Sissi climbing at Waterval Boven

There are times in our lives when nothing just seems to make any sense. Moments when all of a sudden, you find yourself asking: what’s the point in all this? What am I doing here? Where do I go from here? Or I don’t know if there are such moments in everybody’s lives, but there sure are in mine. In fact, I’ve been quite down lately and the reason is simple: I want something I can’t have and the fact that I can’t have it makes me question life altogether.

Mind is a tricky thing

For the past month, I haven’t written anything in this blog. It’s not as if there was nothing to write about (on the contrary, Tucumán and Salta were a whirlwind of experiences I want to tell about), but I’ve lacked the energy for putting my thoughts into actions. What has been creeping inside me is an overall sadness, as I’ve suddenly been caught in the middle of feeling sorry for myself for perhaps never again being able to do the one thing I love: climbing.

Now, many of you might think to yourselves: “Whaaaat?! The chick is cycling in South America, having an experience of a lifetime, meeting incredible people, seeing beautiful places and she’s still complaining?!” But oddly enough, that’s just how my mind sometimes works (last time this happened when living in Tofo, Mozambique). Of course, I’m well aware that I shouldn’t be concentrating on what I don’t have, and obviously climbing is not all I think about, but for the past month it’s definitely been on my mind far more than it should.

Vipassana, a key for fighting misery

One of the fundamental teachings and wisdoms of Siddharta Gautama aka the Buddha was that all misery within and around us is due to unnecessary craving. According to him, wanting what we don’t have and not conforming with what we do have is the core reason why people suffer. And this doesn’t apply just to me wanting to climb, but for any of us wanting a house, love, peace, kids, adventure, safety, or whatever it is we don’t have at the moment.

In the Buddhist practice of Vipassana, you learn the negative effect of craving through observing your own body sensations (without going too much into the technique itself here): while your mind craves for past or present sensations, your body automatically feels pain. Yet, as soon as you let go of that craving, the pain disappears and everything within you suddenly turns into a flow of energy which comes and goes…arises and passes away.

Having practiced Vipassana for five years now (not at all consistently or orthodoxically, so please don’t consider me an example of the benefits of this technique), you’d think I’d have internalized and incorporated at least something from this philosophy into my own life, right? Yeah, well, wrong. The lack of mind control I’m going through at the moment makes me realize I’m still light years away from full enlightenment…It’s one thing to know things in theory, but to control your own mind at times like these – that’s a whole different story and a path I’ll probably have to walk on all through my life (in fact, I believe that walking this path is pretty much what our whole life is about).

When you can’t get you want

In a couple of my previous blog posts, I talk about deciding what it is you want to do and just doing it. A great advice, but how about when that’s not possible? How about when all you want to do is compose music and out of the blue you’re told you’re turning deaf? How about when you fall in love with someone who has no feelings for you? How about when there’s nothing in the world you’d rather do than climb, and all of a sudden the muscles of your right forearm won’t even let you comfortably hold onto a pencil, let alone practice your profession without feeling inexplicable pain? As you might already have guessed, that’s the situation I’m in right now and have been in for the past three years. And that’s why I hear Vipassana calling out for me.

Now, when I say Vipassana, I’m not just speaking about the meditation technique itself (which would no doubt already be helpful for me). What I’m speaking about is the course where the technique is taught. Obviously, having done the course a couple of times already by now, I’m well familiar with the method, but that’s not the point. The point is that during a 10-day Vipassana course (which, by the way, is free of charge), all you can concentrate on is meditation, without any external distractions whatsoever. And that’s what I feel I need right now – ten days without talking, reading or writing and just concentrating on meditation (so again, something I don’t have at the moment!).

Sissi climbing

How I fell in love…with climbing

From the first time I lay my hands on a climbing hold (inside a climbing hall in Helsinki eight years ago), I knew it was meant to be. The activity itself, with its countless physical and mental challenges, felt and still feels far more purposeful than any other I’ve ever stumbled upon, and its side effects – great people, relaxed atmosphere, crazy and rewarding trips etc. – made and still make me feel that I’ve found my mental home.

What’s more, I couldn’t have discovered climbing at any better point in time: it (literally) lifted me up when I was down. Nearly dead from inevitable (and totally unnecessary) stress while finishing up my master’s thesis, not having done anything fun for ages and totally defeated by the fact of not having anything interesting to look forward to even when it was all over, I was thunderstruck by suddenly discovering a whole new world which in all aspects saved me from mental breakdown and very certain hard-core depression.

Once a climber, always a climber

Even though I’ve been cycling in Latin America for over a year now, I still won’t call myself a cyclist in most surroundings (although I love my bicycle). I don’t identify myself at all with the technical, gear loving racers, and oddly enough, I also find it hard to identify myself with the self-sufficient, nature-loving long-distance cyclists. Why? Because to me, the bicycle is a key to meeting people. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not a metaphor for freedom, not a method of exercise and definitely not a way to escape from society. Quite on the contrary!

Climbing, however, resembles everything that’s important in life for me. I’m not really a person to easily identify myself with peers in any aspects of life, but climbing and climbers are something I’ve always felt connected with. Even though I’m far from being a particularly skilled athlete, I won’t stop considering myself a climber, no matter how many months or years go by without me being able to climb. Why? Because there’s just no other place where I feel happier than on the wall. So to me, right now, I’m an injured climber cycling through Latin America.

What will I do if I can’t climb?

It’s not as if I had been miserable all the time while cycling. Not at all! Everything I’ve written until now has been written in a positive state of mind, and for the most part of my trip I’ve been more than happy for being exactly where I am, doing exactly what it is I’m doing. But the whole time I’ve been secretly looking forward to getting back to climbing, either here or in Europe. However, all that changed a month ago as I was giving a massage and noticed my arm still hurts just as much as it used to. Since then I’ve been asking myself: what if I can never climb again?

I try not to delve in self-pity too much, but the situation of my arm hasn’t changed at all in the past three years, even with extensive periods of rest and physiotherapy. Moreover, no specialized doctor, osteopath, massage or physiotherapist has been able to give me a definition of what’s actually wrong. The only thing I know is that as soon as I squeeze my fist together, every muscle on my forearm hurts. And that most probably once in Finland, my right arm (which, by the way hurts also also I’m writing this) will be operated.

climbing in paraguari

This too will pass

Getting back to the art of Vipassana, there’s one phrase I’ve learned to appreciate and treat like a useful mantra in unpleasant times like these. It’s “this too will pass”. Nothing beats remembering that the only constant is change, and that no matter how hard we try, life will always flow. There will always be a backdoor or a an escape route in store for us, and all we can to do is look for it and hope it’ll be open when we find it. As Marilla Cuthbert puts it in Anne of Green Gables: “When God closes a door somewhere, somewhere he opens a window.”

So, if at this moment or in any future moment you find yourself in a similar situation like the one I’m in right now, just keep in mind: “this too will pass…this too will pass…this too will pass….”. That’s what I’m up to here (wishing that the pain will pass, not the craving for climbing!), trying desperately to deviate my mind from climbing. Soon, I hope I’ll also have the energy to update you on the recent happenings over here, but until then, I’ll just surrender and day dream about being on cold rock again. Maybe, just maybe I’ll get sick of this dream if I concentrate on it long enough.

…Oh, and just one thing more: do try out Vipassana! I assure you, it will blow your mind.

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Exploring, interpreting and understanding cultures through local languages and people. An advocate for intercultural communication as a basis for diversity acceptance and human equality.