2015 is no more. In a lot of ways it's probably been the most interesting year of my life. Even so, I really want 2016 to be different, with more climbing.
I'll try to some it up with a low point and a high point.
Low point: Australia, March
Australia was my final climbing trip before the big slice and dice (labrum tear operation). You’d think it would be the highlight of my year since this was when and where I did the most climbing. The climbing is hardly shabby either (see photo above of the Totem Pole and below of Arapiles) My first major dirt bag adventure age 18 was to Arapiles and the Gramps, and it's remained one of my favourite places to climb. My Dad moved there a few years ago so there is the extra incentive of seeing him and having a place to stay instead of dirtbagging it up. My friend Alex Honnold joined me out there and despite the shoulder I wasn’t climbing that bad, 8a kind of terrain. Sounds like a recipe for a great time?
Two of the better routes this year. Trojan and Masada, Arapiles, Adam Demert photo
During the trip, if you’d caught me on a good day I might have smiled and said I was happy, but I wasn’t. Before I knew about the looming operation I was so frustrated with not knowing how to help my shoulder. Even Alex (not one to make a fuss out of anything aka ‘no-big-deal’ Alex’) told me to stop climbing after I went for a move and my shoulder made such clunk he thought I’d pulled off a rock. I got an MRI out there and the ‘experts’ told me it was time for the scalpel. Even though an operation meant no guarantees and a year of recovery I felt a bit happier knowing that I had a solid plan after spending 6 years (!) cursed with shoulder troubles.
I’ve always felt that climbing has made me happy. More than that, it’s protected me. Anything else that has happened in my life; what do you do to make it better? Go climbing.
But what happens when you can’t climb? What happens if you get injured? What happens if you fall out of love with it? Being able to climb depends on external things, it's not something that you can always have, not something you can always do.
I was climbing in Australia but I wasn’t happy. Of course it hurt and I couldn’t climb hard but there was enough there to make me happy. I had nice people, nice landscapes, good food to eat, easy routes to enjoy. But I couldn’t enjoy any of those things because I was scared about the future. I was scared that my shoulder would never get better, that I would never find out what was wrong with it.
At that point in the year (hopefully you can tell) I had yet to learn any life mastery and I was blindly letting the days drop, hoping and waiting.
Not enjoying the amazing rock of Arapiles enough
High Point: Ladakh, July
The day after I left the Vipassana centre was a high point. A peak in a wave that kept rolling. The day I actually left the Vipassana centre was one of utter confusion. Imagine not speaking for ten days. Ten days inside your own head without distraction of any kind: no talking, reading, writing, cooking, internet, phones, exercise (of any kind). Oh yes and you're sat cross legged in silent, still meditation for 12 hours of the day (prior to which you hadn’t sat still for longer than a few minutes). The only distraction in your short rest break is to watch desert weeds sprouting after rain.
No it's not a terrorist training camp. Although on my second day I did rename it Vip-No Bay
Then, when you feel like you’re going a bit cuckoo and you hear other girls talking to themselves and you can’t tell whether you’re doing the same, the silence breaks and you find yourself surrounded by twenty, loud, random women from all corners of the planet. Women who you’ve lived with for ten days but know nothing about, and they’re all gagging for a chin wag! I know some people who would get confused just seeing twenty women in one place, let alone in this kind of a setting. I was confused about what I'd learnt, what I'd gone through, why I'd done it. Was I going to become a Buddhist nun? Do they even exist? Was my shoulder going to be frozen in meditation pose for all of eternity? WHO WERE THESE WOMEN?!
You can't walk too far
Giggling after so long not giggling
The best thing about my day - TEA! Obviously all these photos were taken after the course had finished as you're not allowed phones or cameras.
The day after that though, was just wonderful. It seems obvious that I’d feel wonderful or at least intensely relieved after doing something which can only be described as torture. Walking down a street is pretty mind blowing (especially an Indian street) after you’ve mostly had your eyes closed for ten days. Doing what you want when you want after a regime of 4 am wake up calls and to-the-minute group meditation. Stretching out your sore broken body after what you’d put it through... It was lush. And that’s an understatement.
Rather happy to be in the mountains after Vip-no Bay
After most pleasant things in life the satisfaction wears off pretty fast. Have you ever eaten a brownie and before you’ve swallowed the last bite you’re already thinking about the next one? Clipped the chains of your all-important life-long project and you’re already thinking ‘I can climb harder’? We seem to spend our lives chasing what we think might make us happy only to never really enjoy that thing when we find it. Dissatisfaction is a common trait among us humans. So after I left the centre, I expected the happiness to wear off. It felt a bit like getting down from an alpine adventure: we’d done this cool thing, it was hard but it was satisfying. I’ve felt that feeling before, and generally the satisfaction doesn’t last that long before you need another fix.
Somehow though, it was different. In fact I think I only started to feel it wearing off about a month ago (but I’ll come to that later). It was a different kind of happiness that I felt. It wasn’t like I’d obtained something or achieved something it was more like I’d learnt something new. But it was’t like learning something from a book or being told a fact or a quote. It was like learning how to knee bar, or how to flag, or how to do an egyptian (drop-knee for American readers)). You won’t understand from being told what to do, you have to do it yourself to really know the movement. It takes practice, but once you have it, you can use it on loads of different routes and no one can take it away from you.
Of course comparing meditation to a knee bar is a little bit misleading, but in someways it’s a good metaphor. It also gives me a good excuse for not telling you what it is I think I learnt/still learning, you really have to find it yourself. If I had to some it up in a sentence, it might be something like ‘the art of not being bothered’. This tool though, it does follow you around and if you master it, it really doesn't matter what happens in your life, this tool can protect you from anything. If you're bothered about something it's usually about something that's happened in the past or something that might happen. Two thing you can't change. If you sit with the present moment it's usually something that you can be happy about. We've all heard these phrases, quotes to help us, but like a knee bar you have to feel it to know when it's working and when it's good.
A soul-searching trip to India isn't compete without a random motor bike excursion
Nor without a crash
And what about now?
I spent so much of this year trying to find out what makes me happy (in the absence of climbing). That search took me to some strange places in the world and also some strange places in my own head. I came to the conclusion that only I can make myself happy but that isn't as easy as it looks, in fact it requires a lot of life mastery. In all of this searching, somewhere along the way I forgot about my body; I didn’t get into a healthy routine, I didn't stay in one place so that I could rehab my shoulder properly and I didn’t see one physiotherapist consistently. I fell under the false illusion that if my shoulder hurt, all it needed was more rest. Luckily I found two physiotherapists who've been helping me immensely and I intend to spend the rest of the winter in Spain climbing and getting the shoulder strong again. 2016 is going to be a year of mind and body, not just mind. I decided that the day I complain about my skin is the day that my shoulder is close to being better (bigger fish to fry mate).
The coaching! I saw my physio Pablo in Alforja a few weeks ago and after he managed to get some mobility back into my shoulder, he was so happy and excited. He explained to me that although he's a passionate climber (he climbs hard) the happiness he gets from sending a project is nothing like the happiness he gets from making people better. I thought to my life and how selfish it is to be a professional climber. Then I thought about the coaching I've been developing. I know that I enjoy it because it isn't all about me but hearing him say that really struck a chord. He is so right! It's something really different to feel like you can help someone. In the coaching so far, the moments where I've really felt this have been few but when they come along they are really powerful and hold a sense of satisfaction that far exceeds the sense of happiness you get from achieving or obtaining something for yourself.
Last night I was on the phone to Karin Magog. Karin was my hero growing up so it was a bit of a surprise when she came to me asking for coaching. So far all I've done with her is coach remotely over the last 8 or so months, but she seems to be really happy with her progression so far. I know that most of the progression, say 98% is down to her commitment, but if I was responsible for just 2% then I'm really psyched.
I think I will write more about Karin in another blog post. Suffice to say that coaching Karin and coaching in general has been one of the high lights of my year.
UK climbing News
What of happiness?
During the last part of this year I became increasingly tired with being happy. That sounds stupid, I know, but being really happy takes a lot of effort, especially when you can't climb. I don't know whether it was because my high after Vipassana was failing or whether the shoulder recovery had just become too much but in my low moments I would say to myself that I didn’t even care about happiness any more, all I want is to climb hard again.
Of course what I'm really saying in those moments is that only climbing can make me happy and the fear of not having it, sad. But like fear of falling, I know the signs now, and I know what to do, but it takes effort and sometimes it’s tiring. So yes I’m still human and a lot of the time I ask for my shoulder to get better soon, for it not to hurt again and I ask to be able to climb hard in 2016.
And on a good day, what do I wish for? I wish for nothing. Fo’ real! Give me a genie, a shooting star, a fallen eye lash, an Irish man. On a good day I wish for nothing. Not even a fixed shoulder, or a nice man, or an invisibility cloak. Nada! And that’s saying something when I used to wish for ALL SORTS OF THINGS..
"Whatever we are looking for, we have to find it in the present moment” Thich Nhat Hanh