Exploring the vertical realm of climbing is a complex pursuit fueled by many different motivations. Some of us climb for the mental and physical fitness benefits, some for the stress relieving properties, and some for the adrenaline that adventure climbing sometimes provides. Others climb to impress their new guy or girl, or just for the achievement.
Whatever the reasons, in my opinion, the mental challenges are really some of the hardest aspects of climbing. We can crank one-armed pull-ups and front levers ‘til the cows come home, but if we cannot face our fears and make the next move, we can find ourselves on a lame and horrifying pants-peeing plateau. Unfortunately this is also usually hilarious for our watching friends.
Here are some key points to keep in mind this summer to help you avoid this situation and bring you a little closer to “the way”.
Lego my Ego: A timeless concept found in a lot of popular philosophy is: avoid letting the ego interfere with our actions. If we let ourselves believe that our personal worth is somehow connected to succeeding or failing in climbing or doing it better than someone else, we need to realize the shallowness of this approach. We must tap into a deeper and more clear realization, by asking ourselves why we really do climb. Often we let the peanut gallery observers that make up the crag and the gym “scene,” interfere with our climbing performance.
It's helpful to remember that the opinions of others mean little or nothing in the world at large, and those opinions also change over time with various agendas. Opinions are like passing clouds. Ultimately we climb for ourselves and our climbing partner's benefit and enjoyment. That sounds somewhat selfish, but I assure you it’s not.
It's one of the beautiful things about climbing. Few things in this world can help us strip down mentally and live and enjoy the present moment as much as this in-the-moment sport. With time and practice, we can incorporate ego-less climbing into our experience just like any other skill.
Yearn to Learn: Once we leave the ego behind we will free up vast stores of reserves that had been previously hindered by our ego. If we try to focus on moving with calm precision in the face of challenge, we will go a long way at finding a more productive balance to our experiences. This is true in life as well as climbing. The master Bruce Lee once said, “Be like water. Water is constantly moving.” If we stay fluid and flexible, with an open and accepting state of mind for the diversity of holds and moves we might need, we have the "right mind" to climb. Gaining satisfaction and self worth from learning and moving with economy in our climbing will give us happiness and motivation that is free of internal mind games.
Fear Itself: I have previously talked about fear and its many fickle facets in prior articles. I am actually well associated with the subject. Fear has the power to either enslave or free us in our climbing. We are often stronger and better prepared to face the challenges than we realize. In our civilization we are taught to avoid danger and face challenges, hoping to side-step them instead of approaching them head on with ingenuity and inner strength. We must cast away the idea of our island of safety and engage life. The negative self- talk that occurs in all climbers is a prime source for fear. We must strive to silence this inner dialogue, so as to stay open and receptive to the climb. We want to push ourselves so that we can enable growth, learning, and the maintenance of our “fluidity”, but we don't want to put ourselves into gripping death epics beyond our abilities. We don't show the proper respect that climbing deserves if we do not value the gift of life enough to climb in a way that allows us to live to do it another day.
Above all, enjoy yourself and explore, respect the Earth, and climb to climb.
Patrick L Welsh, 27, is a climber/skier/musician from Salt Lake City. Growing up in the Wasatch Mountains, he has climbed for 10 years and has worked for outdoor companies Black Diamond Equipment and Revolution Climbing. Email him at: email@example.com.