Mental fitness requires using the mind so our attention flows freely from present moment to present moment, as the situation dictates. If the mind abides on its expectations and desires, then it interferes with our ability to perceive the actual situation and deal with it effectively. Therefore, we don’t let the mind abide on these. A mind-state that doesn’t abide in limiting ways is known as having a free mind. It’s unencumbered by mental attachment to expectations or desired outcomes that interfere with effective use of our attention.
I experienced an abiding mind last month while climbing Wish I Was Trad (5.11) at Castle Rock, Tennessee. It’s a one-pitch sport route. I’d climbed through the lower difficult part and was positioned at a rest stance two meters below the last bolt. My arms were pumped and I had difficulty recovering my strength. My mind thought about how difficult the climbing would be in such a physically tired state and that I wouldn’t find an easy clipping stance at the next bolt. I climbed three moves toward the bolt using some small holds, became pumped, and down-climbed back to the stance. My mind wasn’t free; it was abiding on an expectation of difficulty.
Maps & Territories
We can understand how to develop a free mind by investigating the relationship between maps and territories. Maps constitute our mental conceptions of situations; territories constitute reality, the actual situation. Maps are mental conceptions of real territories.
If we approach challenges with a map-to-territory orientation, then we begin with our mental map and project it onto the real territory. We seek to validate the territory to our mental map of it. Consider how limiting this is in the context of a rock climb. We’re tired, thinking the climbing will be difficult or impossible for us, and then project that mental state onto the rock, which could be quite doable. The mind abides on mental expectations of difficulty, diminishing our ability to focus our attention effectively.
We reverse this process to improve our mental fitness. We approach challenges with a territory-to-map orientation. We look into the territory first, create our mental maps based on what we perceive, and modify our maps as we engage the territory. On a rock climb, we identify features first: features that create a path-of-least-resistance between us and the next rest stance. Next, we create mental maps based on what we perceive: we blend our past experiences with what we perceived in the territory. Finally, we climb and modify our maps based on what we discover as we engage the territory. The mind doesn’t abide on any mental expectations of difficulty. Our attention flows freely between the necessary tasks that occur in the moment.
An on-sight climbing situation is a helpful example of how this process works. The Warrior’s Way® breaks the climbing process into two parts: stop to think with the mind, or move to take action with the body. We use a specific process for thinking, looking into the territory first, to gather objective information. Next, we create our mental maps based on that objective information. Finally, we use a specific process for taking action, so we can stay receptive to modify our maps to the territories we discover.
Reflecting on my effort on Wish I Was Trad, I realized I had allowed my mind to predetermine how difficult the climbing would be. I had adopted a map-to-territory orientation, starting with my mind’s mental maps of how difficult the climbing would be based on my tired state. I decided to reverse this.
I looked into the territory, the route, first. I focused my attention on thinking, to identify the path-of-least-resistance to the next bolt. I saw the small holds I had used previously, plus some new footholds to the left. These footholds created a different path for climbing. I also acknowledged this was an on-sight situation, so I would need to modify my mental map to whatever I discovered when I climbed into the territory.
Next, I set an intention for how to focus my attention while climbing. If I kept my attention in the mind, then it would abide on whatever it perceived as difficult. Rather, I focused my attention in the body, on breathing, staying relaxed, and modifying my plan based on what I discovered. I used the initial small holds, stepped left to use the newly discovered footholds and climbed up to the bolt. I discovered a hidden vertical crack next to the bolt. It was a solid finger jam, making it easy to stop and clip the bolt. By keeping my attention in the body, I was able to let my attention flow freely, through the territory of the climb, to utilize new foot- and handholds that I discovered.
We do something specific to maintain a territory-to-map orientation. When we think, we focus our attention on gathering objective information by looking into the territory first. Next, we allow our attention to shift into the mind, to blend our past experiences with what we perceived in the territory. Finally, we shift our attention into the body when we climb. Doing this frees the mind from attachment to its expectations and desires, and allows our attention to flow freely from task to task as the situation dictates.
Practice Tip: There is no Spoon
Your mind will misperceive difficulty and interfere with your climbing effort. It will focus your attention in your mind first, creating a mental map of difficulty that doesn’t accurately represent the territory of the climb.
Rather, when you’re at a stance:
- Look up into the territory to identify the next bolt and the features that lead all the way to it.
- Next, develop a map, a plan for climbing, based on your past experience and what you perceived by looking into the territory.
- Finally, take action, climb into the territory, modifying your map as needed by what you discover in the territory of the climb.