On June 3, 2017, Alex Honnold became the first person ever to ascend the entire face of El Capitan without ropes or safety equipment of any kind. He completed the nearly 3,000 foot vertical climb in under 4 hours that day, beating his previous El Capitan climb times by well over an hour. Here's a link to the full story of the feat and the disciplined training that enabled it. And for a taste of how Alex works with his mind to support himself in reaching for impossible things, there's this:
"There are other climbers in Honnold’s league physically, but no one else has matched his mental ability to control fear. His tolerance for scary situations is so remarkable that neuroscientists have studied the parts of his brain related to fear to see how they might differ from the norm.
Honnold sees it in more pragmatic terms. “With free-soloing, obviously I know that I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way,” he said. “It’s only hindering my performance, so I just set it aside and leave it be.”
“Years ago, when I first mentally mapped out what it would mean to free solo Freerider, there were half a dozen of pitches where I was like, ‘Oh that’s a scary move and that’s a really scary sequence, and that little slab, and that traverse,’” Honnold said. “There were so many little sections where I thought ‘Ughh—cringe.’ But in the years since, I’ve pushed my comfort zone and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy eventually fell within the realm of the possible.”
One of my esteemed yoga teachers (who is also a rock climber) often says that rock climbing is "more yoga than yoga", because it's possible to show outward mastery of asana and still have a mind that contains fear, a mind that still succumbs to distraction. He calls rock climbing "more yoga than yoga" because when rock climbing there is no possibility of faking anything, and zero room for lapsed attention. Any moment a climber is not 100% present, death or serious injury is promised.
Alex offers an inspiring model of how to work with ourselves. This is the kind of relationship we can cultivate with our minds: one of focus and dedication, one that works over time to remove the grip that fear would exert upon our lives, one that brings us to great heights, meaningful accomplishments, and beautiful vistas.
Practice, and all is coming.
Dana Wyss Healing Arts
Breathe deeply, practice often, be well.