Climbing scares me. I’m afraid of heights, I’m afraid of falling, I’m afraid my body can’t or won’t perform the moves, I’m afraid I’ll fail, I’m afraid I’ll harshly judge my performance… I could keep going. And I do keep going, up. Whatever the fear, I take a moment, recognize it, allow it to exist and then I do something, anything as long as it’s movement. This is me applying the lessons of Dr. Tara Brach: radical acceptance by saying “yes” to the fear and insecurity, and Rudy Reyes: when you find yourself locked in the cycle of fear, self doubt, or negative thoughts (or addiction, self abuse, etc.) your survival depends on you picking a direction and going. Don’t worry if it’s the “right” direction. Once you’re moving you can reevaluate and adjust your course if necessary. But staying where you are, remaining pinned down in that loop of suffering will be your demise.
At some point on almost every climb, even if it’s just a passing thought, the fear begins to take hold of my central nervous system and I think, “Ok, I’m done. I quit. I’m high enough. Lower me the f**k off, I want to go back down now.” This need to quit is never subtle. It comes from the darkest corners of my soul. My primitive brain, the one that wants to keep me safely in the cave so I don’t get eaten by a T-Rex rages as it fights for control over my limbs. Sometimes it’s so intense that I start to cry. And then I maintain my commitment to myself, the commitment I made on the ground to keep going no matter what, to keep going ’til I come off and then get back on and keep trying. And I keep going.
I’ve wanted to move out west since I was a teenager. Since just after I’d gotten out of high school and was between bouts of homelessness when Molly suggested that I move to Colorado with her. I didn’t go. Instead, I reluctantly joined the Air Force less than a year later. Naturally, I’ve always wondered about the road no taken.
Around 2014 as I was dying a long, slow death in Texas the Pacific Northwest, specifically Oregon was my light at the end of the tunnel. It became my “what’s next”, my “when I leave here”. Going west has been a dream so long I’ve found myself forever talking and not doing anything about it because I’m so used to it being merely a concept. An idea. A thing “I’ve always wanted to do.”
To my credit I have tried twice. When I finally did leave Texas I tried. I made it to Ft. Pierre, South Dakota when the motor in my Subaru blew up. That’s an incredibly short version of how I ended up back in Wisconsin. The second time I actually made it to Portland. I lasted two weeks and then came back to the Midwest, distraught, defeated, and absolutely gutted.
This past year I’ve been dedicated to giving it another go. To get back on and keep trying. And I’ve been aiming to leave in March. Three months from now. The first few months were a fairly easy jaunt. Lots of daydreaming, paying off debt, mild worry and a healthy dose of procrastination. (I am such a procrastinator that I even put off major life events until the very last moment. So when you find yourself putting off going back to school, or quitting your job, or leaving a relationship, judge yourself not dear friend. You’re in good company here.)
And then about two weeks ago I began to have a massive crisis of faith. I had, in climbing terms, hit a crux. The most difficult part of the climb, the section that determines the climb’s grade. In this case, I know it’s not the only crux. I have the experience to read the route and I see at least a couple more ahead of me.
This is not a metaphor: I froze. I stalled and began panicking: I have basically no plan. I have zero money saved. I have so much stuff that I need to get rid of. My dogs are at the end of their average life span and the one is not far from her last days. I have this very comfortable life here that I’ve struggled for years to build. I’ve slugged through emotional devastation to establish myself in this cozy, well lit, one bedroom apartment with my aging dogs and my guitars on the wall and hang-board above the door and my one cereal bowl and single pot for cooking, with my comfy bed and my bad back and quality whole bean coffee in the freezer that’s from Portland and comes with a price tag to prove it. And I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to keep going. I want to stay right here.
This life I’ve built for myself has been my safe ledge. I’ve been in a very comfortable place, resting. Getting new oxygen rich blood into my limbs, letting the lactic acid settle down and dissipate. It was a gift I gave myself in the spring: time to rest and heal before making the move. And I knew that on the other side of that rest I would need to get back on and keep going. No matter how scary it got, no matter what I thought or felt, I had no choice to keep going. I had, after all, made a commitment to myself.
Merriam-Webster defines commitment, as c: the state or an instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled. See that word, obligated? Obligation removes a choice – to stop, to quit, change course. Obligation leaves only one way forward. If not obligated then you are emotionally impelled. I needed to look this one up and I’m in love with it: Again from M-W, to be impelled is to be urged or driven forward or on by or as if by the exertion of strong moral pressure. Read that again: driven on by the exertion of strong moral pressure.
In that way, commitments are decisions to continue doing a thing based on a sort of moral obligation, or emotional need.
A thing I said to Hannah, my dear friend and just as dear climbing partner: Even if I didn’t want to go out west, I need to. The process of getting there is terrifying, difficult and unknown, but Oregon is my view from the top. I owe it to myself to keep climbing. I owe it to myself to see what happens, to at least try, to believe that it all may work out. I deserve to know what’s out there and it is my duty to myself to find out. Regardless of how scared I am, of how much self doubt I’m experiencing, despite how little faith I have in myself or the way, I am morally obligated to myself to keep going.
Small moves. If you’re stuck, look for small moves. Sometimes moving up two inches provides a whole new world of opportunities. It’s the advice I always give when frozen in place or unable to find a way or unsure of what next. Make small moves. Look for anything that serves as a foothold, breathe, and move up.