“What’s the problem?” Tracy asks.
“I can’t feel my hands.”
“Well, take a rest. Warm them up.”
I furiously rub my hands on the little pocket warmers in the pockets of my new, shiny, PrimaLoft jacket. It’s 43 degrees. The snow had mostly melted and the sun teased us through the clouds. We were climbing the Rico Suave Buttress at New River Gorge – a section of rock covered by a huge overhang roof that kept the route dry and enabled our snowy and wet Yoga and Climbing Retreat to uphold the climbing part of the deal.
The blood starts to circulate in my fingertips, so I began to climb again. I just needed to move my feet up, I knew. Yet, I faltered.
“What’s the problem?” Tracy asked again. She wasn’t being impertinent. Objectively identifying the elements of the problem to be solved is part of the Rock Warrior’s Way mental training for climbers.
“Well,” I replied, “I don’t trust my feet. I feel all of my weight on my hands and I’m not sure I can stand on that foot hold. And even if I could, I don’t feel like I can grab the next hold.”
As I silently cursed the cold, my short height and lack of reach, Tracy’s North Carolina drawl punctuated my thoughts.
“Are you afraid of falling?” she asked dryly.
“Uh…yeah,” I admitted, like a sheepish student caught doing the wrong homework assignment. I thought I was objectifying my situation, when really…who knows what I was doing, because that wasn’t even an analysis, much less an over-analysis.
“Then, the next time you stand up,” Tracy says, “I’m not going to take up the slack, and you’ll just take a little top rope fall.”
Poke, poke poke. Hello, fear. I tried really hard not to see you there.
I wanted this climb. I wanted to do it. So I made a move, and took a little fall. And as promised, nothing catastrophic happened. Nada.
For the rest of the climb, I worked out each move, each problem in my head. I had focus. I exhaled. I inhaled. Maybe the climb got easier. Maybe I had become less afraid. I knew that the temperature hadn’t changed, but the cold ceased to matter.
The cold – it was just an excuse. A rationalization to cover up the real thing bothering me – fear. Tracy’s simple question broke through the layers of my PrimaLoft, my Capilene, my helmet, and my thick head feverishly working an analysis of the problem to reveal the underlying truth. Another climbing friend once said to me, “You know Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? With climbing, it’s about safety. When you feel safe, you can do anything.” Including being a cold pansy and climb a 5.10 in 43 degrees.
“Sometimes,” my wise coach told me, “you just have to let the fear in. ‘I see you want to come in,’ you tell it. ‘Go ahead, come in. Now move on by.’ Then let it pass you by and move about your business.”
Huh. Just like that. Have you poked at fear? At frustration? At funk? At any unwanted emotion banging at your door? Did you stick your head in the lion’s mouth? What happened? Were you able to let it go? Let the emotion pass you by?