For the Love of Escape
Grade five assembly at John W McLeod school. We were all in the room that was used for both gym. music, religion class and the Christmas concert. The teachers are near the stage, and the students are all sitting on the floor, crossed legged. I am wearing shorts and in this crossed leg position, my eyes are drawn to the mole on my left leg. I place my arm over my leg so no one else can see it. I do not like any of my freckles or moles. I notice how big my thighs are, comparing them to the girls in my class who have already started to get breasts. Their legs are long and thin, my legs are short and wide. There is no sign of breasts for me either.
My legs never seemed to get proportionally longer, The thighs always seemed too big. I was teased for my round butt and my relatively flat chest throughout junior high school. In grade nine, In high school the pond was much bigger. On one hand, I could hide more easily in the classes with the super smart geeks. But that meant I also was not seen by the boys I had crushes on. Maybe one would say my body was athletic. I certainly did not look like Betty and Veronica in the Archie comics I read while sunbathing in the yard.
Bottomline.... I was not a fan of my body. Couple this dislike with my penchant for stress eating, sexual assault and we had a perfect storm. By grade twelve, I had stopped eating, striving to get the body I wanted. I exercised harder and more often, with each step arguing against the bullies and injustice. When on a ten day canoe school for certification as an instructor, I took a measuring tape since there wasn't a scale.
That same summer, I arrived at work after the fifteen kilometre bike ride at my summer job. In my hand was the usual coffee and bran muffin I picked up at the coffee shop nearby. The floor began to swim and the lights seemed to be dimming as I suddenly felt weak and started to fall to the floor. I am not sure how long I was on the floor. Fortunately, I was alone. I gradually felt okay enough to get to my desk on the fourth floor. I drank water with my muffin and felt better. Perhaps I just needed to refill my coffee. I had dropped it on the floor when I fainted.
Within twelve months, I was being treated for an eating disorder. I was gritty enough to starve myself. I was gritty enough to make myself throw up when I did eat. I was gritty enough to run ten kilometres, bike tens of kilometres a day, go to school and work two jobs. I was ashamed of my large thighs and wanted my waist to be smaller, my breasts to be bigger. I spent days where I would not leave home because I felt too fat and none of my clothes felt right. Fortunately, a psychiatrist was helping me to see how I used food to try to have some sense of control in a world where I could not control what anyone else thought or said about me.
When I found climbing, I found a sense of empowerment that very first day. I overcame my own self doubt and in that was great freedom. I was outside, in the sunshine. The water lapping at the rocks below and silence except for the breeze in the trees made me feel connected to myself. But we acclimatize. There were so few climbers and I happened to bring my grit to this sport and got good. I spent a lot of time practicing and relative to others, I was getting strong and capable. I won a few competitions here and away.
When infant mortality was forty percent compared to today's one in ten thousand. Imagine the anxiety of knowing that as a woman, you were a man's property, sold into a marriage for the betterment of families.
Yes, anxiety over a quiz or an aging body seems pretty ridiculous by comparison. Neither is life threatening. But the nervous system doesn't distinguish between the snake about to strike or the fear of imagined thoughts. The nervous system just responds with activation of the sympathetic response.... fight, flight or flee. And if you don't move your body, those hormonal influences just clog up the blood stream. If the thoughts are continuous and do not leave you alone, it starts to become problematic on our body, reducing our immunity, making us more irritable, high blood pressure, ongoing muscle tension, skin problems, headaches, and the list goes on.
The difference between STRIVING and THRIVING is simple... the sense of being complete, full accompanies thriving. One is empty and has a sense of lack in striving.
If a business is thriving, there is still activity and effort. But there is also a sense of already having, being enough. When one is striving for the finish line, one is not yet where one wants to be and one is actively trying to get there. You see this all the time in climbing. People hire coaches or trainers, or do weight training in order to get to the next level. Meanwhile, they are no longer enjoying the process of getting where they want to go because they are only focused out ahead of where they are.
Meditation will show striving energy immediately. The moment you try to get still, try to remain calm and sitting on the floor, the mind will begin trying to be anywhere but where you are. The mind will remind you of things to do, and the need to pick up some item. It will remind you that you might want to message someone. The mind strives for some entertainment. After you become more practiced at meditation and learn to relax and not follow every thought, your meditation begins to thrive. Less striving truly can be more enjoyable and rewarding.
Try it. For now, I will appreciate what my body can do. I will focus on contentment with stillness and following the thoughts that lead to enjoyment rather than grasping all the must do thoughts. How about you?
Climbing Coaching - the 3 Elements
Many years in the making, I became a coach and trainer specific to climbers in 1995 as I wrapped up a masters degree studying the physical characteristics of climbers, and could finally climb a respectable grade myself. Although my research focused on what physical characteristics were predictors of performance, my personal experience led me to recognize the value of understanding movement and getting my head in the game.
One element, informs another. Strength and mobility inform ones technique, the combination of both strength and skill inform how we mentally approach challenge. This also works in the opposite direction; those who have confidence will typically be better equipped to develop strength and skill. The key to success is your ability to determine what you need to focus on training and then finding the activities and drills that will help you grow.
I have a test I used during my initial years of examining climbers physical characteristics. I asked someone I was testing to grab some pinches and hang on them for as long as possible. While the pinches are not the best, and holding onto them is a challenge, the real test is how long the mind will persist at holding onto these miserable grips. I mean, who wants to hang on a wall holding pinches for more than a few seconds. Certainly not the youth I coach, evident by scores that lasted between ten seconds to forty five or so. It was my turn. Less fit, decades older, lower climbing performance did not stop me from trying hard. I tried so hard, I hung on for over seventy seconds.
I wanted to hang on more than the youth. I was willing to actually try hard. The youth who hung in there for close to forty five seconds tried hard, but I doubt they tried their hardest. As much as the test measures grip strength it also measures the mental capacity to persist.
Passion is more. Passion is fuelled by, "I can, I will, I must!!!" Warriors would not be convinced to charge based solely on a pay check. Warriors charge and defend what they love with all their hearts. It is an honour to be of such service to ones community. Olympians make it to the Games with the earth moving desire to put in hours or training, injuries, expense for the one moment to perform their very best on the global stage.
So how do we cultivate passion if it is such an important and essential element in not only performance but training strength and mobility and being willing to feel uncomfortable trying to implement new technique?
First - there needs to be a goal - an idea of something desired deeply. Maybe it is success on a beautiful line that stretches from the valley floor to the horizon. Or maybe it is the idea of the world stage. Perhaps it is a desire for the fullest expression of what is in one's heart. Something... anything, but there must be a goal.
Second - from that idea one longs to fulfill, there must also be discipline to do the hard thing. The act of putting one foot in front of the other regardless of an off day or unexciting routes, the repetition of training, is essential. You do not get to leave the problems stumping you. You continue to ask how can I do this and work at it until you figure it out. As a coach, I definitely recommend that walking away for moments of reprieve can be very helpful in reawakening the passion and preventing overuse injuries, but the route is not left unfinished.
Third - one must celebrate every fall with curiosity and positivity. To fall and not be inquisitive, or to fall and not acknowledge how challenging this problem is, sets you up to walk away. As a line in the trailer of the Netflix series "Life in Pieces" states, "Life is about these moments." If you do not celebrate the moments, no matter what they are, one loses passion for life pretty quickly.
Fourth - Curiosity means to continue to try to figure out and learn - your way - to complete the route. You are more than an ape mimicking someone else's beta - climber's slang for climbing the route the way everyone else climbed it. After testing countless climbers, I can tell you that every body is different physically, and therefore the biomechanics for them to do moves is going to be different than someone else. Understanding how to fine tune, hone and work with your biomechanics IS learning technique. Basically this step is to grow.
Fifth - accept what arises. And keep moving forward. This is probably the hardest step to continue taking. My body is now 57 years old and I find hanging and engaging my shoulder with poor feet or no feet very hard. I can do all the other steps, but now my body is getting older and it is harder to just maintain where I was let alone improve. We are all aging. Year's ago at a lecture session I offered, I asked the group attending the session titled, "Aging Gracefully" a simple question. Think of all you have accomplished in the last thirty years. You could live another thirty years. What will you do with those years? One person responded with almost panic. The previous years had been full of accomplishments - for what - the well sought after retirement. And irrelevance that comes with it.
Every athlete eventually retires. Every CEO, model, actor, super star is eventually replaced by a newer younger version. But if you love what you do... it doesn't matter whether you are the best. It only matters that you get to do what you love to do. Meaning this last step is not about whether you win or lose, send the route or not... it is about playing the game. Being able to move, be in the community in whatever capacity you can and let go of the need for it to more than that.
This is the ultimate yin and yang of life. Birth is so greatly celebrated, as is ones death when we take stock of all that life has meant. But what matters to you at the end of life - is simply the moments within it and did you life honestly, in service - as a warrior, passionate for a cause or timidly on the sidelines as a spectator, enjoying a few drinks and snacks? Or somewhere in between?