Zen And The Art Of Mountain Climbing

March 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

My climb up Ophir, or Gunung Ledang last weekend, has only confirmed what Robert Pirsig spoke about climbing mountains. Blind focus on getting to the top or bottom will result in a painful journey, and chances of you reaching your goal diminished.

Pain from blind focus on the endpoint and the carrots that seem to lead to it comes from a lack of preparedness.

To be able to fully enjoy the journey on the mountain, you must train yourself for it. This would mean putting yourself in worst case scenarios again, and again. When we talk about physical preparedness, this means training to the point of failure, or near-failure. This building of both muscle and stamina pushes the limits of what your physical self can achieve.

Stoic philosopher Seneca puts it this way when he talks about preparedness for the worst case scenario in life.

“Set aside a number of days where you will have the most meagre of food and clothing. Then ask yourself: Is this what I feared?”

Top tennis professional (disclaimer: favorite tennis player) Rafael Nadal famously trained under the most ridiculous of circumstances that many privileged aspiring tennis children would not have tolerated. Stories of Toni putting him on courts that were ill-maintained, lousy rackets, old worn out balls. The Mallorcan was made to carry all his bags, string his rackets. If he forgot the water, he went thirsty throughout training. Is it any wonder that the 4 time Roland Garros champion displays remarkable calm and stoic personality on the court?

With preparedness you are empowered with a skill that enables you to fully appreciate the journey up the mountain. You will not be focusing on the distance that remains to reach the goal, or how much time you will take, before your suffering ends. You will then be open to appreciate whatever Providence throws your way, good or bad.

Another way to look at it, through the mind of Alan Watts, is to view the mountain climb not as a journey, but as a piece of music or dance. There is no focus on getting to the end, but to play every note to the best you can.

Your happiness and joy in life would then come from practicing your craft and instrument. Often this means practising under less than ideal conditions, such as distractions and challenging pieces.

On those times you do reach the “goal”, you would be able to better appreciate it, simply because you weren’t expecting it at all. For the reason is simply because the journey is much more worthwhile than the alleged “pot at the end of the rainbow.”


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