The granite was sharp, biting into the skin with a burning sensation. She continued to look around her for the next hold. The route was pretty easy, but the terrain was new to her. This was the first time she had ever gone climbing, invited by a friend and she had said yes without really thinking about what it would mean.
But she was hooked. It wasn't the sunny day, the cool people she was hanging out with, or even the route. It was a feeling in her heart. It was as if she knew who she was. Focus, present to the experience, no attachment to a specific outcome, curious. All of these elements allowed her to feel like nothing else mattered. She was in relationship with her Self completely. The voice inside her that continually measures how to respond to the current situation was quiet. Because the voice was in awe.
Success is more than getting to the top, it is being in love with the process.
Take a moment to be quiet and reflect on the most memorable experience you have of climbing. Consider the moment in fullest detail. Remember it as if you were in that moment again. Sense the feelings it is bringing up for you, feel the sensations in your body, the sounds. Steeped in the memory, now ask yourself what does climbing mean to you, in only three words - what does climbing mean to you? Trust the first three words you hear. If you want to think about it, you will lose the truth. Trust what comes and then reflect on how the three words relate to you and climbing.
For example, you may have a words like connection. But as you reflect on connection, it may be a connection to something primal within yourself. Not necessarily connection to other climbers. Once you know these words, you can now make sure you create climbing opportunities that allow you to experience that. It may be somewhat challenging to experience that connection to something primal when you are climbing in a gym with loads of people and loud music. Doesn't mean you wouldn't do it, just means the expectation for what the experience will offer is realistic.
And there were things for me.
I choose the warm ups and we went around the other side of the boulder for the routes and I noticed the damp ground and thought with frustration, "dang, we should have brought a tarp." Then looking at the steep overhanging lines, I noticed the wetness of the holds, and the closeness of the edge of the pond to spotting the top out. But trying to be supportive, I just got ready to climb. Those first holds were pretty wet, and the steepness was pretty challenging. After a few tries, I gave up on the start holds, feeling like all the desire zapped out of me after the first moves. I watched as there was some hesitancy in the others on the top out moves. "Hmmm, that's where I will be pumped and scared of falling," I thought. My frown probably deepened. It was then that the snakes sunning themselves on the trees leaning over the pond behind us were noticed. Deep breaths... not a fan of snakes. These were not poisonous to my knowledge and seemed to be sunning themselves contentedly, but still, not a fan.
Still I tried to engage in support for others and even trying to assure them that I was game to keep trying, I discussed the need for me to bring more grrr through the body, not just the upper arms on the route. Every few moments distracted by whether these snakes were moving closer or keeping their distance.
Then more people arrived, more crash pads covered the ground, more conversation, more climbers vying for turns on the same routes. And of course admiration for the snakes and more snake conversation. Sigh....
I didn't send. Not even sure I could say I enjoyed the day. The truth is, I did not take responsibility for my day. I mean, I did to some degree. I showed up, I climbed and supported others. But I didn't look at what I wanted to climb, I didn't build excitement about the possibilities for climbing that day. I just tried to climb and be supportive of others. But others can't get excited for you if you are not excited yourself.
You get back what you give. We are the creators of our experience.
My day was meh because I approached it WITHOUT excitement and a sense of engagement and possibility. I approached climbing that day like it was just something I was going to do, like I might approach doing the dishes, rather than how I would prepare a meal for friends and family. Sure my focus was on the other people I was with, but that only put a sense of pressure on them to 'make my day.'
Lesson learned - Own it, take responsibility for your experience.
Neurons that fire together, wire together. There is a TED talk. Another name for it is neuroplasticity.
In the book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg discusses this concept as the root of making positive changes in your life. It is hard to stop doing things, unless you do (choose to do) something different. Replacing an action with a new action is key.
Consider what you do when you fall. What is the first thing you do when the climbing gets hard? Look down? For a lot of people this would be the habitual action - look for where you will fall. Then you fall. The more times you repeat this - feel insecure, uncertain, look down, fall. This is repeated and becomes the habit that can prevent you from climbing harder.
Try this... just go to your local gym and watch people. Watch the same person climb a number of routes. Select a climber who is trying something that they will fall off or find very challenging and may fall. Notice if they look down OR if the fall trying.
Then notice your own choice.
Yup... this is what we have evolved into. A world where we perpetuate the idea "I am the most important person and what I think is right. As right, I should get my way."
I was making some copies before camp one morning and I overheard Dalhousie University's women's soccer coach, Cindy Tye say,
"The world owes you nothing."
When I heard this, I was in my own little shi** storm of resentment and complaint about something. It made me stop and realize she is absolutely right. There but for the grace of God go I.
Life is a gift. You do not need to believe in God to understand that life is a privilege many will no longer share this morning. Your child is a gift and that gift can be taken from you at any time. Your home is a gift. Being born in a country that doesn't suffer a water shortage or a world not at war, or with a parent who cares about you... these are all things not everyone gets.
My suggestion to those (and myself when I forget this), I may not like something, AND that is ok. It is then MY responsibility to change. I can choose something different. Expecting everyone else to do what I want is very arrogant and self centred. As said by a famous president, JFK, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
"I don't have a dream, a goal." she said.
I knew exactly what she meant. As a woman who climbed and, yes achieved some significant ascents, I had only dreamed the possibility of them when a man, my husband, had believed in me. These were not really my dreams as much as they were his dreams.
Now entering midlife, with possibly as many years ahead of me as behind me, I ponder what I dream of achieving now. It is limited. There is no relationship in my life directing me. It seems hard to know what I really want now and whether what I want will be possible as I step into unknown territory where my body is changing so much I am not sure about it at all. This has me reflecting on what is required to dream the dream.
5. Joy is essential to doing anything for any length of time. People who climb mountains and motivate themselves to tolerate the discomfort, the fear, the loneliness all on a much deeper level experience joy. Joy comes in the deep connections we make when we share our story. Joy arises in the beauty that we witness through the process. Joy is in our hearts when we experience our own strength of will and overcome our self doubt.
Children's bodies do not have bones that have fully grown and hardened. This means that the tendons can become so strong that rather than a muscle injury, the climber will experience a break at the tendon attachment site. This attachment site is often a growth plate area - meaning that the climber will have an injury that will impact their bodies movement for the rest of their life.
The place - Hueco Tanks.
The partner - my son, a stronger climber than me.
The story - humility.
I used to climb well. Some would say I still do. It is a perspective thing. I have one friend who tells me to never let anyone else define me. And she is right. The last time I was in Hueco was 2002. My son, seven months old and my body just recovering from breast feeding.
The time before that, 1998. I sent a V7... my first V7. From there, the grades continued to increase. Even after the 2002 visit, I sent harder problems. So imagine my shame, my disappointment, to be humbled by a V2 on our first day. And then on the third day to have a guide suggest the day will be too tough for me.
Rationally, I know I am many years and many 'non-training' days from 2002. Or even 2003. I made other choices with my time and energy. I do not regret those choices. I now have a very accomplished son who seems to be pretty mature and well adjusted. In my view, the best project I have ever embarked upon. I know my body is aging and it hurts more that it used to. It isn't as free moving as it used to be. It doesn't recover as well.
But I still felt humbled. I felt more than that, I felt disappointed.
And I could have walked away. After all, this body will not get younger, no matter how well I take care of it. I could have rationalized the end of my life as a climber. I could have rationalized all the choices that have led to this particular outcome.
Instead... I practiced RESILIENCY.
Resiliency is ADAPTABILITY. It is strength in action. It is not giving up. It is TRYING again, IN A DIFFERENT WAY.
The adaptability may be in how I define my success as a climber. It maybe in how I show up as a climber. It is shifting my expectations in order to shift my experience.
I never climbed in order to be the best at it.
I always climbed intrigued by how to move my body between the holds. That I can still do.
What I need to shift is my expectation of how those moves are graded by a subjective system. If I can't get away from my expectations around grades, then I can make up my own routes that don't have grades. I can worry about moves rather than routes.
What matters is that I still climb for a reason that matters to me. That makes me feel happy.
What is is about climbing that makes you happy? How do you use that to continue to strengthen your resiliency?
You can control how you think about yourself.
You can tell your own truth about the experience.
As Brené Brown says, "Shame cannot survive empathy." But the truth is, sometimes we have to be our own provider of that empathy.
We need to find the people who matter. Who will hold us and hold us to account.
And until we do, we have to hold ourselves.
Speaking our truth is the power of holding oneself with respect & love.
It is self care. No one else can speak your truth.
Between 1995 and 2003 I climbed a lot. I spent the early years living mostly in a car and climbing all over North America.
Of course when you put that much time into something, you get pretty good at it.
Fast forward a decade and a half and I find myself in old stomping grounds. Hueco Tanks.Now it is my son who is the strong one. He dedicates most days after school to climbing. His body is young and strong. He has fantastic climbing movement. While I may be pretty astute at movement, I am less strong and my body isn't always so happy.
My friend Michelle would tell me to just go and have fun. She studies old people and how to keep them engaged. While I respect the work she is doing, I am not so certain she gets how it feels to be getting older and less capable. The sadness one must overcome and the letting go of who you were in order to embrace where you are. It isn't easy.
It is life though.
We let go of being a student when we take on our first career that requires full attention. We let go of being single when we marry and being a young adult when we become parents. Eventually our parents get old and need us more, eventually dying and we let go of being a child. Then our children leave us or our partners leave us and we rediscover who we are again.
Life is continually changing how we see ourselves. Sometimes it is harder than others.
I don't want to be that young woman, living out of a car again. I enjoy being more well rounded in what I teach, coach. I enjoy being a mother and watching my child grow into an amazing human. I don't want the poverty that went with dedicating my life to climbing.
What I do want is people around me who share dreams with me. I do want to help people realize their dreams. I do want to spend time out in beautiful places like this park. I do want to continue to challenge myself. It will take work to let go of what I used to be able to do and be grateful for what I can do. But as I would say if I was coaching someone else, I will look for the success in the try, not the outcomes.