Right Hand hold, left hand hold, left foot holds, right foot steps up, left foot steps up, take breath. Right hand grabs quick draws (a set of 2 carabiners) clicks into bolt, then grabs rope that is connected to harness clips into quick draw and says “clipped”. look and find next footholds before finding hand holds the secure right-hand hold, left hand hold, left foot new hold, stand up and find new right foot grip, breath. It is you and the rock, nothing else matters in these moments, my brain is completely zoned in on each micro-movement of my body. There is no time to be un-focused, no room for fluttering thoughts, all my brain is taken up by receiving and sending information between my body and the rock. There is a constant flow of action and response to action. It keeps my heart beating at a high but manageable rate, the activity is a great balance of rhythm, adrenaline and composure. This is what it feels like to be leading a climb (my hands are sweaty writing about it).
I am new rock climber and as such my senses are completely heightened. Rock climbing requires a high level of trust in the gear being used. Leading a climb requires you to carry the rope with you as you climb, clipping in the carabiner and securing the rope as you go, making you quite safe. If you fall you may fall several meters but you will be caught by the gear you installed. It is this play with control and self-trust that has been exciting to experience. It is in these intense moments that a peaceful and methodical wave comes across me. It’s like you are in a perfectly timed rhythmic dance that looks planned but is not. This experience can be described as the “flow” state. You are so zoned in that you just know the next thing to do. It is a state that runners call the “runners high” they have run so far but fell like they have an endless supply of energy; softball places say they see the ball as if it were a watermelon. It is this feeling that keeps athletes racing toward this feeling over and over again. We are obsessed with it because it feels so good, we are in control of something that normally is out of our control.
I can recall certain moments in the last year where I have been in this flow state, it doesn’t happen that often but when it does it is pretty magical. Most recently I got into this state while multi-pitching at Mt. Cook national park. Mt. Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand and is part of the Southern alps that formed 5 million years ago when the pacific and Australian plate collided and has been further eroded and molded by glaciers 75,000 years ago. The results of these tectonics yield great metamorphic faces throughout the valley (schist) that beg to be climbed. Multi-pitching is where 2 climbers ascend a wall that is longer than the length of their ropes and do it in sections (called pitches). Each pitch is about 30m high (90 ft) and that is half the length of the rope. Partner 1 lead climbs the first pitch while partner 2 stays at the bottom to belay. Partner 1 gets to the top and secures herself and belays partner 2 as she climbs up to the same level. Then from that level partner 2 lead climbs to the next pitch and belays partner 1 from that position. This back and forth continues until you reach the top. When you do this correctly you are always safe, meaning you are tied to anchor points and should you fall you are caught by the rope that is tied into your harness.
On this day Penny and I are partnered up and with the guidance of an experienced guide we ascend
the red aerate. I am the first climber, so I lead climb 30m up clipping in my rope every 5m or so (15ft). I am aware of each movement as I go up. I am loving every part of this experience. Once I reach the top I go through the procedures to secure myself and prep the rope for Penny to come join and I look around and admire the view of the valley from a completely different vantage point. In that moment I realize I am a mere speck of dust in this place we call nature, how cool is it that I am able to take time to observe the natural world while doing something pretty epic.
Flow state is such a sought after feeling, time ceases to exist, there is nothing else that matters except this task at hand. Your mind is so calm, your muscles are firing with ease and everything just feels so dang good. There are things you can do to set yourself up for the flow state. Here are a few that I do to encourage this state to occur. The cool thing is, although I may not get to this “flow” state all the time even following some of these things enhances my overall experience.
Get rid of all other distractions- I have a conversation with myself that walks me through the activity I am about to do and then I take some deep breaths. This gets me in the mindset of the moment. I don’t allow my phone to be on either.
Visualizations- I see myself doing the activity, so in this case seeing myself find the holds and moving up the wall. In sports it looks like making a solid contact with the ball or fielding a grounder perfectly.
Smile- and appreciate the moment. The last thing I like to do is take a minute to be incredibly grateful for this moment in time to be at this place doing this thing. I often did this in softball as well, standing on the dirt, taking in all the senses loving that I got to compete on this particular day.
May you go into your next activity and find the flow! It can happen with the most mundane tasks as well. Let me know when you have experienced flow. I would LOVE to hear from you!