Perfecting The Art of Falling
I vividly remember the first fall I took while rock climbing. My buddy took me out to French’s Dome in Oregon. He was teaching me how to lead climb, since I was interested in the new challenge and climbing skill, but only knew what I had learned from various YouTube videos (I do not recommend learning that way). After a handful of rough routes and confusing clipping, I had figured out how to lead-climb. I began to feel much more comfortable and confident - I was climbing, clipping, and not thinking too in depth about my actions. One moment I was feeling completely in control, the next I had fallen twelve feet below where I had been. I had experienced my first fall, and was not even aware of it until it was over. Since that first one, I have learned that not every fall is that effortless or surprising - but rather, it takes a lot of attention, focus, and practice to perfect the unassuming art of falling. And, along with this “art” comes a world of consciousness, confidence, growth, and improvement.
Step one is learning to let go.
The fear of falling and getting badly injured, or falling to your death is a completely acceptable and practical fear. In most situations, I would say that being afraid of falling is actually a beneficial fear to have. The first time I really had to tell myself that it was okay to let go and fall was months after that first experience… when I finally felt that I was an adequate climber and completely understood the fundamentals of lead climbing. I decided that I would take my lead test at the local climbing gym. I knew I would be able to pass this test with no problem, because I was allowed to choose the route I would climb. I felt assured that by the end of the day I would finally be lead-certified and ready to climb with my friends in the gym. To pass the test, all you had to do was climb without missing clipping a bolt, belay your partner, and... oh yeah, take a fall!
The rule to taking a fall is that you have to be six bolts up - anywhere above the sixth bolt you are allowed to fall. I chose to climb one of the easiest set routes in the gym, so this should have been a walk in the park, but the closer I got to the fall range the more I found myself gripping tighter to the holds. Telling yourself to take a leap of faith, and trust that a tiny rope and a man-made structure will be able to hold your weight is a bit harder than I imagined it would be. A few feet above the sixth bolt I finally convinced myself to let go, and pushed off the wall to take my first conscious and purposeful fall. I learned that in letting go of my fear(s) and following through, no matter how undesirable the task at hand may seem, I was able to complete something that once seemed impossible.
Step two is realizing there is nothing to be afraid of.
After finding the courage to learn more styles of climbing, take those first falls, and realizing I was okay throughout it all, I thought it was time to approach tougher routes. I made my way to Smith Rock in central Oregon, home of some of the most iconic climbing in the nation. The walls there are breathtaking, but can also be very intimidating. My friends were climbing on routes that were more challenging than anything I had ever been on. After a few words of encouragement, and a bit of peer pressure, I was making my way up the rock-face. As I was approaching the final holds of this route, I was completely overwhelmed with enthusiasm and positive thoughts. I could not believe that I had built up this grade of climbing in my mind to be this unattainable beast, and that I was so afraid to push myself to climb this hard because of the “what ifs.” That day, I learned a valuable lesson that I try to carry with me everyday - to always push through those fears because they are often far less intimidating and less frightening than they first appear, and that it is always worth trying.
Step three is being willing to push ourselves to grow.
Of course, as climbers, we would like to execute our routes clean (aka without falling), but the only way to improve is to challenge ourselves to fall, to expand our knowledge, and to constantly evolve and grow. Through climbing I have learned to do the things that scare me, and am more aware that on the other side of opposition are victories - big or small.
When we push ourselves to grow we find that we are much stronger, smarter, braver than we originally thought. It is when we push ourselves that we break down the limits we set for ourselves.
Step four is realizing that the more you fall the better you become (as long as you decide to get back up and try again after falling).
Sometimes it feels like falling never gets easier, but the more you do, the more comfortable you get with it. I am not saying that I love falling. I actually hate taking that first fall of the day. Some days I do not even push myself enough to. What I do like is advancing my climbing skills and getting stronger. One of the most important skills in climbing is mental fortitude. So to gain confidence on the wall I push myself to fall. Falling for me now is more of a positive thing than a negative. It means I am trying. Falling is a lot like failing. The strongest individuals seem to fail the most. Through climbing I have learned that it is OK to fail, in fact it is imperative to fail to become the best versions of ourselves. So I will keep climbing and falling.
“Try again, fail hard, fail better” - Samuel Beckett