An Ode to Climbing

I believe I am becoming monothematic . And as any monothematic person, I need to convince you, what it is, that makes this theme so important to me.

I now started climbing. And what is it  about climbing, that makes one not mind the skin becoming blistery, broken, then harder? Not care, that the muscles are always weaker than you expect, more sore than you anticipate? What makes one wear for hours- on- end shoes that are way smaller than your normal footwear?

It puzzles me. Yet, I know in my body I fully remember my sensations towards rocks when I first met them.

As a child I walked around the Big Rocks in the coast of Sao Paulo. I always squatted to make sure I was the most balanced I could. In Thailand, I stayed in the rock climbing centre of Tom Sai usually looking the beauty of a body that could climb a rock.

I remember going 4 days in a roll to a certain specific place. I wanted to arrive by a lake. It involved going up a hill, and to go down the other side to be able to reach that given lake.  The first day I took the little mountain up, and though I knew we would have to go down somewhere, I did not really know what it meant. I was wearing my bikini under  a summer  dress. I had flip flops on my feet. And after going up, I found once there, that I  had to climb down a rock wall (I could not see) to reach some kind of crater where was the lake supposedly at.

It was wet, there were ropes there, but they were muddy because of the south east Asian monsoon. I took almost half an hour to know what my body had to do. I went down slightly shivery only to find out there was another wall to be climbed down a few meters away. I went up, using my enormous flexibility to compensate for my lack of strength. There was no way I could reach that place, I thought.

But there is something about rocks: they stay on you. And so, the day after, I came back. Not in a dress but still in flip flops. The first wall had grown on my body and I needed no more than a couple minutes to go down what had taken me almost half an hour the day before.  Just like an announced tragedy , once, I reached the second wall, it was harder than the first. It had rained more that night and I again took almost 40 minutes to  find out how to go down the second wall.

I once again, discovered one more wall to go down, which I decided I could not possibly do. In total, it took me 4 days, to go down four walls. Four rock walls I did not know existed when I heard about the lake. Every single day I was more and more sore. And yet, though I ached I was drawn back, and every time I thought less of the lake itself, and more of the process to get there.

I was often puzzled: what was about the rocks? And right then I knew it was this total balance between body, mind, and breath that it required. This complete awareness that you can find climbing up or down, and that you could, only maybe,  find also in yoga or advanced meditation. There, without ropes, you know that any movement will change your balance. Any difference in breath can be felt and known in a way that not even in most advanced prananyana exercises you can. On that moment you are part of the rock. You are all that you are, and you don’t think about it. There is an almost loss of boundaries that you need to reach in order that your boundaries can remain existing. Any lack of concentration you might fall. I knew that day, I would love to know how to climb more often and better. Yet, that day it was a very individual, personal experience; I just wanted to be.

When I broke my foot in Thailand and I came back to Brasil, my dear friend Rodrigo Purga, took me climbing. Before that, he introduced me to the slack line. Something like a tightrope that is becoming very popular in the world. It was supposed to help me with restoring the balance I had lost once I broke my foot.

Have you ever tried walking on a slack line? It is hard! It is beautiful to see those who can, and how calmly they have to be to be able to float there. All that gentleness you see comes from a total consciousness of all body´s movements and breathing. A consciousness that is not actively thought about, but rather just known through time.

Eventually, they took me to do bouldering (climbing without ropes) in a beautiful place in the coast of Sao Paulo. I remember perfectly well, the exhilaration of being on a rock too far to go down, too scared to let it go and fall in the crash pad, and an entire certainty I could not go any further. I remember being irritated with all the advice the experienced climbers gave me.

Instead I let all their voices become mumbled in the distance, and focused on my breath. It was almost like a total meditation, a full awareness of what it felt like to exist. In that total awareness I was finally able to make the move I needed to go to reach the top which was an easy rock. I remember the amount of strength I had to put on, that it had made me cut my skin , that it had made me release enormous amount of adrenaline and not to be able to move for a long while once I had finally reached the top.

And then I left Brasil, and the rock climbing walls had become a distant memory. But once I came back I knew somehow I wanted to understand more about what made people rock climb. And that is when I joined the Casa de Pedra ( The House of Stone), the climbing gymnasium when I first arrived.

I have been going there 4 to 5days a week. And at first I spent most of my time doing yoga, and walking on the slack line. I climbed the walls like I had climbed the rock, in my world. Something changed these days, I started to let the people  tell me what to do.

It finally became evident what seems to be what makes us now not mind our blisters, or our sore muscles.

As I traveled the world, I have often been noticing what makes one happy is not material wealth. It seems to be related to belonging, to being part of a community. We modern beings are so desperate to be free that we have little by little slipped away of the importance to mean something to a community.  Our communities are mainly all temporary.

Our absence is barely noticed. And so, I have often pondered that the probable reason of the growth of new religious movement is probably related to the fact they can also give a sense of community to modern life. But I digress.

Back to climbing. I went to the Casa de Pedra to reconnect to myself. To reconnect to my body and to calm down my mind, but suddenly I feel part of a community of climbers. And suddenly I realize climbing touches so many of our evolutionary tendencies that it does not surprise me why it is addictive.

There is an obvious sense of accomplishment one gets once one can reach a difficult place. There is a sense of independence one feels in doing so. A sense of reconnecting to nature as mainly climbing is in nature. It brings you back to be aware of your body.

People do not work out to be beautiful, but rather to be able to move more precisely, more flexibly, more accurately. There is a meditative aspect of climbing because of the awareness and stillness you need to have to climb. There is an introspective side of observing the routes to know before you start a climb so that you can know what you should do.

But differently, what might makes Climbing so different to Yoga, or meditation it is the social aspect of it.

I have written before about  how important it was for me to let just go, and be held by someone else.  How profound it had been  to be there and to support a fellow climber, but now more and more this becomes clear to me.

In our modern world, where we are daily more and more dependent on artefacts to go about our daily lives, and where we value so much being independent of all other people, climbing works the other way around.  Climbing makes you more connected to the environment, more fit to arrive to get to un-thought places, but it is a communal effort and we all know it is so.

When you support someone who is climbing, you tell them you are going to keep  them safe. This is incredibly profound. In the total duration of a climb you are with someone else. You really are! Their lives hang in your hands, and their climbing belongs to you as well, so does yours to everybody who is down there, everybody thinking of alternative ways to make that route possible  for you. In a metropolis, where most people look so disconnected, who work too much, think about the unimportant things most of the day, have lost the sense of how social beings we are as a species, climbing makes it possible for one to reconnect to it all. It reconnects your mind, breath, and body, with everything and everyone that is around you. So who would care about the blisters?

Dasein on a tightrope

My days are running through me. I walk more, I work, and I climb. I breathe deeply on my yoga classes. I stretch to the point that those who see me tell me I am like an origami. I try to reconnect to my own rhythm, my own flow. And I am never completely certain whether this relief I feel is real.

Sometimes smells of Asia, the Middle East or Europe flood me. I don’t look at them too long. I let them run with a shiver in my skin. Am I lucky or unlucky to barely have the time to think with them? About them? I am not sure.

Some times I wonder what is it with our generation of cowards? How did we all fall victim or perpetuators of profound encounters of seconds. Deep one night stands which are not even the exercise of impermanence. Rather it seems to be the eternal evasion, and lack of courage to commit that our generation calls freedom?

 

I seat in a restaurant called Pita. We eat Babaganoush and Falafel. We are in Sao Paulo. The only person who I actually knew before I sat in this table is a Brasilian originally from Lebanon. We met when he first arrived in London. He had just been crossing borders in the Middle East and he wanted to know the world. He wanted to have access to all the information available in the universe. I was intrigued.

 

This time he came to my rescue to show a bit of Sao Paulo to my friends who were the world itself. Iva and Nam. Iva born in Malaysia and raised in Australia. A mix of Chinese mother with a French father. Nam ,also raised in Australia, from a family who escaped a camp from Indonesia. A Vietnamese family that had escaped the war.

 

At night we go dance in Serralheria. Andre shows up. Andre who lived in the UK and travelled a year.6 months in Africa and who I met in the border of the Mekong. We dance. We take the Ozzies of the world to have breakfast in a 24hours bakery at 4 am.

They are intrigued. Does Sao Paulo ever stop? Do we ever stop? I am not sure.

 

I enter the place and I encounter the Heiddegerian Psychologist I had once met in another cultural event. A beautiful man who told me he could feel my angst. The angst of someone who is always on the move.

 

He is anxious. He is not so well. I had been to  his house before. His own guts carved by his fingers and imagination into a beautiful house for a happy couple. A house that has to be sold now. One more relationship that comes to an end and closes someone´s soul. I see him now in this bar and I feel he is still floating though he is in Sao Paulo.

 

I drink Cachaca, the Brazilian sugar cane strong drink, and I am drunk. So drunk that I can feel every single part of me and I can´t really know where the boundaries of my body are. I am happy I feel. Nothing did really go as I wished this week. Yet, I feel a bit braver.  I have thought even less of going away. I imagined myself in the Mekong for brief seconds, maybe milliseconds.  I instead go to my cousin s bed. She is now a sister to me.

 

Am I happy here? I am not sure. I walk one further step in the moving slack line. I have to contract all my muscles, and at the same time breathe slowly. I have to focus in one point not to fall. Am I happy? For once, it does not really matter; I walk one more step in the moving slack line. I simply am.

Courage to just Let Go- Sao Paulo, Brazil

Image

I have been told so many times by so many different people how brave they thought I were for travelling the world to places I barely knew anyone, or anything about before getting there. And so often I talked to other travellers about how misguided we thought that idea was. How we all felt it was easy to just go.

Never did I feel so certain about that as I did today. I have in the past almost 3 weeks been reconstructing a fix life. I cant even remember when did that last happen. When was it that I last slept in a place I felt I could be in for as long as I wished?

But as I took every single step towards this new life I felt simultaneously free and trapped. An exhilaration of happiness accompanied of fear. So many papers I should have for being a citizen of somewhere. And I, who had for years, just thought of my passport felt somehow confused by all those letters meaning so many different things, and roots to different people, and systems, and financial benefits, and debts, and I dont what what where. for whom… what? Again what?

And yet I signed.. paper after paper with this mix exhilaration of joy and despair. Thinking how much courage one needs to be tied to a system. A family, a religion, a job, a town, a country. How much information one should have about all these subcultures of being part of a system to “feel” part of it.

Of course, most people just do it. We are all born in it. Most people never think about how crazy it is in fact the idea that human beings must be tied to a recently invented territory, thtough so many rules for the system (chose who knows how, through the years who knows by whom) to reproduce itself.

And yet the calmness that came with it is mind boggling  ( and numbing). Which is so good sometimes. And it is without a doubt easily evolutionarily and socially explainable. I for once in years do not have the freedom ( which correlated with despair ) to be responsible for the place I will be tomorrow.

I will be here. If I go far I might take a plane for a couple of days to another state. That is it. My search for freedom is now within rules. So refreshing. And so strange.

I now climb indoor walls while being supported by a friend. I ll practice in this inorganic walls, the movements to climb the organic rocks, mountains.. sustained always by friends who are familiar to me. Whom I every time speak more consistently in Portuguese. The english words I mix in my own language are finally fading.

Yes, it takes much more courage to stay. Especially when you have gone for so long. And probably it takes a lot of work to keep the inorganic, the constructed as simply a key to keep one centered enough to still be able to wonder about the meaning of life.

Yes that is probably the hardest work of all. Not to be swallowed by the system. Not to  just enter in the “do mode” and forget that after all we all need some kind of meaning to the lives we live. Either being it a metaphysical, or a humanist one. Even the most hard core atheist evolutionary reasoners usually agreed that we are symbolic creatures… and in one moment or another we all probably wonder what is the point of it all.

To many this meaning might be in an inborn capacity for faith coupled with a very religious socializing world ( maybe the lucky ones), others  might search for it their whole life in different times.

And there are of course, those who are too busy surviving. And the ones who are too utilitarian who simply want to maximize pleasure by any means and postpone any suffering or any concern for the meaning of life.

I am however, almost convinced it comes to all. And that it does not good trying to hide from it our whole life.

So maybe after all courage is to resist the system from within. Any system you are so used to. Maybe courage it is to try new things. Stay if you have gone for so long that you are no longer certain anymore why you were going. Go if you feel that you are so trapped by the system that you are afraid to go and find out how others live.  Courage is probably having the strength to open yourself, expose your wounds, ask the questions you are afraid of the answers, it is to trust yourself and others. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the awareness of it.. and yet not let it rule your daily life.

I have been brave these weeks. I am doing all the things that scare me. And yesterday as I let go from the top of the climbing inorganic wall for the first time ever, I really did. I usually have always trusted my strength to go up those walls, but yesterday I completely trusted my friend holding me there in these ropes. I was surprised knowing how usually terrified of that moment I usually am.

Then something incredibly telling happened. I was asked by the instructor what did I fear most: climbing or supporting my friend. I told the instructor without hesitation that supporting my friend not to fall was way harder for me. But then we kept doing it. We kept climbing the wall,  going through different routes,  and in the end of the night I felt completely at ease.

And as I seat to write this, as I am about to go climbing one more day I stop to ponder about it. And suddenly it feels symbolic clear to me. How could I support someone not to fall if I never knew where I would be the day after? Now, I feel at ease. I can climb, I can let go, and I can definitely support my friend. Simply because I seem to have finally committed to stay. And in my world this is the bravest I have been in a long time. It feels good, scary, exhilariting, but good.

Different “Airs”- Campo Grande- Brasil

” Ah. You are used to other “airs”….”

Smiles the beautiful black woman the other side of the counter.
I am in Campo Grande the capital of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. State that is known by different people for different reasons. It is known by some with admiration for being the state where there are farms, and cattle, and plantations of soy. To others with disdain for the destruction of the Amazon, the violence directed towards the indigenous populations, and discrimination in general. It is the passing by place for people who are going to the natural paradises in Brasil of Bonito and Pantanal.

I came to visit a friend who did not come from here. And as usual when I am somewhere I do not know I just look for possible new friends in Couch Surfing( CS). There was something intriguing about the couch surfing community here. It seems to exist not only to rescue travellers but to  rescue itself. I wrote a handful of people who live here and somehow they all knew each other. They had all come from different states of Brasil. They all felt incredibly lonely here. They felt they had not only complete different views about life than the locals, but that it was incredibly hard to be accepted by them. So the CS community here worked as community for friendship for those who came to live here from somewhere else.

I woke up having a strong headache and I decided to go walking to one of  the only two vegetarian restaurants in this meat loving city.  As I walked I couldn’t help but feeling the city moved in a different pace. It was slow. So slow that I myself felt I was in slow motion. The sun was blasting in the complete blue sky. There are trees but it feels they are not really there in this seemingly vast spread of low concrete constructions…There is almost no humidity in the air after probably months of lack of rain. And I just strolled as if I were in another planet.

It did somehow not feel like Brazil to me. None of the “Brasils” I had ever visited before. And as I walked by a pharmacy I decided to go in. I could barely focus considering the headache I had so when the pharmacist came to talk to me I explained very slowly I had a strong headache and asked her whether she could give me a suggestion for a pain killer. She took one and showed me where I should pay. As I waited in line she suddenly reappeared . She carried a glass of water. She had realised I needed that pain killer right then, and that maybe I needed some water as well not only to take the medicine but also because it was such a hot day.

I was flabbergasted. Was she one of the uninviting locals I had been warned so much about ? I was so impressed by how caring that lady had been that I decided I liked Campo Grande right there. On my second day, with a blasting unforgiving sun in the sky, my boiling confused aching head, and my lonely, broken soul I decided I liked Campo Grande for every single person I had met here so far. And then I strolled a bit longer till I realised maybe I should buy some water.

I walked by a simple restaurant and as I went in to buy some water I noticed the man who worked there was on the phone. I, as usual, stood sill waiting. When he noticed me he tried to find out what I needed while on the phone. I pointed to the water. He took  it for me.. I paid and thanked him. He smiled. And then as I was opening my bottle a black beautiful young lady showed up and asked me whether I was having a good day.

The question took me by surprise. I had definitely not been having a good day but I decided I was going to simply tell her I had a headache though  the day was beautiful.
She gently smiled and said

” Yes. It is hard this time of the year. Too cold in the mornings, and then more than 30 celsius in a couple of hours. No humidity whatsoever in the air. It is hard in anyone´s body.`”

” Yes, and I have only arrived here a couple days ago”

” Ah. You are not from here ? So that is what it is. You are used to different airs.”

I loved that lady right there. For taking me for being from here even though she was probably certain I was not. I dressed in white indian clothes… with glasses that are too trendy for the country side, moving in a different pace. And yet she was kind enough to in one sentence tell me I could have been from here, and that my feeling bad was maybe because I was used to a different air.

It was so poetic that I strolled the rest of my way in awe. I arrived at the Chinese owned vegetarian restaurant in the town and as I walked in I again felt like I was stepping in a different realm. It was a peaceful place. My new CS friend was there. He was a vegetarian coming from Rio. He worked in an UNESCO project to protect non material culture. He was also used to different airs.

I told him about my experience walking there and he concluded it must be me. That I always attract the nicest people. That it had been an unusual interaction. I did  not know. I knew he was nice and that I always am with nice people. I had managed finding a yoga place in Campo Grande where the Yoga Instructor knew more about Sanskrit, yoga philosophy, hinduism, and buddhism than most yogis I have met in Asia.

I in fact, can´t  speak much of Campo Grande. But as I am here and I observe the different “air” comes to me the Benjamim Taubkin words. The kind words he told me when he read my post explaining I was coming home. I had finished that post saying he had once told me Brazil had the space for the new.

In his reply he wished me “welcome back” and he followed by saying that It would not be easy. But that he had noticed lately in his life that what seems to matter it is not whether something is easy or difficult. But that it had to have meaning, light and purpose.

As I spend my last free days in a total strange place, I know that these different “airs” have to be over for me for now. I am about to go home. I am about to make a room my own, to start working teaching languages in the morning and evenings. I am about to be free at lunch time to eat with my grandmother and cousin every single day. I am about to have the time to find my yoga place, my climbing place in the town where I was born.

Air is a powerful symbol. For many traditions it is life itself.  As I seat in the yoga class in Campo Grande and I do the Pranayama ( breathing exercises) that I have long not done I realise I have been used to too many different airs lately, but that I had not really allowed for these “airs” to enter too deeply inside of me. As I feel a blasting headache the morning after my Yoga practice I somehow believe it is the air that I started to really breathe in. Benjamim was right, it is not easy. But I am embracing the difficulty and feel somehow a hint of metaphysical feeling that maybe it is simply because it is already sooo meaningful.