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The Hidden Power of the Indoor Climbing Wall!


6 Minute Read

Earlier this year at 76 years old, I was about to hang up my climbing shoes and call it a day. The effort of lugging a heavy rucksack filled with climbing gear into the hills to a crag was getting too much. Even places close to the road often required a steep, albeit short, slog. And then, there were various bits of equipment to carry on the climb. In fact, for the previous two years, I had hardly managed to get out at all. In any case, most climbers pack it in long before reaching their 70s. And for the last 20 years, I have had to cope with a chronic pain condition from a severe injury after being hit by a large falling rock while climbing on a sea cliff. Even so, there was sadness about letting go of what had been an enduring passion in my life.

Although I started climbing when I went to university in my late teens, once I qualified and was working as a young hospital doctor I didn’t keep it up. It wasn’t until my mid-40s that I started again. My most active and successful climbing period was from 44 to 50. I was very competitive and quite obsessive. I remember spending hours poring over guide books, creating ‘tick lists’ and aspiring to ‘better my grades’. I usually climbed with a partner who was equally matched or a bit less accomplished. This meant I would frequently lead on the rope, which is what I preferred. I have also soloed where a single fall would have been fatal. This requires a certain level of confidence, rather than recklessness. The element of danger and excitement is what produces the adrenaline rush, which is addictive.

I moved to Snowdonia during the early 90s in order to be in the mountains and joined the local climbing club. I climbed every weekend, and midweek if I could. This was usually on home ground but there were special away meets to other areas in the UK. Climbing trips abroad would be arranged with another climber from the club. I worked as a locum GP, never wanting to commit to joining a partnership as I wanted as much time as possible to climb. My motto was – I work so that I can climb. I was an all-rounder, climbing on snow and ice as well as rock. Gym training was part of keeping fit although another saying was – the best training for climbing is climbing. With fitness came confidence and that led to a lack of fear and feeling of invincibility. Pushing myself to the physical and mental edge meant there were falls. Without the ability to factor in falling, climbers are held back from improving, by their fear of falling. These days it is possible to take courses, which address this.

All this came to an abrupt end a few weeks before my 51st birthday. I was climbing on a vertical limestone cliff in Pembrokeshire, S Wales when I was hit by a falling rock. I have no memory of it to this day and woke up in an intensive care ward three days later. The rock had shattered my ribs puncturing a lung, fractured and dislocated one ankle and shattered one side of my pelvis, splitting open the roof of the hip joint and removing a significant amount of the pelvis and overlying structures. Since then I have needed to walk with the aid of a stick and have chronic pain. I managed to return to work in under five months but couldn’t even look at a rock face for years.

When I was 65, I had an urge to climb again. I started climbing with a friend that I had a good partnership with pre-accident. I became passionately involved again, enjoying regular climbing to a reasonable standard, even spending many ecstatic hours bouldering on the rocks above my local beach, as training. Then my friend pulled off a loose rock while I was climbing with him and fell. The rock shattered into pieces on its way down and I was in its line of fire, although I wasn’t injured. He suffered an injury to one elbow, which stopped him climbing. However, it was like a deja vu scenario for me and triggered an emotional response. That was eight years ago and at that point, I lost motivation and when I did go out climbing with another old friend, I was not enjoying it and even feeling a bit scared. Although I carried on doing bits and pieces.

Recently and now at the age of 76, I heard enthusiastic accounts, from several old climbing friends, of the recently revamped and re-sited Beacon climbing wall in Caernarfon about 14 miles from where I live. Before the accident, I had looked down upon indoor sport climbing. I thought that it wasn’t the real thing and lacked the adventure and danger that went with being on a natural rock face, involving route finding, placing your own protective gear and dealing with changing weather, loose rock and more, in the ‘great outdoors.’ I considered it was basically for young gymnasts who had never climbed outdoors and never would. However, since then, it has evolved its own unique identity as a competitive sport, as well as becoming a popular pastime for a wide range of participants from children to men and women of all ages, many of whom also climb outdoors.

Finally, I agreed to meet an old climbing buddy there, after filling out an online questionnaire about previous experience and following their safety rules (all basically common sense) and signing up to membership. On stepping inside the building, it was a colourful space that transported me back to the wonder and magic of my many climbing times and memories. Memories of wanting nothing more than to feel rock under my fingers and space below my feet while executing the balletic upward dance when in ‘the zone.’ However, the enormous advantage of an indoor wall is there is no heavy gear to haul around. All I needed was a pair of light special climbing shoes, I own several pairs, and a chalk bag – freedom!!

The general vibe was a friendly and family-oriented – from pre-teen kids having fun in the ‘crazy climb’ area watched by proud parents, to 60+-year-old men and women vets testing their skill and stamina. Also trendy looking climbers, teens and younger adults – male and female, impressively ascending bulging walls or swinging acrobatically in outrageous positions in the bouldering area. I was transfixed by these different climbing feats.

My previously held judgements were blown out of the air – I loved it and had come home! And now I am a regular visitor, enthusiastically anticipating my next projects. At the moment, they are running a lead climber competition during the winter, divided into age categories. Mine is the mega-vet at 70+. Maybe I’m in with a good chance as there can’t be many in this category, although I have been told there is one in his 80s! That itself is stepping outside my comfort zone, which is what it has always been about for me – the challenge.

Tales of the Heart, literally


1 Minute Read

I am 74. I have always considered myself to be fit and healthy, even though I have been living with the consequences of a serious rock climbing injury for the last 20 years. I have followed a healthy diet and lifestyle: largely vegetarian, low alcohol consumption, not overweight, no drugs for the last 40 years, and high level of physical activity.

So, one day in July this year, I was shocked when swimming in the sea near my house in N Wales – to discover I could hardly catch my breath. And then the following day when I started to go up the stairs at home, I found myself struggling to get to the top without stopping. At that point, I chose to tell myself that age has finally caught up with me, whatever that was supposed to mean. Any crap rationalisation rather than consider myself to be less than a perfect specimen of humanity!

The next morning, when I struggled to get out of bed because I was so breathless, I took my pulse and fear shot through me as I registered how fast it was beating. Then, after an emergency visit to my GP, I am being whisked off to my local district hospital in an ambulance with flashing lights, feeling somewhat detached from it all.

When told I have heart failure with the left side of my heart working at less than 25% of its expected capacity, I refuse to take it in and incongruously argue that I am healthy. Part of my reluctance at this point is because two days later I am due to fly to Corfu to take part in a week-long group process: Tantra Mantra with my beloved. At this point, I desperately hold onto the belief that I am still going to make it.

All in all, after a week in hospital I am discharged feeling weak, with two pieces of metal scaffolding (stents) in one of my coronary arteries, which had become completely blocked up with fatty deposits. My heart lifted, and I felt like cheering towards the end of the stenting procedure when the artery reappeared on the monitor screen as it finally became filled again with blood, signalling that the operation, during which time I had been fully awake, had been a success. It took all of ninety minutes – the blockage had been a long one and it required clearing a little bit at a time to avoid any mishap. And my breathing was easier.

For the first four weeks, I had to take things very easily, and was not allowed to drive. Since then I have been making a steady recovery back to normal day to day life: looking after the large house and smallholding where I live, taking my dog for walks, even logging a large fallen oak tree using a chainsaw. This morning I went for a rather cold, even in full wetsuit gear, but enjoyable swim in the sea. It was the end of October.

Although I feel a lot better, I am taking a lot of medication to control cholesterol, thin my blood and slow down the heart and more. This is to prevent more blockages and clotting around the stents as well protecting my heart muscle while it heals. I am even following a more strict, self-imposed diet: cutting out almost all dairy, less sugar and taking specific heart associated supplements.

Until I get the results of the MRI scan, scheduled to happen end November, I am still being treated for heart failure. I am hoping then for confirmation of the improvement I feel. Of course, as Ischaemic Heart Disease is the number one killer in the Western world, it is not surprising that I have some definite anxiety around the outcome.

Whatever the outcome I have been prompted to take stock of my life: accepting my ultimate mortality and not knowing when that will be. And there have been positive developments: in my close relationships. My beloved tells me I am sweeter now than before all this happened, and my daughter says she likes spending time with me and appreciates me. She and I have a chequered relationship which has been very tense at times gone by. It is a great relief that it is so much better now.

On self-reflection, I have realised I can be kinder to myself and that means being kinder to other people around me. I live at a slower pace and rest most afternoons. I expect less of myself and of others. What’s the point of driving myself to an early grave while there is still so much to live for. I don’t know about being sweeter, but I do know I can choose to be harmonious in the way I interact with those close to me rather than being over-reactive. And this makes for a happier life in many ways. And with so much experience of living it is time to choose the easy option!

I now look forward to sharing simple pleasures with my beloved, leading to a deeper, soft connection, without needing the excitement that is so often associated with friction. I think it amounts to being in the heart rather than the head. I have been on this journey for the last four years since finding a new lover. Together we have been through several positive, life-changing experiences. This is just the latest.

Sex in My 70s – at last, the pressure is off!


1 Minute Read

Much of my life, despite discovering meditation in my 30s, has been about achieving goals – either physical ones in different sporting activities or intellectual ones in my medical career. Although often denying it, I was very competitive. I competed in sports at school and university and later on became obsessed with achieving improvement in performance as a rock climber and mountaineer. Even during meditation competitiveness could creep in, in the form of achieving good results.

And as a man this applied in the field of sex as much as anywhere else. The goal of course was to achieve that desirable yet elusive ever-more earth shattering orgasmic ejaculation; and not only that, but to make sure the woman had the same, simultaneously. It was even my responsibility that she did, or so I thought – what misguided arrogance to think that I should be in charge of her body. No matter how hard I tried this scenario was doomed to fail and end in frustration and worse: projection and unspoken recriminations towards the other – familiar picture anyone? And putting oneself under pressure can inevitably lead to the issue of performance anxiety with burn out and even physiological failure, i.e. erectile dysfunction.

I would like to think that now in my 70s life is more laid back but am not sure this is so. What I can say is that I am less obsessed with achieving goals and happier to enjoy the landscape along whatever way I travel. Of course there are still goals but they are simple, practical, everyday ones: when cooking a meal I want the result to be pleasing – both on the eye and palette. Also I am less concerned with impressing others and happier to be me: eccentric, opinionated, flamboyant, insecure. Of course, I still catch myself slipping back into old habits around wanting to be the best but I am not perfect and have come to realise that to pursue perfection is pointless!

And along the pathways of getting older – my mountaineering accident, the death of my wife – I have chosen to face the nooks and crannies within myself. I have attended personal development workshops in which I have had to face and own my shadows in public. I have taken risks exposing sexual and emotional issues around shame and weakness to strangers. I have dared to ask for what I want from another person while showing them who I am and seeing who they are – without masks. And as a result I have re-discovered a zest for life, my big heart and how much fun I can have. It has definitely been life-changing.

I am blessed by finding a strong-willed, like-minded woman to share in this. When I asked her to be my “tantric sex goddess,” after some hesitation she said it was an offer she could not refuse, but then spent months backtracking every time I came forward. I had to learn patience, to respect another’s boundaries and compassion. She had to learn how to show her vulnerability. In any case, I had no idea  what I meant by such a request, which although was what I thought I wanted, was also a fantasy. I was soon to find out the nitty gritty of real relating. And it has not been a particularly smooth ride but a real and honest one. We choose people to relate to intimately because they mirror ourselves and press our buttons. Accepting this, however difficult, can be a springboard to deeper intimacy.

We first came to know of each other’s existence 4 years ago in a seven-day group process known as the Path of Love which is about getting in touch with our potential to be in our hearts. It is not about sex as such but sexual energy is our life force and this process is also about taking risks and living life to the full. Participating in such groups together can be scary but also bring a deeper intimacy and tenderness between couples. Partly in order for our relationship to survive, we have taken part in several residential events including Path of Love as staff, and as participants in a Shadow Work weekend and a seven-day Making Love Retreat where the emphasis was on Slow Sex, a flowing, organic, playful immersion into consciously sharing body, mind and spirit. Basically, it includes spending sweet loving time together. Another discovery was how it is possible to do soft penetration: the penis entering the vagina while only semi-erect! I believe relating to another has to be worked at and this applies to sexual relating. I prefer the word “relating” to “relationship” as I think it gives the impression of something dynamic rather than static.

Gradually, over the last four years, my partner and I have found a way to become slower and less expectant in our sexual life. And I have been able to – after quite a few red hot battles – give myself something more organic. Somehow it now no longer matters whether she has an orgasm, or I do, or no-one does, we’re on a continuum of sexual pleasure which in traditional terms might be considered foreplay. With penetration added. But no pressure.

Something we use as a resource when there is friction between us is to sit facing each other, holding hands starting with eyes closed focusing on breathing into the belly, and then when ready opening the eyes and gazing softly at the other’s face with no judgement, being passively receptive, not actively looking. Then taking it in turns to share what we appreciate about each other. This avoids the mind’s tendency to dwell on negative thoughts and projections and inevitably dissolves the friction. And it is always nice to feel appreciated and not taken for granted.

So, whenever we can, we bring little rituals into our love making as part of setting the desired scene: giving a sense of erotic sacredness. Like slowly undressing each other to a backdrop of lyrical, meditative music and then having a bubble bath together and washing at least each other’s feet and legs – slowly and lovingly, while lying facing each other. In the past I would resort to candles and incense but that was it. Now there is no rush or goal to be achieved and in this way everyday actions become part of making love – even going for a walk or drinking a cup of tea together.

This period of intensive self-exploration has happened over the last five years of my life probably as a result of having more time on my hands to reflect on my real priorities and want I want out of life. This includes making a commitment to make it work between me and my woman.

But the pressure to achieve unrealistic goals is off, which means we can enjoy the adventure.

Is it said that life begins at fifty? Well, I know that life begins whenever you choose a new beginning. It’s never too late.

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