by Jes Meiris
I’m a Warrior’s Way trainer, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I’ve been working in the outdoor industry, primarily as a rock climbing guide, for fourteen years and became a Warrior’s Way trainer in 2015 after one of Arno’s clinics made a tremendous impact on my climbing. I’ve always known my days in a physically demanding career like guiding were numbered due to a genetic joint condition exacerbated by an active lifestyle. A few years ago, I began to research my list of backup career options in more detail so I’d be prepared when I was ready to make that transition. A chronic elbow injury quickly shoved that timeline forward, and almost simultaneously, becoming a helicopter pilot rose toward the top of my list of options that best suited my personality and skill set.
There are several parallels between aviation and mountain guiding, such as risk management, weather assessment, technical systems, clear communication, and maintaining composure in high-pressure situations. While those skills are put to use on a daily basis in climbing none of them prepared me for the experience of flying a helicopter. My experiential knowledge of those areas in climbing didn’t transfer right away to flying. I’m gradually closing that gap as I practice flying and have noticed many parallels of how The Warriors Way material applies to it.
During flight, the pilot must manage an incredible number of tasks at the same time. Tasks such as: the three primary flight controls to stay airborne, radio communications, engine heating and cooling, watching for company traffic, weather, and the list goes on. I’ve put much thought into how my mental training can contribute to the management of those tasks. The Warrior’s Way coaches us to commit our attention to either climbing with our bodies or thinking with our minds. When flying however, committing attention to a single task could distract our attention from other tasks that are equally important in that moment. One way The Warrior’s Way helps to manage this issue is to broaden awareness to all tasks that demand our attention, and then heightening attention to the one of highest priority. In other words, one task receives more attention while still being aware of all other relevant tasks. For example, I will be cognizant of all the tasks listed above, but especially focused on communicating on the radio. In climbing, although The Warrior’s Way teaches us to commit our attention to thinking about the risk at rest stances, we still need to maintain awareness of our body position (particularly our feet), our grip, and our breathing so we maximize the recovery of our physical energy. The mind can manage more tasks simultaneously when there is less stress. However, when our situation is more stressful or includes time limitations, it becomes more important to commit our attention to one task at a time and follow our intuition rather than our analytical thoughts. Intuition allows us to integrate all aspects of the situation and respond quickly to the task needing immediate attention. We teach a very black-and-white approach to committing attention initially in our clinics. Broadening our attention dives into the gray areas of this training, which we develop with continued practice once we’ve learned the basics of committing our attention.
One way I’ve applied The Warrior’s Way principles to be a more effective pilot is hovering the helicopter. Hovering is one of the more challenging maneuvers to learn and can only occur when all forces acting on the aircraft—weight, lift, drag, and thrust—are in perfect harmony and balance. It’s challenging, not because of the physical effort required to control the machine, which is actually quite minimal, but rather the mental effort to respond to constantly changing aerodynamic forces is huge. Student pilots have a tendency to ‘over-control’ by being too physically aggressive with their inputs. The aircraft is also within a body length of the ground, which can feel scary. That’s where the mental training comes in!
I was struggling with landing the helicopter from a hover. I could maintain a perfect hover, but when I attempted to land, I became jittery with the controls because I was scared of impacting too hard or rolling the helicopter. While there is always some realistic danger present, I also had the ‘safety net’ of my instructor, who is trained to recover for mistakes I make. That eliminates most of the actual risk, which is similar to diminished risk in climbing by being on toprope or climbing grades well below our limit. The jittery feeling reminded me of the experience of “Elvis legs” in climbing: our legs begin to shake as fear and doubt creep into our minds. Fear invites tension in our calf muscles, which causes them to contract and quiver. Focusing our attention on lowering our heels, relaxing, and exhaling can help diminish the leg tension. If we’re lead climbing, then we can also diminish stress and fear by down-climbing to a rest stance. Similarly, when landing the helicopter, I can focus on relaxing my muscles which will help alleviate over-controlling, breathing to promote tranquility, and keeping my eyes to the horizon to provide a sense of balance and perspective. In other words, redirecting attention toward breathing, eye focus, and body awareness, just like we teach in climbing.
I also realized that my landings don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be safe. My instructor coached me that the buffer zone is MUCH bigger than I thought it was. I can explore within that zone of discomfort, similar to the gray area in how we commit our attention. The point is, whether flying or climbing, we have to be willing to engage with stress, knowing it’s okay to be a little sloppy sometimes, and practice a lot! We can be patient with ourselves to allow us to learn.
Where can The Warrior’s Way be applied in our lives outside of climbing? I think you’ll find, like I did, there are many parallels. I’m thankful for the toolbox that The Warrior’s Way material provides me, knowing I can apply it to so many different aspects of life. Even though I am transitioning careers, I still plan to teach mental training clinics and guide clients part-time. I hope to see you in a course soon!