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The Rewards of Climbing

Submitted by karlbaba on 2002-10-26

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The Rewards of Climbing

Folks have been trying to express the reasons and rewards of climbing for a long time. It's tough. I'm afraid I won't have the time or words to approach it now. But I'll make a start. Climbing can be anything from a crutch for our egos to a tool for personal transformation. It can be exercise, sport, art and religion.

We each have our own reasons and rewards for climbing. We may not even understand our reasons or be able to explain the rewards, but we feel something when we climb, and feel compelled to go on climbing.

For some climbing is like dancing; A joy in movement and self-expression. It can be merely exercise, which is pretty dang important to get! For others, climbing is mainly the backdrop for camaraderie and deeper friendships. We epic and we bond. We share this common experience, and now we belong somewhere. Some climbers become adrenaline junkies. We get a little jittery if we don't get the "rush" of some hard cranking on a regular basis.

It's easy for us to get our ego mixed up in our climbing. Most of the time, we are completely wrapped up in a mental dialog about ourselves. We weave an illusory concept of ourselves from our personal history and personal insecurities. That collection of concepts creates a false sense of identity which is our ego. We talk to ourselves internally about how we're doing, what we want, and what we fear. We struggle to find something special about our lives and ourselves. I have found that the false sense of self that this incessant dialog creates becomes a major limitation to peace and harmony in life.

We're seduced by our self-concept, and even if we experience climbing on some deeper level, it's hard not to relate it to our ego as well. Climbing is exotic and sexy. Being a "Climber" makes us special and elevates us above the mundane masses (at least in our minds) When we do something we didn't think we could, we feel better about ourselves. The more we feel our life's validity is related to climbing, the more we tend to think "our" type of climbing is superior to that of others. "Our" way of climbing is ethical and pure! Others don't understand because they haven't reached "Our" level. Still, it feels better to feel good about yourself than bad. Climbing's not a bad way to get there, if you can do it without putting others down in the process.

Sometimes climbing gives us a taste of something beyond our ego. Most of us have experienced flashes of peace and harmony while climbing. When I'm balanced on tiny holds and a lapse in concentration could send me plummeting to unknown consequences, I can't afford to be distracted by mental chatter. The circumstance of climbing brings me absolutely into the present moment. My whole being comes into focus on the problem of ascending stone. In the face of potential struggle for survival, the petty concerns of my little self dare not surface. I feel the power of my real being, integrated and intimate. I have the opportunity to realize that I would be better off without the incessant depressing pep talk of the mind. I start to break the habit of constant associative thinking. Being present and centered in the here and now is a state that is inherently fulfilling. Don't take my word for it, just notice for yourself when you are out on the stone, feeling in the groove! If you find you're having a bad day at the crags, take note of your state of mind. Collect yourself fully and see if things change.

Many sports have enabled people to have peak experiences. Anything that concentrates the mind creates a window for self-discovery. Climbing is an especially potent tool because the apparent risk DEMANDS our concentration. Concentration is not "thinking hard". It?s the focus of all our attention. Learning to focus and act in the face of fear gives us the power to respond when others simply panic. If I were a passenger in a car spinning out on an icy road, I would want a climber at the wheel.

Beside the intense experience of Being realized at peak moments on challenging climbs, the whole immersion in nature soaks us in peace and beauty.
Instead of just walking over the ground, our feet insulated with shoes, we embrace nature with our bare hands, with our whole bodies. By learning to use our body in concert to accomplish improbable moves, we reclaim our natural state of physical wholeness. An unconscious attitude that our arms are accessories for manipulating phones and faxes is replaced by a comfortable and intuitive sense of our physical totality.

When we go climbing, we return to a world undomesticated by artificial routines and pretensions. Most of us get into the habit of sleepily taking our world for granted. Climbing interrupts our usual world. Trees look different from hundreds of feet up. The whole landscape unfolds from a higher vantage point. The change in perspective allows us to have a different view on our lives as well.

When I soloed Zodiac, my second grade VI, in 1982, I was immersed in a week of solitary concentration in the vertical environment. 300 feet from the top I was ravaged by an intense storm that rained and snowed on me until things looked quite grim. Between breaks in the storm, I crept up to the summit and was redeemed! After a week without walking, and without many of the everyday experiences that I took for granted, everything seemed new again. Plants and trees seemed to explode with life. When I removed the rack and walked around unroped, I felt like an astronaut romping in the reduced gravity of the moon! The friends who came to help me carry gear down were magical beings. My heart swelled from feelings of brotherhood. When we reached the car, I felt like we were driving a million miles an hour. I can't even describe the hot food and cold beer. I enjoyed a refreshed experience of everything.

You might find yourself in different ways than I have. Your perspective on the blessings of climbing will be different. I just hope that you look within yourself and find out more about what climbing means to you; what it teaches you. Don't let anyone tell you what climbing "should" be for you! Own it yourself! Maybe you'll find that climbing helps you offer a better person to your whole world. The danger of domestication threatens you and your family. They won't be any happier in a sleepy daily routine either. They may have to find themselves in their own way too, but you can be the example. Take the freedom, fearlessness, and joy from your world of climbing and pass it on.




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