A few years ago I went with my brother and friends to the beautiful Joshua Tree park in California. It is one of the most stunning beautiful deserts I have seen. Its beauty stems from its various yucca trees, Joshua trees, chapparel, and its serene rocky landscape. A giant god of the desert must have played there once and left huge piles of round rocks behind. When the sun sets, the spirit of the Navajo people transcends the atmosphere which you can almost touch and feel.
Joshua tree park is also a great place to go climbing. That was our goal. For me it was the second time to put climbing gear on. Just to be out there early in the morning, ice crystals still on the rock and watching the sun slowly rise is the most breath-taking and invigorating life experience I can imagine. You are not really awake, your limbs are still stiff from sleeping in the tent, and a coffee merely allows you to pay attention.
I am not a great climber but I love it for two reasons. First, it is a full body workout. Second, it is a mental workout. The second aspect is in fact more stunning than the first.
First of all, you learn to overcome your fear. When you start climbing everything is fine. You know you have your gear on, you see where the route is, and you go. Wow, that’s easy. Step by step you make your way up, always having your goal in front of you. Hopefully the sun is right on your rock, so you are all cosy and warm. Hopefully, there are not 5 other groups lined up who would like to be on the rock as much as you do. Anyway, you continue. My self-confidence rose with each inch I conquered. But then, someone was yelling something, my focus was gone, and I made the fatal mistake – I looked down! Now I realized that I was just on a tiny robe. I knew, that the next move was difficult and I did not see even the next move to make. I tried without thinking and I failed, I tried again wasting precious power. More and more I started looking more like a rock hugger than a climber, clinging desperately to the piece of rock I had, butt out, sweaty hands and shaky muscles. I looked up where I wanted to go and boy, was it ever steep. I looked down again and I knew I was crazy to do what I was doing. What if…..
I was so terrified just by the next move that I was not able to move anymore at all. I was stuck by fear. No tips could ever get me out of this. I had to come down.
When I was down again I did some breathing exercise, relaxed, looked at the route again, and did it again. This time I went up smoothly in no time, thinking how easy it was. What a great feeling, to have conquered the rock, to be on top and to have this wonderful view all around you, the sun just greeting the desert. Breathtaking….
It was fear which put me into this miserable condition in the rock the first time. Action and relaxation got me out of fear. Whenever I am in such a situation in real life I always think about this incident and act accordingly. Do not stare at an obstacle with the worst case scenario. This only causes fear and drains your power. Approach it again from a relaxed angle, concentrate only on your steps and not all the potential dangers around you. Don`t look back or too much ahead. You know where you are going. Just concentrate on each little next step which gets you there without procrastinating too long. Finally, if you do not succeed the first time, do it again. Otherwise you will leave yourself with the sour taste of failure, which does not really help to boost self-confidence.
Another aspect one can learn from climbing is trust. As I am rather tall, the notion of being belayed by someone half my size is kind of scary. Well, you have no choice unless you want to step out of the whole thing. And, it works! The more you practice to trust the easier it gets.
The next point again is about trusting. Trusting, that a rope will hold you is kind of a scary concept as well. When you are 2 meters off ground things are fine. At an elevation of 20 the perspective is a little different. Having reached the top and having to walk down perpendicular to the rock the first time is another scary aspect, because you literally have to hand over your life to your gear, your partner and a robe. Thus, the expression to be only attached to life by a tiny robe becomes meaningful.
Again, blind trust and of course checking the rope and your gear before hand are the keys. Either you get professionals to help you or you make sure yourself that your support system works properly. This kind of preparation is your duty, not fates` or Gods`.
Taking chances like rock climbing is a scary concept. It certainly gets your blood pressure going as other obstacles in life do. But it is wonderful to have conquered these obstacles, to overcome these “rocks” without fear but with trust, preparation, focus, vigour and a relaxed mind. On the rock and in real life. You will outgrow yourself.
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