What Are You Reaching For?

by helen on March 28, 2013

IMG_5444With aching fingers and wobbly legs, I looked down to see the ground far below.

Queasy tendrils of fear swept up my body.  I took a breath.

In that mini pause, I allowed myself to feel the fear without reacting.  I allowed the emotion to pass through me rather than take hold.  I know from experience that rampant fear unacknowledged and dodged causes me to freeze or stuff it down causing me internal tension and pain.

I was the climber in a pair team – one climber and one belayer – one person climbs and the other belays (holds the rope) and ensures the safety of the climber as they ascend.

IMG_5492I had not climbed in over 15 years.  Another breath.  I was able to look up.  Only 4 or 5 moves to the top of the climb.

Focus and Goal

I remembered my goal.  To get to the top of the climb.

Courage in the face of vulnerability

The wave of fear had stopped me.  I could feel my hands getting sweaty – not ideal as it makes the small holds hard to grasp.

Yes, I could stop now.  Yes, I could feel good about getting back in a harness after so many years and taking myself up a rock wall rather than just helping others climb. Yes, I could rationalize that it was OK to quit early and I’d made it most of the way.  I’d put in more than a little effort.

But I wouldn’t have reached my goal.  The top.

And the only thing holding me back was fear.

IMG_5490Fear and playing small

And the fear was not helpful.  I was not in danger.  I was in a harness, attached to a rope, and being belayed by an experienced person, who also was being helpful and encouraging from the ground.  I knew he had my safety covered.  Back in the day I had climbed much higher graded and more challenging routes.

A part of my brain did not get that.  Thoughts of catastrophe and disaster swarmed my psyche, and my emotions and physiology reacted accordingly.

I looked down again.  I saw my children gaping.  They’re so used to me being  ‘Mom’ or the ‘safety chick’ (they not-so-fondly call me that when I insist they wear a helmet while riding their bikes).  They can’t believe their eyes that I’m straddled on funky multicolored holds on a rock wall 25 feet up in the air.

Re-grounding on the go

I re-grounded (as much as you can, in that position!) and decided that the fear was not helpful in that situation.  I was actually safe.  Fear was trying to keep me small.  I decided to go for the top.

I took another breath, and reached for the next hold, then the next, and before I knew it I was touching the top of the wall and checking for a tight rope before sitting back in the harness to be let down to the ground by my trusty belayer.

I was elated.

It was just one climb at a rock wall but the metaphor was rich.

How many times do we stop before the goal because of fear or discomfort?

How many times do we play small and not stretch that extra few feet?

How many times does fear rule the roost, unquestioned?

I’m not saying ignore fear, or any of the emotions that are less than comfortable to feel.

I am saying it’s important to allow space to seek the truth in the thoughts that may stop you in your tracks.  To notice and allow space for your ensuing emotions.  This allows you to make the choices to lead from an informed, creative and empowered place rather than a reactionary stance.  

This is the space where focus is rewarded, where goals are achieved, where possibilities are born and mature, and where inspired action abounds.

And who knows, you may even have fun in the process, as I did.

Where have you stopped short or gone for gold?  I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg Davis March 29, 2013 at 11:21 am

Very impressive Helen! Allowing yourself to feel fear can be a very daunting thing, but once you do it, you are greatly empowered to do it again.

A few years ago, I took fear head on as well: http://gregdavispsu.com/living-dangerous-without-regrets/

Believe it or not, Madeline can’t wait to do this when she turns 18!

helen March 29, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Wow, Greg this is phenomenal! I was pottering on a rock wall – you were sky-diving!! I just watched the whole video and am still spinning! What an amazing experience and I love how you shine the light on the possibilities and gifts in faith and living fully. Thanks so much, Helen

Linda Brackin April 2, 2013 at 11:41 am

Thank you for your inspiring article Helen. Just when I think I know you very well, I discover you are a rock climber too! I deeply value the way you use the disclosure of your own experiences of vulnerability and victory to encourage and share wisdom with your readers, friends and colleagues. This experience of facing down your fear in order to reach your goal, reminds me of a high ropes course experience I once had (may have told you about it) where my goal was to face down my fear of falling, which had developed following a severe fall and neck injury when I was 40 y/o. My goal on the ropes course involved climbing a tree (on belay), stepping onto a 30 ft high platform and then leaping into the air to try to catch a trapeze, which was actually placed just out of reach for most humans. What I learned that day as I leap into the air, screaming like a frightened animal, is that I don’t have to be free of fear in order to have the courage to act on my own behalf in the interest of any goal that serves me well. Fear is the summoner of courage.

helen April 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Dear Linda I didn’t know this about you – can’t wait to hear the whole story over lunch. I love your line “Fear is the summoner of courage.” So true. Love, Helen

Kathleen June 3, 2013 at 11:25 am

Hi Helen! What a great post; I’m so glad I found your blog/site. Your rock climbing story really resonated with me and you asked great questions about confronting/conquering your fear. My major leap of faith, recently, has been to make a plan to quit my (soul-sucking) job and open a coaching business of my own. I am signed up for the Martha Beck coach training June cohort and can’t wait to begin. Here’s to scaling those mountains! Hugs, Kathleen

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