By Chrissy Vadovszki

In the game of rock climbing, it's easy to have many desires.

And as a dedicated climber myself, like most taking the time to read this, I desire to perform well and eventually send all my projects. I desire to stay healthy and avoid injury or setbacks. I desire to have amazing days inside and outside with friends and partners I care about. I desire to be the best version of myself, in climbing and in life. I desire to behave, act and speak in ways that I am proud of and that others may respect me. I desire to be happy. And yes, a huge component of that is often spending my time climbing and more specifically trying to perform at my best.

In the first noble truth, the Buddha states that "there is suffering," which I've discussed in a previous article. Building upon this truth, Buddha then goes on to say that the attachment to desire is the root of our suffering. So it is not necessarily the desire itself, but the tendency to cling to or grasp our desires that lead to suffering. This is when you become so absorbed in your desire that it is all you see, care about, and respond to as if you are on autopilot and very little else matters.

There is often an analogy used in Buddhist texts that compares the desire for happiness to a snake. If we grab the head of the snake, seeking happiness, it will bite us. If we avoid suffering and grab the tail of the snake, it will still turn around and bite us. No matter which of the ends you try to grasp, the results are the same: the snake will bite you and you will still suffer.

Projecting can be much akin to this. There is a clear prize to want to climb a harder grade or send a specific route. We can pursue this achievement and chase happiness in this manner, but, at some point, there is a limit. You have an off day or the day does not line up as intended. In the best case scenario, you walk away a bit disappointed that your desire to perform has not come to fruition. Worst case scenario, you are that person throwing wobblers at the crag that no one wants to be around and damaging the relationships of those closest to you or supporting you.

You can also attempt to avoid the snake altogether and simply not try. I would argue that, metaphorically, the snake still bites you. Fear, or avoidance of suffering, has robbed you of your opportunity to pursue your goals. The more we attach to this desire to perform, the more we identify with it as a person, and as a determination of our moral compass. The higher the stakes of performance, the more pressure we might put on ourselves.

It can be helpful to understand that desires do not discriminate. There is no set rule that we as humans will only desire what is good for us. You might desire to do another boulder problem or route when the best thing for you to do is rest. You might desire to show off in front of others when doing so could be potentially risky or dangerous. Desires are also deceptive. We get tricked into believing that when we achieve our desires we will be happy. If only I climbed 5.10...5.11...5.12...this route, that boulder… then I would be happy. I will be happy in the future when ____ happens or ____ has been achieved. I will be happy in the future when I or my accomplishments are good enough. The catch is that there is no end to this road. There will always be another goal, another project, another benchmark, and another younger, stronger, fitter person to compare yourself against. Desires and wants change with time or are simply replaced. Therefore, they are an unreliable place to attach our happiness.

Again, it is not inherently bad to have desires. We are human and it's our natural inclination to have goals and seek happiness. Suffering takes place when attachment to these desires interferes with our ability to be present and enjoy our lives now. It can also cause us to act or behave in ways we later regret.

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There are three types of desires that are related to each other to be aware of:

  1. Sense desires: seeing, touching, tasting, feeling, and smelling. You crave the pleasure that these senses offer. If sending one 5.13 feels good, two would be even better.
  2. Avoidance desires: You shy away from what is uncomfortable or causes pain. You want to stop falling on 5.10 or avoid failing on climbs in front of others.
  3. Becoming desires: Here you want what is missing and experience an inner emptiness. Maybe that new hangboard or training protocol will help fill the void. And of course: When I send _____, then I will feel/be ____.

Once you've learned to become more aware of your desires, you can begin to notice and observe your attachment to them. Often our attachments begin with: “I want to…” or “I need to…” type of sentence structures. For example, "I want to send V10." We can separate the attachment "I want" from the actual desire "to send V10." Many climbers, myself included, would be pretty psyched and have a strong preference to achieve such a climbing benchmark in their careers. 

Having a desire or goal to climb at a certain level isn't destined to create suffering. But if you are really attached to this goal, you may feel driven to take extreme measures in your training or diet. You may beat yourself up to such a degree you become unwell or depressed. These attachments can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering, but learning to recognize them and being mindful is an important piece in mitigating these potential negative feelings and effects.

In my previous article, I mentioned that I've struggled with a number of injuries in the past year. My hardest redpoint ever was nearly a year ago and I do have the desire to climb at this level again. I know I can and, therefore, it would be easy to attach my worth and identity, both as a climber and coach, to this level of performance. In addition, my weight has fluctuated with the time of year and what is going on in my life, which can be a frustrating variable in itself.

I understand what it is like to struggle with these things: wanting to perform, my identity, worth, and believing I am good enough. It would be so easy to lose the joy in life right now if I let the attachment of these desires to perform and climb at a certain level get out of hand. I understand and believe that injury is an opportunity and the work that I have put in over the last year will pay off in the future. I also understand that life is now and it behooves me to stay grateful and present for each moment and breath I have in this lifetime.

Mindful Reflection:

  1. Explore your desires and your relationships with them.
    • Is there a grade or climb you need to accomplish to feel good about yourself? Have these attachments created suffering in your life?
  2. In what situations do these attachments to desires arise the most?
  3. How much suffering have you created for yourself and for others by your attachment to:
    • climbing a certain grade
    • behaviors and habits at the gym or climbing outside
    • fear (of failure, falling, being good enough, etc)
    • wanting to be different
  4. With the Second Noble Truth in mind, reflect on the following in regards to your climbing and performance:
    • Suffering will not end without awareness of your attachments.
    • No matter how many climbs you send, it's never enough.
    • You and your climbing desires are not the same.
    • Your desires can change.

The first noble truth acknowledges that there is suffering. The second noble truth states that the attachment to desire is the root of our suffering. In the third noble truth, we will dive deeper into ending suffering through ending craving and clinging and how this relates to climbing performance and training.


Chrissy is a high-level and dedicated rock climber originally from New Jersey who resides in Colorado, and has been sport and trad climbing for over 12 years. She holds a Masters of Science in Physics, an M.A.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, is a Certified Performance Climbing Coach as well as a Level II USA Climbing Coach. Chrissy’s passion for climbing has led her to travel as far and wide as trad climbing in Arapiles, to sport climbing in Kalymnos and alpine in the Bugaboos.

Chrissy has coached all ages of climbers from the competitive youth circuit through accomplished adult athletes, and takes her athlete’s training and success as seriously as she takes her own. Her nerdy past causes her to spend great amounts of time researching strength metrics for climbing, training methodology and movement analysis. 

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