Climbing: The star that guided me to be better
I have been struggling to articulate my thoughts on this next concept for three weeks now. So instead of trying to express myself in a more detailed and articulate form, I’m going to get real fuzzy here. I’m going to describe to you how i feel about the idea of having an Aim for your life. When I actually faced up to it, because it is terrifying, I decided that my Aim in life was to be the best climber I could be. That Aim improved my life beyond what I had conceived possible. Now the terror is fully realised, I have failed, I will no longer be able to posit that Aim for my life. Perhaps the reason I have been unable to fully engage with this topic is because the loss of that unifier is still apparent and may actually never be resolved (more on this in a future post sometime).
We talk a great deal about having goals, but not so much about having Aims. I think that’s a function of our modern world moving away from what might be loosely defined as the spiritual, but that’s a discussion for another post. Whilst ‘Goals’ and ‘Aims’ can be interchanged in use, for the purpose of this post I’d like to define them more precisely. I understand that goals are important and that there is a collection of literature surrounding goals I don’t think, however, that they are as important as Aims.
So to distinguish them, think of the following comparisons. Where goals are specific and measurable (SMART for those who like acronyms), Aims are a more loosely defined collection of ideas which guide us over time. Unlike goals, our Aims are never realized. They are unending motifs that define our lives, allowing us to forge meaning. When you are hungry, the goal may be to eat, but the Aim might be something like feeding yourself consistently and in the best way possible. Where goals are more fixed, Aims move and change. As a climber you might have a certain problem or grade as a goal, but the aim might be to be the best climber you could be and it could morph into being the best boulderer you could be. Where setting goals is a more logic driven function, requiring some definition and structure, Aims are more rooted in emotion and an elusive quality of interest or curiosity. As an investigative journalist you may have a goal to write a book, but the Aim would be to investigate themes and questions that consume your thoughts.
Whilst I refer to having a single Aim in life, it is infact a complex idea, for some there may be several Aims closely linked, for some perhaps just one. However you cut the cake, I believe it is important to have an Aim for your life. I mean the alternative is quite literally to be Aimless. To be so diffuse, like a spinning compass, that you are both everything and nothing simultaneously. Potential lacking the specificity to be anything at all. Having an Aim informs you, orientating your brain, emotions and the very core of your being towards something. It unifies you and guides your thoughts and actions where otherwise there would be pure hedonism, animalistic desire in response to stimulus. It is what they refer to in the Bible when they say ‘straight is the way and narrow is the gate’. Our Aims don’t just keep us on the path, they create the path. They create the meaning in our lives and a life devoid of meaning is truly Hell, I’ve been there, I know.
So how do we go about discovering what our aim in life should be? The best sense I have been able to make of this question is to combine your limitations to with what you find interesting or what your curiosity pulls you towards. This idea of curiosity or interest is elusive, but it does operate within us. We have all heard the adage that we regret what we don’t do more than what we do. As difficult as it is to define, we know what it feels like to be disappointed that we never chased an opportunity or investigated a desire. It cuts at us and only we, as the individual, can truly understand just how much. On the contrary, doing ‘what we love’ seems to imbue our actions with a kind of magic that is mysteriously lacking in that which we do not find interesting. But we must follow our hearts within the limits we find ourselves constrained by. You may not have the means to become an astronaut, or reinvent yourself as a Doctor at 50 or 60 years old. There are truths about existence which cannot be overlooked. Part of having an Aim is to transcend those limitations, but we also need to be reasonable and not attempt the impossible. Finding that balance can be difficult but as Yuval Noah Harari said ‘Life is hard, deal with it’.
I wont delve too deeply into how I came to posit Climbing as my Aim in life but to sketch a brief scenario. I was disillusioned with life when climbing offered me a release, and hope, if somewhat unconsciously. The progression that climbing offered and sense of alignment found in the flow state which climbing requires was contrary to the Nihilistic view on life that I had been infected by. Suddenly there was an emotional (ie feeling based and not articulated knowledge based) improvement in my life. Something i didn’t think was possible. I had been on this emotional journey of meaning for a few years when I was introduced to the ideas of Dr Jordan Peterson who allowed me to see that having an Aim was important and that I should do it consciously. He also said something along the lines of: Ok so you don’t know what to do, then pick something, you’re gonna get it wrong anyways but it beats Aimlessness. And so I chose climbing, because I had the resources to follow that Aim and it called to me with increasing curiosity and interest. It may not have been a conventional Aim or even worthwhile in the eyes of society (I mean if you’re not fighting for the rights of some disadvantaged group or making money what are you doing?), but it was my Aim and that was important to me.
As it turns out Peterson was right, almost immediately I began seeing the world differently. I improved my nutrition, work life, even how I viewed and interacted with people. Moving away from the cynical ‘everyone is a cunt’ model I became more and more accepting of people, if for nothing else so I could get more climbing partners to climb with. I discovered fasting which improved my energy and helped shed fat I could never get rid of before. I started working from home and increased my discipline, producing work of a better standard and faster so I could take Fridays off to go on longer climbing weekends. My training increased to include running and pilates to boost my strength and overall fitness. The pursuit of climbing became the pursuit of the unknown, looking for more challenging routes, problems and even climbing areas that were remote and difficult to get to. Climbing became the inspiration for change and growth in my life, allowing me to rediscover the awe and majesty that life has to offer. In short, it saved me.
But lying there in that hospital bed in the new ward it was apparent that that Aim was lost. the very thing that had rekindled in me the love of life had been smashed. I was forced to painfully and inescapably experience the disintegration of my psyche when the centre pin was removed. Whilst I understand that it wasn’t climbing that actually changed my life, it was having an Aim, climbing was the mechanism by which I came to understand that. It was that which was lost. It was like knowing that it is not air that sustained me but breathing. I was unable to breathe albeit that there was air a plenty. As I write this now, I am still Aimless. I do not know if I will ever find another Aim that calls to me as climbing did, although I am acting in a way that allows me the greatest chance at following such a calling if I happen to identify it. Its like wading through a foggy swamp, there is no visible end, no motivation, but I must continue to wade. Into the Unknown, with no heading, no destination and quite possibly no reward.