Saturday 13 June 2009

Thinking about meditation

Several people over the years have asked me if I meditate (as training for hard and bold climbing). I always used to say ‘no, I don’t think so’. I certainly didn’t sit down in a field and deliberately try to meditate. But more recently when I was asked again I knew the answer. Yes, I do. But I do not meditate, and then go climbing. The climbing is the meditation. I didn’t realise it for a long time.

A lot of people will squirm at the sight of the word meditation. It carries a lot of hippy connotations and seems pretty far from most peoples every day lives, including their sport. But, like other words I commonly deal with like ‘training’ or ‘risk’, it’s the baggage that we’ve attached to the word that seems weird or uncomfortable. The activity itself is quite simply to focus the mind.

It takes a lot of effort to get a true meditative experience, whether it’s by finding the time to sit still and managing the shrug off all the noise that modern life throws at us, or having a really pure, highly concentrated effort on a climb. I really think that you get what you put in here.

I think that sports in general could be a lot more rewarding as activities and especially as therapy to recover from the shit we have to go through in ‘real life’ if this coupling of meditation and sport was better recognised, and people were better at tapping into it.

Note to self: think about this more for coaching climbing...


  1. I think another expression of this would be the concept of 'flow' - a state of intense mental focus and self-awareness. I imagine most high-level athletes (100m sprinter, for example), artists, computer programmers(?) have this ability to meditate 'in situ'.

    An interesting book on this is Cziksentmihaly's (see bottom of

  2. Hi Dave,
    I personally think that for a lot of us, climbing is not a "sport" as such, mainly because most of the time we’re alone: it’s just you and yourself, the perfect equation for body awareness and mind reflection. Which is why, as you quite rightly put it, for some of us, it often acts as a therapy.
    I’d say runners and the likes probably get the same effects although the endorphins are probably a bit different...

  3. I was wondering about this a little while ago too, Dave. I found this on the Manchester Buddhist Centre website: "Meditation is a way of becoming more alive and aware of our moment-to-moment experience." Replace 'meditation' with 'climbing'....

    All the best,

  4. Anonymous15 June, 2009

    Annie Anderson used to run a website called I think its still up though not recently added to. She has a lot of experience in yoga and has had articles published in yoga mags about the relationship between yoga and climbing. There are some good resources on the above site about "mindfulness " in climbing and focus, etc.

  5. Dave, I'm totally with you on this. Recently, while trying to break free from having M.E. I tried meditating (as one of the few low energy things which medical advice would allow me to do) and it was one of the few things which helped when I was feeling really bad. I've never been the kind of person to mediate all day though [don't envy monks much!] - much preffer to be doing things. When eventually I wasn't getting far following conventional medical advice I started trying out other things to do to see what might help. I went to the climbing wall at Ibrox and found climbing had a very similar effect to the mediation. Literally I could be standing on the ground feeling ill and when I started climbing the symptoms melted away. In the following months getting out and about for adventures on rock and ice made a massive difference to the illness. I think climbing has a therapeutic element, like say art therapy, the potential of which has not yet really been realised.

  6. Anonymous16 June, 2009

    You are a visionary Dave. In my opinion you are a messenger from god, brought to earth as a vehicle for his teachings. How else could a human climb like you do except by devine intervention and a healthy dose of fingerboarding? Meditation is nothing but a name attached to something you will always do on the rock.

  7. Anonymous20 June, 2009

    "For me climbing is moving meditation. To focus our minds so single-pointedly that the self melts away, and pure awareness, energy, and emotion are the only things left remaining. It pushes us to our limits, forces us to shed unnecessary thoughts (of the past, ideas of the future, what we are going to eat for dinner, etc.) and allows us to be fully immersed in the present, alive, interacting with nature, being human. In these moments exist the true fanatismo that I live for – they give me peace of mind and a sense of purpose in my life."

    Chris Sharma

  8. Great post, great comments.

    The Sharma words say it perfectly for me (thanks Anonymous!). But (for me) it is an elusive state, one I experience maybe 3 or 4 times a year. Always, it's on a physical climb that's at or a beyond my limit, one on which I have to dig really deep. Always it's when my desire to ascend transcends conscious want, when it becomes something instinctual. I seek natural settings and value that highly in climbing, but nature isn't an essential ingredient: I've hit this "zone" on routes in the gym as well, which in itself serves as a great testimony to climbing's meditative power.

    Given the combination of high physical challenge and 100% commitment to not falling that seems to produce this "moving meditation," perhaps this is why climbers such as you, Dave, seek high-end X routes --the stakes are higher, but the odds of obtaining a state of mind that puts you purely in the moment are also increased. Regardless, this aspect of climbing certainly ranks among its greatest rewards.

  9. Anonymous25 June, 2009

    kt - your comments have been my experience too although my missus will always remind me that I don't need to 'search' for that elusive state and that it can be reached in the sitting room, kitchen, etc.. I hear the truth in this but I assure her that the perfect; move/rock/setting/company are not far away now .... my precious.

    Great blog Dave.

  10. I just wanted to update my website details that 'anonymous' mentioned. exploreclimbing is now

    I have a baby girl who has had my whole attention for a little over a year - any Mum or Dad will understand - I'm now beginning to update my web site and also will be putting a blog up on climbing, yoga and meditation.

    Practising yoga and mindfulness meditation had a very positive effect on my climbing, particularly trad leading. I got into the whole idea of climbing and yoga because I was so excited with the positive mental changes of how I was thinking.

    Here is another quote from Chris Sharma:

    "To see the whole thing, I had to be in the moment. Meditation is important for balance. You need to rely on yourself to quiet the mind. I know having more of a mental calm has helped me when I try something that’s very difficult. It makes you realize that you’re not always going to be at your best, because when you meditate, you’re paying close attention to your body and how it feels. As a result, you’re at ease when things don’t work out. You learn to appreciate the lows, just let them happen, learn from them, and go back and try again." Chris Sharma


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