Is Rock Climbing Like Meditation?

Luang Por Pasanno • June 2013

As Dhamma practitioners, we need to continually turn our attention to contemplation, reflection, investigation—to consider things carefully—and not just in formal meditation, but also as we go about our more mundane activities. These days, even in the mainstream media, it’s popular to talk about “being in the present moment, being in the here and now.” It sounds very good, but if that’s all we practice, we can be left without having reflected or investigated to any great degree.

We need to apply some discernment. When we experience difficulty, conflict, or dis-ease, we direct our attention toward that, investigate its causes, and examine the process by which it is unfolding. This is not to say we should be reaching out intellectually and coming up with rational explanations; rather, it is being willing to investigate and bring one’s attention to the matter at hand.

Once when Ajahn Chah was visiting the U.S. someone asked him a question about the need for sitting meditation: “I have a friend whose meditation is rock climbing. He doesn’t have to sit in meditation to concentrate his mind. Why do we have to sit in meditation? Couldn’t we do something like rock climbing—anything that puts us in the present moment?” Then Ajahn Chah asked him, “When your friend is rock climbing, does he contemplate the Four Noble Truths?”

We can be in the present moment, we can be clear, but are we developing discernment and learning to understand the nature of the mind, the nature of conditions? We mustn’t be satisfied with merely cultivating calm and clarity; rather, that calm and clarity needs to be put to work. Its work is developing discernment and understanding. That’s the crux of our practice. Take the illuminating idiom, “truth-discerning awareness.” It’s not just about awareness—it’s awareness with discernment.

To develop this discernment we can begin by asking ourselves, What is the nature of things—the nature of conditions—the nature of my own mind? Then we bring the attention inward and focus our awareness on the various feelings that are present. In particular, we attend to the feelings of dis-ease, dissatisfaction, or suffering and come to understand that those feelings are merely feelings. With any particular feeling we have, we ask ourselves, What are the causal conditions for that feeling? Where is its resolution? How can I help bring about that resolution? In this way, we are contemplating the Four Noble Truths exactly as the Buddha intended.