Archives for category: meditation

I’ve definitely hit a high-11s-low-12s plateau in the gym, but I’m pretty complacent about it since at this level, there are still plenty of route options and enjoyment to be had outside. My first priority is to stay uninjured and my second is to develop and maintain mental strength for outdoor climbing, so I’m well-able to work on both of those goals without pushing myself to try higher and higher grades where I risk blowing out my fingers if I don’t back it up with appropriate drills.

I’m sure I’ll still continue to slowly develop strength, but taking my body type and age into account, I probably can’t count on gaining 16-year-old-phenom strength. Lately, I’ve been focusing on technique starting with my footwork, particularly in utilizing small chips with the toes and developing trust and familiarity with those sensations. At some point, I’ll probably also start training my hands more, working specifically on finger and open hand strength, but I’m having plenty of fun already and I hate training drills enough that I can’t be bothered to start that just yet. Once I get sick of being stuck, I’ll look into mounting a campus board somewhere in the house.

I’ve always valued grace and efficiency in movement and I’ve even been criticized for being overly slothy (sorry young-climber-dude-coach, I don’t need to start dyno-ing at this point in my life since I love my shoulders intact in their respective sockets, thankyouverymuch), but after today’s session, I found that I had a smattering of small bruises around my left knee. The fact that I don’t know when I got them speaks volumes — I still have a lot of room for improving my body awareness and proprioception. Honing the mental strength should help that and that brings me back to my daily practice.

But of course it does. I feel like everything brings me back to my daily practice. I love that my studies give me the choice and power to improve myself, but at the same time, I’m really frickin’ lazy and I just want to go be horizontal (which is my absolute favorite state of existence) while filling my brain with all the external stuff life has to offer. My inner struggle with immaturity continues…


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.

I used to admire outspoken people when I was younger and didn’t know quite how to handle my introversion, but I’ve long since stopped spending time with those who believe “If people don’t like me for my honesty, that’s not my problem.” This isn’t the person who mindfully chooses to speak uncomfortable truths for the sake of activism. This is the person who doesn’t hesitate to point out that ugly shirt or evident tiredness in the face or weight change in a person they hardly know. This is the person who gets a little joy and a boost to their own ego out of shock-value moments and seeing someone’s face crumble.

In the Yogic code of ethics, we speak of ahiṃsā (compassion, self-restraint from violence and harm to others). The Sūtras teachers whom I’ve spoken with who study in the tradition I follow all agree: Ahiṃsā is the foundation upon which we practice the four following ethics, including satya (truthfulness).* It’s worth it to note that the non-violence described in the word “ahiṃsā” applies not only to actions, but words and thoughts, as well. This means that in all situations, first consider if your actions and words are compassionate, and then weigh the necessity of vocalizing what is honest.

Like it or not, most of us don’t live solitary lives. Even if we did live without human companionship, we still don’t exist in a vacuum — we consume and create as long as we’re alive. That makes us all teammates in this game of life and it’s in my best interest to see my teammates succeed. Despite how it may look superficially, I don’t think there’s a single person who doesn’t need more kindness in their lives.

And so, I ask: In our daily interactions with others, how can we cultivate more kindness? In the busy-ness of my life, I don’t have time for grand gestures, so I start with myself. I watch my own thoughts, which informs the word choices I make that then drive my actions. The surest way I know how to positively affect those around me is to know myself and my deepest nature so that I can shift away from reactiveness and live mindfully with those around me.

*The other yamas are asteya (self-restraint from stealing and coveting), brahmacharya (appropriate sexual behavior), and aparigraha (self-restraint from greed and possessiveness).

One of the most difficult things about mindfulness is that it cannot be intellectualized. It must be practiced. This realization was a “tough shit” moment for me because I love being in my head. After all, we’ve been graced with incredible brains and we should use them, right? But at the end of the day, if all that philosophizing doesn’t better my life, what use is it?

I attended a dharma talk this past weekend and the talk Tenshin Anderson offered was almost ethereal. There were moments of “Oh, I got it” followed by immediate “Nope, I don’t” moments (quite similar to what I experienced in my quantum physics classes in university). He offered a couple of hints of practical wisdom (Where is your place?), but I felt that for the most part, unless one had an established practice in meditation, it wasn’t very applicable for everyday living outside of a Zen center.*

After a challenging end to 2015 where I thought too much and practiced too little and not enough changed for the better, this is what I have emblazoned on my forehead now: Sit more. (Not literally, but I can feel it there.)

The hardest part for me has been coming to my cushion every day, but after a while of committed practice, it has gotten easier and easier. Practice and theory must go hand in hand for one is blind without the other. I studied myself silly between October 2014 and August 2015. I got the theory. Now, it’s time to practice. (And then, maybe sign up for a Sūtras study course because it’s all about balance, right?)

*I’m not well-versed enough in Buddhism to recognize whether this is a lineage preference or a person preference, but I enjoy Tenshin Fletcher’s talks.