The mystique of rock climbing is climbing; you get to the top of a rock glad it’s over but really wish it would go on forever. The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don’t conquer anything except things in yourself…. The act of writing justifies poetry. Climbing is the same: recognizing that you are a flow. The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going. There is no possible reason for climbing except the climbing itself; it is a self-communication
What does it mean to climb? What is it that makes climbing unique and addictive? Does climbing mean climbing hard? Or does it mean climbing purely for the thrill of it? Or is there an overlap? We often run into these questions as we get more sucked into the sport. While the answer to some of the questions lay right before us, it is and can be often overlooked.
Climbing involves movement wherein your body has to adjust and shape itself in coordination with a rock; it's a form of dance to be more precise. In the past, there have been various studies where a zen-like term called flow has infiltrated the climbing jargon. The term is in regards to some of the common references we often hear such as "being in the zone" or "in the moment". The references are not only limited to climbing but are used widely across different disciplines to describe intense or brief epiphanic moments.
Flow is a relatively new term that describes the summation of these moments. It suggests a state where a climber is fully absorbed in what he’s doing. Flow helps us understand that climbing is so much more than just a movement limited to physicality. It's the movement of mind and it’s different in that it asks for an outlook; an approach. It’s important to perceive this because as individuals our drive to climb may vary from one another. As beginners, we may not even know what it is. Some of us climb because of the metaphysical characteristics associated with the sport, whereas some find meaning in competition. And then, there are those who climb simply because it’s fun and engaging. The idea is to approach climbing holistically and not merely as a sport that may appear dull and strenuous from the outside.
The term flow was first coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: a Hungarian-American psychologist who describes it as, “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”. In other words, the feeling you get while you’re engrossed in a worthwhile challenge. It transcends even time if you have noticed. And as you get past the challenge you’re only left with a sense of exhilaration. This is what defines an optimal experience: an instance where both your body and mind are stretched to its limit as addressed by Csikszentmihalyi in his research.
Over time, I have come to believe that as competitive as climbing can get, it also has space outside the competitive world. Space where you aren’t against others or yourself but instead it’s just you “with” or “by” yourself. A space that allows you to grow without much self-doubt, although, it requires a certain kind of mindset. To put it in context, there's an attitude and approach that enables us to understand this moving meditation at a much deeper level. And this is where "flow'' comes into perspective. It allows us to cultivate a mindset conducive to having optimal experiences. For those who are stuck and having trouble progressing, reflect and think about the cause behind it. Yes, it is true that the more you climb the better you get. But there’s more to it. There’s psychology, there’s technique and last but not the least, there’s training.
Grades are important but so is the understanding that they aren’t something to be obsessed with. Rahul is someone to consult as he combines several years of experience not only as a climber but also as a route-setter and an instructor. His instructions are on point and his voice, modest. I remember running into trivial injuries and approaching him. I knew there was something I wasn’t doing right but I wasn’t sure. After speaking to him, I learned that my injuries resulted from not warming up on most of my climbing sessions. And a good warm-up may stretch longer than 20 to 30 minutes. In short, the approach needed to be corrected. Similarly, Yadu also has some deep insights on how to approach this discipline. One evening while speaking to him, I realized that instead of moving from one problem to another, I could just be working my way across the splatter board. Something that I had never even considered. A splatter board is essentially a training board covered with big and small resin holds. It's a great contraption to train on. This is yet another example of where "flow" plays a pivotal role. It teaches us the importance of letting go while being mindful.
The idea is to practice volume over intensity, which is something that I rarely see happening. I myself have fallen victim to this wherein I'd go with the mindset that says, "just go and crush it". And to realize that the optimal experience I seek doesn't lend itself to crushing the hardest grade that my body clearly can't take everyday. Instead, I can register the same experience in terms of volume and therefore reach the high my body needs to keep me going the next day.
The aim is to alleviate the self and distractions that come along with it. And so long you're able to do that, you allow yourself to be free of self-consciousness so you can be fully present with the task at hand. For those who are just beginning, climb the V0s and V1s, and if you feel comfortable doing so, then move onto V2s. Once finished, re-climb them, focus not only on just getting to the top but also on the movement from the bottom to the top.
“The mystique of rock climbing is climbing; you get to the top of a rock glad it’s over but really wish it would go on forever. The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don’t conquer anything except things in yourself…. The act of writing justifies poetry. Climbing is the same: recognizing that you are a flow. The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going. There is no possible reason for climbing except the climbing itself; it is a self-communication,” says Csikszentmihaly in The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium. P.S. The article is purely subjective. If you’re interested in learning more about flow, the author recommends reading, Flow: The psychology of optimal experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.
Cover Photo: Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash