I used to love rock climbing.
I would spend weeks on the road hitting places like Joshua Tree, CA, Red Rocks, NV and Smith Rocks, OR.
What I loved most was face climbing, where you hold onto little nubbins and pockets in the face of the rock.
Crack climbing scared me.
To hone my skills, I signed up for a 10-day rock climbing seminar in the beautiful Wind River Range of Wyoming – it’s when I decided I would overcome my fear of cracks (or so I thought).
I chose to lead a crack climb, placing protection as I went up. (Protection are pieces of gear often known as camming devices which will hold you if you take a fall.)
I was about 20 feet off the ground climbing this crack when I became paralyzed with fear. I looked up and the remaining 40 feet seemed like an eternity.
Looking down at my belayer (who was so patiently waiting for me), my mind said, “Do NOT go back down.”
Tears began to well up in my eyes. My body was shaking and I grasped to hold on to the rock, sure that I would fall to my death (in reality, that’s not what would happen).
My belayer, Chris, hollered up to our ever-present, totally awesome instructor, Pete, that I could use some help. I saw Pete’s face appear at the top of the climb forever smiling (I miss you on this planet, Pete).
He wisely said to me, “Take a deep breath, Angela. I want you to lean back and trust the piece of protection that you have in the crack and hang on it. Now, I want you to take another piece of protection and put it in above you while you’re hanging. Now, pull up on the protection that’s above you and bring the rope and clip it through that piece of protection and hang on that piece. And repeat it again.”
Pete encouraged me and coached me all the way up that climb. I didn’t know I’d make it to the top until I’d made it to the top.
The shaking eased and a bit of shame crept in that I needed so much help. Pete greeted me with a “You do it! You did it!”
What Pete taught me that day and what the rock showed me was that life often times feels very scary in the moment, to the point where you can’t take a step forward, and going back is not an option… where you feel trapped and you don’t know what to do… where the fear tells you you’ll either end up in a cardboard box in the slums of L.A. or you’ll completely disintegrate into nothingness (aka: die).
The truth is, fear can be a teacher on your path into stretching and growing.
If the rock were a metaphor for life, the rock represents the challenges and also the opportunities. The challenges are the cracks or the face that seem so daunting and insurmountable.
Yet the cracks are also where you can place a foot or a hand one movement at a time, trusting in each movement while letting go of needing to get to the top.
Pete represented my wisdom and intuition of knowing this truth.
If you are feeling paralyzed or stuck in fear and it seems like there’s no way to get out, first take a breath and know that you’re not alone.
Then take one step, one small step in a direction that feels right for your heart, even if it’s scary.
Retreat to your comfort zone as often as you need. Let go of expectations and demands of yourself of needing it to be a certain way, and have a loving conversation with the fear itself.
Perhaps it’s a relationship that isn’t working, or a job that doesn’t sit well in your heart anymore, or a calling that feels beyond doable.
Remember that fear is here on a physiological level to protect you.
And also know that there’s a difference between fear of death as a survival mechanism and fear of the mind in losing what’s comfortable and known.
Step into the unknown. That’s where the magic lies (not to mention a life more fully lived).
I didn’t like crack climbing anymore after that day, but getting stuck, paralyzed in fact, and finding the mental strength and determination inside gave me a tenacity I didn’t have before.
And a knowing that I could work through any challenge that came up.
Let fear be your guide – it can either stop you or show you exactly the direction to go (what feels scary is most often the path we’re being called to).
Categories: Inner Wisdom & Intuition, Stress & Anxiety