Just Add Breath: Climbing Out of the Crux of Fear
19th Jun 2011Posted in: Text 2
Just Add Breath: Climbing Out of the Crux of Fear

Last weekend was a turning point of epic proportions for me as I learned to really let go, trust and sink into the moment. In my mind it makes perfect sense, and I’ve witnessed it from working with so many horses over the years, but it was time for me to EMBODY that as a precipient perceptible – in the whole of my body electric.

My friend Mike who has been climbing since ’77 (before I was born) had offered to take me on my first multi-pitch climb up the First Flatiron, one of Boulder’s classic landmarks, which became a classic landmark for me considering where my headspace had been the 4 months prior. Little did I know how amazingly apt that experience would be.

Regarding my past months of spring: It wasn’t pretty. I felt stuck and gripped with a mental fear so paralyzing I just froze. I had lost much of my noteworthy ebullience and fizzing happiness. I didn’t like being there, but wasn’t clear on how to shift things. It was as if my mind was not only bottled, but compartmentalized and boxed and then drop shipped to a far off place with no return address. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what was going on. All I could see happening was the breaking down of all of the old habits, patterns and stories that held me back from shining my fiercest light.

It was a huge unraveling of stories, old ones, knotty ones, and deeply tangled ones that were getting in my way. It got gnarly, and there were many tears from all the internal breakdown, but I had the most wonderful coach to help me see what was going on and support the process. “Fear is just excitement without the breath,” she reminded me often. And when I went to practice that – to pay attention to my breath – I realized how stuck I really was. I was barely letting life in out of fear of moving forward into new territory.

“Don’t I write about this ALL THE TIME?!” I kept thinking to myself. “Terra Incognita, being connected to spirit, being open to the possibilities, and relaxing into the paradox, doing what you want, what makes you happy, being fearless in the face of uncertainty… etc.etc.etc.?!? This is what I help people with! Geez, Self, this is a big living, emobdied lesson for the all of you…” And, I can attest: it was the most amazing spring cleaning – ever – in the history of Ali.

I liken it to hitting the RESET button.

The day was idyllic and we got an early start so Mike could show me the ropes. I caught on to the rhythm and the rhyme of the protocols, and proceeded up hold by hold, pitch by pitch. My crux was pitch 5 where I learned that my calves burned, and I didn’t want to look down in either direction even if I was tied to an anchor, and when it was my time to ascend, it was breathing and moving through things that made me wish I could click the heels of my climbing shoes together like there was no place like home. When I met the other end of the line, I was happy to learn that pitch 5 was also our crux for our improv route du jour.

The day was a practice in the pure presence of mind and body as a precursor to clear communication between the lines. There is no room for story on the rock, no room for baggage and bamboozlement. There is only space for a relationship of connection and responsibility in the most seemingly precarious situations that persists through fear by committing to being present. It persists through 10 pitches, a drop-off rappel, hidden horizons – and provides stability at the locus of commitment made at each center to be true and awesome together.

On my way down off the the rock, descending a rope length from 2 bolts on my second-ever rappel (the first being over a decade ago), the wisdom of the experience sank in as the rock wall supporting my feet gave way to air, and my hands moved rope with calm steadiness, my eyes focused on what was immediately in front of me and I leaned back into the support my harness feeling exhilarated and serene at once. I had learned to let go and trust that I had full responsibility for myself, for my life, and that I could handle the unknown with grace.

When I was off rappel, I moved over to a rock to swap footwear for the hike down the backside of the rock and waited for my climbing partner to join me. I felt so amazing in body and mind, as if there was no separation between, as if I was perfectly aligned and on center. My friend Lark calls these adventurous moments as a collision of now/here, because you really can’t be scattered anywhere else when you’re in the midst of life and death endeavors that call for perfect attention. I felt this strongly as a pure presence of mind and body fully integrated. Scenes from the past few months of spring reeled through my mind, distantly however, as if part of a long-forgotten dream.

I turned to my partner and said, “Life seems so easy after that.”  In the wake of the experience, I moved in an altered state that felt like I had woken up for the first time, that this is what living feels like. When I recounted the breakthrough to my business coach, she reminded me: “It can always be easy.”

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2 Responses

  1. Jaime says:

    This is beautiful. I’m posting it everywhere.

  2. Rodney says:

    Good stuff Ali. Congrats on a great adventure!

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