Hakeem Kasban: World Cup Dreams – My Journey to Meiringen 2017
Gravical ’17 – An annual bouldering competition organised by the Singapore Management University – took place in mid January. This event signifies the start of the competition season in Singapore and since its inclusion in the IFSC Asia Open Series, Gravical attracts the biggest names in the South East Asian region.
What I thought was to be a swan song for my life in competition climbing quickly turned around towards a higher purpose. The results played a big part. To summarise – I committed to a training plan two months prior. What was in my mind was simple throughout the process – if this comeback fails and I don’t make finals, I retire. The complete opposite happened and I achieved my goal. What was more important however – my body felt in good shape and I experienced no fatigue whatsoever for the first time through all three rounds. On the other side of my mind – If this succeeds, I go all in this year.
I acknowledge that I am far from being the best / talented (which sometimes are subjective ideas) in this little island but at the same time I feel the need to explore and expand my own horizons. This year’s Boulder World Cup circuit seemed favourable with 3 legs happening in Asia. Why now, after all these years? I guess for the longest time my dreams were also my fears. I had this as a mindset – You can’t fail if you don’t try – so I never went. Now, the desire for progress gets me through the toughest days and biggest fears.
I had this as a mindset – You can’t fail if you don’t try – so I never went. Now, the desire for progress gets me through the toughest days and biggest fears.
It wasn’t easy to finally have the courage to face my dreams – even now there’s a constant feeling of inadequacy. I realise though that facing this fear itself – regardless of outcome, even if I finished last – is a huge step towards progress for me. I am excited and anxious everyday. It did get a bit too much for me to handle. At the beginning of my training plan, the worries got a little paralysing and caused me to deviate. Honestly, not two weeks ago, I felt like pulling out and giving up altogether.
I am back on track and fully committed now. I don’t know what kind of results I’ll reap from this plan but I have one, and I am sticking with it, mindful through the process. I am all in – training full time till I leave for my first leg. It’s not easy, to be self-funded and training full time. Till I return from the last Asian leg (Hachijoji 6-7 May 2017) I will not be taking on any jobs – no income – because my days are tailored towards training and rest. The stress from a depleting bank account is real. However, I made this decision to leave no room for excuses at the end of it all. Whatever happens then will happen and till then I’ll only focus on doing my best, every day, every session, every rep and every move.
Most of my training is done alone, not only because no one here really enjoys climbing in the heat of the day (my peers say I’m crazy sometimes) but also to have enough time for my body to cool down so that I can sleep well and get sufficient recovery time. I think mornings are the best though – waking up early and committing to training alters the mind and solidifies the purpose for me.
So it’s now less than two weeks before I take part in my first World Cup. I fly off this Sunday to Zurich via Istanbul, then make my way to Meiringen by train where I’ll have around 4 days to acclimatise. There’s a climbing gym right next to the venue and I am also looking forward to being amongst the mountains again. Didn’t think I’d be back in Switzerland so soon, after last October’s visit with my mum. Anyway, here are my current thoughts and feelings.
Right now, my emotions and state of mind are conflicted. I’ve spent a long time in previous years dehumanising myself and denying emotion, it seemed better to have a strictly practical view on life. The pro would be that I have always managed to get things done even when I never feel like it, through the pure focus on practical reasons and consequences. This applies to my training as well sometimes saying “If I don’t do this, this will/won’t happen and I’ll regret” to myself. I think now though, consequence isn’t an ideal factor that I’d like to have as a main driving force. It can be useful, but I think I’ve felt better employing “I want to do this” – the drive is stronger and natural.
The con of my own dehumanisation – my heart’s been closed and I wonder if that created a psychological bubble, waiting to burst. The discovery of The Book of Joy and the The Power of Now seems timely – through consciousness and presence, I feel a lot more open and accepting, quite possibly even more livelier now. I am less afraid of “failure” because I view it as a step for growth. To me, there is no failure in my journey through the Boulder World Cup Circuit.
I am less afraid of “failure” because I view it as a step for growth. To me, there is no failure in my journey through the Boulder World Cup Circuit.
On that note, the last week seemed to serve as a test for what I learnt in being mindful and present. It reminded me again that I am not immune to frustration and anxiety; I am only human. With the “newly discovered” awareness and presence of self, however, it’s been amusing to observe my own mind without judgement. I’ve had a few training days where I feel sluggish and I could almost say that I enjoy having them because they provide me the opportunity to learn how to turn things around in my head and heart.
I’m feeling good, physically. My left elbow got a little tweaky a few weeks ago, so I’ve factored in more rest and avoided certain moves. It’s been feeling a lot better after some work with the Armaid and flossing and hasn’t been too much of a bother since last week. The precautionary tape’s still on sometimes but my sessions have felt good without feeling the twinge.
I am a little bit bigger right now – slightly off my “ideal” weight for competitions but I’m also wondering if it really is just a difference in muscle mass now as compared to the start of the year. I don’t feel heavy on the wall like I used to when I was at this weight, so I guess it shouldn’t bother me too much, eh? This week’s all about feeling comfortable and confident with the current physical condition I’m in.
I’m currently making my way to Meiringen by train, after almost missing my connecting flight in Istanbul. My flight to Turkey got slowed down by weather and headwinds, arriving in Istanbul almost an hour late. The crowds at the international transfer customs check was so ridiculous I almost resigned to missing the connection to Zurich. After drifting in the currents of the human crowd queuing for clearance, I floated to the side where an airport staff member was letting people cut the queue. I showed him my boarding pass and thankfully he let me through.
The weather is actually really nice; it’s 15 deg C and I’ve just been going around in a T-shirt and jeans which is surprising for someone who has spent his whole life in the tropics where it’s an average 30 deg C everyday. Forecast says it’ll be rainy the next few days in Meiringen but I’m always hopeful for better weather. Part of the acclimatisation plan is to go for a few runs or treks and a few sessions in the climbing gym.
Honestly, I was feeling rather flustered before arriving. This always happens to me before a trip, so much worrying done. The anxiety grew considerably on Sunday itself. Maybe not climbing for a whole three days before flying wasn’t a good idea since it has always been like a therapy for me. I had to get out of my head – by going in – so I made a last minute trip to the Float Club to spend 90mins in sensory deprivation. I wish I could travel with one of those pods. I came out thoroughly refreshed and calmer. There’s never been a time that I felt like I needed that more.
It’s still surreal – being here in this beautiful town of Meiringen – and the fact that in a couple days I’ll be competing in my first World Cup, sharing a space with the world’s best. It is doubtlessly daunting, even more so since I am here on my own, but I’ll choose to not be affected because my intent is clear. Between sessions in the gym I will constantly realign my focus on being here, ever present in the lead up and on Friday, when my turn comes, it’ll be on each of the five boulders, five minutes each.
Fears and worries are created in the mind. This time, I started feeling certain expectations again – my own and my imagination of other people’s – creep up again alongside the fear of failure. Both these things are fabrications of the mind and although I am capable of making the distinction, I am still affected by them.
Fears and worries are created in the mind. This time, I started feeling certain expectations again – my own and my imagination of other people’s – creep up again alongside the fear of failure. Both these things are fabrications of the mind and although I am capable of making the distinction, I am still affected by them. I am now acknowledging the possibility of finishing the qualifying round on Friday with nothing but I will not accept it as a failure because I am here to give my best to learn and experience.
Even if everyone back home did expect something of me in terms of results… I acknowledge it and I am flattered and as much as I want to do all of you proud, I cannot entertain that. The reason being – The result has always been secondary to me. Especially now, in a new, foreign realm of competitions. The biggest stage there is. Yes, one that I’ve followed from the outside for almost 10 years, but giving any of those things my attention would be the highest form of disrespect to my Present, my Now.
“If you set yourself a goal and work toward it, you are using clock time. You are aware of where you want to go, but you honour and give your fullest attention to the step you are taking at this moment. If you then become excessively focused on the goal, perhaps because you are seeking happiness, fulfilment, or a more complete sense of self in it, the Now is no longer honoured.”
These lines anchored me the first time I read them. It’s effect on me has been quite strong since. I feel a lot less worried about expectations – my own, my idea of other people’s – the latter which is made up in my worried mind. It may not be entirely false, but it is ultimately imagined. This passage lifted that weight off and helped me realise that when I am at the World Cups I have absolutely nothing to lose and a lot to gain from the experience.
What I also realise since my last reflection – I am not looking to arrive. There is no endpoint, because the potential for growth is only limited by death. We create and expand the room for growth by opening our hearts and minds. Sure, the physical being is limited but even so, the less we believe, the less the body is able to do and this is a matter of mind and spirit. I learnt this in climbing. The mind/spirit is a lot more powerful than we know. However, we use too much of it for looking back into the past or worrying in the future.
On that note, after you finish reading this, I would like to end with suggesting that you take a short pause in your day (before you move onto the next social media distraction) to simply pay attention to your breath and count 5 or 10 regular, even breaths. Look away from your screen. Be present in this moment and observe around you, without judgement.
Hakeem Kasban hails from the little island of Singapore. He picked up climbing at age 17 as a co-curricular activity in school and has been competing locally for 9 years; highlights which include podium finishes in the Novice and Intermediate categories in his first year, and his promotion to the Open category soon after. Since then, he has appeared regularly in the local finals and received invitations to competitions in the region.
Prior to training full-time for this year’s circuit, Hakeem worked as a freelance theatre technician for 5 years. Through climbing, Hakeem hopes to inspire and empower others by sharing what he’s learnt and continually experiences in the sport.
Photo credits to Alexus Goh https://www.facebook.com/visualeditor-1137623676315383/ and instagram https://www.instagram.com/visual.editor/