I’m dangling off the rope a dozen meters above the ground, facing a cold rock. The sun is shining in the gorge but however clement the weather, it’s still winter, and Peter is probably fed up waiting for me to climb the eight meters left to the top. There is absolutely no sound out there except that of a cool wind kissing the gorge I’m climbing. Right now I’m more or less resting while considering my options to resume the ascent.
We all get those moments in life when we question who we are, why we are doing the things we do, whether they are right or wrong, and even whether we are right or wrong. Sometimes such questioning results from a natural evolution of our way of thinking, and at other moments it’s a setback that happens and forces us to face our selves with no filter, and for one reason or another, we don’t like what we’ve become anymore and we know we have to do something about it.
I hesitated writing about that: emotions and coping mechanisms are rather private as they reveal one’s weaknesses, somehow. Then I remembered that for years I have been feeding my soul with the writing of others, some making me grow, others making me question my own beliefs, a few leaving me pretty much the same as I was before reading them. But all in all, even those I didn’t like contributed to make me the person I am now.So yesterday, as I giggled through an hour of video call with a dear friend, we talk about how much of us we put in our blog soliloquies and she seems to think that the climbing story doesn’t cross a line.
Lately, I have taken to writing quite a lot (outside of the blog, that is). Encouraged by dear friends, driven by the necessity of letting the spillovers of my thoughts and soul freely pour onto the paper. I’m very lucky to count many like-minded spirits, whose solace also comes through words, as friends. For the past few months, years for some, we have been on that beautiful journey of self-understanding together. With hindsight, I believe friendship knows different stages, and that as long as one isn’t content with one’s life, he or she can’t provide the benevolence inherent to friendship. Once a state of self-acceptance and self-love has been reached though, it opens the door to beautiful exchanges between souls. Like I said, I have been lucky enough to have many like-minded people creating an aura of benevolence around me at all times, and this is very precious during more challenging moments. Those are the people in the back of my mind, not only right now as I write those lines but also back then, as I’m facing that rock.
The cool wind doesn’t make my pausing in the air any relaxing, so I know that whether I’m ready or not I have to resume my climb. I have only myself to blame or to thank for being there right now. It’s a challenge entirely of my own doing. I used to suffer from fear of heights, long time ago. So I decided to tackle it with bouldering and climbing. Sometimes life takes you to unexpected places, and for that reason I hadn’t taken the time for it in years. Likewise, life sometimes has its ways to make you meet people you never thought you’d know or even get along with in the first place, and they all happen to you at the right moment, no matter how it bad it can look when it happens, because, to quote a cliché, everything happens for a reason and makes you grow, eventually. So last year, just at the right time, I met someone whose love for climbing reminded me that one day I wanted to climb fearlessly. A month later, after having battled all the fears and excuses not to go, I was back on a wall. I wasn’t there by accident, I also needed to heal from one of life’s setbacks. This was, and still is, one of my coping mechanisms.
So there I am, half-enjoying it, half-cursing myself for being up in the air, literally. Peter shouts: “Hey you’re doing great, only eight meters to go! You’ve climbed a four storey building now!”. Do I really want to know that? I reply: “It might not look that way but I do enjoy myself right now”. He laughs. I look at the rock. “Plenty of grasps!” he says from below. I look down where my feet are. I don’t see the bloody grasps anymore, I see a grey, polished and unforgiving rock and my right leg begins to shake uncontrollably as I ease myself back against the stone. I know now that I just have to relax and it will stop shaking. I breathe, in and out, eyes closed, and eventually, it stops. I spent the last twelve meters to accept that I was in a safe place. That I could stumble but not fall. That I could make a mistake and not fall. That I could be hurt but not die (well, that’s actually not quite true, accident happens, but I need to believe it’s true just now). Basically, I had a reminder of what life was about in a nutshell.
Maybe the adrenaline is starting to kick but the more I look at that rock, the more I feel at peace with myself. I thought that once I would be up there, none of the things that sadden me would burden me anymore. That was wrong, they are as raw as ever. However, up there I’m alone, and Peter can only do so much as shouting encouragements. Of course, I could also forfeit and let myself be descended again. No one would know except me and Peter anyway, there would be no shame, after all. But a quick assessment of my emotions tells me that I would certainly not feel happy, thinking back that I had only almost made it to the top. So, there I am, on that bloody, cold, polished rock, and none of my problems seem to have magically dissolved. Bummer. They are still here, but so is the memory of all the good people and things that surround me. So I understand. The only thing that prevents me to climb higher is myself. Not my problems, not anyone, just myself. Of course now I’m tired, so it’s not as easy, but I can see the grasps again. One grasp at a time, I lift myself up, fingers burning against the rock. It’s not never ending anymore, I see the top. “That’s much better!” shouts Peter. “Oh yeah?”, I ask, looking down. Mistake, don’t look down. Neither down nor back. Life is ahead, not behind. I climb the last feet and as I finally stand on the narrow recess of the rock, I feel like I am on top of the world. “You made it! You’ve climbed a 7 storey building!”, I hear. Really, this building equivalence is better left out.
Regardless of the height I’ve just climbed, which is not much of an achievement for experienced climbers, I have succeeded in doing exactly what I had set for: ignore my fears and go ahead. Another conclusion is that I still have fear of heights. Only not so much anymore: as I turn and lean against the rock, my muscles finally relaxing, I think of all the things that make me feel the way I do. The good and the bad. Those, people and emotions, which lift me up and those which sadden me. They’re still here, they’re part of me, as there is absolutely no escape from emotions. They’ll come and go away in their own time and there is no fighting them, ever. I thought that with enough resolution and hard work some of them would be left out along the climb or that I could leave them on that recess before descending. Like a neat pile of sheets you carefully fold and put aside as you intend to give them away.
But no, what is within your soul can’t be torn out, no matter how pragmatic you want to be about it. So what I have learned today, now that I have fought my biggest fear and looked down to the gorge and to the sea afar, is that everything is pretty much exactly where it should be just now.