"The road and sea journey allows me to reach a level of mental equilibrium in which there is no room for thoughts of the past and future, only the present - living in the moment, as it is commonly called. This is an extremely dangerous place to be because if you are truly in the moment you can have the mistaken belief that you are immortal."
You’ve likely heard of or seen Iain Miller at one point or another.
Iain does something totally remarkable, totally unique, and, well, totally crazy: he freeclimbs towering rock formations which protrude from the ocean - known as sea stacks.
Regarded as the world’s only professional sea stack climber, Iain has ascended over 50 of these natural towers that jut out from the water, looking upon vertical impossibility as an adventure into the unknown. Iain has spent decades finding and climbing some of the most daunting sea stacks on Earth, namely Cnoc na Mara – Irelands highest sea stack – which he had climbed free-solo in 2015, stating that it took him a ten years to gain the correct mental approach to even contemplate going for it.
Iain has climbed his way to being one of the top climbers in the world, but this story isn’t necessarily about the phenomenal ascents he’s made; rather, this is about the descents that Iain makes into his own mind with each and every climb – something that proves to be just as thrilling, challenging and exponentially more rewarding than any physical climb.
“The inner you is found in the darkest recess of your subconscious where the true self lives free of all outside influences and as such is both the most terrifying and most enlightening of places you can ever visit.”
In our correspondence, Iain outlines his psychological venturing before, during and after a climb, noting his experience with acute detail that immediately illustrates a man who is remarkably in tune with his psyche.
He runs me through his thought-process before a climb, noting that everything – every aspect of the weather, the sea, and every external circumstance must be aligned to perfection, taking any imperfection as a sign to change or abandon plans entirely.
I ask him if he subscribes to Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity, which he whole-heartedly seems to, but more so grounding coincidence in self-actualization and a pure reliance on living in the present:
"If you consider the fact that there is no such thing as a coincidence and, therefore, everything happens for a reason... This is also an excellent gauge as to whether the time is right for the chosen goal... This is where the journey to the inner realms both begins or ends."
Iain then guides me through his thought-process during the actual climbs themselves:
“This is when the mental battle commences as reason and paranoia jostle for the dominant position. The road and then sea journey allows me to reach a level of mental equilibrium in which there is no room for thoughts of the past and future only the present, living in the moment as it is commonly called”
Iain describes what I’ve heard many others call the flow state, only he seems to have a much more intimate relationship with this concept. Whereas many athletes, notably those involved in the more extreme sports or death-defying feats, seek to utilize the flow state as a tool to optimize their performance during a given endeavor, Iain seems to have a much more deeper, existential relationship with his subconscious mind.
“This is flow and it is a type of subconscious immortality and what this means in real-time is flow allows an outrageous heightened awareness of both the inner and outer realms both conscious and subconscious. It is during these visits to the inner realms is when you will meet the true you and the true you allows you to potentially see the links between everything in our real-world existence.”
The level of introspection that Iain devotes himself to is inspiring to say the least and, perhaps, it can’t be understood by anyone who doesn’t put their life in danger on a routine basis - perhaps this is the most potent trigger talked about by the likes of Colin O'Brady, who had set a world record for crossing part of Antarctica last year.
I asked Iain how he works to develop this state of hyper-consciousness, to which he replied that he has no idea - he only listens:
"The answer to pretty much everything is internal, it is perhaps there where we need to look. It is alas way too easy to blame external reasons for our perceived failures, thus removing the need to search for you. For me, times of isolation and a potential of a self-inflicted death have allowed me to internalise and understand more about me."
This is what it all comes down to for Iain, and perhaps his true motivation for climbing sea stacks and putting his life at risk. He doesn't climb to find a good view or to find himself atop a new record, rather, he climbs to find himself.
What's of more significance to all of this may be the fact that Iain's experience can be applied to all aspects of life. In other words, we need not seek to defy death to make use of this relationship with our subconscious.
"If you ask yourself a simple question, say: 'What do I really want to do in life?' Make a list... if you are not already doing this, then ask: 'Why am I not doing this?' The reasons are usually external and blame projected."
For this seems to be the purpose behind Iain's relentless pursuit of discovering himself - to ensure that the right decisions are being made throughout life; because, ultimately, that's what we're after.
"With a few visits to you, you will find that it was your decisions that led you where you are now, and it is only you stopping you."
Iain capped off our correspondence with a final point that seemed to summarize his philosophy in a concise and powerful way:
"A four year old girl once said to me that happiness is only a thought, and only you can create that thought."
Images courtesy Iain Miller.
To learn more about Iain or to follow along with his climbs, feel free to visit www.uniqueascent.ie