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?

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