Friday, September 24, 2010

(S)Nailing It

My bathroom ceiling, under the weight of water seeping from the upstairs neighbor’s bathtub plumbing gave way on Monday. On Wednesday, I learned that no matter how much time I give myself for assessing and responding to students’ work it’s just not enough. By Friday, I figured out that students don’t always respond to teachers’ comments with the same care and concern teachers offered them.

In short, it’s been a long week.

I did, however, finally get back to the wall. Considering how long I’ve been away, I made a snail’s progress. Well, beginner’s progress all over again. It seems I’ve forgotten how to manage the first few moves of a route. By the time I make it past the bouldering line, I’m already lost in the disgust I felt fumbling first moves. This, I hate to admit, is evidence of flawed logic. I am my own worst enemy (as most of us are).

I used to think I was an optimist, one of those people who think of the glass as half-full. And that may be true when it comes to everything but two things: A half empty pint and a route. Though I knew both routes I pushed today were designed to teach specific skills, such as foot and hand matching and footwork, and though I could see the problems themselves as valuable, that did little to assuage my feelings of futility.

I didn’t get to come to the work completely focused on it. I was squeezing some climb time into an already over-packed schedule. Did I take that into consideration as I put feet and hands on that 5.8 first go? Nope. Did I take an inventory of my mind to make sure I was just thinking about climbing instead of all the crap I still had to do with my day? No sir. The fact I had to bail halfway through a 5.7+ so I could make it to a meeting didn’t help me one bit.

Instead, I did what so many do: I took what Buddhists term “beginner’s mind” – a frazzled conscious without a central focus – and tried to force myself to perform. To add to my imbalance, I hadn’t hydrated or eaten properly all day. So when I needed some “oomph” from my muscles, it wasn’t there. All I had put in my gullet by 3:30 p.m. was a Chocwalla bar and a container of organic Greek yogurt. That’s not even a rookie move. It’s just complete disregard for the sanctity of one’s physical needs. There was hardly enough nutritional power there to support activity more rigorous than a nap.

After climbing, I rushed to meet with an angry student who both lauded my intellect and cursed it at the same time (a common response I get from students unaccustomed to being challenged by both intelligence and confidence), I jumped on my bike and hauled ass in order to make it to yet another meeting. I carpooled to a department function, still feeling the sweat from the ride running in rivulets down my back. Though I talked and ate with colleagues, I can’t claim that I was fully present in those moments, either. I was still back at the wall, thinking about all I didn’t accomplish.

That’s what “beginner’s mind” is: a lack of presence in a present moment.

And it wasn’t until I sat down at home with a cup of tea, listening to myself breathe in the silence of my apartment, that I realized just how busy I had been all day. Shoulders tight, legs still burning from the day’s load, I realized I had forgotten to be mindful of, and thankful for, my breath, for the very life force that keeps me going. I had forgotten to protect, love, and honor my body by feeding it with care. Instead, I had jumped onto that treadmill of “accomplishment” and “tasks,” without thinking about anything more than ticking down a list of things I needed to do.

So now I’m wondering this: When did doing become more important than being?

I’ve been thinking about Thich Nhat Hanh and his call for us to be present in our bodies, to focus on mindfulness and breathing, on smiling and loving each moment. I’m wondering now, as I sit here in front of my computer, what would happen if I took the concept of mindfulness and applied it to climbing. “If an action is motivated by compassion and understanding,” Hanh says, “then that is good enough to be called a Buddhist action.” I’d argue, regardless of faith or religious affiliation, that if an action is motivated by compassion and understanding, then that is good enough to be called an act of love.

So what would happen if I brought presence and love to climbing, to those difficulties of each problem, and to each moment I stepped or reached? What would happen if I breathed with each move, and smiled, as if the act of climbing were a meditation of its own?

I’ll let you know. I’m going to try that on Sunday. I’ll be sure to post a full account of my effort to love myself, even as I struggle, and to care more about being on a route than doing it. I might go at a snail's pace, but I just might stick to my routes, too.

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