Summer has arrived in Yosemite, bringing with it huge throngs of visitors. As you may know, I show my movie Return to Balance: A Climber’s Journey on the weekends at the Visitor’s Center and get to interact with lots of folks in the dialog after that. Lots of questions about rock climbing for sure, but I also get questions that make me feel honored because they resonate to the deeper meaning of the movie, which is that through my dedication to the ways of a rock climber, I have come to appreciate the deep harmony of human existence with the laws of nature. The movement of your body through physical space requires the coming together of your body and psyche with the spirit of the natural world.
I’m fascinated by how much my own appreciation of climbing has been inspired by the writings of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba and his student, Mitsugi Saotome. I have been carrying around Ueshiba’s inspiring book Art of Peace with me for years. Here’s what I wanted to share with you, from Saotome’s book, Aikido and the Harmony of Nature:
Regarding the basis of Aikido, he writes in his Preface:
“Aikido movement must be understood from its roots deep in universal law. Its goal is to promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of the perfection of nature’s balance, and to bring humanity back into harmony with God. I want to create in each person’s mind a vivid flashback into our beginnings. I want to draw from your subconscious mind the memory of the very beginning of life and the struggle between time and space of the incredible evolution of humanity. I want you to feel the beauty and power of that evolution and give thanks to the Divine Creator.”
Substitute “Aikido” with “climbing”, and if you are uncomfortable with “God”, just use “our being”, and you see why I find it so meaningful.
Saotome also describes so well the understanding about the balance between nature and society, a value that we wish so much to nurture in our youth through their trips to Yosemite:
“In our selfishness we forget the delicate balance of the dependence of one life form on all others. If everyone applied to nature’s resources a conservation born of respect, love and understanding, and used them with an attitude of sincere thanksgiving to God, nature would be protected and the quality of life enriched. By protecting nature we protect society. By protecting society we protect ourselves. If nature is destroyed, the most fundamental requirement for survival is destroyed. To survive, we must nourish our body. If there is no food, if the water and the air are contaminated, there is no life, no society.”
These are extremely high aspirations to have for our program, but we want nothing less. It stands much like a tall mountain in the far distance that we are setting out to climb. Getting there will require much perseverance, route finding, creek crossings, tricky traverses, and technique. So we continue to take our baby steps, bringing groups of kids for day trips and camping experiences.
Since the last newsletter, I’ve had the privilege of a hosting a few more trips with the Merced County Probation youths, and another trip with kids in foster care. I have been busy learning through these experiences how best to move up the mountain. What I have learned so far I have to say is the role of simplicity, not complexity, in developing the clarity of the senses.
The best moments have come in listening to the water, taking in expansive views of the high Sierras, or encountering a Mountain King snake. In the presence of natural beauty, we appreciate the power of slowing down and having the time to recognize the senses, clearing them out in order to gain balance. Our challenge at Sacred Rok is figuring out how to get this quality experience, while still recognizing that what society wants is to take this experience, scale it up and make it go faster.
Facing that pressure, let me retreat to my Aikido master, Ueshiba Morihei, who wrote in The Art of Peace: “The only cure for materialism is the cleansing of the six senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind). If the senses are clogged, one’s perception is stifled. The more it is stifled, the more contaminated the senses become. This creates disorder in the world, and that is the greatest evil of all. Polish the heart, free the six senses and let them function without obstruction, and your entire body and soul will glow.”
In my life as a rock climber, this is the spirit that has kept me balanced, moving into new dimensions of climbing. When I finally climbed Magic Line, the hardest climb of my life, I needed to connect my senses to the natural harmony of the place. I had worked on the climb for many months repeating and working on every move. I remember the cold day walking up the trail to the route, trying to clear myself of the stresses that had been accumulating perhaps because of the confusion of my ego. What I really needed was to free myself of these complicated thoughts. I was only successful because I was able to let go of any confusion about why I wanted to do the climb and simply allow all of my senses to engage in the reality of each move as it unfolded harmoniously.