Monday, May 7, 2012

Creating a reference point

In life, we all need a reference point or two. Because we can only judge circumstances and events by our own history and knowledge, the experiences that we have and observe are critical to our day-to-day mindset. That probably sounds a little clunky, so let me explain what I mean.

Before I started rock climbing and caving in early 2000, the extent of my outdoor experience was some hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. That's it, nothing serious. But that year I became roommates with Matt, an outdoorsman extraordinaire.

The Story

Before I started rooming with Matt, my interest in climbing was absolutely zero. Somehow he convinced me to go with him one spring afternoon. He seemed to have a good time, and while I was an adequate belayer, I had very limited success with actual climbing. I just couldn't seem to get the hang of it.

On the third climbing trip, we worked on a route called Dream Realized, and I finished the route. Even though I had finally reached the top of a climb, I was bruised, scraped, tired and sore. As I lay in bed that night, I thought to myself, "I'm done. I've gotta tell Matt I don't want to go anymore. Climbing is hard and scary, and I'm not having any fun."

So, that was it. I was done. But as I lay there, my mind had a short, intense battle. Another, different voice - a voice I'd never "heard" before - spoke up. Not loud, but clear, concise and convincing.

Here's what it said:

"You're not climbing because it's fun. You're doing it because it's hard. You will keep climbing because it challenges you, because it is forcing you to grow, and because - in many ways - it is making you a better person. You will keep climbing, you will keep digging down inside yourself for strength, and you will refuse to quit."

I lay in bed for over an hour thinking about what I'd just heard. Immediately it rang true to me, and over the years I've been witness to the truth that I realized that night in bed. Rock climbing has become a sort of mental chess match with myself. And those who have the climbing bug will tell you that the sport is much more mental than physical. While you certainly develop physical strength, endurance and flexibility, you also develop the ability to think under pressure, stay calm when everything in your body is telling you to panic, and attempt the impossible while believing you'll succeed.

Most importantly, climbing forces you to eliminate all other thoughts. Oddly enough, your brain doesn't really care about a physics exam or a girl who flirted with you when it perceives that you're hanging by your fingertips, toes and teeth to the side of a sheer cliff with nothing but air underneath you.

That level of focus yields a clarity of thought, calm and relaxation - after the fact, of course - that I have come to expect and love.

In short, I have come to view rock climbing - as well as many other challenges in my life - as an opportunity for growth, and for practice, if you will. In my view, the harder I work right now, on the current challenge, the more strength, endurance and confidence I will have for the next challenge. And if I don't give up, I'll gain the reward of conquering the mountain, or whatever the challenge is.

Climbing can be extremely emotional. Even though you must maintain control of yourself to perform the movements and finish the climb, your emotions can certainly push you to work harder and keep from giving up.

One of my favorite moments: After a particularly tough climb, I got back to the ground, raised both fists in the air and let out a primal scream, followed by pointing at the top of the climb and yelling, "I own you!" The mountain had given me everything it had, and I had prevailed.

The Point
Life is hard. And you have choices. You can always take the path of least resistance - you can do what's easy, avoid challenges, and complain that it's not fair. (It isn't, by the way.) Or, you can challenge yourself to do what you, and only you, can do on this planet while you're here.

While music is rarely a life-threatening or hair-raising endeavor, it takes courage, tenacity, strength, endurance and focus to achieve greatness. Those who create great music are almost always those who have chosen to embrace the possibility of failure, to pursue the art with single-mindedness and continue to try and try and try.

Finally, let me leave you with this:

“Don’t die with your music still inside you. Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul. Listen to that inner voice, and don’t get to the end of your life and say, ‘What if my whole life has been wrong?” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

In all sincerity, friends: Happy drumming!

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