Now that I’m in a mental space that allows me to lead into the high-5.11s and pull moves on lead with the confidence I have on top rope without that paralyzing resistance I used to feel leading low-5.10s just a couple weeks ago, I’m left wondering — what happened to the fear?

I guess I should back up first — what is my fear? All the fear I contend with in my everyday life comes from an irrational space. With regards to climbing, I’m tied into a rope, clipped well above decking risk. Rationally, I can understand that I’m not in danger, but I sometimes can’t make myself believe it. This fear is a wasteful use of energy. It’s anxiety; it’s my brain dreaming up the unreal what-ifs that won’t happen, distracting me from what is right in front of me. It’s always my brain, isn’t it?

I know for a fact that the onset of the climbing slump happened when I fell off the daily meditation wagon. A schedule change hit me pretty hard and “I’ll practice tomorrow” turned into weeks of postponement. I also know for a fact that the slump abated when I started meditating every day again.

Meditation is an exercise in disciplining the mind. I can find meditation in my activities (climbing, riding, playing music), but in all those exercises, the focus is diluted by involving more variables (physical movement, auditory input). When I’m sitting, my effort is in keeping my focus on one thing and one thing only. This is how the formal practice differs from the informal practice. In any other activity that might feel meditative, there is no way to limit the focus to just one thing. This isn’t to say that the informal practice isn’t important or invalid (on the contrary, the informal practice is a necessary application to make the formal practice relevant to real life — why practice at all if it only benefits me on the cushion?), but I do believe that there is nothing that can take the place of a formal meditation practice.

The expert expects to find a way to climb through the hard sections so he quickly homes in on that way. He expects to be able to rest, and he finds rest positions. We, on the other hand, home in on the difficulties, the obstacles, and the certainty that we will become exhausted. The expert knows there may be difficult moves, but is confident he will find a way, and that he has enough reserve for a climb of this difficulty. We balk at hard moves because we fear we won’t make it unless we do them exactly right. We fear the moves will exhaust our reserves,and we won’t be able to cope with what follows. These are mental habits produced by our image of our abilities. This image, not our lack of strength or technique, is our most limiting factor.
       Arno Ilgner, “The Rock Warrior’s Way”

I’ve noticed that since I’ve started sitting regularly a couple years ago, I second-guess myself much less often and I regret those split-second decisions less and less all the time. I perceive situations more accurately and I’m able to do it more quickly. Nothing happens in a vacuum, so it makes sense that these changes would affect how I climb, too. It’s helped me see routes from the perch of curiosity, not fear, and I’m able to use my brain for problem-solving, rather than fantasizing fear-inducing scenarios. I don’t know how the practice works; I just know that it does and so, I sit again tonight.