Extreme ChaXi: Climbing at the Gunks

What does it mean to be a climber? What does it mean to accept and face the risk inherit to scaling walls of stone that normal human beings would wisely not tread near (least cling to)?

Does it mean you’re cool or brave?
Does it mean you’re young and foolish?
Does it mean you’re wild and rebellious?

Andreas, my close friend and climbing partner at Penn State, and I are very different people, and we climb for very different and personal reasons.

I climb because I am afraid. Afraid of falling, afraid of equipment breaking, afraid of leading badly. Like most, I have a strong sentiment for self-preservation. climbs that are long, hard, and strenuous scare me. So I seek them out to climb.

In climbing I conquer fear. As fearful as I may be on the inside before the climb, once I touch the first hold my mind goes silent. I am zen.

Climbing is all focusing. 3 pitches up and off rout on a run-out Gunks style sandbag, any mistake can be deadly. I know that. I have to know that. Yet, if I was to let that affect me, if I was to quiver at the precarious perch I so finely rest on,  if I was to loose the stillness and fluid motion of ‘the moment’ or ‘the zone’ or ‘the zen’ or ‘the screaming silence’, whatever you call it when you personally commit and move and trust, it would only making falling (and all of its consequences) definite.

Instead, through climbing, I am alive. Fear has no hold on me. My mind is still, my moments precise, and my motivation personal. I climb for no one. I climb to live.

How does this relate to tea ceremony? How does this relate to GongFu?

Tea takes many forms for me; I teach it, I study with it, I drink far more of it than I should (maybe).

Yet my most precious moments with tea, the moments that keep me coming back to tea ceremony, after all the learning, and after all the knowledge that lets me appreciated it, are the moments of beauty that shine through the sessions of meditative contemplation.

Sometimes its the tea.
Sometimes its the setting.
Sometimes its the company.

But it is always the same type of feeling.

And through climbing, I can feel those same moments of pure beauty.

So I did them together. Extreme Chaxi.

And it was Beautiful.

The ChaXi was simple, held to the slop at the top of the climb by stones, the tea a roasted oolong, and the wares carried with us in the pack.

The shadows of the mountains and trees shimmered below, rolling hills of upstate New York, while the featured cliffs of the ‘traps’ ran through our vision.

Sitting on the ledge, still tied in, and sipping tea before our descent, a day of climbing still ahead of us, this was the most extreme chaxi yet.

Go find your zen. It will be beautiful.

Migrated Comments

Andreas Boehm

Jason, thank you for this post. I am discovering that the intensity and experience during the climb is actually exceeded by a feeling of heightened awareness after the climb. Reflection upon our adventure strengthens its impact. I found the ceiling of my abilities on the cliff, but I do not see it as my limit. Rather, climbing is a route to the next level, the next ledge or pitch upon which I will base myself. My performance on the wall provides me with the most accurate metric I have ever found to test my progress against the often indeterminate goal of human strength.

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