Over the past week, I have felt the progress I’ve been making on the climbing wall is in jeopardy somehow. My energy levels have fluctuated quite a bit. I can never be sure how much I’ll be able to climb when I get to the wall, and old fears have started to raise their heads again.
I thought I was over my fear of falling. But it has returned in a new guise. Part of the improvement in skill and strength that I’ve made has allowed me to try new walls and new routes. Some of these are on an inclined wall. The wall leans over you rather than just going straight up, which places more strain on your arms.
It also, I have discovered, is somehow a trigger straight to the core of my fear of falling. Gravity pulls straight down, so when you let go on an inclined wall (either in a fall or while taking a rest break) you’re pulled away from the wall into free space behind you. There’s nothing different about the experience. Either way, the rope, your harness and the knots you tied will hold you. But the experience is visceral. I’ll be fine all the way up the wall, but when I let go and pull out into open space behind me, I feel like falling is inevitable.
It’s a hard feeling to describe, and there must be something (at least on some level) hard-wired about it. The feeling comes about so instantly and with such force.
Today I did some exercises to try to become more comfortable with the feeling. I did some intentional falls (basically just leaping backwards and trying to stay mindful of the experience of having the rope catch me). I climbed up the inclined wall, every so often turning round and allowing myself to rest on the rope while I turned my body backwards, looking out into the main hall of the centre.
I won’t claim to have had any breakthroughs. If anything, I feel like I’m back where I started. But I’ll keep going back, and I’ll keep climbing those walls. After all, feelings are just that: feelings. I no more have to follow the beat of their drum than I have to buy a can of Coca Cola every time I see their advertisement on a wall. But I do have to acknowledge they exist, and, maybe, to get comfortable with their taking up space in my head from time to time.
Every day is different. Progress isn’t necessarily linear. The things I thought I’d dealt with come back to confront me. But as long as the process — doing the climbing — is still of interest to me, then this isn’t a problem. I just have to keep showing up, keep climbing those walls.