Reliving & Reminiscing

I recently recognized one of my biggest paradoxes as a male.

For years as a young man I pushed my limits in terms of safety; doing dangerous things allowed me to figure out who I was and what I was capable of. These activities defined my sense of self concept. Then as a new parent I felt an overpowering urge to be safe and to make sure that I was on the scene for my son for the long haul. Since that time I have struggled and this has seemingly been reflected in a reduction in creativity and productivity. Now I have to tell you that I love being a parent, it is the single most adventurous and stimulating activity I have ever encountered and I throw myself into it wholeheartedly. I have though struggled as I do not always feel I am being all I know I can be. This is dangerous terrain; while I am thinking about what was, I am not focusing on what is.

The major difference between reminiscing and reliving became very apparent a few weeks ago. Kimberly made it possible for me to take a few days off and go and do something. I elected to take off into the mountains and camp in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It has been many years since I have taken a trip just for me and by myself. I normally find that it becomes a walking meditation and I start by being very focused on the present and as I experience this, I can then focus on a single event or issue and give it my total attention. Walking alone is one of the best tools I know for solving any issue. On my way to the mountains I stopped in a climbing store in Boulder to pick up some tent pegs. Sat on a table were a number of Welsh and Scottish climbing guides and I was quickly sucked into reading them and thinking about trips and routes from my youth. This is reminiscing, contemplating what was and while I can harness this energy, if there is good in the situation it is a by-product.

Later on that day I was wading through knee deep snow, I was working exceptionally hard for my relatively sedentary body and I was renegotiating my plans with myself. I had initially intended on a backpacking circuit that took me up one valley along a ridge and down into another, knowing that I was going to have to get up really early to pick Cai up from school at lunch time on the third day. I was impressed with my residual fitness and yet I realized that if I wanted to make it in time for Cai, I also did not want to cart a backpack while flailing through deep snow. Then there came a flash of insight into what I am. While I do not do it so much these days, I like to be on high ground looking down and gaining the perspective this affords. In that moment I decided to climb a peak the next day; one I could see from my campsite, and then walk part way out along the route I came in and thus take advantage of my ready created trail.

So the decision was sparked by “reminiscence” however the true good of the situation came out of the action of “reliving” my past. The following day as my body was stretched with the effort of altitude, gaining height and floundering in the snow it occurred to me that this is my essence. As I constantly had to talk myself into going further – there was no one there to do this for me – I saw how I live resilience and determination. This in turn serves as a metaphor that I can use as a reminder of who I am.

What do you reminisce about? How do you relive your youth in a productive way?

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Of Sons and Fathers

It has been a long time since I last wrote here and a lot has happened, the most significant being the death of my father. Now I feel the need to state up front that I did not really know him that well. He was born into an Edwardian English paradigm, one where fathers distanced themselves from their progeny. Fathers worked and children were seen and not heard; think George Banks in early scenes of Mary Poppins. The last few months have consequently involved lots of soul searching and the potential for a great deal of sadness and regret; I am though feeling far more positive as this chapter in my life ends. Through talking with people about him and revisiting memories that have long been hidden beneath more current thought, I have come to a better understanding of why we did not get to know each other. More importantly, for the first time in decades I have found a way to forgive him and this forgiveness spawns learning that I am very glad to engage.

When I think of my teens and twenties, I recognize that I was driven. This drive led to some of my most memorable moments; so much so it provided a lot of the stories from which I still teach. The drive came from a desire to fill a void. I was looking for my tribe. I was searching for adventure, excitement and a feeling of knowing what I was truly capable of. It drew me into the company of a bunch of lost boys, a number of surrogate parents and some of the most incredible people I have had the privilege to call friends. It also took me to many exquisitely beautiful places, allowed me to truly test my metal and gave me the opportunity to bear witness to some of the most incredible scenes of bravery and human spirit. The life of climbing and mountains has been a corner stone in my existence and will be a part of me I will always hold dear.

Why am I telling you this? Well my thoughts have been straying of late. I found my niche because of something that was lacking in my life and ultimately I cannot help but ask the question, “do I need to deprive my child to allow him to find himself?” Just yesterday Cai asked me, “why do you always tell me that you love me?” He is ‘taxingly’ insightful for a six year old. Ultimately, I know my father loved me, as I told Cai though, he just never informed me of this fact and did not know how to show it. What I have come to realize is that talent and accomplishment are not a reflection of a healthy or unhealthy home life. This gives me hope because I know that as I watch Cai’s talents and personality develop he will find himself with or without me.

(At this point I encourage you to look at some video of the sons of two friends of mine both of whom have doting fathers. http://www.myspace.com/samaireymusic is a myspace of an amazing talent in folk music and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZfro78oYRk is a showreel of incredible Parkour.)

The take home point for me is it is ok to show that I value Cai, it is alright to tell him I love him and take interest in what he does, it is important for me that he knows he belongs and feels I care. The hard part will be in watching and hearing the crazy and dangerous stuff that allows him to learn who he truly is.

If the foundation of any relationship is showing people that you care, how do you do it?

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Overcoming Fear

Yesterday I went climbing with Cai; it was a wonderful time of movement, sunshine and bonding. It was particularly great to watch him work things out; be it figuring how to move over the rock or tie knots and create a simple anchor. I also gained a huge buzz from his desire to lead, especially as he is smart enough to know when it is safe and when he prefers me to give him a rope from above. It was interesting in that he actually was a little scared a couple of times and had to overcome this. As he ages this seems to be a more frequent occurence.

Now something I consider when I am teaching is that I believe it to be only fair that if I expect something of my students, I need to give the same of myself. It is one of the reasons I particularly enjoy teaching in areas that are new to me; it stretches me and keeps me on my toes – something I want the people in my care to experience as well.

Yesterday, for a second I pondered what I was doing to overcome fear that might match Cai’s, then it slapped me in the face like a sledgehammer. As I moved over easy rock 50 feet above him; something I do regularly when instructing I was hit with an overwhelming desire not to fall. My need to protect my son took me to a place emotionally that I never visit with students. Climbing easy ground is something I am so practiced at that it does not give me cause to think and yet yesterday, with the stakes being so big (in my own mind); I had to talk myself through what I was doing.

The great thing about this is that when I asked Cai about the fears he felt and what it felt like after he had accomplished a climb and dealt with these feelings, then I came from a place of empathy. Last night we both slept the sleep of warriors – in fact Kim said she was woken at 5.00 am by Cai giggling in his sleep. Sharing something so vital with Cai helps me to feel alive. What fears do you find worth dealing with? How does it make you feel.

 

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Life Shapers

A friend’s Facebook recently sparked off a train of thought. Stu likes to post pictures, his is a happy Facebook, one where he shares images of a smiling family playing outdoors and also his recent climbing exploits. Of late there have been photographs of classic North Wales climbing, the routes I lived and breathed in my teens. Of note to me a climb called First Slip an E1 (climbing parlance describing difficulty) at Tremadog and a series of routes on Dinas Cromlech including Cenotaph Corner E1. It was the first time Stu had climbed the Corner in 17 years and it reminded me of a childhood promise. I was going to lead it on or before my 16th birthday or come back when I was 65. In the end I stood below it a couple of days before my birthday and psyched out; in all fairness it is an austere place. However, just days before I climbed a route on it’s right wall, Cemetery Gates which now receives the same grade and on my birthday I climbed First Slip. Many more routes of that grade were climbed that summer and I kept my word by not coming back to climb the Corner leaving it as a pensioner’s present to himself.

The thing is two years ago I noticed something spooky from that period of my life. I was trying to figure out why I might have spent extended periods of time in the countries and States that I have been fortunate enough to call home; Australia, Nepal, Colorado and Alaska are a strange cocktail after all. It suddenly occurred to me that there had been a series of small posters on my wall at school and I had spent a lot of time looking at them. Each of these pictures had depicted a climb in the countries I have mentioned. Now I do not believe that I have done any of the climbs (although routes close to a few of them now provide memories & stories), I am though blown away that mental images from my teens can so shape my life.

Here is the thing, over the last 5 years I have let my fitness slip and I am not really on track to accomplish my promise. It is time to do something about it and I am now wondering if they give discounts for airfares booked 21 years in advance.

What strong images have shaped your life?

And here is one for me to shape my 60’s.

Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ivorengine/2932113579/

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Lessons in Stone

Once upon a time I was a rock climber, every spare minute I had was spent caressing stone with my fingers and feet. Each year I gained strength and improved technique and slowly but surely became better, a little more graceful and fluid.

Often I was to be found in a valley in North Wales called the Llanberis Pass, it is my Mecca and if you see me kneeling and facing East you will know why; I am prostrating myself to the memory of a youth well spent, of excitement, vitality and a tribe of misfits who described an incredible dance amongst spires and monoliths. Truly, this was an inspiring time and place that spawned art, literature, teachers and leaders and I am forever grateful for my involvement.

The “Pass” is a majestic haven, rock walls sprout each and every way; covered in colorful specks, linked by rainbow lines and emitting the echoing call of “watch me”. At the bottom of the valley are some boulders, these also have a colorful history involving dynamite and a desire to build a road but that is not part of this story. For ten years I came often to the boulders, I warmed up there if going up to the cliffs and I was happy to spend a whole day there if alone, alternating between hanging off the smallest holds I could pull on and lying in the stream to cool off. During those ten years I approached a particular boulder problem and was spat out, failing to gain even a few feet. It haunted me, I watched others do it and wanted it to be me grasping that final hold but each time all I realized was failure.

Then one day I read a book called Performance Rock Climbing, it is a wonderful training book and there were two things that really spoke to me. The authors suggested that you train your weaknesses and play to your strengths and they taught the art of visualization.

A few days later I was back, I put on my shoes about to throw myself at the problem again when I stopped and thought about what I had read. Off came the shoes and I sat down in the dirt looking up at the problem. What were my strengths? I looked at that piece of rock with new eyes, each hold was a piece of a jigsaw. Where I had once tried to pull on small crimps, I recognized that an uncomfortable pocket might work well with my ability to undercut. My sausage fingers were not so suited to the crystal edges but with momentum might give me sufficient purchase to latch something a little more substantial above. I then closed my eyes and pictured myself holding that final hold and I filled myself with the sensations I had felt when winning a recent race.

Methodically I put on my shoes again and tightened the laces, I stood up and the rest was a blur. 20 seconds later I was on top. Ten years and 20 seconds. Was anything different? Was I stronger? Had my technique improved?

Ultimately, I was still the same person that I was before reading the book, what had changed was the way I thought about the situation.

I have held on to this lesson. Train your weaknesses, play to your strengths and learn to visualize yourself being successful. The rest takes care of itself.

Originally posted in http://denver.jobing.com/Community_Blog.asp
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