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I love the feeling of shifting my weight from one foot to the other, pushing up and reaching out with anticipation, the outcome unknown with hope the next hold is good, and trusting I’ve got it.
In the midst of daily monotony, deadlines, and humdrum, I find escape at the crag—those giant, jagged-edged, towering slabs of rock. The secret keepers of the most stunning bird’s-eye views in the world.
Mammoth, 3,000-foot granite formations in Yosemite National Park, claim the attention of many, but especially the world’s greatest climbers. In documentaries like “The Dawn Wall” and “Free Solo,” you see firsthand the hardest routes, the toughest minds, and the biggest goals—these climbers are constantly striving for the next big challenge.
For athletes at that calibre, setting an impossible new route or climbing free without ropes requires incredible preparation, focus, determination, precision footwork, and elite endurance. Each route is a project, a puzzle to be solved. Though, even with intentional effort and focus, some projects require hundreds of tries. And sometimes those projects are never overcome.
“It turns out that rock climbing is a subtle, refined, and often hyper-intellectual sport. It’s solving puzzles, with your body and mind. It’s about getting past cryptic sequences of rock, through a combination of grace, attunement, cleverness, and power.” ~ C. Thi Nguyen
And, while in awe of what we can accomplish, perhaps the most poignant shift occurs deep within the climber. To me, climbing requires showing up over and over and being seen while failing, falling, and trying again. It’s about how the need for challenge and escape brings us right back to ourselves.
And that’s where I find mindfulness. Climbing requires a connection to breath and a focus on the immediate present. Each of my fingers and toes play a role. The power of each digit pressed into granite or plastic molds reminds me of life lived now.
Climbing is a moving meditation. Fluid movement comes together in dance, in soulful artistry. I am called to give back and care for these sacred Earth spaces. Full-circle mindfulness recalibrates the brain and helps improve overall health, reducing inflammation and increasing our resilience to stress.
But then some days my shoulders are sore and my mind is cluttered with tinker-tot thoughts and the hold is too chalky. Sometimes the same move I did effortlessly the day before is impossible. Sometimes, the failure is too resonant and it feels like a failure of self.
And that’s where I find Buddha.
Climbing reflects my shadow side. It reveals the dark corners where my ego lives and lets my fear and doubt shout from the mountaintop. In Buddhism, we’re taught non-attachment, and so failure in climbing is a call to return to me. It’s a reminder to detach from expectations of how a climb will go that day, to detach the day’s success from my self-worth, and to flow with what is. It’s a call to accept myself even though I fail, to have patience when I’m healing, and to embrace the process.
Climbing teaches me to let go.
And, most of the time, I see incremental progress. I can reach a bit further, trust my right foot a bit more, and find balance in standing. Growth in climbing requires me to push past my limits, try harder than before, and train my body. It’s physically demanding and provides a direct connection to earth and the healing of self through movement. Strength in body and mind is continuously tested.
And that’s where I find muladhara. The muladhara, or root chakra, is the red energy source at our base responsible for keeping us grounded. This ancient knowledge teaches that energy from our base chakra roots us in feelings of safety, confidence, and survival.
Muladhara is the base of our energy line; it’s the beginning of balance. Quite literally, the physicality and movement of climbing connects us to earth and is a practice that grounds us into our natural being. For me, my climbing practice is spiritual therapy.
“Mental health and well being: Climbing offers a wealth of health benefits that are not just physical. It improves your self-esteem, mental agility and self-awareness. It’s a great stress-buster and a full body workout, so it’s good for general well-being.” ~ Tina Gardner
The physical benefits of climbing are no surprise. But, if we let it, climbing can also be a beautifully fun journey into loving ourselves.
For in movement, we find presence.
In disappointment, we find resilience.
And in our power, we find healing.