7 Transformational Lessons from Rock Climbing

FIRST TIME EVER ROCK CLIMBING.

And I started BIG.

On a mountain in Mae On, Thailand, I conquered my fearmy utter terrorof heights. I can't believe what I did! I feel proud and accomplished. And I learned some powerful transformational life lessons. It was beautiful.

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Today, I am victorious and triumphant over my fearful limitations. And I feel incredible.

I am terrified of heights. Totally, paralyzingly terrified of heights. Once when I was eight years old, I got stuck for fifteen minutes on top of a step ladder. I was taking a potted plant down from a ledge and at the top, I was petrified. Petrified, as in completely unable to move. Turned to fearful stone. This was a household step ladder. 

But today I climbed three tall cliffs on the side of a mountain. I couldn’t believe I did it! I’m still surprised. A huge part of my personal transformation from powerless to powerful was searching out my fears. And when I encountered them, to face them straight on and run at them. That's what I did today.

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I told myself to simply pretend to be a person who wasn’t afraid of heights. If people who aren't afraid of heights could stay safe and alive, then so could I. And so I did. 

I conquered my intense fear of heights today, and I could feel it being crushed underneath me. I can’t help but feel so accomplished and proud.

It was exhilarating and empowering. My acrophobia caused several problems today I had to overcome, and the whole experience was an opportunity for learn huge metaphorical lessons. I'm not the first to observe that rock climbing is a kind of spiritual endeavor, which it was for me. Here are the lessons I learned from rock climbing. 

LET GO!

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“Let go! You have to let go,” my partner was yelling up to me.
“Um, ok!” I told myself to let go of the rock.
“Meghan, let go. You’re not going to fall.”
“I’m trying!”
“Just let go of your legs and arms!”
“Ok!” Nothing.
“Meghan, you have to let go!”

I couldn’t let go. I was clinging to the rock FOR MY LIFE. I was trying to let go. I was telling my locked fingers peel off the rock. Some part of me knew that I wouldn’t fall. My partner and the equipment had me. There were countless climbers who had ascended that day, and none of them fell to their bloody end. I told myself all those things, but my body wouldn’t let go.

My body refused to give up its grip even a little bit. I was clinging to the rocks harder than ever, terrified of letting go. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

So, after A LOT of yelling, “MEGHAN, LET GO! YOU HAVE TO LET GO!” I peeled one foot, then the other, then somehow broke the iron-grip my fingers had on the rock. I couldn’t believe I did it. I had finally taken my fear and crumpled it up and thrown it out.

I was so relieved and filled with adrenaline. Even now, I can’t believe how much it took for me to let go. It was a clear life-lesson moment.

What happened when I finally let go? I hung there suspended by the harness and rope. Just like everyone else. I was relieved (imagine how relieved my forearms and fingers were!).

There comes a time when it no longer serves you to keep holding on. It is then that you have to let go! It takes way too much energy to cling to the things that you have to leave behind.

I have had such a hard time with this concept for as long as I can remember. I hold on to relationships when they no longer have value. I hold on to money when I need to put it to use for me. I hold on to jobs that I need to move on from.

Good god, I hold on to my pastthe pain and the glory. I hold on to whatever happens to be in my present moment, regardless of whether better things will come when I give up my grip of the way things are. I hold on to what I think is best for me rather than letting go and making space to learn.

Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.
— Eckhart Tolle

This was the biggest, loudest lesson from today. Let go, Meghan. Let it go.

Rock climbing is a super-shortcut to trust.

 My partner (essentially a stranger I chose to trust with my life) belaying.

My partner (essentially a stranger I chose to trust with my life) belaying.

I didn’t really know any of the people I went climbing with. I went with an acquaintance and some of her friends whom I'd never met. And I definitely didn’t get a safety seminar or a class on the basics of rock climbing. I was just thrown in there.

Entrusting your life into the hands of a stranger is a beeline straight to trust. I learned (or reinforced the knowledge) that I have trust issues. I still have a really tough time trusting others.

I think it is very often good to rely on your own wherewithal instead on others. But that doesn't work in rock climbing. I completely trusted the people I had just met, and it worked out really well.

Rock climbing is such a great trust-building exercise that I think doing it with a romantic partner or would be an extremely effective and beneficial form of relationship therapy! I'll have to try that! 

I have control issues.

A lot of rock climbing is in the hands (and feet) of the climber. But, your safety and your very life depends on a rope, a harness, a bolt stuck in a mountain by someone whose abilities and skills you’ve never vetted, and a fallible human at the bottom of a cliff. There is so much that is out of your control. There’s nothing you can do about them!

My first climb, I used up way too much energy clinging FOR MY LIFE to the rock face every step of the ascent. I didn’t put my hands or feet anywhere that I didn’t feel very comfortable with. I got all the way to the top of the route, but I did it without using my harness once.

I climbed that thing with all the strength I had, clinging to that mountain for my life. My forearms ached like crazy (and my forearms are very strong) and my fingers hurt after my first climb. I couldn’t imagine putting faith in the ability of the those things that are out of my control. And I paid the price. Ow, my forearms!!

Be in the moment.

The other spiritual lesson to take away from rock climbing it forces you to be in the moment. Past and future, along with their regrets, worries, and comparisons don't exist. When you're climbing, your entire existence is relegated to the step you are taking at that moment.

My self-criticthe voice that sounds like mine that yaps away whenever I'm not carefulwas completely nonexistent. Perhaps experienced climbers continue to hear their inner critic, but my climbing mind doesn't have space for it. Rock climbing for me is a form of meditation to quiet the thinker in my head and just be.  

I get a similar quieting of the mind when I'm doing intense exercise. I don't think about the things I need to get done, the things I wish I had done differently, and all the other useless anxiety critiques that my thinking mind churns out.

As a result, I often have important emotional or spiritual breakthroughs while working out. One of my ultimate life goals is to live full-time in the moment. That's where all the good stuff happens, and I rarely spend my time there!

It’s beautiful to conquer your fears.

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We hiked a steep, strenuous trail up to the top of the mountain and then I ascended a tall cliff at the top to reach the rooftop. The view was amazing.

It was so powerful for me, a person so terrified of heights, to rise above her fears and then look out over what she has accomplished.

Below me was the mountain of verdant bamboo and fruit trees, the steep decline and the rich, sprawling green valley of rice fields stretching out beneath the huge, sunny sky between us and the blue mountains in the distance.

 The view across Mae On, Thailand from Crazy Horse.

The view across Mae On, Thailand from Crazy Horse.

HAVE A PLAN but you don’t need to be 100% sure of the next step to take it.

After a few climbs, I started to realize how sticky the shoes are. I could press my toe into a millimeter deep bump in the cliff rock and the sole of the shoe would hold my weight there. They're amazing! I didn't need to use a big ledge to take the next step up.

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Often in life, I'm afraid to take the next step unless I'm 100% sure of it. It's not an adventurous way to live, to be sure. I like to think it's a safe way to live, but it's not. A life without risk is a risk in itself. Rock climbing reinforced the truth that I do not need a perfect foothold to secure my foot somewhere. I need to believe in the step and just go for it! 

Which brings me to...

Just go for it!

At one point near the very top of my third climb, there was an overhang that I didn't feel like I could manage. I told my partner that I was coming down, and he yelled up, "Just try it!"

I knew he was right. I was all the way up there anyway. I had a harness to catch me if I fell. I should just go for it! So I did! So I wasn't able to make it up the overhang on my first climbing trip, but I  tried.

How many times have you not done something that had almost no risk involved just because you didn't think you could? Most of the risks we consider taking on a daily basis are not life threatening. So why not go for it? You're here anyway, aren't you?

What a beautiful day. It feels amazing to face and surmount your fears. What are some of your biggest fears? What can you do to stare them down and make them run? 

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