The Fear of Falling: In Life and On The Wall

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be suspended above ground? Probably not. But if you get to, it’s the most liberating and freeing experience you’ll ever have. Rock climbing is the ultimate sport for humans that involves defying gravity and physics in all its splendor. From athletes to normal folk that just enjoy the sport, it’s one of the most physically demanding and technical sports on the face of the planet. I’m not here to sell you on the lifestyle, or even convince you that climbing will be for you. But what I will share is my personal experience of how overcoming your fear of falling, relates not only to climbing but also in our daily lives.

I started climbing last year in October 2016 and has it been a whirlwind of ups and downs, with the realization of where my weakness and also where my strengths lie as a climber. I am by no means a professional. There several different styles of climbing out there, but I’ll be focusing more on sports climbing and bouldering. Sport climbing is the practice of climbing where there are pre-drilled anchors on the wall that allow the climber to ascend the wall by a route set. This allows them to clip their gear on the wall for safety. With bouldering, climbers are on walls that are no more than 20 feet tall with crash pads down below for protection. I haven’t found any other method to learn efficiently without repetition and maintaining muscle memory. Forget the training at first, and just learn to climb. When you learn to trust your body, climbing becomes a part of you and becomes less of a fight to reach the top.

I know I mentioned the physical demands of rock climbing, but haven’t dived into what it’s like for your mind. As for someone who has an overwhelming fear of heights and recurring anxiety, consider it the mental Olympics. My first-day climbing involved barely making up ten feet up a wall in the gym. It wasn’t the physical strength that deterred me from finishing, but more of what was going on in my head, move after move. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far in my climbing is continuing to be present on the wall. I had so much trouble with that first step that falling was just impossible to comprehend. What will happen? Will my harness break loose and fall to the ground? Is my partner watching me? Some of these thoughts may come to mind. And just like in our day-to-day, The “What if’s” just overtake the conscious ability to acknowledge that predicament we are in. We become so afraid of what we cannot control in our lives, that it hinders our growth and ability to see a different view of things. The physical act of falling remains uncontrollable but we can always be ready for.

Breathing is really important. I think we take it for granted daily. In a stressful situation, we all have the tendency to tense up and lose focus. It’s important to recognize their stress factors and take in where your climbing skills are. Breathing through your motions not only help prevent injury but can many times offer us to have a clearer mindset in our decision-making skills when things get a bit iffy or outside of our comfort zone. We all have our limitations and also are aware of what feels good, and also what doesn’t. Climbing requires that intuitive mindset. How can you overcome falling, if you don’t understand what it feels like? As practitioners in life, we have to give it our best and take risks in order to improve ourselves. When we learn to feel sensations instead of stepping back to our comforts, it allows the practice of awareness become alive.