January was like this… a whirlwind of excitement, adventure, nervousness, and apprehension; emotional turmoil twisted itself into moments of empowerment and disbelief. Eye opening realizations and instants of complete disappointment wrestled with my core beliefs. While ancient hardwiring aimed themselves down pathways of comfort, something followed; challenging and provoking another way, showing other possibilities.
credit: Ken Chow Photography
It’s like this; you need to do something different to make progress. Usually it is something simple; like relaxing or taking conscious breaths. Yet, when found in a situation that makes your breath quicken, your heart beat faster, the complete opposite expresses; everything contracts and tightens. This something simple isn’t so easy. In fact, it feels next to impossible. For something heavy from lifetimes beyond, exist deep inside. Two worlds speaking different wants and languages collide. Lightness and heaviness abide, swimming next to each other, intertwining, yet conflicting with their different currents.
Self-talk; inner dialogue… A child sits at the kitchen table, looking at their anchor who sits quietly, gazing off at the ceiling which has stained yellow from the smothering of cigarette smoke. Jaw tight, her dark eyes distant. Something is not right. In childlike wonder, the watcher absorbs. Daily, this is how it is. She remains quiet, but for the occasional tut. Stewing, churning, the thoughts in one’s mind, over and over…
Ruminating… Lizzy once told me after a competition to stop ruminating. Looking on perplexed, I responded… what’s that? ‘It is what you are doing right now; churning, dwelling, analyzing to the point of exhaustion. You have analyzed enough my friend. Now take what you’ve learned and let the rest go. Ruminating is pointless.'
It’s my first competition of 2016. We’re at Ground Up, Squamish’s stellar new climbing gym. Nervousness and excitement filled me, yet there was apprehension. The day prior I was visiting Sheila the Great. Standing to leave, she looked at me in her inquisitive nature, speaking quietly as if remembering something, ‘I wonder if it is a learned behavior’. Looking puzzled I asked, what? With a fling of her hand as if brushing off a fly, she nonchalantly recalled words from a previous conversation spoken months before. ‘This thing you do, maybe it was learned…’
Fast forward to the moment between problems 2 and 3 in finals. Heading back to isolation, embarrassed and frustrated, Matt Lucas, a friend of 15 years, stepped forward. After witnessing my defeat on problem two he naturally took the role of coach. Towering over me at 6 foot 3, his height can be confused with authority, yet his face represents kindness. He told me to let it go, to refocus on the next. I respected his advice. Besides, he was right.
Credit: Shane Murdoch Photography
Fighting my trembling lip, I hid myself between my outstretched legs, pretending to stretch while fighting the intense emotions of competition. Trying to convince myself of the un-seriousness of the matter, to let it go; reminding myself that we are all going to die, that it doesn’t really matter… the words of Sheila echoed in my head. “Maybe it was a learned behavior…”
Breathing deeper, her voice reiterated. Thoughts and images from past lives flashed quickly. I see a woman at a table, smoking, stewing; me, watching, absorbing. Unexpectedly, Eddie’s voice comes in. “In these moments you have got to choose who you listen to: the inner wounded child of ours or what we want to become.” Then, as if in perfect sequence, Robyn spoke: “When shit hits the fan, you sit down with yourself; take a deep breath and demand, no more.”
Something clicked. My breathing slowed down. The words radical realization took on definite meaning. The choice was always there, but this time I felt the power to make it. It was done. I said no. Something deep within lost some power. A new neural pathway was paving itself, stronger and more ready. I was not going to allow these stagnant emotions and old beliefs to take me down. Standing up, for the next problem, heaviness lingered but something was different. As much as I cringe at the trendy jargon of words like empowerment, there it was, growing. Between being a deer in headlights and someone with stubborn determination, I went out there and fought for something better.
Problem 3 was a dyno. My most feared. The big white holds are far, the starting handholds small. My legs felt clumsy and awkward bouncing towards them. I shimmed my fingers to get one cm closer. Touching the hold my already weak right shoulder felt a twinge. 3 minutes left. Try again. Fall. 2 minutes left. Voices screamed, ‘come on Thomo, come on’. Torn between incapability and determination, I thought about my hips, what they needed to do to execute; finally, my focus was right, I was learning from their failure. With one minute left, I tried again. To my surprise, the hip idea worked. I was hanging from the bonus, smearing my foot on the wall reaching far to the next sloper. I was at the top in a most awkward split position wondering how to match the final hold. At last, I took a deep breath. My eyes relaxed and looked down at my feet. I could heel hook. ‘Ding!’ Moving them around, I found a secure position and matched. The buzzer rang, my friends in the crowd cheered. An exhale of relief came forth.
Credit: Shane Murdoch Photography
I didn’t do the last problem. My body and mind were too rigid to relax into the position it needed to be in to execute. But this idea of needing to relax is something for the next story.
My friend Natasha, a co-worker and someone who I like to call coach, sat with me after finals and forced me to make a verbal list of three things I did right in the comp. This process felt utterly painful, like churning an unoiled crank. Completing her task took much anguish. The difficulty of this task for me has since inspired an adoption of this practice.
After the comp, I was pleasantly surprised by my moment of empowerment; something tried before but I lacked the conviction to do so. I absorbed the various flavors of advices which came from friends who I’ve known since my early days of climbing. Our relationships were based on a level of trust and understanding. Not everyone can tell me to’ let it go’ and I listen…
So, when those same voices tell you their post-comp observations which match exactly what some sport psych told you: to not worry about who is watching you, to focus only on the things within your control; when they say, ‘man, it looks like you need to relax and get out of your head’; when they suggest to you to learn how to enjoy the moment, to relax and trust into yourself... that you are doing great, to stick with it, that you are indeed improving...