Friends

With friends now gone I first looked into the deep blue sea. From the relative safety of the Frontal we traced the lines of the Horror Crack, Zig-zags Into Infinity Base and where Jeremy and Jeremy had played in the sky.

The stained glass windows of a cathedral are meant to be experienced from inside and not viewed from the outskirts of the grounds.

There was a trip with a girl which did not leave base camp.

Later I plucked up the courage to step through the doors. I was ambitious and Ross was strong. I almost fell off the free moves. Our pack of fear dragging us down. I peed on my foot on Bev’s Bivy and watched on, bemused. Feeling warmth, feeling something real.

Then I recall (quite badly apparently) a rainy night in camp with Tristan and Mark. Squeezed into a tent, or was it an overhang? Bailure followed. Not before witnessing lightning on the hills to the east.

I got to stand on those hills to the east last weekend. I got another look into the Ocean of overhangs and dreams. Distance gives perspective. Like time. Like friends.

I am here, now.
A world away.
That was then, this is now.

What are you measuring?

Whereas the tape measure is the most basic there are many other measurables at our disposal. My sports watch measures Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability, how fast I ran, how far I ran, how many steps I took, how well I slept, how much stress I experienced, how well I am recovered, what I was wearing. The list goes on.

In the weight loss genre the scale seems to be the most basic and then even discarded with a ‘muscle is heavier than fat you know’ comment.
The implication is that we can not measure what is really going on. Maybe even what is important.

My sports watch certainly does not tell me if I had fun yesterday or if a run felt good. It can’t even tell me how tired I am. It tries but I know I feel differently. Currently the curves point down (like I am over my peak) but I think I am building to something better. Anyway I digress. It certainly can not predict how much fun I will have in the future.

Many years ago a photographer friend was showing me around my new camera when he said he wished there was a sensor with a big red warning light that said this was a bad photo. Exposure, focus, composition could all be text book but the print (remember those?) could still be awful.

So what is it about a good photo or even good art? Without going too far down this rabbit hole good art is compelling enough to draw us back repeatedly. Because it has something to offer us on each new visit. Better art offers this across more people. We agree that there is something. Something beyond the describable. Something that inspires, lifts, connects.

Maybe joy is like that too.
Unmeasurable but true. Joy shared (like art) makes it more.

Let us seek and share Joy!

PS: I am reminded of ‘The Book of Joy‘ by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A real gem about joy for life shared by two of the world’s great leaders.

On Balance

It is only natural to want to grow, learn, gain knowledge, improve. This is truly living. Every improvement, insight, gain in enlightenment even, comes at a cost.

That cost might be time to learn a skill, experience, attention or purely financial. Often however we think that we can cut out the time required to learn. We are told (or sold) that we can fast track, learn the hacks even. 12 week Ironman programs, 10 weeks to your marathon PB, 6 weeks to your beach body…. sadly they come at a cost (often beyond the financial). We short cut and thus ignore the foundation (or base) required. This is not the way to true mastery or excellence. It is a thin veneer of pretense. And we are only kidding our selves.

However as we climb up our slope of choosing we realise there is another balancing factor. Responsibility. The rich, powerful, learned, strong all have a greater responsibility than the poor, uneducated and weak.

I don’t mean to describe it as static but rather it is dynamic, backwards and forwards play, balance. As this dynamic is maintained we all move forward and up.

Let’s return to the individual. Tempting as it may, hiding costs only works for a while, sometimes for a long while. Outsourcing is funny like that. We get the benefit without many of the costs. The costs do not go away though they just move to a different balance sheet. Taking production off shore (because labour is cheaper) for example ultimately costs my community in that I do not employ that community and they might not support me etc. Environmental costs seem to be like that too. Far too easily hidden on some foreign balance sheet. It blows me away the SA bought nuclear waste from Europe under the previous regime. A friend of mine remarked that he would now have to look after the environment because he was no longer an anonymous passer through. NIMBY

There is a funny tipping point what is considered fair/value for money. It seems to have very little to do with the product or service in question. I had somebody ask for a discount this week before we had even discussed a price. I apologised because I did not know how to continue the conversation. Ultimately as consumer we want to get “a deal”. Maybe we want to feel like we are tipping the scales in our favour.

I will close with gradient as a judge of character. I am amused by how ambitions seem not to be in balance with people’s current place or past experience. I have often been wrong and I will admit that. But I am far more interested in what you have done that what you want to do in the future.

Maybe I should stop here and move onto something else. I have written here and here about gradient.

Gradient – some thoughts

Many years ago I was walking towards the North Six Shooter outside Moab with my climbing partner. By far I was the weaker climber – on paper at least. Finally we got to the base of our first tower climb together and I realised something was wrong, my partner had been lagging all morning and I had not paid too much attention. There was doubt in his voice. Doubt about the weather, doubt about the heat, doubt about all different weird stuff. Too much doubt.

I quickly realised that the route was not the problem. And I had to work out why my partner was so freaked out and why he was not acting the way I expected. I also knew that I could not take on the responsibility for us both, in this setting, at that time, when he was in this state. I needed an equal to shoulder responsibility, at least at that point.

The mistake I had made was that I had forgotten to check in earlier as to what was going on with him. I assumed that because of his resume he would be able to pull his weight now. After a rest in the shade we headed down the scree frustrated. Later that evening we talked about things. A few days later with deeper insight (he had survived a near death epic in the desert many years before) into each other we went back out there a few days later and had a grand day out. A fairy tail ending of sorts, but often these issues result in dashed dreams and broken friendships or at very least frustrating days out for all.

What was going on here?

We have all walked up stairs in a hurry (or down for that matter). Each of us has their own pace and ability to climb stairs. Some of this is natural (like long legs or a strong body or actually an ability to turn over the legs quickly), some ability is trained. But don’t be fooled. What seems normal to me is certainly not that to others! One of the fastest walkers that I know is about half my height – who would have thought? She is a long distance swimmer. She is not overly trained she just walks super fast. Not in a million years would I put money on her beating me. Not that it is a race 😉

It is quite natural to assume that our own ability is the norm. We also assume that our own rate of learning (or gradient) is shared by all. Somehow we admire those that are better than us at a task but strangely enough we tend to be completely surprised by others that are not as able. Indeed sometimes this catches us off guard. One of the top climbers in the south of England admitted to me that he was afraid of heights! It took me a while to even grasp that this could be an issue for somebody of his ability.

“Come on, get over yourself! You have nothing to fear! The rope will hold…” These are all true, for me in that moment.

It may not feel so for your partner.

The natural thing for us to do is to come from our position (our gradient) and assume that what we are struggling with is hard for others too. What we find easy should be easy for others too. We make an assumption and thus we ultimately stand in judgement of our peers.

The thing with gradient is that it is our ability (steepness) to learn but also it symbolises our position along that slope. We are all different and can learn at different rates depending on circumstances. Just adjust the stress levels and see how normal functioning people become gibbering wrecks. That 5.7 move on loose rock, in the cold with a deck fall becomes a different animal.

So how do we do things differently?

We have to approach the other person from where they are at. Not from our position. The only way to do that is by asking questions. More specifically through open ended questions we gain insight. “What do you not like about heights?” “Why do you think you are feeling anxious?” “What can I do to help?” “How are you feeling today/about this route?” are all good examples of questions to ask.

It is about coming alongside the other person and not standing in judgement. In this way we empower the other person to come from their truth and their strength and they can contribute in the best way they can.

The thing is that roles do change during a route/trip/day. Strangely not in a predictable manner but rather surprisingly in my experience. When members of a team are empowered they can contribute and take up the slack when the opportunity presents itself.

Tips to asking open ended questions:

  • Open ended questions seek insight rather than a Yes/No answer.
  • Start your question with: What…, How…, Who…
  • Listen. We are taught to be quiet but not to listen. Listening is a skill that requires practice. Try to gain insight and avoid “stacking” your next question. What this means is avoid getting your next question ready before the other has finished answering (or speaking).

The concept of Gradient applies to any relationship (personal, sporting, work) and an awareness of this can greatly improve these.

What did you take away from this article?

Surfing the Line

Maybe a better description would be “balancing the line” or something similar. I want to convey the feeling of dynamic movement, of back and forth, zig-zagging, carving back sharply then more smoothly. Adjusting course. But rather than dropping down one side of the wave as in surfing I want to describe riding the sharp crest of it. That is where the tension is.

The sharp line between shadow and light. Cool and warm. Left and right. Hard and soft. Overwhelm and apathy. My destiny lies along this crest not on either side.  A friend described it like balancing a wobble board. But I think this is more dynamic. Running along the crest of a sand dune. My existence lies along that tension. Probably because of that tension.

As I look behind, the crest is no longer clean and crisp but pocked by my passing. Murky where I have walked. The reality is that the only way I can stay true is to put one foot either side. One spot of light in the dark and one shadow in the light. Transferring weight between the two. Thinking, being static does not keep me on course. Action, forward momentum, does. As I know dunes are not straight lines but rather curves. Intersecting. Interjoining. The obvious path is not a straight line. As I reach one summit I see others ahead. A sea of sand and opportunity or misery. That depends on me.

Add a title of your choosing

My preconceptions were the wall.

I had done this before. I had felt the holds. I remember the awkward move even from years ago. I knew I wanted to do it. To do the tick. I knew the consequences of pushing on and backing off. Backing off meant quite a lot when it was meaning that I was after.

I felt the dirt in the crack. Looked at the moves above I would not be able to reverse. My ideas, my fear tilted the wall against me. The lack of training (and that is a training of sorts) added to the cocktail.

How to be present and feel and see what is really there? Not blinded by what I think aught to be. That seems to be the real training.

The reps will change, as the steepness of the wall.

I admire all who continue to try into age. It seems too easy to just fortify ourselves in our own limits of thought, tradition, statements rather than questions and new possibilities. I admire all who keep an open heart to reality. Reality sometimes looks like opportunity and that is when we should act.

“Rise to the occasion” they say

A cure all, magic spell.

A hope even.

The problem with such a simple explanation is that it might just be too simple.

And hope does not provoke action but rather complacency.

Sure, just the right amount of stress can lift us to heights previously unachievable. But this requires us to be able to throttle that dose of external stress. That seems to be a very risky plan. Rather than relying on the right outside conditions I prefer to have a more failsafe method where I can control more variables. Essentially I want to be very sure in what I can do when the stress is high. That is why all athletes practice, practice, practice.

Almost a falling back (or down) to what is known. If I practice doing 2X load then repeating X load is easy, even under huge stress.

Through practice I gain familiarity with my self and under what conditions I am capable of what performance. This more predictable outcome seems exactly what is required when stress is high and the environment is unpredictable.

This certainty in self, a lifeboat of sorts in stormy seas.

However…

10 Burpees

That is what my program said.

Does not seem so hard does it?

I skipped over what came before or what after.

The X3 rounds should have been a warning. There were others. There always are.

I thought, I knew, I ignored.

Suddenly I was at the place when things did not go the way I had planned. Certainly not the way I thought they would go a few minutes ago. That special place.

I won’t bore you with details but the burpees were the easy bit – in isolation. In the context of the workout they were the exact opposite however. Actually that is not quite true. The 30 sec rests were the worst. Just too little time to find relief, just too little time to psyche up for the next round.

I should have known that HARD would come and I should have been ready. Instead I relaxed and thought it would be OK.

HARD always comes at some point. That is the only thing we can truly know.

So what do we do when we arrive, unwarned, suddenly?

(see tomorrow’s post)

Freedom – some thoughts

Freedom from oppression, violence, physical or mental. Many of us enjoy these to the extent that we forget that others do not.
Edith Eger makes the distinction between freedom of and freedom to. To decide, to think, to vote, to speak, to be silent, to act.

Both come with a cost. But who carries that cost is the question. I might carry the responsibility not to oppress. Likewise you carry the cost to express yourself in a respectful manner. Is that a cost you are willing to pay?
Who has the responsibility to listen?

The argument of ‘I will treat you with respect only if you play nice’ whilst widely accepted does not follow logic.
‘I carry the cost of freedom’ makes it sound like a burden but it is no less true.
I think what I am trying to express is that any right is balanced by responsibility. The connection between those two is essential to keeping community in balance.
We mess with that equilibrium at our own peril and the game quickly falls over. We all know this. The same way as we all know when somebody has upturned the scales. We might not be able to express exactly what is going on  but we all know. And we all act accordingly. 

Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/5662928599

Rolling down the Palm Trees with Nasty C. Red Cadilac bouncing to the base, turning blonde heads clad in bikinis. Suddenly I awake. Dreams are like that. Inspire, frighten. Sometimes they remain dreams up there. We remain here, grounded.

I heard a tune on the radio but I don’t know what it was called. I waited for years to get a chance to listen to it. Mostly glimpses. Waited for years for it to be right. Waited for years to be fit. Waited for years for confidence to give it a go. In the end it was right here.

Somewhere between the start, the end and home that is where.

Sometimes our photo roll is full.

Sometimes our memories.

Seldom both.

This was the latter.

“I was busy” was my reply. What I meant was “I was engaged”.

The looking around I did was to (mostly) keep us on track. Not vistas, backdrops, hashed tags.

Surfing waves of boulders. Finding the quickest line not buyline.

This route was with me for over a decade. I am surprised that the cool kids have not found it yet. Maybe they will. Maybe they have and it is on Strava – I have no idea.

Start at Jonkershoek gate, Bergrivier Nek, down Duiwel’skloof, finish at the Kylemore gate. 25 km on the map (slightly longer on the ground), 2000m ascent 8h29. I expect a time of 5h is very doable. It might require a recce trip though. Funnest Known Time.