Climbing: An Act of Letting Go

I’m swinging myself back and forth, fear pulling me back and hope pushing me forward. My left leg is holding me up only by the tips of my toes, jammed into painfully tight climbing shoes, pushed as far as possible into a too-small hole of a hold while my right leg flags out against the ceiling of the climbing wall. I ignore my arms’ belief that they are too tired and try to talk myself into grabbing the next hold — all the way around the corner of the wall that is parallel to the ground. It’s far — too far. And I’ve failed before.

As I swing myself closer and then fall further away, sweat starting to pore out of my nervous palms, I think “this time, I can — ah no I can’t” again and again, psyching myself up and then letting myself believe it’s out of my reach. And then, before my brain can tell me no one more time, I leave the safety of the rock behind and hope that my fingers will catch.

A rush of bewildering, flighty awe flings itself through my body. It’s the moment when you brush up against your first crush, when hot and inexplicable feelings throw you into a spiral, all over again. The joy is so strong I almost let go to grin myself into a stupor against the padding of the gym floor. But I catch myself, and remember it’s not over yet.

Aer Climbing gym

When I climb I feel strong and full of life, but I also feel fearful, angry, hurt, and disappointed. Its those feelings that make me giddy and sheepish about going back again and again. Although I made it around the corner of that pesky problem that stumped me last week, haunting me like a ghost of possibility throughout the weekend, I didn’t finish the route today. But I did break through a barrier — I did rearrange the realm of possibility in my climbing, and even in my life.

Climbing is about letting go far more than it is about holding on, and that is a lesson I try to take from the gym and push into every aspect of my life. For it’s usually the moments when I feel the most stagnant, stubborn, and immobile that are the times when I learn that reaching out and trusting is the only way to go forward. It’s the times when doing it the way I’ve always done it seems like the only option that new avenues of thought and possibility open up for me. And it’s the places where fear clutches me the tightest that have the biggest opportunity for moving in new, untested ways — ways that usually lead to things that I could have never dreamed were feasible before.

I want to know: how do you gather the courage to take leaps of faith — whether physical or metaphysical? And how has it paid off?