Transitions and Rock Climbing

Life is full of transitions. I can’t say I’ve ever been graceful with any transitions, which in my world I call “being in limbo” and occasionally, “being in purgatory.” I supposed the general feeling is more like hell though.

Transitions are difficult, often painful, full of uncertainty and uncomfortable learning. Sometimes they require compromises. Sometimes they include reaching beyond our comfort zone. Sometimes they’re downright unwelcome. But they are simply a part of being human.

6 years ago, when my family was first trying on Bend for size, we took a trip down to check things out. We were staying at a VRBO that just happened to have a book called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges on its very well-stocked book shelf. The owners of this VRBO clearly knew who their renters were.

When I first saw the title, I thought it odd to see this book in amongst a collection of travel guides and books of photography. Within the first few pages I found myself fascinated. It is at once a psychology/self-help book, as well as a simply absorbing bedtime read. It not only helped me understand events that had happened in my life decades ago, but also the events that I was grappling with at the time, and nudged my thoughts towards big changes I was considering for the future.

This time of “purgatory” or “limbo” can be dealt with in many ways. In my earlier days, I had most of my life’s major breakdowns in these times of transition. The stress was often unbearable. My anxiety level was sky-high, and I lashed out at this general feeling of helplessness. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned to at least recognize my extreme discomfort in these times, and in so doing, have learned to treat myself more gently and with periods of rest.

Regardless of whether the stuff at the other end is welcome or unwelcome, knowledge that the interval of time and need for a mental shift are necessary and require adjustment (by both body and mind) make the transition more tolerable.

Rock climbing is like this. Half (or more) of the challenge of attempting a new, more difficult route lies in resisting natural feelings of anxiety and fear. These feelings translate into tensing of the muscles, erratic breathing patterns, and “blowing out” too early, all factors that will simply thwart any efforts at endurance or the ability to work through the route. For every foot and hand hold on a route, a balance of breath, body positioning, use of muscles and thoughtful evaluation of the subsequent steps ensures a smooth climb performed at minimal effort. Think Lynn Hill, my first climbing idol and still my greatest inspiration. I’m the first to admit that every day for me is different, in both mindset, how my body feels, and how able I am to achieve this balance. But that’s my general goal. It works well in life too.

If you want to see an example of climbing as an art, see this piece on Lynn Hill’s masterful boulder climb:

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