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The School of Athens, Epicurus


I read with great pleasure many emails and comments regarding my first article about training for climbing. I would really like to respond to everyone: I'll try to do it with this article and others that will follow, clarifying some concepts and thoughts.

Let's start with the first, is about joy, pleasure: my vision of training is that climbing should not be taken as a competition, it should be a joy. The center is the joy, the pleasure of climbing with a smile. I am not speaking of efficiency, climbing grades: but of course, if you climb with pleasure you'll also improve your rock climbing ability, you will be more efficient and you'll climb better. Anyway this is not the goal, it's just a consequence. The joy and pleasure of climbing are the goal. Some might say that the success while climbing high grades lead to happiness, but this is not so: when you have reached a certain grade, a new desire will arise for a higher grade. What I'm saying is that joy does not come from a climbing grade. The pleasure in climbing comes from being in harmony with the rock, with the environment. If what your desire is about a number , how you can be in harmony with the natural environment? If you are looking for a climbing grade, your mind will always be occupied with that thought, will always be future-oriented and you'll lose the joy of the present moment.

What I'm writing is not a philosophical system, it is not a theory. To abandon the pursuit of the grades is a tool to climb better, with more pleasure. If a thought does not have a practical application for what is actually good for? How can a simple thought help you lead a better approach to rock climbing? Abandoning the grades obsession is a tool for improving your climbing, your relationship with the rock. This step is essential, this is not a theory to be shared on an intellectual level, you have to put it into practice!

Epicurus certainly knew something about that: when someone fell into endless theoretical discussions he used to remember his companions: Vain is the word of the philosopher by which no malady of mankind is healed. Everything that does not have a practical purpose is vain in the eyes of Epicurus, his philosophy is a tool, not a theory.

What would say Epicurus today seeing climbers who take themselves too seriously when they try their climbs? How would he comment the anger, slander of those who seem to work on the rock?
Probably Epicurus would give the following advice :
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for
Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.

For Epicurus, every pleasure is good, but its consequences are not always beneficial for us. Try to think of certain foods, smoking, drinking. For Epicurus, the prudence, the evaluation of desires is the foundation of all virtues. Prudence helps us to choose the desires, to consider carefully the consequences of our choices, to avoid that pleasure can be transformed into something negative: to avoid that a desire can become an useless obsession, a source of bad moods, to prevent injuries! Epicurus understood that to calm the mind is not necessary to resolve important issues or achieve certain goals. For Epicurus, the sumptuousness in life were a garden, the home grown food and some good friends.

Epicurus had figured out how to live life in the present, how to live for the moment.


What does it mean to live for the moment?

I'll tell you a famous zen story. Zen stories are koans, stories or questions meant to provoke an awakening, to make you conscious.

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

There are always tigers all around us, there is always something unpleasant. The strawberry is the gift of the present moment and it is up to us to be in it, and not to focus on the past or future. By enjoying the strawberry we honor the gift of this life we have been given. To live for the moment is to live, enjoy the present, without worrying too much about the past or the future. Live for the moment is carpe diem, size the day: "Dum loquimur fugerit invida aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero" Horatius. "While we speak, envious time will have already fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day."


The picture is a detail of a fresco by Raphael, The School of Athens, where Epicurus is smiling among many serious faces.


epicurus school of athens full