One day, four of us were hiking to a climbing spot when I heard a rumble. “Was that a motorcycle of in the distance“, I asked my partner, “or was that what I think it was?” The thunder rumbled again. Now might be a good time to note that I am petrified of being outside during a thunderstorm. Our other two friends caught up with us. We discussed whether to make the last bit to the top of the mountain, or start heading down. ”Start heading down! Start heading down!” my neuroses cried out. The two guys wanted to finish the short distance to the top. With a slightly louder rumble and a widening of the whites of my eyes, my friend Z said that she would go down with me. One should never go alone, she said.Thank god. Soon, the heavens opened up. A sprinkle turned into a torrential downpour, and the thunder rumbled with increasing frequency. I started to run-walk. “Slow down,” Z urged. “Don’t panic. You’re going to fall and break an ankle, and then where would you be?”
Right. I recalled my lessons from the Rock Warriors Way that some fears are real and some are phantom. When you climb, you constantly place yourself in a position of stress. Over time, you learn how to handle it better. To discern between real and phantom fears, which in turn, helps you formulate options, make quick decisions for action. I also remembered that when you’re stressed, you get tunnel vision, you stop seeing options, you start to panic. The antidote is to breathe, so I started breathing. “Look, Z, this is me breathing!” Lightening. Thunder. The seconds between them were getting shorter. My breathing grew shallow and I sped up.
“Z – I don’t like walking through these clearings on the trail,” I shouted over the rain. “Is that rational or irrational?”
Calmly, forcefully, and kindly, she replied “Irrational. But that’s ok. Just keep breathing. Walk more slowly. Don’t panic.“
“Z – the trail continues under a powerline up there. I don’t want to walk under it. Rational or irrational?”
Again, in that same authoritative, yet compassionate tone, she said “Probably irrational, but if it makes you feel better, we can hang back, wait for some lightning and then proceed after we hear the thunder. It will take some time for the electricity in the air to recharge.”
She also advised not waiting out a storm in a cave because lightning might jump the gap between the lip of an overhang and the floor, possibly through you. She advised if you feel a charge in the air and you’re not in a safe place, to get in the lightning position — squatting with feet together, arms wrapped around the legs and head tucked downward. Keeping feet together significantly reduces the effect of ground current, the cause of about half of lightning fatalities.
How can she do this? I wondered, frantically. Where does her knowledge come from? I just remember the adage “don’t stand under one tree in an open field,” but nothing about being in a forest! Where does her calm come from? I’m totally freaking out!
“Z – how do you know so much about this?” She replied that she once got caught out in a storm, on a ridge, above the tree line. And she read up.
Then lightning struck really, really close. You could hear the c-c-cra-a-a-ac-k-k in the air and feel the thunder explode almost immediately. We both screamed. “Yes, that made me nervous, too,” she shouted. Finally, she’s validated my fear! I felt perversely calm in that validation. At least I wouldn’t die feeling crazy. We walked more briskly. We made it to the car without further ado. Well, except for one.
“Z – I don’t want to walk into that open space between the end of the trail and the car. Rational or irrational…?“
(What about the guys, you’re probably wondering? They stayed behind to finish the hike to the top. And when they returned safely to the car after we did, we pummeled them. And then went wine tasting to take the edge off.)
When I got home, I decided I wanted to be as smart, cool, calm, and knowledgeable as my friend Z. So I browsed the local climbing club’s website. I found guidelines for being outside in a storm (here and here).
Segue to the next document in the line-up: climbing with hearing loss. I was intrigued. The article spoke to me because I do have a hole in my eardrum and minor hearing loss as a result. There have been times when I couldn’t hear my climbing partner well. The article held practical tips and suggested working out your communication system together before you started climbing. “It’s fair, polite, and safe for you to be included in all communications….Insist on this BEFORE the trip to prevent frustrations.” Then in bold, the article noted:
“Remember, frustration is a safety hazard.”
I paused, staring at that sentence. I write about my fear, but have I acknowledged why my fear exists? When climbing outside, when hiking in thunderstorm – there are very good reasons for fear: danger, risk of injury or death. When you climb, you have to operate from your best and highest self to stay focused, safe, and performing at a high level. So, yes, I can envision the very real adverse consequences to frustration. So far, I’ve tasted the consequences of frustration in performance only, and I’d like to keep it that way.
Frustration is hazardous. I thought of all the time I have been intensely frustrated in my life. I remembered my first season of climbing, as noted in the entry Self Trust, Part I. I used to frustrate myself with negative self-talk: “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t do that. Who do you think you are?“
Frustration is hazardous. I heard Z telling me, in that authoritative, yet compassionate voice, to not panic because I would break an ankle, making our situation far worse.
Frustration is hazardous. In personal and professional life, that frustration is equally hazardous to your ability to live the life you want and deserve. It creates tunnel vision. You can fail to see options right in front of you. You can panic. You can break a metaphorical ankle.
If “frustrate” means inducing discouragement, balking in defeat in an endeavor, what’s the opposite? According to Merriam Webster, it is to encourage, foster, nurture, promote, or cultivate.
As someone who can frustrate herself pretty thoroughly without any outside help, it finally dawned on me that compassion – for yourself as well as for others, is an imperative. Yes, compassion is pretty obvious as a good thing in life, but maybe less obvious in this capacity. Merriam Webster defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” When you desire to alleviate your own distress, or the distress of others, when you have compassion, we can do all of those things – encourage, foster, nurture, promote, cultivate. Compassion thwarts frustration, preventing it from taking root and seizing control.
When your on the path to find, follow, live and sustain your passion, please remember that frustration is hazardous. Allow yourself to ask “rational or irrational,” “phantom fear or real fear”? Be kind. Be patient. Encourage yourself in the answer. Don’t panic and break a metaphorical ankle in haste. Breathe. Then discern your choices and pick the best course of action to follow that path.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
- Vicktor Frankl