Seize the Day
Nick and I had completed the first three months of our climbing road trip, landing in British Columbia. Our first stop was a basement apartment in Burnaby which we only held onto for a month or so. The drive over the bridge to North Vancouver and the climbing gym, The Edge, was mind numbing to say the least. Settled in North Vancouver, writing my thesis, working three jobs and trying to continue to climb, we were also burdened with our rescue dog, Ashley. Ashley was a lovely golden retriever who had one very challenging flaw. She never wanted to be alone. If left alone, she would do some damage. In addition to this challenge, the universe saw fit to have our apartment broken into and my computer that I was doing my thesis on, stolen and our landlady was none to pleased that her home had been broken into.
The stress of multiple jobs, barely making enough to pay rent, groceries and very little outdoor climbing time, not to mention a dog who destroyed stuff when you left her alone combined with the calamity of break ins left both Nick and I pretty unhappy. We broke up.
We still had the logistics of finding separate places to live and had decided that neither of us was in a position to care for the dog on our own which meant we needed to find a new home for her. The carefree days of getting up and going climbing were long gone.
My heart broken and my mind dispersed, I embarked on a girls climbing trip to Canmore, would be the thing for me. Out on the rocks, we met a few other climbers, one of whom had just moved back to Canada after doing studies in university in Colorado. Curious, I pried more information out of him while I also tried to figure how the heck I might clip that second bolt without having to do the crux move first and cursing the first ascentionist who must not have considered that a shorter person might break an ankle or take a ground fall because they couldn't just stand on the ledge to clip.
I returned to North Vancouver with a plan. I was done with Vancouver and it's endless traffic, incredibly expensive rents and long-ass drives to the crags. I was going to do a PhD in Boulder, Co. I had a plan. I was excited and less broken hearted. This made it a little easier for Nick and I to actually have conversation.
Nick was thinking university, giving up climbing. Maybe. We had this conversation about how he felt unfulfilled with climbing. He only saw the difficulty of training and not having a lot of routes to challenge him. A little back story... the month before, Nick had gone on a climbing trip to Smith Rocks. His goal was to do his first 5.13a. He did 5.13a, 5.13b and 5.13c. In other words, he shattered what he set out to do and now - 1995 remember - returned to a predominately trad climbing mecca with few route options and even fewer potential climbing partners. This was the year however, when local Squamish climber Jim Sanford would climb Canada's first 5.14a, Pulse, in Cheakamus Canyon.
I suggested he try trad climbing. Up to this point, Nick had really only clipped bolts. I had started by placing gear on trad routes, mind you I did lack a great deal of experience. I did have a very small rack and enough experience on how to use the gear to share what I knew with Nick. So we went out and did a couple of pitches of 5.10. Nick was excited. On the drive back to North Vancouver, Nick decided that he wanted to do something bigger, more adventurous. We went to the gym and he chatted with folks we knew who did a lot of trad climbing. He figured out borrowing some gear and we made a plan to climb the next day. I asked which route he wanted to do and he answered, The Grand Wall.
I know I have written about this adventure before, but let's review the facts. At this time, I climbed 5.11c/d on a good day. This would happen in the gym after I tried the route a few times and figured out the moves. I mentioned Nick could redpoint 5.13, and his onsight was about 5.12a/b. Up until this particular day, the hardest trad route I had climbed was 5.10+ and the longest route I had done was maybe eight pitches of climbing. Nick had only placed gear on the two pitches of 5.10 we had done the day before.
It was an epic day. I was coached by an anonymous climber to not completely layback the split pillar. Advice I ignored due to my lack of off width climbing experience. Nick cruised the route and every other pitch as well. I again cursed my height while trying to climb the bolt ladder section and regretted my decision to layback the split pillar when I realized I not only had to layback Perry's layback, I also was carrying all the gear while doing it. Yes, that is correct, we were so inexperienced, we did not know enough to send the gear up to Nick before I climbed.
Nick cajoled me through the final pitches of the route, successfully getting us to Belly good ledge. After hours in the sun and heat and working harder than my body had worked before, this was the breaking point for me. Half way across that ledge, laughter bubbled out of me. I lay there terrified and confident I would never ever be at this place again in my life. Nick, initially unsure about my mental instability, but as patient as ever, chuckled and smiled and continue to coax me to just wriggle a little further and I eventually made it to the other side.
The car ride back to North Vancouver was filled with comfortable quiet. Fortunately, sneaking out of the window in the bedroom had not alerted Ashley that we were gone for the day and nothing had been destroyed. Nick went out that evening with friends and I stayed and worked on the thesis. Nick returned quite early though and I cautiously asked why he hadn't stayed out with friends. The door opened and we chatted about our day and eventually got around to his dreams. Specifically, I heard him say, he wanted to 5.14 but BC didn't have the selection of routes for him to capture that dream. He was right. He also acknowledged he didn't know where climbing could take him and that is why it may just be time to go to university.
As a coach, I have gotten good at hearing people's dreams. And their fears. We all have dreams, even if we think we don't, we do. We just haven't been able to access them because of all the noise of day to day living. When I got quiet, in nature, doing something physical, something I loved, I heard the whisper of my heart say, 'let's do it, let's live in Boulder, Co and get a PhD.' I also heard my resistance. 'Only Americans can live in the US and you are not American. And you would have to get accepted into the PhD program. Your grades and project are not good enough.'
Sitting there with Nick, I heard his dream... to continue to climb harder routes, to climb 5.14, to live a life focused on climbing hard routes. And I heard his resistance, that's not the smart thing to do. You should get a degree and be practical about getting a good job.
Sitting in the evening light, in the backyard of the little lower level apartment we had, I said to him, "you can choose university at any time in your life, but you will only have this twenty year old body now. If you want to climb 5.14, it is better to try to accomplish that now and go to university when you are older, than to wait until you are older to try to climb that level." The conversation shifted to how... how could he make it happen.
Seizing the opportunities and the dreams in front of you is essential to realizing those dreams. We ended up together and married for ten years. Nick sent many 5.14's and we did essentially live in Boulder. I never did start or complete a PhD, but I did get well schooled in all things climbing. If Nick had not confronted his doubt about the value of his dream, he would not have chosen to fill his life with adventures he pursued. If I had chosen to believe my research wasn't good enough, I wouldn't have continued to pursue the question what makes someone a good climber. That question has fuelled my career and filled it with so many amazing humans, I would not trade it for anything.
There is a story about a farmer and a lesson in not knowing...
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy for what they called his “misfortune.”
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
The bottomline... we don't know what is better, but we do know what we can choose today, in the moment. We do know we can choose what inspires light and joy or what inspires fear. Choose wisely and seize this moment.
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?
"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." Albert Einstein
Many moons ago, I would awake early in the morning and head to school. Our gym teacher would get us to run sprints, or do longer runs a mile or two in length. It was all part of the training as a cross country team participant. As my mind moves back to those days, I cannot remember much about who else was on the team or even many of our competitions. I do remember one thing very distinctly, I remember the day the gym teacher walked beside a very unhappy young girl and told her she was pretty good at running and should try out for the cross country team. The young girl was me. The feeling of being acknowledged as strong and capable by an adult was inspiring. That simple comment led to running in high school and continuing my own running throughout my adult life. More importantly, it led to my discovery that moving my body really helps me reduce anxiety and stress and improves my mental health.
"When you give away what you long for the most, you heal a part of yourself."
~ Eve Ensler - TED talk on the Vagina Monologues
It is no surprise that what I have chosen for myself is to give away what has had the most meaning for me. Saturday I spent the morning at our local climbing gym with a flurry of young climbers. One was injured, most were a little too excited to be finally spending time together to focus on the training activities I was giving them. I was all smiles. Their enthusiasm and trust in what I ask of them is huge reward. And it is a responsibility I do not take likely.
Notice this quote of Eve Ensler emphasizes giving away what you long for. In the context of the Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler was giving away safety for women. She has created safe spaces for women to go so they would not be mutilated. She was not stomping her feet around looking for her own safety... she gave it away. A coach should not be training while coaching. A yoga teacher should not be doing their own yoga while teaching.... it is about giving away the experience one longs for.
Responsibility... I have a responsibility to the youth, their parents and the facility I work for.
- I have a responsibility to not harm the youth I coach.
- I have a responsibility to assist them to improve their performance.
I also have a responsibility to myself to act with integrity.
As team started the other day each athlete was asked to sign a Code of Conduct form, outlining their responsibility as an athlete. When you get to climb on a team, your behaviour influences the team. This little element seems to be missed in most things these days. But it is essential. If I show up in a bad mood, my mood will influence the team; team and individual motivation and quality of practice. It is my job as the coach to show up in a good mood, preparing to have a positive impact on the team.
So too is it their job to show up ready to work, ready to try, ready to grow.
The CEC - Climbing Escalade Canada - has just released a document called the Athlete Development Model that explains when an athlete - particularly a youth - should be introduced to various skills.
Check out www.climbingcanada.ca - resources.
The CEC has a responsibility to educate coaches, or prospective coaches and protect athletes and this tool goes a long way to achieving that goal.
In this global pandemic, I would suggest, we also have a responsibility to ourselves and to those around us, to live in line with our values. If you value freedom, how about you make it possible for others to have freedom. If value safety, why not assist in keeping people safe from the virus. If you value kindness, be kind. If you value curiosity, stay curious and offer the opportunity for others to be curious. Just a thought.
Humble or Right
A memory popped up on my Facebook timeline - a quote from Wayne Dyer. What seems a million years ago now, I was living in North Vancouver, BC, working in retail and at a coffee shop and a climbing gym. I needed all of the jobs to just pay the expenses of living in BC. My boyfriend and I had landed here after three months of road tripping through the wealth of climbing areas in the United States. We had covered New Hampshire, West Virginia, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Texas. All living out of a Mazda GLC backed with our climbing gear, camping gear and dreams.
Despite our many adventures, or perhaps because of our sudden return to the world of slaving at jobs and spinning in circles to just make enough money, we had split. My partner decided that perhaps he would go to University, climbing dreams no longer fit his aspirations, he had become someone I did not recognize. Heartbroken and overwhelmed with still having to live in the same space, figure out what to do about our dog who disliked being home alone so much that she would dig at the floor if we went out.
I perused the self help section of a local bookstore looking for something to make me feel better about life. I came across this book titled, “Your Erroneous Zones,” by Wayne Dyer. And as I read the first few pages I was hooked. So hooked I still have a copy of the book. An idea I had never before considered was presented to me and it made so much sense I had to read more.
Emotions are born from thoughts. Thoughts are born from our memories, our ideas of who we are. AND we get to choose thoughts. Read that again… we get to choose our thoughts. I can choose to believe a rainy day means bad weather or a rainy day means a good weather day. I can choose to think my partner leaving our relationship is good OR that it is bad. It follows that if I believe his leaving is bad, I will feel bad. If I choose to believe his leaving is good… I will feel good.
Surely, happiness cannot be so simple. Can it? Obviously not.
I said finally, but really that is not it. Choosing how you think about the routes immensely impacts your success, and failure on the route. When someone does not believe they can climb a route, the move is too reachy or the holds are too small, the angle is too steep, they choose thoughts that affirm their inability to be successful. Often then, those thoughts become reality. Tommy Caldwell didn’t complete the Dawn Wall believing it was impossible. He completed the route because he kept the door open to the idea that it could be done.
Often when we choose to believe something is impossible, we feel bad. The moves are too reachy for me, becomes, ‘the routesetters set something reachy,’ then along on its tail rides the emotions of righteous indignation. Or if we disagree with someone’s actions, we believe they should not have done what they did, we are right, and again…. Righteous indignation rides shotgun. I will not state any one political issue of the day, but after #metoo, almost two years of Covid, finding unmarked graves and 4 years with Trump, I think you can find many ideas that have borne out this example.
Trouble is, righteous indignation really doesn’t have the intended impact of getting us what we think will make us happy. Why?
Another book delivered this gem… “if I defend myself, I am attacked.”
Blame and accusation points the finger out to someone else. And we often take that stance to protect, defend our idea of how the world should be. “Routesetters should not set reachy routes.” Even if we could get the whole world to agree with us - an impossibility - we would not have changed our need to be right. The need to be right is a very heavy burden to lift and carry everywhere. It keeps you at war all the time. Because your identity is held together by the conditions of being right. AND there will always be another route, or another movement or ideology to go to war over.
In the relationship I started this story with, I was the girlfriend, loved by this man. Suddenly, his desire to leave the relationship changed one of my many identities. I was no longer the girlfriend. I was no longer in a relationship and loved in that romantic way. So war started… the struggle began. The struggle to be right… to be loveable, to reaffirm the identity. War. And war means being unhappy.
With each loss it was those words… choose happy, not right that made all the difference. If I choose to be right, I am choosing to tell someone else they are wrong and that creates division. Separation. Choosing happy is to choose to look for the joy in the moment I am in, not the past I lived or the prospective future I planned. To choose happy is to choose to live right now. To choose curiosity is humility. It is the most vulnerable and bravest choice you can make.
Last week I posted a quote with the sentiment…
“...see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves…. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary.”
When we defend our identities and hold tightly to them, we hold the attitude of struggle and take ourselves very seriously. We separate ourselves from peace and it is only in peace that we can connect with ourselves and those around us. We cannot grow, nor can we celebrate and feel the joy that is always available to us.
Inclusive or Exclusive?
Now, I am not suggesting that all routesetting should shift away from the dazzle of a dyno or parkour move, BUT when we normalize parkour moves as a part of the everyday climbers existence we are creating a barrier to access if you are short or old. As a woman of 5'3" the early days of my climbing experience meant lots of tall boys trying to tell me how to reach. With parkour style of setting, I cannot necessarily access my technical skills for success because the move involves just jumping. Or reaching if I was 5'7" as I see my taller friends do.
As the human body ages, flexibility decreases, strength decreases, joint stability decreases, the fluid in joints is reduced and therefore the potential for injury increases. Bones become more fragile and the potential for a break from an impact fall increases.
Having run a climbing facility for a couple of decades now, I can tell you that what keeps the business healthy isn't the young guns. 💪 Sure there are many young people now making a little money and paying those membership fees and they are going to soon have kids with whom they want to share their love of the sport. But if a child under four feet can't climb past a certain level because of their height, they will pick a less height dependent sport where they can have success.
Now consider... who are your routesetters? How tall are they? How can a tall person ever understand, actually understand what the difficulty is for a shorter person? Consider who has put up and graded outdoor routes. How tall are they? If you are near or over six feet tall and you think you can accurately assess the grade of outdoor routes, you, my friend are discriminatory.
Climbing as a sport is now fairly gender diverse with most gyms seeing a close to 50-50 split between makes and females using their facility. Now toss in youth who make up many climbing teams and bring a climbing facilities mean population height further down the height scale.
I would suggest average height is no longer five foot ten inches as it was when I started out. Are your setters able to accurately set and grading with inclusivity in mind? Are they setting in such a way to allow older bodies to continue to challenge themselves up the grades without a lot of dynos?
We celebrate the firsts because for the person who is willing to go first, there is a strong willingness to fail. It takes courage to step out on the limb when one is not sure it will hold them. It takes tenacity to try, try again when one is not sure that what one is trying is even possible. It takes patience to allow optimism. It takes a vision, a strength of mind to believe what is not seen.
It is easy to be the third, the forth or the tenth person to do it.
It is easy because you know it is possible. And telling yourself something that has been done by others is easy. To tell yourself something is possible before you ever see it done, that is hard.
There is a phenomenon often witnessed in climbing when a number of people are trying the same route or boulder problem. Everyone will be falling, but willing themselves and their friends to try again. Then one person will unlock the combination of the right sequence and the right amount of strength and mobility and complete (send) the route. After that, the inspiration in the group goes up and sure enough, the route will be accomplished by the other climbers. We call this phenomenon the send train.
It happens in large part because it is now certain the route is climbable and not only that, there is a thought, ‘if that guy can do it, surely, I can too.’ It is a part of human nature to mimic what we witness. In fact, this is how most of us learn a new sport. We mimic the actions of others and then learn from our mistakes, continue to witness, and the learning continues.
According to what we have chosen for competition and in what the community enjoys reading about, we love the effort and the courage it takes. Winning an Oscar happened with Alex Honnold’s solo ascent of El Cap. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson introduced the larger world to the drama of climbing first ascents free with The Grand Wall. Competitions value the climber having no previous knowledge of the route and not having the ability to watch others before attempting the route, regardless of bouldering or lead climbing. Speed climbing is a rehearsal of movements and moving as fast as possible.
And yet, within the larger climbing community, outside of the competition arena, so many boulder problems are now described and explained in guides online with videos showing you how to climb it. The same is not done for route climbing since video taping roped climbing is a much more complex thing. When bouldering however, I have been with folks who refuse to even try the boulder problem without first watching the video. As a coach, my heart breaks a little when this happens. This is when outside becomes the gym experience. Everyone watching everyone else and figuring out how to mimic what they see.
At this, I become nostalgic for the wildness of the sport I love. I long for the silence and intimacy of just yourself and a partner or two. I miss the struggle akin to what we witnessed on The Dawn Wall where the rock holds onto her sequence urging you to learn more about who you are and how you can grow, not just in strength, but in strength of character. Nature challenges your courage and willingness to lose again, and then to pick yourself up and continue to try. And a partner holds your secrets, desires for you as strongly as you desire for yourself. That is where the wild in the story of climbing resides, and that is the true potential value.
But all of that is not the point of this piece. The intention behind this piece is perspective taking of the moment. As I look at this photo, I am reminded of where we were, who we were with and the most prevalent events in my mind that day. AND it also reminds me of an identity I once had, considering this photo was taken two decades ago. This memory is shaped by both the environment that is external - the place, people, and snakes. And the internal dialogue that was chattering on for me that day.
I am distracted. There is the danger and dis-ease at the idea of encountering a snake. There is a longing to return to a gym and work with some of my clients rather than be here while the strong boys sent projects and I tried the problems that were their warm ups. Finally, my life seemed to be making headway. I had finished writing the book and it was in the hands of an editor. In the moments before returning to a climbing road trip, I felt important to the larger climbing community. I felt my ideas mattered. But here with my partner who is spending more time connecting with another climbing partner, I had returned to the feelings if being insignificant. I cannot climb what they climb. I do not even want to try topping out some of these boulders that seem more like roped routes than boulder problems to me. Getting twenty feet off the deck with only a three inch pad beneath me isn't my jam. On this day, despite living out of the back of a truck, I have taken efforts to look fresh and pretty. I coordinated my sport bra and shorts, have refrained from tying my hair into the typical ponytail to hide the dirt and grime of days living in a truck and climbing everyday. My partner is more distracted by the other climbers we are with, all higher profile in the climbing world than me. And of course, he is also distracted by the climbing. Climbing seems to be enough for him. I am not sure it is for me any more.
Even as this image is being taken, I know I am not going to try hard. Not hard enough to do this route. Today I wanted to be more than just a woman who climbs. Or worse, just a person who climbs. I wanted to be his beautiful, strong and intelligent woman who matters.
As I look at this photo twenty years later, I smile. I was worth admiring. I was worth attention. I had just finished the first draft of a book that would be published months later. I was strong and pretty. I had grown, rather, I had outgrown my life being defined by just the grade I climbed. I no longer preferred the escape to the rocks, getting lost in a project. I was now defined by ability to help others achieve their goals, by my wisdom to define and articulate a path to success.
This route reminds me of the recognition of the need I felt to give to others the gift of my understanding. It is the moment when I recognized that need was stronger than my need to climb for myself. It is the moment I recognized I was no longer a climbing bum, rather, I was a coach at heart.
I want you to find an image that sparks in you a sense of positivity and possibility and write about it. Don't worry - you don't need to publish or share what you write, but write as if you had stepped back into that moment. It will tell you more about who you are than you may imagine.
Recovered? Or Always Recovering?
Recently watch a documentary on eating disorders entitled, Light. The message is about the prevalence of eating disorders in the climbing world. I have witnessed eating disorders numerous times in the 25 years of coaching. And from lived experience. The woman above is me, if you had not guessed.
In the documentary, the women interviewed discussed their road to recovery and how hard it was. They are obviously very driven to succeed and therefore were also very successful at their eating disorders. They are still successful but have now accepted that success and the relationship of food, in their particular circumstance, is not the only thing to focus on in life.
I see a parallel in any relationship that is used to feel good. Some folks I know define themselves through work and using work to feel adequate. Some folks use being good at cooking, or their social media success to define themselves.
Bottom line - when we feel inadequate and attempt to control something in a way that becomes unhealthy it is a disorder. Is one recovered when they no longer use the thing? Or when they no longer feel a need to prove or be defined in a particular way?
If you have an eating disorder (ED) and get to healthy behaviours around food, are you recovered? Or just behaving in a healthy way even if the thoughts about needing to be smaller are still running wild through your mind? Or is it based on the homeostatic balance of the body that determines recovery from an eating disorder?
My own experience illustrates that it is not about how you look or whether the body is healthy. It comes down to the mind and how one handles the thoughts that rage through. Being able to restrict, to do a lot of exercise always gave me a sense of control and power. I used food to feel powerful and in control. However when I look back over the number of years when I was lean and strong and climbing hard, I also see how mentally tortured I continued to be. As I flow through photos I can remember how much I weighed at the time or what my body fat percentage was. I remember feeling not enough. I felt a need to be better always. The method to achieve was through restricted diet and lots of exercise.
COVID has led to a 400% increase in the number of people seeking support from Eating Disorders Nova Scotia. Research shows that an increasing number of women going through menopause are now indulging in disordered eating behaviours in an attempt to rid themselves of menopausal weight gain. The numbers of people on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication continues to rise. The number and frequencies of gun violence is on the rise.
Anyone else see a link to a very unhappy population and very destructive behaviours?
I wonder how many people would be in healthy relationships with themselves and others if they did not feel so out of control. To be vulnerable is difficult. To compare oneself to others is to create suffering for oneself.
Maybe then the treatment is to find new management strategies for the things we resist, the things that make us feel threatened. As I see it, the challenge COVID has illustrated is how much - or how little - emotional regulation and resilience people have. We all feel threatened when we are on social media and reading comments we disagree with. We all feel threatened when we are wearing masks in public. We all feel threatened when we cannot get on a plane and travel. This virus makes us all feel out of control of our daily routines.
Last week I listened to the news - only because my car stereo is not connecting to my phone - and I heard 3 stories in my ten minute drive about how people felt they deserved more control. Unfortunately, we have no control over what life will bring. Life is not fair. Control doesn't exist. That is what a lifetime has taught me. It is OUR responsibility to manage, regulate our emotions, and shape our perspective on things. It is not the responsibility of some organization, government or God to ensure we are safe. Life is the ups and downs, the imperfections, the storms and the sunshine.
The thought "if I were 10 pounds lighter" is just a thought that initiates feelings of weakness and powerlessness. These thoughts are initiating feelings of fear. Following fear increases feelings of stress and usually the stress response initiates a behaviour. That behaviour will either be helpful or unhelpful. It may be helpful in the short term and more harmful in the long run. But in any moment YOU and I have the choice what behaviours we choose.
The best teaching I have learned when I am in the storm of negative thoughts... is to ask... Is it true?
This comes from Byron Katie who has many videos, free resources. Just check out The Work.com
Often times the answer is that you cannot absolutely irrevocably know what you are thinking is true. And if you turn the thoughts around, you can often find that the opposite of what you are thinking is also true. This process leads to a less tightly held belief and it is only from that mental/emotional place - from curiosity and openness to thinking differently that change can happen.
In that space of curiosity, of a looser grip, a person with ED can make a more skillful decision. It lightens the pressure of negative provoking thoughts. We can all chose more skillfully if we slow down and take a moment to question our thoughts.
Perhaps true recovery is the ability to disrupt compulsive thoughts and behaviours.
In Buddhism, the middle path is the skillful choice. Buddhism has been around for quite awhile. As have the teachings of Sri Vidya which holds similiar values. Maybe these ancient teachings brought into our lives a little earlier on is really the education we need.
The Elephant and The Rider
The metaphor in a climbing world example would be for example when you are climbing a tall route and start getting that sense of exposure - all that space behind you making you very aware that you are high off the ground. The elephant wants to get down. The elephant may begin to violently shake the legs, over grip the hand holds. The elephant starts looking down and stalling about moving up. The rider is usually off line. But may come online and begin to calculate how far out from the last bolt you are and what kind of a fall you might be in for. The rider may begin to calculate the odds of getting to the next clip, assess what moves will be required, whether the clipping stance is adequate for the amount of pump you feel.
In this example, what drives both the elephant and the rider is the fear of harm, or more accurately, the desire to avoid harm. In order to get the elephant to move toward the next clip has to be a motivation that is greater than the motivation to avoid the fall.
“Sparks come from emotion, not information.”