Ending our own War
Confronted with the six hour drive from Pittsburgh to the Himalayan Institute, there is nothing more frustrating than the road work, the two lane busy interstate with truckers who get in the passing lane and stay there even on the steep hills that make up the Pennsylvania terrain. I made it with no time to spare to jump on the call for a online course. The course ran until bedtime. This morning waking and finally able to slow down and absorb the essence of this place, recognition dawns.
Sitting in meditation in a group meditation space, there are people coming and going, shuffling of movement, all creating distraction and a similiar feeling of annoyance I had toward those truckers the day before. I contemplated leaving and meditating in my room. However, when I first awoke, I pondered, go to meditate now? There are fewer people, avoid the group? I intentionally chose to wait and enjoy the prayers and meditation with the group because I often choose isolation.
As I sat, pulled from the depth of meditation into a state of contemplation and reflection, I asked myself, what do I gain from avoiding groups? The answer, I don't have to feel this angst when things are not the way I think they should be. I don't experience the suffering of feeling frustrated with others.
In the Yoga Sutras, there is a practice...
Be happy for those who are happy.
Feel compassion for those who are suffering.
Cultivate cheerfulness for those who are virtuous.
Cultivate equanimity for those whose values (actions) oppose your own.
Contemplating these folks who make noise as they move into the meditation space, plopping their blanket down, shuffling the sand in the cushion and then preparing their meditation beads, apparently with no concern for the experience of others, HOW can I cultivate equanimity?
The words of Byron Katie come to mind... where am I having no concern for the experience of others? Ahhhh... such a great question. And a great reflection on how others were confused, perhaps annoyed by this woman seated in the tea room on her computer at a retreat space where they came to get away from the feel of the busy cafe. Perhaps my colleagues were envious or frustrated that I slipped away early from the clean up of the Summit. Perhaps folks felt frustrated by the speed at which I was driving along that highway.
Recognition of my own impact on others, softens the irritation toward others. That opens the door to equanimity. It also can dampen that negative feeling born from envy or desire. These models who have slim, fit and healthy young bodies, while I continue to age and decline in strength and slimness. Can I cultivate happiness for their happiness? Can I recognize that they too may judge themselves as harshly and unkindly as I am judging myself? We are suffering together if that is true.
The drive to Pittsburgh, I listened to David Goggins' book, Can't Hurt Me. On one hand I was impressed with his mental toughness, and on the other I was appalled by his blatant disregard for his physical wellbeing, his attitude toward women, and his colleagues, and his impact on others. Throughout the book he continues to talk about being at war with the mind. Absolutely agree that the mind is an incredible tool that is constantly driving us toward comfort and ease, safety. I drove fast because I did not want to show up late for the course. Being on time would protect me from being seen as unprofessional, unable to manage my time well. I have a false sense of wanting to always be seen as competent and professional. That desire for others to see me in a particular way limited my ability to be compassionate toward myself and others during the drive. And while I was focusing on one group seeing me in a certain way, I was ignoring the way others would see me in the anonymity of my vehicle. The result... war.
War happens when reconciliation is not possible. It occurs when two sides cannot and chose to no longer allow for the other side's opinion or experience. When my experience is more important than the experience of others here at a retreat centre, I have gone to war... at a retreat centre.
But we can choose compassion or equanimity, we can choose cheerfulness and being happy for others, especially when we choose to question where we have also done the human thing we are witnessing. Where have I behaved, acted like David Goggins? Arrogant, intensely toward others, not listened or acknowledged the pain and suffering. Well, I know a number of folks who could raise their hands and tell you all about those times.
At the very end of David Goggins' book, when he starts dying, he realizes the mistake of not paying attention to his body, of disregarding what his body was telling him. And in the confrontation of the end of life he also realizes his impact on others and how perhaps he could have done things better. He sees the shadow of his own lack of self acceptance.
As a coach, I have coached mental toughness, I value mental toughness. I also value preparation. I value critical thinking and awareness of where to do better. I also strongly value not treating myself or others like we are at war. I prefer to treat myself and others in a collaborative way and that requires active listening, critical review of my impact on others, and compassion. A willingness to be aware and make change.
That is how we end war.
I read a recent post on Facebook by a local politician stating that someone had called and threatened his children if he didn't act on what the person wanted. This idea of my way is the only right and just way is interesting. Consider a recent earthquake that took the life of so many in Turkey and Syria. I am fairly sure this is not the way many wanted this month to go. And yet I can relate to this very arrogance of expecting things to go my way.
Yesterday, Valentine's Day, I not just once felt my victimhood at being a divorcee. I silently resented those with someone to post about on Facebook or instagram. I loved once. And that person stopped loving me. Definitely an example of something that did not go my way.
However, as I looked into the memories of that ending, something occurred to me. Man, I held tightly to holding that love together. I did things that were truly harmful to myself in my attempts to save the marriage. I was gripping so tightly to a marriage that really did not exist and in my efforts, I was not respecting myself the same way that someone would when threatening someone else's children.
Thanks to the Work of Byron Katie and a lot of Yoga study, I eventually found my way back to myself. Or did I? Upon further reflection, I recognized this same over gripping to my son, despite my promise not to do that to him. Oh, I made sacrifices, letting him go to boarding school at the tender age of 13 years, and allowing all the vacations and time with his dad. But when my son turned 18 years and I realized he was his own person, legally allowed to make decisions for himself, including the decision to visit or not, I went back into a similar despair, focusing on what the right move is to keep him choosing me. I studied more Yoga, I threw my life into chaos, I returned to gripping tightly to my history as a climber and a coach. I suffered.
Then my dad died, aunts passed away, menopause arrived, and we all went into lockdown with Covid. The universe was delivering an excellent opportunity for me to reflect on what I was gripping. I did not consider that though. I gripped tighter, fighting my grief with productivity. I cleared the yard of trees that may block the view, I painted the house exterior, I redid decks, I gardened, I replaced flooring, I painted inside. I replaced windows, I sanded countertops and treated them. I redecorated... and on and on. All of this movement was an effort to thumb my nose at the prospect of aging and the grief of not seeing my son for a year was drowned in wine.
Perhaps there is no God, or universe pulling the strings. Perhaps there is only us here doing the best we can. But I do know this... when I stop gripping so tightly to MY WAY, I feel more relaxed and calm. I struggle less. I have more energy for the next move, in the same way when I am climbing and I stop trying to do it the way everyone else does and just go with what the rock seems to want from me, I experience more flow, more joy and often more growth.
Now well into the second month of the year and past the point where many have left their New Year's resolutions behind, it seems to me an excellent time to ask, "What was the goal with that New Year's resolution?" I will bet the answer is, "to feel better about myself." I too had a New Years resolution to eat less snacky foods. I am successful some of the time, but my why, was also to feel better about myself. I had a carefully crafted critique of my enjoyment of a some chips, to the point of shaming and the chips and Netflix becoming a mode of escape from that b$tch in my head who just natters about how weak I am. Combine that shaming with the commentary on how old and I am and how I will never get back to my peak shape and that pretty much sums up the years of isolation.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I got this storyline about my need to be better than the version of myself I was from my parents, from society. You are supposed to get A's. You are supposed to do what you are told, when you are told. You are supposed to wash the dishes perfectly and not drop the stack on the floor. (Whoops!) You are supposed to be kind. You are supposed to be polite. You are supposed to temper your energy. More importantly, you are not supposed to be wildly creative and build bunkbeds. I got no points for my ingenuity on that one. You are not supposed to be curious and try climbing the cliffs while your parents dig clams.
It is no different now. Scroll your feed and see the ads about how Yoga will make you young again and the model is clearly in her twenties. Look at the images of the stars and how gorgeous they look when they have had hours to prepare, haven't had to step into a grocery store in the last twenty years, and scads of money for regular facials, massage and physio. I don't know about you, but that is not my story. I would rather be sweaty and dirty from a day outside. So why would I spend so much time with the story of not enough, chasing the perfect body, a face without lines and hair without grey?
But again, the idea of beauty is just another storyline which could give a solid argument to a choice. Or not.
The main point... in this moment... just this moment, I can make a choice. That is where my power is.
I can choose to put on my sneakers and get outside, or not. I can pay attention to the storyline about how cold it is, and futile since I am still aging. Or I can just go. I can pay attention to the shaming from my critical self about how weak I am being using my chest cough and cold temps as an excuse. Or I can just go, or not go.
Here's the punchline...
What we all seek in this goal setting and pursuit is to finally be happy with who we are, the body we are in and grade we climb. This list can go on and include the job we have, the house we live in, the sleep we get, etc. This happy with who we are and where we are is called contentment. Contentment is one of the niyamas in the eight limb path of Yoga. Contentment is not focused on what we have yet to achieve. Contentment is appreciation and gratitude where we are. It doesn't mean you cannot aspire to something, that is possible. That is called being inspired. Contentment means I appreciate where I am, who I am, AND I will make choices from a place of inspiration, not from expectation or despair.
On that note, I am inspired to get my dog out and off leash today, and perhaps to skate at the Oval, What do you appreciate about you, your world today? What inspires you? May you have inspired decisions as you move through February.
Structure and Rules
It's early January and I am getting a chance to adventure with one of my favourite humans... my son. I know I am biased, but then I am okay with that. In 2022, my son did a Murph workout everyday to raise funds for Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a cause he strongly believes in. This Murph involved a one mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and then another mile run. He did it wearing a 20 pound weight vest.
It being the start of the new year, many folks are jumping on the resolution wagon and holding on tightly to make changes that will improve their lives. They create rules like no longer eating sugar, or giving up alcohol, or exercising more. Fantastic! And if you read my previous post, you will get a glimpse into what I think about these kinds of resolutions. Bottomline - they are great, but probably will not really get you what you think you want.
Rules are rules that are often broken unless the consequence is severe enough to deter breaking them. OR if there is structure in place to prevent breaking them. For example, if I want to give up alcohol and I check myself into a rehab facility, I will have the structure in place to make being successful easier. Can I sustain it without the structure? That is why many who come out of rehab end up indulging in their drug of choice after they are back out. A google search will give you a plethora of reading on the statistics. Another google search will reveal that less than 10% of people stick with their new years resolutions.
Why are these statistics so low? Is it just terrible discipline? Or is it something more? My answer is yes and no. If you peruse the google adds that pop up in a new window, the answer is pretty clear. We humans like one absolute answer. We don't want to wade into the mud to understand that variety of factors that can influence our success or failure. We look for the one thing we need to do to drop belly fat, or the five foods we should never eat, or the best five exercises we can do to burn fat.
But that is hogwash. There is no silver bullet. It is more like a chaotic whirlwind that has factors pushing in one way or another, some zapping your energy from sticking to rules and others giving you the boost you need.
Which factors can positively impact your ability to stay on track? Here's a list...
Our brains are wired to find the problems. It is how we can maintain safety in a world where things can be our demise. When you are paying attention to your pursuit of your goal, whatever action that is, make a determined effort to find the positive, the blessing. While skiing recently after a thirty plus year hiatus, I was in awe of how my body remembered what to do and how amazing it was to have fresh snow to plow through, the absolute beauty that surrounded. These positive vibes make the spills, the mistakes easier to handle. This is much easier to do when we have low expectations.
When meditating this morning, something I have done almost daily for the past decade, I was noticing the struggle getting the same depth of ease. I was becoming frustrated by the chaos of thoughts that I was following, rather than the mantra. Then I felt this thought, "Nothing I do is ever right." Wow! Yes, there was a hidden gem that made me give up on meditation on many mornings. With that thought came a resigned attitude I know well. I decided to not believe that thought. I made a decision to believe that my efforts do matter and they are good enough. This later thought created ease and inspiration to stick to the practice.
As my son would say, discipline comes down to choices. In every moment we choose our next thought and our next action. If we are paying attention, it gives us the opportunity to choose differently than we have in the past. If we are not being deliberate, we will most likely follow a habit we may be trying to change.
Good luck with those resolutions and stay positive! If you struggle, find a coach or trusted friend to help inspire you.
The new year, 2023 is quickly approaching. With the new year, there is also the consideration of what we desire for ourselves in 2023. While this is a very worthy consideration, perhaps even more important for consideration is whether whatever it is we desire will still be important to us in five years or even ten years.
If you are like me, there is a desire to turn back time on this aging body of mine. I aspire to losing weight and increasing my strength. Eating a more healthy diet. A friend has even challenged me to run a 10K in the coming year. Then I consider…. will these things matter in five years or ten years?
Lost weight is often re-found over the course of five or ten years. Gaining more strength, without constant effort to maintain can also be lost in the ensuing years. A healthy diet also must be maintained to matter in the future.
Now, feeling good in your body is not a SMART goal because it cannot be measured. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound. “feel good” is not measurable, and cannot be sustained since there are a large variety of external factors beyond my control that can influence the feel good. There is no certainty that weight loss will lead to “feel good” either.
As a recovering eating disordered person, setting the weight chasing measure is not smart on a whole other level. I may achieve the weight loss and yet be indulging in some pretty unhealthy habits to achieve the goal. Eating disorder thinking is rife with black and white thinking, catastrophic imagining, and shame.
So, what does it mean to me to “feel good” in my body? I recall how fabulously vibrant and joy-filled I feel after a few days at a retreat centre. I feel vibrant and energized. Happy. I am not worried about my weight, or how much or how little I am eating. The uniqueness of the retreat experience is that my eating schedule is determined by the retreat schedule. The choices of what to eat is determined by the retreat centre. I don’t worry about the grocery store. All I have to do is show up at meal time and eat what seems appealing. What would it look like, feel like, if my goal was, “everyday I eat three meals a day, with small snacks twice a day at regular intervals.”
Since leaving a job with a fair amount of physicality, in favour of employment which involves sitting at a computer for closer to eight hours a day, I feel the difference in my energy. I am like a puppy that hasn’t gotten out off leash for a while. I start snacking, getting up and sitting back down again. I walk the dog, but then settle in front of Netflix for a couple of hours sipping on a glass of wine before I turn off the screen and settle down to read before bed.
On Mondays, I go out and play Pickleball, which makes me run a lot and socialize. The running around burns off the restlessness and I find that when I am home, I have less desire for Netflix and wine. Hmmm. Seems like a good goal would be, “I participate in a daily physical activity that gets my heart rate up to 130–140 for at least 40 minutes.”
Unlike the weight loss goal where once achieved, I can stop the behaviours that lead to the weight loss, these reframed goals are ongoing. They are not time bound… they are SMAR (wink wink). Or we could say they are SMART, but rather than time bound, they are time scheduled.
If sustained and become a habit, in five years, not drinking wine and snacking with Netflix everyday will make a tremendous difference on my physical and mental health. A rajasic mind — one that is unfocused and continual in movement — has implications like, poor quality work, less success with meditation, impulsive behaviours, like spending and eating. A mind that is more calm and balanced in nature can experience the innate joy we all have.
Five years out, the decision to get more structure around when I eat, will support my digestion and the ability to remove toxins from the body. Maintaining this will be far easier than trying to keep the weight off an aging body which is continually reducing it’s ability to metabolize and would thus require eating less and less or exercising more and more.
SMARTer goals are goals that have no end point. There is no finish line. As a retired athlete and a coach, I can tell you very clearly, the completion of one established route, just puts one back into finding another achievement. Setting goals that shape how one participates in sport, those are the goals that create character and true fulfillment.
It began with noticing the challenge to get the kiddos to try hard. There was no enthusiasm or real vibrancy. I would go to the gym and look at the routes with a critical eye. That one might just be reachy. Oh... that one has a dyno, not for me. Eventually I would find myself on the kilter board making up my own routes, or telling myself I was only going to work on my recovery and sticking to super easy routes.
Easily bored and not find the excitement and fulfillment of trying hard, I would end the session early or become distracted with conversation. The result of my lack of focus on improving and lack of effort in trying hard, led to an inevitable stagnancy in my performance. As a woman nearing my sixth decade of life, it only becomes harder and harder to maintain any level of performance. The whole house of cards was beginning to tumble.
An avid self reflector, it led to examining how I was showing up, or not as the case maybe. Then I heard this phrase, "quiet quitting" which describes just not putting in the fullness of effort. Choosing consciously to only do what is required. It is a current trend in the workplace. According to a Gallup.com article, the stats in 2022 are getting worse with the number of engaged workers reducing and the number of quiet quitters increasing.
Although climbing is supposed to be a recreational pursuit, for some it is more of a means to focus and bring fulfillment with the every elusive next level. But that is not the case so much anymore. The birthday party mentality toward climbing is pervading the gyms. It makes sense. In a world where nuclear war is present, people are displaced by war or hurricanes, and wild fires, or stuck in limbo by a global pandemic, a very timeless question arises.... What is the point? This question has cycled around my brain for the past few years now. I have worked hard and tried to be a good human, tried bettering myself, tried to maintain healthy habits, and where am I? In a world that seems to be falling apart with the very stark realization that in the end we all die.
On one level this is a very depressing thought. If the very existence of our lives has no meaning, then why bother with all the pain and suffering that goes along with life. And I suppose if you read the news about mass shootings and the rise in suicide, it seems more and more people are living and dying with this very depressing thought.
Perhaps the question isn't "What's the point." Perhaps the better question is "What and how can I contribute to life in this moment?" This is a pretty natural question, but one I think most folks answer with a move toward what brings them more pleasurable experiences. I know I can purchase new tops and the dopamine hit lasts to the last first wearing of the shirt. Actually, that's an exaggeration. Often it only lasts to the thought - "don't stain this thing!"
No, unfortunately the answer doesn't lie with the next purchase or pleasant experience. I think the answer lies with the service we provide others. The things I remember most are the moments where someone I was coaching "got it" and realized just how much potential they had. The moments where I was holding my child and comforting him during an uncomfortable experience. The moment where I was smiling as I watched people enjoy the routes I had created.
Just like my dad on his deathbed, remembering what he contributed to something greater than himself - the point of my life is not what I gain for myself, it is what I give to something bigger than me. It is the experiences I have had a small hand in shaping that give joy, fulfillment, and love to others.
The "butterfly effect" implies that a single event in one place and time can have ramifications across geography and time. I am fairly certain anyone reading this can think of an example of the butterfly effect in their own life. Deeper reflection may lead you to consider just how much control do we have in this life, or just how much power do we wield. Depending on your perspective, both are true.
A kind word or deed has the power to profoundly change someone's mood and actions. That could be the greatest power of all. So too can the choice of someone else greatly change the freedom or very life of another person. Both are true.
I recently had the good fortune to visit one of my favourite places; a retreat centre. As I tucked myself into bed one night, I was startled to hear loud bangs coming from the west side of the campus. I thought at first the sounds were fireworks. I looked out the window and did not see splashed of light. I then wondered if the sounds were gunshots. My mind then went down a rabbit hole of self-protection, planning the actions I would take if the later were true.
Someone enjoying a fireworks display on a late summer eve also set the stage for a troubled night of sleep and a poor mood the next day. That mood darkened my experience of yoga class the next morning and the amplified frustrations I experienced while driving toward home. Fortunately, the retreat also created space for self reflection.
Do I want my experience of the world dependent on the circumstances of the world outside of me?
My answer to that question is no. I want my actions, thoughts, moods to be a reflection of all that is good in the world. I want people to be greeted by a smile and authentic happiness when we meet. Or at the very least a sense of openness even when challenged. Poise in the face of adversity.
The past few years of a global pandemic has certainly brought into the human consciousness our interconnectedness and to some of the more horrible, discouraging parts of living. Whether we like it or not, we are each impacted by the choices of others AND we impact the lives of others. Whether we like it or not, there are things that happen that we like and things that happen that we don't like.
What we miss - I think - is that both are true at the same time.
At the same time people were coming down with Covid, people were learning new skills to work from home. At the same time people are dying in catastrophic events, new life is arriving. There is a long Covid for sure. After months of social distancing, wearing masks, business closures, unemployment and restriction from seeing friends and family, we are all breathing differently. We are all reacting to more freedom as the restrictions are being lifted and life is returning to "normal."
Reacting is the antithesis of poise.
Yoga asana, pranayama, meditation - these are practices which teach us, move us in the direction maintaining poise.
1) Yoga asana is not about flexibility. It is about maintaining awareness on balanced breath while the body is challenged.
2) Pranayama is about learning how to manage the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system response.
3) Meditation is an opportunity to witness our thoughts rather than becoming reactive to them.
None of these are easy practices which is why they are called practices - they must continue to be explored and practiced. My mind has become a very different field of experience since we went into Covid and to work with my reactivity takes more practice, and more attention to the things I eat, the people I am with and the environments I am in. Just twelve hours at a retreat centre and I was more clear and less reactive. More curious and open. No cravings to pacify my sense of anxiety or lack. More balanced.
A balanced mind, body and breath do not react with high alert when fireworks are lighting up the sky. Clearly I should have booked more time to really create enduring poise.
On Being Responsible
There is a saying that goes... if you don't have anything nice to say... don't say anything.
I feel like that is the crux of my lack of blog posts for the past year. I don't have anything very nice to say these days.
I am very worried about our collective future.
Think not what can your country do for you, but what you can do for your country."
We live in a world of expectation and suffering. Blame of someone else somehow makes us feel better about ourselves.
The government should fix things. My boss is responsible for how terrible things are.
Maybe some of these expectations are true.
AND - what is also true - we are each responsible for our experience to at least some degree.
Imagine a world where people said, "well the news was telling us that there were long lines at the airport and they were right. And I chose to travel so I choose to navigate long lines, delays and trip disruption."
Imagine a world where someone said, "well it is a NDA is a document designed to stop me from speaking about an event that upset me. I agreed to sign the NDA document. I agreed to no longer talk about this event. I guess I chose to experience the regret I am experiencing."
Imagine a world where someone said, "well I agreed to work here. I agreed to allow people to treat me this way and I have stayed in this job, effectively saying to these people they could continue to treat me this way. I guess I am responsible for my unhappiness at work."
That is not the current reality. The current reality is to blame the other party - wholly and completely.
The current reality is to choose being a victim rather than to choose to be the person who can change one's world.
Empowerment means YOU change to meet the world. It doesn't mean the world changes for you.
To empower oneself is the ultimate responsibility one has for oneself.
Yes, there are victims. But when the event that made them a victim is over, they can choose to continue to be the victim, or to empower a change that will prevent further victimhood.
I am a big fan of the work of Byron Katie because it is all about being responsible for one's own experience. And then taking the action to empower oneself. If you haven't tried it - do!
If you want to face life fully and own your experience, The Work can take you there... if you do the work ;)
Agency... Belief You Can
First let me say, I love Brené Brown's latest book, "Atlas of the Heart," which defines and refines understanding of our emotional experience. We all experience all the emotions. And what happens when we choose to ignore the emotional experience, repress the emotional experience? We react in a way that softens or eliminates the feels. However, until we process the emotions, the experience leading to the emotion, we cannot heal it.
And all emotions need healing. Even the good ones.
In 2002, on a glorious sunny and warm August day, I grabbed the start holds on a problem called Resurrection. My son, just over twelve months, was being watched by his dad, who was also trying to watch me. I moved through the spanning first moves. Got my heel up into the heel hook and with all I could muster, I threw my left hand up for the sloping edge. SUCCESS. It was the next move I had never done - getting my right hand up and transitioning to moving up the slopers. I just kept moving from there. I had never climbed the upper section before and my mind was silent. My body running on instinct. When I was at the top, looking down, catching my breath, I realized Fynn was crying. My partner was both ecstatic and distracted with our son. I was on the top. I had done it. I had completed my project.
Within moments of this success came the question in my mind, "what's next." And that feeling of unease at having to choose another project and start the process again. A project often comes to feel like an old friend, something you look forward to. There is comfort in knowing you know the moves and what is expected of you. Just how hard you have to try and what you have to do... certainty it is possible. So when you start looking for new projects, there is that feeling of dis-ease... as you settle into know what moves you can do, and which need work.
When we feel all the feelings of joy and love, we also have the shadow of potential loss. When we send that next project we laboured over, there is joy and a sudden recognition of the end, closure and letting go. It is the uncertainty of what's next that breathes life into fear - our fear for our identity.
Hope is described as having three elements - a goal, a path and agency.
As a coach I can tell you that access to the tools has been pretty shaky for most during Covid. Even defining goals has been a little more challenging since we do not always know (especially in Canada) when the next restrictions will come in, go out and how those restrictions may impact our ability to achieve any goals.
LOADS of UNCERTAINTY
And this is where we have truly lost AGENCY.
This is why there are truckers blocking borders and demanding an end to restrictions. This is why people struggle with mid life crisis. This is the very fear that animates any loss - UNCERTAINTY of what will happen next AND our uncertainty of our ability to navigate through it.
Within the pages of this amazing book is also the statement - "we can only love someone else to the degree we love ourselves."
We can only trust someone else to the degree we trust ourselves.
Perhaps this is why we loved The Dawn Wall featuring Tommy Caldwell picking up the pieces of his broken life and putting his agency in the one thing he felt defined his happiness - climbing. Perhaps this is why we were in awe and an Oscar was awarded to Alex Honnald's, Free Solo documented adventure. Boggles the mind that one can have such an audacious goal AND the agency in oneself to even try to achieve it.
Climbing offers the climber the opportunity to develop a relationship with oneself through the process of challenge. A climber can stay on routes that are within their capacity and leave feeling a little tired and quite successful. A climber can choose routes that they can not do first try, but perhaps after a few tries, it is completed.
A climber can also choose a route that they are not really ever sure it will be possible. It could be years of effort before they can actually do the route. These projects are the projects that force the climber to understand them self better. The project forces the climber to develop not only physically, but mentally. The climber has to increase their concentration, cultivate willingness to work through physical stress, pain, and continued failure. The climber is forced to be willing to bring their best even when they know their best in that moment is not enough to achieve success. The climber is forced to develop their sense of agency - belief in their potential, regardless of outcome.
You will never achieve an audacious goal without the belief in yourself to get there or the willingness to try and fail.
Your believe in yourself is what limits you, or expands you. It is pretty important to recognize just where you stand and ask yourself if that is where you want to be standing.
Uncertainty - Resilience link
When one steps up to the base of that new project, one is not certain whether they will do it or not. There is a probability that we can lean into based on our experience. If you often climb that particular grade, chances are high you will be able to do it again. But when you are challenging yourself on that next level, that is where the stakes become much higher. And when the stakes are higher, you have to lean into more discomfort, Greater effort and mindfulness is applied. You may even turn to the person who has climbed it for more information on how you might be successful.
This discomfort is actually something most climbers seek. It is a part of the game we love to tackle. The mystery of unlocking the route or boulder problem with the tools we have IS what makes us want to do it. We have a goal, we see the pathway and we believe in our ability. As defined by Brene Brown in her book, The Atlas of the Heart, these elements are the trilogy of hope. And so the projecting begins. We try over and over again, figuring out new ways to do moves, developing our physical ability and bringing our enthusiasm every time.
In order to complete this route successfully we need to bring with us the trilogy - the goal, the path and belief in our ability. For someone of use, the goal can be quite far reaching - Tommy Caldwell set a goal for the Dawn Wall. Tommy applied effort to the same rock face for seven years and countless tries, with a strong belief in his own ability to master it.
For others, we only choose the routes we can do in a few tries before our belief in our ability begins to be shaken. A shorter climber perhaps falling prey to the belief the move is just too reachy. Or perhaps another acknowledging they just don't have the passion to try that hard. They acknowledge they just doesn't know the pathway to success.
Alex Honnold set a goal to solo El Capitan and spent years in preparation, memorizing the path. With each roped effort, he cultivated the belief in his ability to be successful. For some, like me, I can often see the path, but I deeply struggle to believe in my ability to execute what is needed to be successful. In my early fifties, I began to experience menopause. The insomnia, the brain fog and simple little injuries when I would try super hard. My shoulder would feel impinged, a carpel bone in my wrist dislocated, then my ankle. Trying to do a little barefoot Fitness Marshall I subluxed a bone in my foot. Add to this a concussion sustained while gardening and headaches that roll in with atmospheric pressure changes, still three years later, and my belief in my bodies' ability is shaken. Oh... and the change in metabolism... let's just not go there.
To be strong enough requires greater work and attention to joint stabilization, patience and a greater time commitment and time seems to be a commodity I must spend very wisely these days. I can no longer off-the-couch big hairy audacious goals. The goal needs to be smaller and for me, that does not drive the inspiration in the same way.
Resilience is the antidote.
Resilience is learning to set goals in an arena where I can control elements. Rather than I want to send that route. The goal is I want to put in 90-100% effort on that route.
Resilience is letting go of outcomes and focusing on what I can do, learn, how I show up. I will try X number of times. I will do this for 40 minutes, then move on.
Resilience is reframing. I could feel self-pity, anger, a sense of loss at the very real aging experience. OR I can reframe... this is my time to learn how to recover, how to take care of my body, my mind. This is the stage of life to be free of expectation of hard grade ascents and a time to mentor others. Enjoy the wonder of the array of emotions and stories being created with each climber's experience. Those stories are creating connection.
Resilience is asking for help. I am a coach and it has been a hard pill to swallow to recognize I am not the expert in the room when it comes to aging. My dad passed away just before the first Covid lock down. The mortality with which we all exist was front and centre for me over these past few years. Hopelessness leaned in and whispered, we all die. My response was, so what is the point then? As my hopelessness collected, I finally reached out for help. I was fortunate to reach in the right direction. The mentor I chose said the right things to assist me in reframing, in aligning to self-care, and refocusing my goals. Most importantly, the relationship keeps me accountable.
Resilience is partnered with humility. If it is not, it is bravado - armour designed to protect oneself from the opinions of others.
Resilience is slowing down. It is stepping out of the game to take in the big picture.
COVID just keeps pulling the rug out from under us.
Offering all of us an opportunity to develop our own resilience.
First it was just not getting the disease, or hoping you were one of those not impacted strongly by the virus. Governments came in with testing and masks, financial supports for businesses forced to shutter, people forced out of employment. We brought our resilience, our projecting attitude - keep applying skillful effort to get through this crux on the route of life. Using this tenacity of spirit, distraction and goals in life we could control, we surfed through the waves of Delta. Some of us riding tall on the board and others face planting in the sand as a wave crushed over us. Still the mantra was, 'this too shall pass."
Vaccines, like a new pair of climbing shoes, gave us new hope for better footwork to navigate the project. With case counts declining and symptoms less severe, motivation to get to the end, which seemed now in sight rose. Then came Omicron with it's faster spread, though lower severity, Months into record high hospitalizations, governments changed their sequence, stopped counting cases and moved the focus to hospitalizations, 3-ply masks, and boosters.
Our hope has perhaps faded. The goal is no longer clear. The path is more and more daunting. Our belief in the ability complete this route is dwindling. Perhaps you are standing on the precipice of hopelessness. Consider this very important idea...
Be the person you want others to see.
You are who you choose to become.
Someone once said to me, 'No one will remember who did the second ascent of any route, maybe not even the first. But you will always remember what you walked away from."
You will remember your choices. Choose the things you need to choose resilience. Please.