There was only one other time in my life I remember being so fully embodied and present.
The first time I was on the edge of a wet and rocky mountain cliff with a bunch of men who had experience in downhill mountain biking. I was in Skippers Canyon, New Zealand with a lot of zeal but no technical training or experience. I swear—it was God who got me down that steep, slick bike trail alive that day.
Fast forward nearly 16 years. I’m older, not as daring (or stupid), and not as agile as I once felt. I’m dating a professional rock climber and mountaineer. He’s super hot and excited to take me climbing. I think it would be good for me as I haven’t really done much exercise (I don’t consider my sadhana exercise) and am looking to strengthen my body and have more fun in my life.
What I didn’t realize is what rock climbing would teach me and where it would take me within myself. I had given up on meditation after a tragic loss in my life. For me, it was too intense and not conducive to healing through trauma and grief.
An eyes-open meditation
What I found in rock climbing was everything that meditation offers up but in a full-body-eyes-open-I’m-really-alive kind of way. There’s no way to nod off on the rock, or think about what you ate for dinner last night, or go into future fantasies that can so often happen in meditation practice.
You have to be 100% present when climbing. Sure there’s room for error, but not much. On my first multi pitch climb I could not look out to enjoy the view 800 feet above the ground, mostly out of sheer terror. I kept my focus directly in front of me.
Breathing is an essential component as you move up the rock face. Otherwise the task at hand seems insurmountable. In meditation you can forget about the breath—in climbing it is your lifeline to sanity. One breath and one tiny step up the rock face at a time.
Demons of the mind
Your thoughts must be slayed immediately. They will arise. They will grow and get louder and unless you destroy them, they will destroy you. There’s no time for contemplation here. When the ego mind says you can’t, there’s no negotiating—the response is only, "I can."
I have to admit, the terror that ran through my veins on my first multi-pitch climb in Squamish, BC was frightening. I had never viscerally felt the fear of death in my cells before. I broke down in tears as the energy of this realization had to move out of my body. And it did.
I kept going.
I reminded myself that I was safe and loved and that the universe was supporting me.
I climbed up to the point from where my boyfriend was belaying me. He had a big smile on his face and said, "This is supposed to be fun!"
I wouldn’t necessarily use that adjective to describe my experience, but it was certainly transcendental and life altering.
To overcome the demons of the mind and body and return to feeling safety and peace in my heart was a spiritual experience like no other I’ve had in meditation.
Even though I’m new to climbing I feel like I know it. I get it. I feel the purpose in an activity that may appear purposeless to some.