Rock climbing, my latest adventure, required more precise verbal communication than I expected. So, in that way at least, the sport is perfect for me.
New vocabulary and new shoes! Be still my heart!
To get vertical, I first needed to learn the lingo, beginning with "beta" (information about a climb), "belayer" (the dude or gal on the ground managing the rope), and "grigri" (a handy belay device that would pinch the rope and catch me if I started to fall).
I also needed to learn the call-and-response commands that precede every climb.
Climber asks: “On Belay?” (Are you ready to belay me?)
Belayer answers: “Belay on!” (Slack in the rope is gone; you are safe.)
When the climber is ready, she calls: “Climbing!”
And the belayer confirms, “Climb on!” (Yep, go for it! I’ve got you!)
Once I could remember and repeat it all, my new friend Marcus—a climbing guide and teacher—threaded a rope through the belay loops on his harness, and through mine. We were both tied in.
Then he told me that climbing partners inevitably develop a profound relationship with one another.
Thus, I was reminded: In climbing, as in life, clear communication builds trust.
And yet, how odd it felt to be tethered, even briefly, to another person.
In The Untethered Soul—a book I read last summer while exploring my transition from full-time employment to solopreneurship—Michael Singer offers that if we constantly narrate the world from inside our heads, we can’t experience it.
Our “inner troublemaker” distracts and distorts. She blows obstacles out of proportion and saps our will.
She might even minimize a moment of magic as mere coincidence.
As we packed up for my first outdoor climb, almost inconceivably, another dog-eared copy of The Untethered Soul surfaced in Marcus's van.
Even my inner troublemaker knows, this title is not typically part of the Climber Dude’s Literary Canon—if there even is such a thing.
Singer wrote: “Your center of consciousness is always stronger than the energy that is pulling on it. You just have to be willing to exercise your will. But it’s not a fight or a struggle. It’s not that you are trying to stop the energies from coming up inside…They are not you. You are the one who’s watching, and that one is pure consciousness.”
I knew what he meant.
To scale a sheer rock face—even while connected to a rope, a failsafe pulley, and a highly skilled human—I would need to be peaceful and centered. I would need to be fully conscious.
If I gave in to fear or distraction, I would violate the tacit contract I had entered into with my climbing partner: to keep him safe as well.
Abby Rowe, a dear friend who also is a certified climbing instructor, put it this way: “If you are not capable of giving your undivided attention, you need to say, “I cannot belay you right now.”
She said: “Can you imagine if in the real world we could say to each other, ‘I am not able to listen right now, but if we wait just a little while, you will have my undivided attention.’?”
But why can't we do that?
From today forward, why can't we accord everyone in our lives the same presence of mind we would a climbing partner?
If we lose our job, break a leg, or are diagnosed with cancer, won't we need someone with two solid feet on the ground and a rope around her waist?
Don't we all need focused, unconditional support?
And assuming we know we need it—I know I do—can we also find it in our hearts to give it?