“Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that inner string…Self trust is the first secret of success.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Climbing has about as many layers as an onion. And if you’ve been as wound up as tightly as I had been, it can make you cry as much, too. At least until you realize the problem is inside you. Your inability to trust yourself.
Climbing is about 1/3 technical, 1/3 physical and 1/3 mental. There’s also the equipment, rope systems, knot-tying, physics and other elements that were previously thought to be beyond the capacity of this liberal arts major to understand. What jazzes me most is the movement, the technique. What has impacted me the most is the mental training.
Oh, the feeling of your body interacting with the wall. The sensation of your mind visualizing the movement, solving it like a puzzle, activating your muscles to take action, feeling the forces of your weight balancing and counter-balancing. You’re fully under your own control, which seems like a rare commodity in the buzz and din of the world; the workplace, traffic, information overload….when you’re on the wall, it’s just you. And the rock.
It should come as no surprise that plenty of truths come out when you battle an inanimate object alone. Well, you battle. The inanimate object just stares back, ancient and wisely bemused at your impatience, your impertinent lack of understanding of the true nature of time and the ways of the universe. This is the real life version of what economists call ceteris paribus – all other variables except those under immediate consideration are held constant. There’s no one else. No bureaucracy. No politics. No other thing thwarting you. You’ve intentionally put yourself in situation where your attention to detail is what keeps you safe and alive. All other things are held equal and constant. The bare fact is that the only thing holding you back, moving you forward, is you.
How much do you trust yourself? To have double-checked your equipment? Your ability to learn how it all works? To make that move? To pick the right belayer, who will pay attention and keep you safe? To challenge a situation you don’t see as safe? To discern between a phantom fear and a real fear?
How much do we think about self-trust day-to-day? We don’t. We run on auto-pilot, mostly. Which is why it came as a shock to realize – I didn’t trust myself at all.
I distinctly remember taking an outdoor class at Cooper’s Rock in West Virginia. I had been climbing for a couple of months. The instructor called out to me on the wall, “Just rock your weight over onto your left foot and you’ll be able to grab the next hold.” Frustration welled up, my arms flailed and failed to grab this mysterious next hold. As I’m dangling on the rope, I shouted “What? I can’t do that!” My peripheral vision closed. Through the tunnel, the voice echoed….echoed…echoed inside my head. Can’t do that. Can’t do that. Of course you can’t do that. What do you think you’re doing up here? You’re never going to be able to really climb. Who do you think you are?
See, you don’t hear that voice during normal daily life. Not because it isn’t there. But because it just melds into the background with pleasant, yet forceful “Doors closing” recording on the metro. On the wall, with the tidal wave of emotions crashing around your ears, that’s all you hear.
When you’re a workaholic, that voice may be going on in the background, but others need you. You get a task, you complete it for someone else, you get feedback. You must not suck too bad. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
When I climb, I answer to myself. So when the voice inside tells me I can’t, I’m staring at myself in the mirror. Well? What’ll it be?
“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
– e.e. cummings