they are ready to reveal themselves, the time is right for them, they come out from behind the mountains. It is the same with the mountains themselves: there are secrets waiting to be rediscovered through them, you, us. There are infinite sanctuaries to be rediscovered daily here in this landscape of Breadalbane, in a matter of minutes, not hours – all is there for you.

* Throughout this book, I define 'ontology' less in terms of the investigation of our being, and more in terms of the essence of our being. The more of our essence we reveal, the more we exist. Only our experience of nature can help us achieve a real quality of life (one that is at least sustainable) as we attempt to move away from a consumer-based ontology and today's global socio-economic model.


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