Over a decade ago now I was introduced to a sport which truly changed my life forever. At the impressionable age of 18 I’d found something that challenged me in the most healthy way I could imagine, whilst at the same time connecting me to a very special community and lifestyle: that of the rock climber. A decade later and my passion for the sport is just as strong and my interest in the people, community and what climbing has to offer is even stronger.
Over the last two years I have increasingly become interested in the concept of ‘rewilding’. This is a concept and philosophy which aims to draw attention to our hunter-gatherer ancestors as well as indigenous cultures, and the changes our species went through in the advent of the Agricultural Revolution about 10,000 years ago. It is quite clear that this one revolution had a major impact on our species and the world we live in as we quite obviously not only domesticated the food that we eat but also ourselves in the process. Whilst not denying how far we have evolved as well as the importance of modern technology and science, the rewilding lifestyle aims not only to draw attention to this understanding of our history but to also provide the knowledge and tools individuals can use in order to, in some ways, return to a more natural way of living closer to the way hunter-gatherers used to live, and therefore closer to the ways in which our bodies and minds were evolutionarily built to live.
The understanding I have of rewilding has in many ways changed the way I see the world around me and how each and every one of us lives our lives. However I have come to realise that it is a lifestyle that I have in many ways already been living and breathing as a by-product of being an avid rock climber. No wonder the ideas of rewilding seem so attractive and available to me, considering they are notions that this sport has inadvertently already introduced me to on many levels.
We live in a day and age where, for many of us, most of our basic needs are met, we have the power to be in control of the way we live and the comforts that surround us on a daily basis. This form of domestication however isn’t especially the most healthy as we have taken away so many of the challenges our natural landscape and environment provides us with. No longer being pushed or feeling the need to be pushed has had the effect of dumbing down and numbing our senses, not to mention stunting our physical, mental, and spiritual development. Fortunately for me, these three aspects are all things that over the years climbing has helped me develop and grow in the most amazing way.
Rewilding my body has been a very natural result of regularly climbing. It is one of the few sports in which one gets to move like their primate ancestors all over again. Climbing forces us to use intuitive primal movements where one can hang off their arms whilst also using their core and other limbs to stay on the wall, much like primates who ‘brachiate’ by swinging from one branch to the next. Unlike the highly domesticated gym habits of focusing and developing isolated muscles, movement in climbing relies on the whole body. In fact, using technique within climbing is a very important part of the whole process, and teaches the individual to really tune into their body and how they use it. Our ancestor hunters would often have seized the chance to climb trees and rocks in order to get a greater view of their environment as well as their prey. Apart from the obvious gaining in all round physical strength, climbers who regularly climb outdoors and have to take on the task of carrying a whole load of heavy gear up to the crag are also doing something our pre-domesticated selves use to do: load bearing. As nomads we would regularly have to carry heavy loads (such as a mother carrying her child for many miles) from one camp to the other, or by carrying water and gathered food back to the camp. Much like our sapien ancestors, climbers (when using their body mindfully) often build a huge amount of physical resilience which is an important part of the rewilding lifestyle.
Rewilding my mind is something I am extremely grateful to have done through the practice of rock climbing. It is no secret that climbing is a sport which exposes us to some of our deepest fears, such as the fear of heights and falling. Learning to be physically resilient means that we can then trust and know our own body enough to face fearful situations and know how to overcome and surpass them. Although climbing may appear to be a dangerous sport from the outside, it is most commonly done within a high risk controlled environment.
In the past, we lived in a world where needing to be on high alert and ready to turn on our fight or flight mode was paramount. Within our domesticated controlled environments, society and health and safety infrastructures control much of the decision making. Although this might keep us safe on many levels, it has also “dumbed” us down and not only confuses us daily as to what real danger actually looks like, but also as to how to react to it. I believe it is important that the modern rewilding individual learns how to recognise fear and stress, and learns how to control it when it is not actually needed or helpful. Rock climbing has taught me to recognise fear as it comes up, and even how to not let it fully take over and push into fight or flight. Having fear there is important, but in a controlled environment where falling poses no risk, it is mainly inhibiting. Learning how to problem solve in the moment, gaining mental resilience, as well as understanding one’s own limits and how to push and overcome them are all important aspects that climbers learn, and are all related to how to rewild our minds.
Rewilding my soul and spirit is the third aspect of my life that has been hugely affected by the climbing lifestyle. Until I started climbing I had never felt anything quite like it. The feeling of meditative presence and flow that I often experience, usually on long beautiful climbs outdoors on real rock, is something truly special and unique that feeds the soul on so many levels. Climbing has taught me how to feel my whole body, direct my focus and attention, whilst also being in control of my emotions and reactions to surfacing natural survival instincts. Knowing when to surrender and let go as well as building mindful self-awareness is, I believe, one of the modern rewilding human’s main goals and has been an ongoing and fulfilling learning experience for me. The spiritual connection to nature that climbing has enabled has led me to some truly ecstatic and unique experiences that I have found nowhere else, and has taught me how to bring mindful presence into everyday life.
Continue here for part 2: A nomadic lifestyle close to nature
Continue here for part 3: The importance of community within the rewilding philosophy