Life is about momentum, the forward turning of the wheel, the growth, the eventual summiting of metaphorical mountains. Like the smell of petrichor before a storm, sometimes we know it’s coming. Our skin is accustomed the intrinsic feel of a sky charged with electricity. Change is on the horizon.
Opportunities in my life are at once unfolding, ones that will shape me for years to come. I keep turning to a quote by Anaïs Nin, who once penned: Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. I yearn to be brave. To fake the confidence and bravado that will catch the sails of this symbolic ship. Move, I tell myself, keep moving. Believing, after all, is the first step to achieving.
Stagnancy and laziness are but the companions of complacency. Some of the greatest advice I’ve received is to stay hungry. Though it makes sense, I can’t say I’ve mastered the voracity to achieve improvement in all areas of my life. I dislike the tangle of pretense, the preamble that often comes from the proposition of knowing the right people, behaving just so, and making the “right” moves – all to achieve the coveted end. This sort of strategy reads disingenuous and is veiled in falsehood. It’s soul draining.
The recognition I prefer is simpler, more of a nuanced notice. I’ve said I would do x, I did x (quite well), and continue to uphold my word through action. Thus acknowledgment should be bestowed. Sadly, not many people live their lives in such a way. It’s up to us to singularly champion our successes, to demand what we deserve in a world that, for all its cogs and spokes, tells us we are unworthy.
This is no easy task for those of us who believe ourselves to be meek-minded; who feel cut down at every turn. It’s rewriting an internal script, a monologue that’s been force-fed and reinforced.
It’s a learning curve, a painful one.
In these moments of trial, I have to believe that there is some guiding force directing me towards the lessons I need to learn. The time is now, not sooner or later. The discomfort is necessary. Call it a much-needed leveling-up experience.
Take comfort in this discomfort and know it’s neither good nor bad – it just is. It exists as I do in this moment. Ground. Breathe. Say a prayer. Nothing is set in stone.
In times like these, I turn to my St. Christopher pendant, the jewelry I began wearing when making significant life changes more than two years ago. I flip it over and read the inscription.
Dating an adventurer means that your comfort zone will be tested and flexed to a once unforeseen degree. It’s signing up for experiences that induce discomfort and fear. The unknown has a way of igniting nerves, but the real question is this – do the flames consume or empower you?
I had never been to Rumney, New Hampshire: the holy grail of northeastern climbing. I’d heard stories of course, camping expeditions and dark sticky schist that you could smear on for days. I was warned, however, that learning to see holds on this particular rock would be challenging – especially to someone who hasn’t climbed extensively outdoors.
Nerves are not new to me. I swallow them, feeling as they coil in my belly. I would be on top rope, secured and wearing a helmet. My greatest threat would be scrapes and bruises – which are bearable. No one ever died from such ‘injuries.’
Still, reservations abound, not helped by the fact that my boyfriend continually coaxes me to try things of which I don’t believe I’m capable.
He pulls the rope from his bag and casually ties in as I stand nearby and wait for our friend to join. The two of them are lead certified. My boyfriend hands me the rope and asks me to get on belay.
“For lead?” A lump forms in my throat. He answers in the affirmative, saying that the climb is easy – mostly slab – that he has no doubt I can do this. He’ll set up the anchors for top rope and then I can jump on.
Okay, sure, I’ve used ATC’s in the gym and fed the rope as my partner down climbed. It’s basically the same thing. This time I’d be using my Alpine Smart II – a lock assist mechanism that provides assurance in case of a fall. Still, this was new territory and I couldn’t shake the feeling of somehow not feeding enough rope or taking at the wrong moment, thereby leading my significant other to come to a great deal of bodily harm. As I breathe through these fears, said friend walks over and stands beside me. I debate asking him to switch out with me, but settle for requesting back-up. In thinking rationally, the best way to learn is by doing.
There is cursing and sweaty palms – endured entirely on my end. I mutter that my partner is crazy, that I’m terrified. Somehow vocalizing these fears (and hearing my friend’s reassurance) keeps me grounded enough until I hear the word, ‘take.’ My boyfriend preps the anchors and soon enough I am lowering him towards the ground.
I both hate and love him in this moment. My nerves are frayed. I want to cry, but settle for a kiss.
* * * * *
“I really want you to get on Clip A Dee Doo Dah,” my boyfriend announces, “It would be great experience for you.”
Even after being part of the climbing community for nearly two years, I’m still not sure what to expect. I ask questions to abate the growing feeling of doom.
Clip A Dee Doo Dah: 5.3 – Slab. Multi-Pitch.
The lowest grade I’ve climbed is 5.5. In theory, this should be easy.
“It’s been summited in tennis shoes,” he adds – as if it makes a difference.
While waiting patiently for climbers to clear their ascent, I ask that every detail be drilled extensively. This is what I’m told:
I’ll lead belay my partner until the rope runs out, whereupon I’ll unclip my Alpine Smart and begin climbing. Essentially, the two of us climb simultaneously (simul climbing) – my boyfriend placing gear as he goes up and myself cleaning as I follow. The trick is to use each other’s weight as a counterbalance should either of us slip.
“—Wait, I have to clean?”
“Yeah, just take the quickdraws from the bolts as you go and clip them to your harness.”
I run through the scenarios internally, fearing that failing to do so will have me freeze mid-climb.
As time ticks on, I think about backing out – about putting my foot down and exclaiming that I’m not ready for this challenge. And I do, sort of. I never outright say that I won’t do it, but I express my discomfort in a number of ways (mainly heavy sighing and mild complaining).
When the time comes, I begin lead belaying and as told, when the rope runs out, I climb.
And I climb and climb. I make a point to not to think about anything except action: the steadiness of my feet, the rough rock against my palms. A quickdraw comes into view and I yell “stop.” Communication is key. The two of us need to be completely in tune, moving together and when needed, pausing simultaneously.
My fingers numbly fiddle with the draw, first freeing the rope, then unclipping section secured to the bolt. The click as it cinches to my harness is oddly satisfying.
“Okay!” I yell, my voice breathier than I intend.
The initial grade of Clip A Dee Doo Dah is slight and easy enough to manage. Trees provide ample shade throughout the first few bolts. Afterwards, however, the true feeling of exposure takes over. There is nothing but rock and sky around me. A slight breeze blows against my back. I am suddenly too aware of the clamminess of my hands, the quiver of my toes. One deep breath and a harsh exhale later and I am bounding for the first pitch (where my boyfriend is waiting).
“Isn’t this amazing?” He smiles while securing me to the face. I don’t have a personal anchor chain, but make do with slings and screw lock carabiners. “Take a look.”
I shake my head furiously; somehow knowing that looking down might possess my limbs to stiffen.
“I’ll look down when I get to the top,” I offer – trying to keep myself calm. “What’s next?”
“You have to lead belay me from the ledge until the rope runs out.”
My mouth instantly parches. Somehow I didn’t put the details together that I would be lead belaying from a ledge that –to most climbers – would seem roomy by comparison. For my first ascent of a multi-pitch climb a 2 x 4 foot section of rock wasn’t all that comforting. At the same time, it’s impossible to refuse to move when you’re on cliff-face and there’s no way to get off than to go up.
I levy my left foot as best I can by propping it into a crack. Leaning back slightly, I feed rope until once again, the slack runs out.
“Unclipping,” I announce as I withdraw my safeties. I lean forward and grope the rock with full-on caresses. The meter of the climb has changed. Instead of a steady and gradual ascent, there are now mounds to be summited and nary a handhold in sight.
I tell myself this is friction climbing. It’s slab. Push up with my feet and transfer the weight to my palms. This is not a pulling game.
The ascent to each bolt is a culmination of static movement and high steps. I take pleasure in each click and the increasing weight of my harness.
As I climb higher, the familiar voice of doubt crescendos. I can’t do this. I’m tired. My legs shake as a searing pain rings in my toes. Wind fans the back of my neck: a reminder of exposure.
What if I fall? What if I drop a draw?
“Keep going,” I tell myself aloud. “Don’t stop. Go up. Almost there.”
When I do happen upon a rare handhold, I repeatedly thank God and bare down hard on my fingers.
“Shit Fuck. Ow.”
I want to cry. My breathing escalates, becoming quick and shallow. Tears line my eyes as fatigue sweeps in. To climb something long and challenging is to break down mental barriers. Patience thin, I exhale and steel what little resolve remains. My entire body shakes. I need this to be over. The faster I get to the top, the quicker it will be over.
I don’t remember my boyfriend cheering me on to the finish – I’m sure he did, but much is a blur as I feebly crawl past the anchor and far away from the cliff’s edge. I cry while peeling off my shoes, howling as my toes burn from nonexistent blisters.
“I hate you. I hate you so much,” I wail in my boyfriend’s direction.
Tears flow freely as adrenaline courses through my body. I can’t stop crying. I didn’t expect to climb three hundred feet, clean fourteen bolts, or belay from an anchor. Being on rope for an extended period of time is a first too.
Glancing over the cliff reveals are nothing but treetops and houses in the distance. The wind rustles softly as I reach for my boyfriend’s hand – a silent apology.
The greatest gift climbing has given me is proving time and time again that I possess mental fortitude, the strength to whether intense situations. To be in one’s body and of that body, despite anxiety and nerves – to flourish in extreme situations, is its own reward.
I turn to my fellow adventurer and smile, knowing that I’ve earned the same title. To be an adventurer is to continually expand, to grow into our fullest selves physically, emotionally, and mentally — to believe that, even in the face of fear, everything is possible.
There is much pride in accomplishing Clip A Dee Doo Dah, the 5.3 Multi-Pitch slab in Rumney, New Hampshire. It’s the process of breaking boundaries and killing that fabled comfort zone – even if I needed a little push to get there.
“Every time you get angry with yourself for where you are in your process of growth, it’s the equivalent of chopping off the head of the rose because it hasn’t bloomed yet. Now you have to go through that part of the process again. Anger will set you back every time and slow down your growth. However, self-compassion and self-encouragement are like water and sunshine; they help the growth process happen faster and easier. It’s up to you how you want to proceed, but if you can break the habit of getting angry with yourself and replace it with some compassion and encouragement, then you will bloom like you have never bloomed before.”
— Emily Maroutian
In early February, I spent time spreading my metaphoric wings while on a yoga retreat in Tulum. My hands and feet sank into downward facing dog as I pleaded with the earth to hold me. I swam in the crystal waters of cenotes and opened my heart wide while sipping sacred cacao. I hugged a high priestess who told me she could feel my heart and I saw green light during meditation for the first time. I savored the most delicious brussel sprouts coated in maple syrup and pomegranate seeds. I drank wine with lovely women and laughed until my sides ached. I experienced a full moon ceremony, chanted candidly ‘row row row your boat’ in cannon as sacred tobacco was prepared. I smoked from a peace pipe and waltzed to the ocean, hand in hand with sisters, the full moon glittering above. At the seam of sand and sea, I held my heart in my throat as one of us proclaimed to the high moon, “Thank you for showing us that sometimes it’s okay to go dark.” I cried (a lot) and gave thanks to my heart, my intuition, for leading me here.
One of the most powerful tools we have in our human arsenal is perception. How do we view the world and how do we choose to react to what we see and experience?
Though initially automatic in nature, perception is best paired with the act of mindfulness, that is the “psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment” (Wikipedia). Our reactions to stressors are rarely limited to isolated incidents. Human beings are icebergs who have a lot going on beneath the surface. More often than not, an emotional or mental trigger urges us to react to a situation in a way that we don’t quite understand, leading us to become irrationally angry or upset, and unable to process problems in a constructive manner. We channel past experiences and hurts intuitively and act based on instinct.
Embracing the power of perception allows us to facilitate healing. We become aware of our bruises, needs, and desires. With practice and focus, we abate the ego – the child who seeks immediate soothing through outbursts – and cultivate a deeper understanding of ourselves and our actions. We attain a new level of self-respect and come to appreciate autonomy. A side effect: we are less ensnared by the expectations and opinions of others.
Your body is simply being a body – intolerable of what it does not know until, one day, it learns, adapts.
One of the greatest joys of being a writer is when the mind works beneath the surface, making unseen connections, and then suddenly offers forth a phrase, a profound line that rings true.
Like the sentence at the top of this post.
I have been working hard lately. The career realm has been a hectic mess of deadlines that I know will somehow be met…but in the meantime, causes every shade of duress under the sun. I do not have enough hands to complete all the projects on my plate. At least, it feels that way.
So of course it’s coping mechanism time. My writer brain goes into one of two protective modes without fail: stop thinking about everything and remain completely still (the stress monster can sense movement) or daydream as an act of escapism and fall into themes and stories that will probably never get written.
Fleshing out ideas is so much easier than sitting down and getting them on the page. They are unlimited when formless and immediately become constrained when trapped by words. My greatest fear is committment and, I believe, being unable to do an idea true justice.
Rationally, however, I am aware that in order to produce anything of note one must first move into the tangible realm. The world doesn’t work well with vague wisps of feeling. No, humans are bound to entertain and appreciate that which exists in some form – the written word counts for something. Even philosophy and the exploration of ideas is committed through record. And as I’m sure any writer would attest, flesh is added to the bones of ideas only when penned. We look back and build on concepts . It’s a process.
To commit to an idea, an action, a person, we must first make a leap and often, it’s one of faith.
Your body is simply being a body – intolerable of what it does not know until, one day, it learns, adapts.
It’s easy to get stuck in the cyclical process of not knowing, believing that not having the necessary experience to complete something automatically predicts failure. Let’s be honest, failure is a scary thing. Failure of the act itself stops us from moving; it’s paralyzing.
I am climbing atop my soapbox. The only way for me (personally, me) to work through such discomfort is to write it out. I breathe in writing – it is my reveal.
Maybe this entry isn’t purely about writing. It’s more a marriage between self-expression and action.
When I began running I had no confidence in my ability. Laborious breathing urged me to believe I could not and would not improve. My legs protested and stairs became particularly difficult. I’ll never forget how much pain I was in after my first run. Here’s the thing: as I pushed and continued, I may have hit rough spots but I was never in that much pain again.
When your body doesn’t know better, it instinctively hits the brakes, resists, cries out in frustration. This is normal. What’s important is that we don’t allow a completely rational reaction to forestall progress.
I’ve hit this wall a lot in life and I’m hitting it again now. Most of this entry was drafted a few months ago. It’s funny, I find myself in a similar situation – though work has abated to a dull simmer – my emotional and mental processes have me wanting to metaphorically bang my head against a wall.
Here’s the short end of it – the straightest and quickest route to peace and happiness – we must hold ourselves accountable for our desires and work tirelessly to pursue them. No lengthy stalls, no wallowing in complacency or diverting one’s attention to another endeavor that does not push us towards progress. A step is a step is a step, no matter how small.
As always, the advice is plain and simple, but following it is another matter entirely.
“The thing about mountains is that you have to keep on climbing them, and that it’s always hard, but there’s a view from top every time when you finally get there.”
-Nancy Garden, Annie on My Mind
Mountains: immoveable, stark contrasts against the sky, daunting to those not versed in climbing, those who haven’t yet cultivated the tools necessary to assess risk.
The above quote has undoubtedly become a metaphor for life. Problems and issues take on monolithic proportions and one is left to scramble, wondering if going around, over, or through is the best course of action. The question becomes how much effort we are willing to expend for said challenge. Yes, challenge, because changing the verbiage is half the battle. It falls in line with replacing negative talk with a more positive (or at least neutral) tone.
So what reason do I have for penning this entry? To put it quite simply, I’ve been climbing mountains.
Not literally, at least not since my visit to New Hampshire for Valentine’s Day–which, by the way, Cannon Mountain is no joke during frigid temperatures. I have, however, been pressing against the limits of my comfort zone and am about to come face to face with an experience that promises to rile anxiousness and exhilaration in equal measure.
I am going bouldering in Bishop, California in eight days. Next stop, the Happys, the Sads, and the Buttermilks.
Needless to say, I’m suffering a bit of anxiety over this particular trip.
While I’ve been climbing regularly since November, my main focus has been top rope. Only recently have I picked up bouldering with greater frequency – mainly due to feeling physically strong enough to hold myself on the walls. I’ve only just become more comfortable with the prospect of falling and can drop confidently from a 12′ overhang route, though pushing off is another matter entirely.
An appreciated swell of confidence was hit on Sunday when I finally nailed a V2 route at the local indoor rock gym. I had been projecting it for numerous sessions and initially couldn’t get off the start hold.
So why all this back story and the mention of climbing mountains? Well, after I sent the V2 route, I was urged to tackle an equally challenging climb. At once, I was apprehensive and in an act showcasing disdain, commented, “Let me savor my victory.” To which a fellow climber replied, “You chose climbing… that’s a 99% fail rate.”
His comment stuck with me. Climbers are constantly embarking on routes that they’re not positive they’ll complete – not clean (or in one shot), anyhow. It’s the willingness to try, to meet themselves on the wall and give it a go no matter what, that speaks of true persistence.
Once the goal is accomplished, they move on to something harder. Their reward isn’t a trophy or forever holding onto the glory of a previous success. That satisfaction is fleeting. It’s the mental and physical strength cultivated through the climbs that acts as the true payoff.
The mountain, in this case, is purely metaphorical. Instead of looking out into the beauty of nature, we’re given a glimpse at the marvelous things of which we are capable.
For those who were previously ill-versed in the ways of the physical realm, that’s an incredible view.
This entry is meant to serve as a reminder that mountains (whether figurative or literal) are not necessarily blockades. It’s sobering to remember that life is made up of failures, and it is only through practice and persistence that we are able to attain success. To expand the comfort zone, one must do that which causes discomfort again and again.
There are steps one can take to feel more prepared when planning to engage in activities outside one’s comfort zone. For me, in regards to this trip to Bishop, that means climbing 3x a week at a higher grade with a focus on improving technique, and running 3x a week in addition to my usual gym regimen (yoga, power tone, etc.). Completing these feats positively shapes how I view myself and that of which I’m capable.
It’s working. I see a difference in my willingness to wander and scope out boulder problems on my own. Instead of a blatant “no” in the face of a challenge, I have begun to say, “okay, I’ll try.”
The key is surrounding oneself with an encouraging group of like-minded people. Go as slow as you need and don’t bog yourself down with expectations. Focus. Assess. Breathe. The true goal of life is perpetual growth – which isn’t easy, but it’s a lesson well-learned especially through the art of climbing.