A friend shared this article from Tricycle, by Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel: Open Stillness: Uncertainty is liberating. This article explores the opportunities that rock climbing provides Buddhist practitioners. I’ve had many people comment that The Warrior’s Way® is like Buddhism. I guess they see various WW tenets coming from Buddhism. This has some validity. Yet, I never intended to create a version of Buddhism by creating WW. Rather, I researched widely to find core tenets that seemed like foundational truths for how to be more mentally fit.
I found the article quite interesting. The core point it makes is that uncertainty is liberating. Generally, we feel threatened by uncertainty. It shifts us out of our comfort zones. So how can that be liberating? Below are some excerpts from the article. I encourage you to read it in its entirety. But, if you can’t do that, at least read these excerpts and my comments for each point. They speak to how we struggle against how life is, instead of finding ways to flow with how it unfolds.
Here are “excerpts” from the article and my comments:
- “Hanging off a rock is an exaggerated experience of facing the unknown.” Yes it is. Climbing puts us into unknown dangerous and exhilarating situations at the same time. How cool is that?
- “When reactive mind responds to situations where we lose our reference points, our body tightens, our breath shortens, our vision narrows.” Sound familiar? Notice how the author points to BEB (breathing, eyes, and body), elements we teach to shift out of reactivity and into expanded awareness.
- “We start to work with our mind and slowly it softens. Now, this is the fascinating part: as everything softens, all kinds of new patterns and shapes begin to emerge from the rock.” As we shift attention to BEB, awareness opens. We literally can see, hear, and feel more.
- “The state of not-knowing is a riveting place to be.” Isn’t this one reason why you climb? You love some aspects of venturing into the unknown, not-knowing what the future holds. To be surprised by life can be a wonderful experience.
- “These experiences remind us that change and unpredictability are the pulse of our very existence.” Life changes constantly, moment to moment. How can we argue with that? Change is reality. And, it’s unpredictable. Shouldn’t we find ways to flow with that unpredictability?
- “We could avoid participating in the change we can’t truly escape from.” What a conundrum. Change is reality and we try to escape from it? Why would we do such an impossible thing?
- “It’s important to have a sense of adventure in life, because our situation in this very moment is not unlike climbing up that rock.” Don’t you love having a sense of adventure? Isn’t this why you climb? How could we do mental training that helps us enjoy having a sense of adventure?
- “The way we respond to the fleeting stream of experiences we call ‘our life’ determines our move toward either confusion or wisdom.” Here we have a choice to make. I call this the warrior’s choice. Change happens; it’s reality. How do we choose to respond to this change, these fleeting streams of experiences? Resist and your life will be confusing. Accept and it can be filled with wisdom.
- “Confusion proliferates when we can’t stay present with whatever we encounter.” We know our mental training goal: to focus our attention in the moment on the current task. Here Buddhism teaches that confusion occurs when our attention shifts out of the present. Therefore, being focused in the present isn’t just a nice idea. It brings our lives peace.
- “What would happen if, while suspended on that rock, we made a conscious choice to rest in open stillness instead of panicking?” Indeed, what would happen? Well, it could be stillness or panic. Here we need to understand the level of uncertainty to engage. At WW, we call this our resilience zone. It’s a zone that puts us in an optimal state of being willing to be present for what we’re experiencing. Too much uncertainty and we’ll panic; too little and we’ll wallow in our comfort zones. Ah, climbing and mental training can help us find a balance between these extreme states.
- “If our confusion finds its genesis in our habit of turning away from the open state, what would happen if we habituated ourselves to staying open?” Well, what would happen is we’d find more peace. Yet being able to habituate ourselves to staying open takes practice. It takes innumerable times experiencing our lives in our resilience zones. That habituates us to stay open, receptive, and present.
- “The purpose of a practice is to habituate ourselves to openness.” Optimally, this is true in my opinion. Yet, many people practice in ways that habituate themselves to remaining closed, panicked, and confused. In other words, we’re doing mental training each moment of our day. Practice requires intentionality, which means we consciously choose to focus our attention in a particular direction. Here, we choose a practice that includes BEB (breathing, eyes, and body). We choose to focus our attention on these elements instead of allowing it to dwell in the mind on past habituations. Practice requires work. We guide that work with intention.
- “The fact that we don’t know—that nothing is certain and we therefore can’t hold on to anything—can evoke fear and depression, but it can also evoke a sense of wonder, curiosity, and freedom. Some of our best moments come when we haven’t yet decided what will happen next.” Uncertainty evokes fear only when we resist it. We can experience “freedom from” fear by shifting our attention out of the mind and into the body, which informs us of what is real in each moment. Then we experience “freedom to” guide our lives in helpful directions. Finally, with practice, we experience “freedom to be” more curious about uncertainty than resist it.
- “Life is uncertain. In terms of our relationships, what will we encounter next: coming together, separation, loss, surprise?” Can you answer this question?
- “As human beings, we need to ask, over and over again, Do we have to turn away from this fullness? Can we enjoy the limitless realm of possibility? Can we live life as an open question?” Life is a continual renewing of what is. Thus, continually asking yourself such questions brings consciousness to the moments of your life. Can you live your life as an open question? I would say “yes.” Living this way can be liberating.
This Post Has 9 Comments
Thanks Arno! Good luck with the 2nd draft of the book!
Thank you so much for sharing the article Arno !! I really appreciated reading it.
In my climbing work I play with getting people to experience the difference between a reactive and an open mind. Once somatically experiencing the difference and realising we have a choice it can make such a difference. Then there are many other points mentioned and so nicely written. Thank you for sharing 🙂
Hey Jude, you’re welcome. All disciplines, philosophies, and methods intersect and it’s cool to find them. 🙂 a
This was a very timely share for me. Thank you. The writer mentions interesting parallels that I have also been noting over the last several years. I think many people are drawn to climbing because of the moment-to-moment presence they experience while pushing their comfort zone beyond its habitual limits. I wonder if they are aware of this pull towards uncertainty, and if so, how often they push against other ways our society lulls us into a false sense of “comfort” and “certainty”.
Interesting things you’re wondering about Kristin. Thanks for sharing that. I think there is so much habituation around how we live in society. And climbing can give us a medium where we engage with inanimate rock, which can make us aware of those habituation. That awareness can help us know ourselves and develop better habits. 🙂 a
Can I live my life as an open-ended question?
Great question Ben. Reminds me of the three precepts of the Rule of Stalking from Castaneda’s book The Eagle’s Gift:
“The first precept of the rule is that everything that surrounds us is an unfathomable mystery.
“The second precept of the rule is that we must try to unravel these mysteries, but without ever hoping to accomplish this.
“The third, that a warrior, aware of the unfathomable mystery that surrounds him and aware of his duty to try to unravel it, takes his rightful place among mysteries and regards himself as one. Consequently, for a warrior there is no end to the mystery of being, whether being means being a pebble, or an ant, or oneself. That is a warrior’s humbleness. One is equal to everything.”
Arno, that is a beautiful response to my question. Thank you for answering it in such a beautiful way. The awakenings and wisdoms you quoted are things I am starting to see and understand much more as I dig deeper into myself and life. However, I was posing my question as a statement that I want to be able to live my life as an open question. Not needing to answer it. My comment was symbolic of how I want to live my life as a question. But I couldn’t have asked for a better answer than yours. Thank you.