Great article (The thing that scares me).
I got in to climbing via a friend. They dragged me along to the local crag and tied me in to a rope. I got scared but I got hooked. Since that very first day I've wished so many times that I never found climbing (or that it never found me) and I've had so many mental battles about giving it up.
The problem, though, is what you talk about in this article and about living a comfortable life. I thought that this is what I wanted – comfort, security, safety – so I began chasing it and drifted away from climbing and into more 'safe' hobbies and interests. The problem is that my soul, my inner furness, drifted away with it.
Today I find myself trying to set goals in other areas of my life but I don't find anything worthwhile to work towards (other than my business but bills kind of dictate that one to a degree). When I begin to consider setting climbing goals once more my inner demon tells me that I'm not good enough to deal with the fear and anxiety that comes along with it. I also hear voices telling me that it's this fear and anxiety that makes me feel alive. It's hard trying to commit to something that you know will give you a really hard time in life yet it's soul destroying not to.
Do you ever get the urge to live a comfortable life and stop living with fear? How do you deal with the voices telling you to run away?
First off sorry to take so long to reply to your email, because if you’re brave enough to write something so honest then that deserves a honest reply (well at least a reply). Also if you can understand yourself, question, find answers, even find questions, then you’ve got the makings of a good climber (and a good person… well an interesting person), as deep thought and self analysis is crucial in any sport.
Most people think they don’t know what they want, but they know what they have is not it. They look for answers, and if they are lucky they find them - but most often than not the answer is a simple one: that what they had is as close to what they wanted, and just needed some tweaking or commitment to make it closer to the ideal. Unfortunately this realisation generally requires ‘the quest’ for this grail - which instead of being made of silver tends to be a chipped cup of tea at Peats Eats. ”Life is a mystery to be experienced, not a problem to be solved” and I guess that sort of sums up a lot of dilemmas we have.
First off don’t imagine what you feel is unique (I guess you know that), you just have fear, something we all have, in fact fear is one of the primary control agents of most living things on earth (unless you’re Alex Honnold or Guy Martin). Fear is what keeps us safe, attempts to set the boundaries within which we won’t be eaten, starve to death, get hurt, have our house repossessed, savings stolen by Nigerian scamsters, or made to look a fool by being honest in our interactions with other scared people. Fear is a wall behind which we can hide from pain, from the tough stuff, from real life, but like all walls it’s also a prison, and that tough stuff, that pain, that’s life, that’s living, the tears, upset, anger, death and tragedy, the most vivid of hues on life’s canvas, the things that made your heart beat fast, not mud slow, sustain, stand out in the end. To have a good life… well an interesting one you can have fear, but you also need to balance it with bravery and boldness. Like holding a hand-full of sand, if you hold onto your safe life too hard, or not hard enough, it will runs through your fingers.
Then we have love, another controlling agent, a strange emotion, illogical and dangerous, one that can counter the fear, makes us brave, lead you to rashness, into danger, even into madness. To ask a girl to go for a drink we fear disappointment, fear failure, and the same emotions play out in climbing, we fear failure, the hurt when the rock rejects us, maybe even death (even thought illogical on most climbs). But as in matters of the heart ultimately no one dies, ego’s mend fast, broken bones as well, even hearts one day. The strongest love will set aside all rational thinking, allow your to throw yourself heart and soul into danger, to short circuit all that hard wired evolutionary coding that is designed to simply pass on your DNA. That’s why we climb - because we fucking love it even though it makes zero sense.
Did you love climbing, like LOVE it! Did it make you feel happy, make you think ‘fuck the risk’, make you smile, make your want to cry in a good way, your heart sink when you woke to rain on a climbing day? Did climbing help to define you, get you through the week. Again did you love it? If so why did you stop? Maybe you felt rejected by it, hated the way it made you feel, maybe instead of each rapid beat of your heart filling your body with energy, the rock, or even the thought of it, felt like a knife blade?
So ask yourself did you fall out of love with climbing? If so do you want it back? I guess you do if you’ve taken the time to write to me (most people, when asking a question, have the answer already).
Well if I was going to be your climbing relationship councillor here’s some ideas:
- Has having time apart been good?
- Did you miss it?
- Do you now just remember the good things, not the bad, how climbing made sense when everything else didn’t - where everything else was just normal life (where climbing elevated you above that).
- Or have you moved on, but scared you can never find something that will make you feel like climbing did?
- Does the idea of a round of golf make your heart beat as fast as the picture of you climbing the Old Man of Stoer, climbing up perfect cracks above a crashing sea?
If you know in your heart that climbing is the only thing for you, then what are you waiting for, get too it. The time you’ve had apart should have given you plenty of energy and drive, but this time start slow and allow you to define the climber you want to be. Read books, do some courses, get out and climb as much as you can. Go about it in a systematic way if you’re afraid of your fearfulness. Set yourself a goal of detuning your fear programming by going about climbing like a job, like a pro, not like a bumbling dangerous idiot (I’ve never seen you climb BTW). Get a log book and do 100 routes of each grade in turn, rebuilding up your fitness, confidence and technique from the ground up (literally). By about the 40th route you’ll be gagging to move on up to the next grade. You need to know that if you fall the gear will hold you, and that that doesn’t matter, as you won’t fall. What makes the difference between a cross channel swimmer and someone who would drown in the deep end of a swimming pool? Answer: a fuck load of swimming!
If you know deep down that life is worse without climbing (there is really nothing else comparable… well apart from sea kayaking, but then you need a bigger car) then what are you waiting for? If you’re not sure, then you really should, so maybe you should move on and just get those gold clubs (or a bigger car).
As for those voices? Fuck em!