On the Path to Dance

I still climb. My hands are harder and harder. I confess it is almost like the closest I´ve ever been to a pure meditative state. I have finally really rock climbed for the first time these days… and as I stood there in the rock with a rope holding me, and my brain sending signals, which did not mime my internal desire, I had dissonant thoughts. Though I believed with certainty I was safe, my whole body ignored my thoughts, the adrenalin was released in my body, and I shivered.

 

It all stood further, and further, the people, the stories, the preoccupation. It all became more and more distant. It almost did no longer belong to you, and you seemed to just not to belong to the world at all. Sometimes, I am back, and I feel both the complete certainty that climbing does not belong to this body,  with the certainty that in no other way could I now exist.

 

I thank the rock. I thank the beautiful Spanish girl who gently tells me the secrets into climbing. She who looks exactly like many of the travelers I have met around the world. She is the embodiment of movement and kindness. She does not get how much it means that she is there. Her gentle words. I think about that. How rarely do we actually know how our words do affect the world around.

And as I climb I am suddenly back to every single mountain I had once been before. What is it about mountains I have often wondered?

 

I remember the hardest and most difficult mountain I had once climbed. I was then in Ladakh. In the north of India. I had taken every single form of transportation, and all kinds of permits to arrive in a little village, which had been closed to tourists till some months before.

 

It was a terrifying journey, driving through roads that were always too narrow for two cars to pass at the same time. It always felt like magic when we crossed trucks horning and not having any of us fall down the abyss. It was a ride seeing the dryness of the Himalayas, and the Buddhism represented by monks, stupas ( Buddhist religious constructions),  and flags present all over. It was the beginning of this internal journey that I have started when I left my life in the UK.

 

I knew nothing of mountains before. They stood there.  They were part unthinkable world to me. They just existed and were never among within my thoughts.

I think the first time I thanked a mountain was from a plane. I was coming from the wetness of Delhi to Leh in Ladakh. I needed that absence of water. I needed their imposition, I remember getting out of the plane feeling a bit scared of it … and then seeing the chilly air hitting my skin, and the familiar well known Tibetan, Nepalese and Ladakhi faces. My immediate relief when seeing their soothing rosey cheeks with eyes that always smile.

 

I remember how I took one step at the time (like a meditation in a vipassana retreat) when I climbed the first stupa in Leh. How we all felt some kind of respect towards it. The mountains, the height, the stupas. We, who had just met there, coming from different worlds. I remember clearly walking out and seating in the edge of the mountain and feeling but thankfulness.

I remember seeing the stupas made by people. Stone over stone… representing them being there, and also the interconnection between it all. An opening of path. I remember the beautiful German boy who travelled with me incorporating daily more squatting meditations and building stupas, everytime we were some place more distant.

 

We arrived to that remote village together. He took me together with a rock climber to climb some mountain almost in Pakistan. We knew nothing of the mountain. Nor did we know the language to be able to understand the local people.

 

Being in such a distant place, the locals were surprisingly mixed. Some looked Afghanis, others looked like Mongolians, some looked more south Indian… and most of them had never left that small village. It was  a clear sign of war, rape, love… all that happens when humans from different groups encounter.

The place looked like true paradise on earth.

 

It seemed to have been painted  by an artist.  It was a little oasis in a little plateau between the middle of dry grandiose Himalayan Mountains. To get it there after driving thought the most amazing scenery, we had to climb the last part. There were no roads there.

 

In fact, they were totally living under a subsistence scheme since probably immemorial times. That village had been, since the partition of India, disputed between the two countries. It had sometimes belonged to  Pakistan and other times it belonged to  India. The people seemed did not particularly care about it. They were Muslims, and dressed very colourfully.

 

My friends decided to climb one of the mountains around the village. I offered I had no practice on climbing anything but they thought we could go till I could not go further. We climbed…. and climbed, and climbed while the mountain became meter more meter more corrosive. It started to eventually dismantle in our hands.

 

We passed an animal cemetery and using my anthropological thinking I thought that was probably the further they did go. My friends, did not care about this piece info, we looked at the carcasses and we kept going.

 

We had not ropes; we did not belay anyone, nor did we have proper shoes. We had to support each other at times not to fall using my flexibility and their muscles. And those who have been reading these since then must have remembered that that day I had sworn I d never go beyond my limits.

 

There seeing the village small below us I felt I could be thankful I had lived the life I had lived. I was thankful for it. Yet, I remember thinking that if my life were to finish there I would feel thankful for the life I lived, but if I could make it safe back down I would pay more attention to my own movements and limits.

 

I don’t know if I have. My soul has screamed many times since then and rather than gently taken care of it…I ran, I moved, I rarely respected the gentleness of existence. That day in the mountain I had decided I would not be convinced by anyone again to go beyond my limits…. I haven´t, but I had maybe not even dared to notice my lack of desire to live any further then, how complacent I was towards death. It was something I should have put more attention to.

 

It was not an isolated instance. How many times didn’t I put myself in slightly dangerous situations? Those of you who read me probably know it better than me.

There was one lady in the border of the Mekong who saw it all. And I have written about her. Carley, the lady who at 40 left her life and went to Kashmir living the Kashmiri war for 18 years next to the man she loved. Among the many gifts I had in my life she was one. She was that angel I needed the most.  She, saw my soul, and yet when I smiled she told me it was time for me to come home. As she put it she recognized her pain in me.

 

I felt naked. How could she see I was bleeding from inside though I smiled?  She repeated it to me several times. And I explained to her I was fine and I had no home to go to. And then I broke my foot. And she wrote me telling me she was happy it would make me stay still. Finally, once, still.

….

One of the people I most love in this world, my friend Maciek, who is a Polish yogi wrote me an email today. He talked of dance. He knew how much I loved dancing. And he after years and years being a yogi has started to discover ballroom dance.

 

He started his email telling me dance was now for him like climbing it was for me.

 

I had, for coincidence, gone dancing yesterday. I used to love dancing. And I wanted to tell him that dancing should not feel like climbing.

 

I danced and I danced and I danced last night. And though I loved it, it was in a sense for me like climbing… I was just connecting me with myself. I changed partners every song. I learned new movements; I modified myself but only temporarily till the next song. Then I was free to adapt myself to someone else.

 

Then there was one man who danced with me. He really danced with me. Though we did not talk about it, we knew fairly well we were dancing.

That is when I decided to go home. Because, I am only open yet for climbing. I am, though, I do not like admitting so closed…. I climb because I can trust people to be there supporting me from afar… if they drop me I ll die. And somehow I have no problem with death.

 

What I still need the most is to find this internal home. The one Carley told me I needed to process here were I came from.  And while I climb I start again to encounter who is that person who needs a home. As the people become further and further down the rock, I start to reencounter my breath,  my movement, my mind is more still, I trust them not to drop me down.   Once I do encounter the gentleness necessary, with the time it might take, then maybe I could start dancing again….

 

 

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?

Courage to just Let Go- Sao Paulo, Brazil

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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.