Harnessing mindfulness: A lesson in slowing down

 Image: Tyson Dudley

Image: Tyson Dudley

 
The key to joy is being easily pleased.
— Mark Nepo
 

Last week, I headed into the heart of British Columbia, on a rock climbing trip.

At the outset, the trip was designed around the desire to take advantage of the warmer and drier climate of B.C.’s interior as a kick-start to the climbing season. Now make no mistake, I am not really a climber. At least, in the past seven years (or so), my love for riding my mountain bike has far eclipsed my desire to climb on rock. But in a previous time, climbing was something I loved to do. I was drawn to the presence that it required. For me, the perceived (and sometimes very real) risk of falling allowed me to access a quality of focus I struggled to connect with in the rest of my life. Years before I knew about the concepts of mindfulness, embodiment, and presence, I remembered experiencing the sheer rush that climbing garnered. I loved challenging routes because they forced me to be nowhere else but there. It was just me, my body and the rock. On these routes, my field of view narrowed and my concern stopped at where I would next place my hand or foot. It all became so simple. I found the more I could get to this place of flow, the better I was able to climb; the day-to-day worries and anxieties I carried (in full weight at that time in my life) would loosen their grip and I would become a body moving rather than a mind thinking.

So, when I was presented with the opportunity to retreat into the B.C. interior and reconnect with a sport that I had previously been passionate about, I couldn’t resist. I was excited to dust off my climbing skills and re-engage with a culture that held so much allure for me. I was also curious to see how I could perform after such a long hiatus.

However, as the week unfolded, it became more and more apparent to me that this week was less about climbing and more about something else. The presence I once revered as a by-product of climbing had spilled over into every aspect of our days. We noticed the eagle as it drifted by our window in the morning and the clouds as they took various forms in the sky. Presence became the theme of all aspects of the trip, rather than just what we sought at the climbing crag. We became deeply grounded in an ethos of slowing down and we allowed our bodies, rather than our list of climbs to do, to dictate the flow of our days. There was one amazing day where we climbed for six hours straight and another incredible day where our hike into the crag was enough. On that afternoon, we found a high point and rested there, in silence, as we took in the beauty that surrounded us; we didn’t climb, and it didn’t matter.

This climbing trip accentuated the importance of connecting to presence in our day-to-day life. To re-engage with climbing from a very different perspective and mindset was truly powerful. From this new vantage point, I am now able to see even more clearly the importance of self-care and listening to our bodies in everything we do. I am also reminded that climbing is less about finding an almost euphoric sense of presence (which I still love!) as it is about celebrating the beauty of shared experiences and the movement of body on rock.

Life, after all, is less about creating moments as it is about letting moments unfold exactly as they are. The gift of the present moment, and the pockets of joy that can be discovered there, are always available to us - no extra effort required.

We just need to slow down enough to catch what is unfolding right here, right now. 


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