two climbers on a rock wall; one coaching, one climbing

photo: Creative Commons (Wikimedia: Jarek Tuszynski)

Who here has ever gone rock climbing?

I’m going to tell you the story of the first, and only time I went rock climbing. And I invite you to listen to it as a story about going rock climbing, or perhaps as a story about our life journey, or the path of the spirit.

I was about 13, and I went with a group of kids from my summer camp. I was really excited. I had never done this before! We got to the base of the rock face which was about as tall as our sanctuary ceiling is high.  We met the instructor who told us he had years of rock climbing experience, and explained how the harness and ropes would keep us safe, and how he’d belay each of us as we took turns climbing to the top.

Finally it was my turn and I was so psyched! I got strapped into the harness, snug but comfortable, and began to climb. I loved this connection with the earth and feeling the strength of my body as I pulled myself up the rock.   … until… I got to a place where I um… [begin to mime reaching for holds…] couldn’t quite find where my next move would be…  and [ start to get freaked out, and build to a crying blubbering freak-out…] “ I can’t do this! Help! Get me down from here! I’m scared! I want my mommy!” … until I heard a voice saying, “Martha. Martha, listen to me. You’re going to be okay. Just listen to me. Now take a deep breath. [mime this, with wimpering panic]. Listen. I can see where you’re trying to go and if you listen to me, I can talk you through your next move, but you have to hold on to the rock and let go of your fear. Your fear is only going to get in your way.”

Okay, I said…. And I did what he told me to do. It wasn’t easy, that first move. I had to reach to a place I couldn’t even see. And I had to stretch in ways I’d never stretched before, use muscles I didn’t know I had. But I did it and that day I made it to the top.

And I realized that in that moment, I felt like fear had me in its grip, like fear was gripping me tightly. But when I saw that actually, I was the one gripping fear, I realized I had the power to dig deep into my courage to take a risk by trying to let go of that fear.  And I learned that often, when we’re afraid, there are people near us who can see where we’re trying to go, and who have a different perspective on things, and perhaps some wisdom and experience they’re willing to share. And they can help us take those scary steps so we don’t have to do it all alone.


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