Where did all the psych go?

It was exhausted in thinking about who we were and what we did. It was used up by the insatiable energy of squabbling and shitting on each other. It was suffocated by bans. It was sideswiped by change. It was burnt in the fires.

I saw a photo the other day and it had a question with it; the fires, have they sucked the psych out of climbing for anyone else because they have done for me, it asked. There were a few responses, not too many, but none of them pushing back against the malaise or trying to cast sunshine upon the gloom. Where did the psych go?

Unfurling farther and farther down through cats and Moonboards and ads and whatever else I can’t remember, the question became more than just a selfish lament. It did not strike me that it was just an ill-timed whinge about disruption to one’s life caused by the fires that scorched and denuded the Mountains, Canberra, the coast. It was looking far more broadly. I read it as a cry out at the obscenity of climbing – of doing anything – in such a time as this, the world is aflame and the wicked cretins who run the joint are only turning up the temperature.

It was not a great year, the one just gone, and this one doesn’t feel any better. The bans bite and the numbers of people heading into the blocs dwindle. Smoke chokes the air and the people stay shut away and numbed. The state of affairs drags heavily upon the shoulders of the people. A mass weariness on all but the deniers and the shills and the shitstains.

And the psych has gone.

This is doubly powerful and disorienting as the one thing to which we should turn to maintain our equilibrium, rock climbing amidst the tree canopy and the bird call, is the one thing that is falling away.

Doubly weird as it is happening as gyms open at an exponential rate. There is more skin being lost on plastic holds than there is faith being lost in politicians. There are millions of gyms in Australia right now, all clamouring for their piece of the real estate. And the Olympics is about to happen (or not), all the rings and the glory and the pride, all of it lifting climbing up higher and shinier.

Climbing is everywhere but right now, today, it feels like it is nowhere.

And then fucking mud is falling from the skies, then ice falls like bombs, animals are annihilated by the millions, rivers are choked or dry. The leadership we get is corruption, greed, ignorance and malevolence, this is the political class we deserve. Not long now till it’ll be billy clubs and mace to stifle civil disobedience, because dissent will come and the state will not suffer it. But we are the ones that voted for this. It is all our fault.

Then a virus blights us. Perhaps the worst of all. Terrifying. Gutting society. Stopping everything. What will be left on the other side? What will the next generation – Builders2.0 – put together?

Where has climbing as a sanctuary gone?

It takes a lot of energy to look hard into the mirror. It takes a lot of energy to fight. It takes a lot of energy to wade through chundered threads of comments spilling yet more comments. It takes a lot of energy to figure out where you can go, where to go. It takes a lot of energy to wrestle with your identity. It takes a lot of energy not to shake with rage at the evil arsehats who are running the joint. It takes a lot of energy to stare into the climate abyss. Fire burns all the oxygen in the air.
Simon Madden

This piece originally appeared in VL#32, which is available now in schmick digital format, get the whole magazine for iPhone here and Android here.

3 thoughts on “Where did all the psych go?

  1. Goshen Watts

    Come on Simon; it’s not all doom and gloom. The rocks are still there. The unbelievably wonderful feeling you get when experiencing perfect climbing movement will not be taken away. Yes; get your house in order; live a sustainable life; be kind to others… then get outdoors and keep the psych going.

  2. Sieta Beckwith

    Thank you Simon for going down this path a little way. I find it totally refreshing. For me, it makes me question what psyche really is and where it comes from in myself. Is it an inflation of the ego in order to achieve an external goal, or is it an expression of vitality that arises from inside? Does it approach the rock as being able to give me something, or is it a reciprocal relationship somehow? If so, what am I giving back?

    Your writing made me think of this piece from Francis Weller:

    “We have entered a time of descent that takes us down into a different geography. In this shadowed terrain, we encounter a landscape familiar to soul: loss, grief, death, vulnerability, fear. We have, in the old language of Alchemy, crossed into the Nigredo, the Blackening. This is a season of decay, of shedding and endings, of falling apart and undoing. This is not a time of rising and growth. It is not a time of confidence and ease. No. We are hunkered down. Down being the operative word. From the perspective of soul, down is holy ground.

    Many of the great myths begin in a time such as this. The land has become barren, the king, corrupted, the ways of peace, lost. It is in these conditions, that a ripeness arises for radical change. It is a call to courage (from the French for full heart) and humility. Every one of us will be affected by the changes wrought by this difficult visitation. It is time to become immense.”

    I think that in order to rediscover our psyche and root it in something real, we first have to be utterly and literally floored. We can’t rebuild yet from where we are. We have to go further down still. I only hope we can go down and make it back up in my lifetime.


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