My hand searches desperately for a sliver of rock to grasp. I find nothing. I have to trust my feet and step up. Barely holding on, I move through the crux of the climb as the wind picks up. Heart pounding, sweaty hands reach for a draw, clip into the bolt, grab the rope, feed it through and secure myself on the sheer rock wall before shouting “take!” Finally a moment of rest. My heart is still pounding. I do not want to look up at the next move. “Breathe Janelle.” I say to myself after realizing I was holding my breath.
I recently returned from a rock climbing trip in the Skaha bluffs outside of Penticton, BC. I had not climbed outdoors in 3 years and had forgotten how different it was from the indoor climbing on plastic multicoloured holds precisely aligned in “obvious” routes up the wall. Outside on the rock among the elements it became more real. The risk of taking a big lead fall and doubt in my ability overtook my mind. I was definitely out of my comfort zone.
Experiencing difficulty with what climbers call “head space” for leading, I continually had to push myself. I wanted to lead a route I could not complete the last time I was there 3 years earlier. It was our last day of climbing. As I scouted the route I noticed it was wet from the previous night's rain which made me more apprehensive. However, despite the slick rock, I knew I simply did not have it in me to lead it that day. Equally as important as knowing our limits and pushing beyond, is knowing when to accept them. I was ecstatic I was in nature doing something I loved and had already lead some amazing routes .
I must admit I have a healthy dose of fear when it comes to doing certain things. My nervous system is rather sensitive to the jolts I seem to give it regularly (hence meditation, nature walks and restorative yoga are a necessary balancing practice for me). And it is not just doing outdoor adventures that fires my fight or flight response. I have had a fear of public speaking and lately I have wanted to avoid my professional shamanism training.
With another intensive training about to begin next week, I already feel my heart palpitate. I find myself wishing it was still another month away or that I was done the program. (I still have over a year remaining). I remember my teacher stating on the first class at some point we would go through a period of wanting to quit the program and question our reason for being there. I laugh at that now. A “period” of time? Months of moving through intense emotions, experiencing challenging life lessons that seem to continuously arrive on my doorstep (the Universe saying oh you want this, really? Just how bad do you want it?), to exposing the hurt so that I can heal has caused me to want to run to the woods and escape many times.
What I have come to learn, however, is when we go beyond our limits we gain insight into our nature; we come to know who we really are. In this place we discover our true limit, not a perceived one our mind likes to set for us. If we do not push beyond these perceived limitations, we would always wonder: could I have done that. And in challenging ourselves we experience things we wouldn’t have otherwise. If I let my fear of public speaking overcome, I would not have heard the inspiring stories and inspired others at a highly successful event I created, which required speaking to a large audience for the past 4 years.
I have learned taking risks and moving beyond our fears stimulates growth. It builds strength and resolve. Having done the things I was afraid of, I am stronger and more confidant. And a wonderful side effect of setting goals outside of our comfort zone that we perceive as challenging and achieving them dumps dopamine, a feel good neurotransmitter into the brain (I love dopamine, in fact I have a bit of an addiction to this wondrous natural chemical).
Had I never pushed past my limits climbing, I would not have experienced the flow of my body moving higher on a sheer rock face. I would not have experienced my body, mind and breath merge in a complete surrender to the moment. I would not have felt the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes after leading a climb. And had I not pushed myself to continue my Shaman training when I really did not want to, I would not have ever known the immense courage I embody, the wisdom I have gained through meeting my challenges, the love and acceptance I have or the person I am willing to become.
In the not so distant future, I will return to Skaha bluffs. And I will climb “What’s Right”, the route I have yet to finish. I will tame my anxieties and breathe in the moment, I will feel my body move under an expansive sky and as I reach for the last bolt, clip into the anchor and shout secure, I will blissfully bask in a fresh wave of dopamine. And in that moment where fear and fierce determination collide with grace; I will greet my true nature, one that is capable of anything I set my heart to do.