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|Anyone for coffee ?
As Natimuk’s newest cafe entrepreneur Simey was the obvious choice to review the
latest book from American author Arno Ilgner - Espresso Lessons. A book about
coffee ?? By a climber ?
Alas, Simey is too busy in pursuit of the ultimate ‘decaf mocha latte’ so he hand-
balled the book and the review onto me.
1st lesson :
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
Ok, so the title says ‘coffee’ all over it and there’s even a picture on the front of a
bloke offering you a slurp from his thermos flask.
But it’s not about coffee.
It’s actually about climbing. There is a passing mention inside of how he tenuously
came to a link between the two but you’d be best not to wonder why.
The good news is.... its a good book.
If you’re into your climbing and you’re interested in what motivates you and what
holds you back its actually a really good book.
Espresso Lessons is a distillation (and there in lies that tenuous coffee link - he
could have as easily called it ‘Tales from the Whiskey Jug’) of Arno’s earlier book ‘A
Rock Warrior’s Way’.
The basis of both books is one of ‘mental fitness’. Nothing new in itself, mental
training has been a popularised discipline for decades. But what sets this apart from
a great deal of the literature on mental training is the paradoxical leap that, in fact,
the training we need is to help us “get out of our minds, for the mind tends to limit
us by it’s tendency and desire to avoid stress”.
The implications of what is described here are, I reckon, rather profound.
The sort of mental training we may be more familiar with focuses often on changing
what we think ; to think positively, to think strong, to rehearse success. What Arno
alludes to is that the problem is the thinking itself or at least our relationship with
Countless ‘day-time-tv’ ‘positive-thinking-coaches’ have been telling us for years to
use those voices in our heads to convince ourselves how great we are. Here we
discover that those voices are just our thoughts and our thoughts are just the
product of our thinking mind. And as it’s our thinking mind that consistently
sabotages our efforts when things get ‘stressful’ (as they tend too when it gets hard
and/or scary) it is understanding the relationship with your thinking mind that
underpins your success.
Did I mention that this is potentially quite profound ?!
It’s much less ‘Anthony Robbins’ and much more ‘Dalai Lama’.
Espresso Lessons uses ‘fear’ as a perfect example of how this thinking mind
relationship pans out :
“Fear is about what might happen, not what is happening. And what might happen
originates not from the situation, but from the thinking mind”.
What this book does is set you on a very interesting journey of looking intently at
your climbing experiences. It starts with observing yourself and your mind with a
goal of finding a place more about ‘awareness’ than thinking. It then guides you
through the experience of climbing from this subtle shift in perspective.
“Understanding the difference between thinking and awareness is the foundation
step to increasing mental fitness”.
There’s a lot of information in here and it can be a bit overwhelming to take it all in.
It’s not a book to gulp down in one sitting, I’d recommend a ‘snacking’ approach with
plenty of time to digest.
If you have a staunch aversion to what is already sounding like ‘airy fairy hippy shit’
then don’t be put off, there’s lots of very practical stuff in here too. A whole section
on falling for example - how to break it down into useful and palatable learning
progressions; how to assess fall consequences on routes and tips to reduce the
paralysis that afflicts so many of us mid crux as we leave the reassuring security of
OK, so the books illustrations are..for the want of a more eloquent description....a bit
rubbish. But I don’t imagine it’s easy coming up with diagrams for this sort of stuff.
There’s a few too many acronyms for my liking, I find them all too confusing to
handle. I’d also like to see more inspirational photos, the black and white is too dark
and too..black and white.
All being said I think it’s a great book.
Maybe you honestly believe that the only thing holding you back in your climbing is
your poor show in the ‘one-arm-lock-off’ competitions and I don’t question working on
them can help. But some of this stuff, I’d wager, has the potential to make a bigger
It’s not an easy read.
Some of it may even be a bit difficult to ‘hear’ because it asks you to challenge the
role of your mind and your thinking.
But it is training after-all and since when was training easy ?
I’d highly recommend Espresso Lessons to anyone interested in pushing their
current level of climbing and exploring their relationship with that “most interesting
space” we find ourselves in when we climb.
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