I have reached the end of a trip to Red River Gorge in Kentucky with a friend, a very wise friend may I add. She has been climbing longer than I and has dealt with many of the same climbing (and life) struggles as I am/have.
As I’ve mentioned before, lead climbing (where you bring the rope up with you as you climb and clip in to bolted metal in the rock at various intervals for protection) has always been a very mentally engaging and fear-striking event for me, but I’ve been intent on overcoming my fears about it anyway. Why? Because I started climbing to overcome frustrations with rotation in grad school and then realized it had powerful applications in other parts of my life as well (read more at my guest blog article here). I’ve found every time I push my mental limitations in climbing, I also take on more challenges in life in general and push through struggles with ease.
Similarly, every climbing trip I take, I learn more about myself and my own limitations and mental blocks. This time, I learned a lesson straight from my friend’s mouth. As I was struggling with a move that really wasn’t hard but seemed for me a scary move, I continued down my usual path in times of crisis of blaming everything around me except myself. “I don’t like this.” “This doesn’t feel great.” “This route is dumb.”
My friend belaying calmly reminds me about the book we’ve both read (“The Rock Warrior’s Way” by Arno Ilgner- highly recommended, by the way) and how statements like this are energy leechers. “Accept the way things are; don’t wish them to be different. Work with what you have.” she relays. A lightbulb clicks in my head and midway through an energy leecher, my thoughts change direction. “She’s right. Why am I blaming the rock? The rock is just here, continues to be a rock, and though I love climbing, I am wishing it to be something else. It rained last night, so it is wet- but I can’t change that either. It is what it is,” I think.
This leads me to productive thoughts like: “I have this foot hold and this hand hold and if I hold my body into the wall and slowly inch up, I should be able to reach that better hold there and reach the next bolt. It’s not great, but it will have to do- and I’ve climbed on worse.” And in an instant, when I stop trying to make things different, my body does what I’ve asked it to do and I am safely attached to the next bolt.
Even if you are not a climber, I’m sure you can see how a negative “wishful thinking” mentality is one that applies negatively in life in general as well. When you are taking a test and realize the questions are not what you expected, one option is to blame the test maker and the other is to accept that these are the questions that will determine your grade and so you have to do the best with what you know. And perhaps if you have committed to someone and can’t stand a habit they have, one option is to blame them and continually try to get them to stop and the other is to accept that this is how they are and they will only change if they want to (not you) and it isn’t worth injecting more negative energy into the relationship to make them change.
It is not easy to accept things as they are. I had another moment of realization during this trip in this vein about my respiratory issues (from a heart defect called a vascular ring repaired at 8 years old) which has until the last few years limited me a significant amount from physical activity and even now continues to make it extremely difficult for me to hike uphill with large amounts of weight (read: I sound like I have never exercised a day in my life and huff and puff and look like I am dying.). If you care about details, the problem is that my trachea still has a kink in it from being impinged and is weak and when I am breathing hard due to physical exertion, my trachea collapses in on itself making it even harder to acquire oxygen.
It may be overcomeable through intense respiratory training…and it may not. I have asked a few respiratory therapists their opinion given my history and their answers bely a complete lack of knowledge regarding people like me actually getting to the physical capacity that I am at. Basically, it is an amazing feat to have gotten where I am with my condition and at this point, the medical community has nothing to offer me. All invasive procedures (like tracheal splinting or even tracheal replacement- the newest medical advance in this area) that may help have been shown to have horrible side effects or not even be beneficial with exercise tolerance. And I don’t know of any doctor that would do such a risky procedure on someone with the quality of life I do anyway.
Despite all of this, I continue to feel awful when I don’t carry an equal amount of weight as others when climbing or backpacking. I continue to try because damn it, I’ve gotten this far- why can’t I just be like everyone else? I feel in my mind like I should be as capable of others, but then when my body proves me wrong and shows my flaws, I am embarrassed and feel ashamed to be me.
From this trip, I realized I am going to have to accept that my friends love me with flaws and all and most will be willing to take more weight uphill just because they are happy to be sharing moments with me. And if they aren’t, I am going to have to accept that struggling uphill is part of my MO. It will have to be enough.
Moreover, I’ve decided I am going to try my last resort (intense respiratory therapy with packs and hills) and if it doesn’t work, I am going to have to accept this is who I am and how far my body is willing to take me- and be appreciative that it has taken me this far.
Is there something you have a hard time accepting in life? Are there energy leechers you utilize in order to continue preventing acceptance?