I've never been one for sitting still for very long. It just ain't possible. I've learned to appreciate yoga. And when I can suck it up and go I enjoy the distinct relaxative benefits thereof. Otherwise—for the most part—I'm subconsciously averse to stillness.
I've had friends that were critical of my recreational habits of constant movement. The Former Crash Test Librarian and I had disagreements about it. I agree that my pace on the trails doesn't foment reflection of the minutia of the woods or an appreciation of the noisy quiet thereof. In my defense, it’s not a choice to speed across the face of the earth. My turbocharged neural network compels me to constant motion. I absolutely fail to be able to enjoy stillness more than superficially.
That's not to say bouldering, running, or mountain biking don't offer opportunities for deep thoughts and spiritual revelations. Of course they do. On the other hand, when I'm running or biking or hiking my brain is still going nine hundred miles a minute. For me that’s a different and also crucial type of meditation. For me focused brainstorming and creative daydreaming offer a strong respite from the mundane. My unfettered mind provides a unique kind of adventure playground. But back to the matter at hand…
I figured out that the laser focus of hard bouldering incites just the right kind of meditative state that clears the mind and resets the nervous system. Hard moves on vertical stone require clearing the mind—purging the mind—and being fully and intentionally in the moment. If you’re doing it right at the crux moment everything disappears from existence except your core essence and four points of contact. In a deep bouldering state it is you and one point of contact that consume all of creation.
If done right there is no fear or desperation though the consequences of losing focus may be dire. It’s finding and holding onto a state of flow. It’s being absorbed into the living stone. It’s becoming willingly detached from this world for the briefest of moments.
|Crux move of Phish Power V1, The Junkyard, RRG|
A long solitary bouldering session is for me the only type of movement therapy that clears my head. All of my other schemes only fill my head with more thoughts. On my best days I had an almost ceremonial routine:
First, I carefully laid out my crashpad using fuzzy math to determine exactly where it would be best located to cushion the singular worst fall possible. Second, sit on pad and depending on the gravity of the situation would face toward or away from the imagined problem line on the rock. Next I did the Mister Rogers shoe change into my climbing shoes, wipe the soles clean, dab fingers in chalkbag, and stretch out any tightness in the shoulders or forearms. Finally, I would stand, touch the rock, and with a deep breath enter into another dimension of existence.
Typically less than a minute would pass and I would find myself slammed back into this world with a fall from the stone or I would be sitting on top of the path I had just travelled.
|Desperate sloper match on Naejabbanobadda at Torrent Falls, KY|
The closest I come to this state in other activities is when the terrain becomes oppressively complex. Technical mountain biking, high speed descents, tough trails to climb on foot or awheel…those are the places where it is possible for me to find the elusive state. It’s hard to be caught up with the troubles of life when all of your brain is dedicated to finding a line and keeping your legs pumping. Or in hanging on to the tiniest hold over a rubble patch that can break you up bad.
Mountain biking always seemed to be filled with comings and goings, cadences and PRs, KOMs and crunched in lunchtime sessions. I have rarely had the luxury of taking a leisurely mountain bike ride. I do it to myself. But for me it’s about the distance. It takes me seven or eight miles to really get warmed up and find a state of flow on the bike. And that’s if the trail is demanding. Like Skullbuster. The day after Thanksgiving I went out there and rode for an hour and a half. I had no time constraints and just let the bike carry me over root and rock until my brain was humming with whitenoise. It was sublime. But it was not stillness in the sense most people would understand. Strangely enough to me it felt like stillness. So much so that with two miles left to go back to the car I began to get bored.
The curse of being me…I guess.
Anyway, I am not currently a boulderer. Maybe I’m mulling a grand return. Maybe I’m pining for my glory days. I’ve decided not to write myself off at the tender age of forty (almost forty-one!) so if I can get myself back into condition and strengthen flabby muscles I might really once again roam the woods looking for new problems to unlock. My littlest one seems to like the notion of bouldering. My eldest may never get into it, but he’s got a few years yet to grow and find himself. I can only hope…
Regardless of whether or not I create little minions to help me bring about a Red River Gorge bouldering renaissance (there was a heyday, believe it or not) I still have my haunts amongst the stones of the Cumberland Plateau.