4 July 2011
A FEW MONTHS ago, I was walking in the park with a friend. He told me how he liked to see if he could hop boulder to boulder, to traverse the length of the park without touching the ground. The rocks look like this:
My friend is 45 years old. I followed his lead. Most gaps were fairly easy to jump across; some took a bit of thought as to how I’d land. I felt like a kid. One of the gaps was pretty big and the landing on the other rock difficult. A long stick lay on the ground. Images from movies popped into my head. I could pole vault over to the other rock. Brilliant. I planted the stick in the ground between the rocks, gathered my courage, and jumped.
The stick held, which was good. My landing was not so good. My foot made it to a vertical part of the boulder, slipped off, and I landed on my left hip on top of the rock. I did, however, manage to hold on and pull myself up. The rest of the way was easy again. I cruised to the other end, bruised hip and all.
I thought about it as I walked home. It had been a long, long while since I spontaneously did something like that. A physical challenge that had some risk built into it, a very real possibility of injuring myself. I took note of the feelings. I felt invigorated; I felt immature; I felt excited. The fall onto my hip was not just a jolt of pain, it was also a jolt of aliveness.
In any given moment, a man’s growth is optimized if he leans just beyond his edge, his capacity, his fear. He should not be too lazy, happily stagnating in the zone of security and comfort. Nor should he push far beyond his edge, stressing himself unnecessarily, unable to metabolize his experience.
He should lean just slightly beyond the edge of fear and discomfort. Constantly. In everything he does. ~ David Deida in The Way of the Superior Man
Today I went rock climbing with my friend, Hannah. It was my first “real” climbing experience. Hannah taught me how to belay and she talked me through some of the harder sections of the climbs. On my first climb I slipped and swung on the rope. Hannah had me, but I bashed my knee and scraped my upper left arm. There was that jolt of aliveness again.
At the top, when it was time to come down, I felt fear as I prepared myself to be belayed down the rock. It’s an uncomfortable feeling being up there, holding on for dear life, chest pressed against the wall, yet knowing that to come down you must let go. You have to let go, lean back, and trust.
After a few deep breaths and a final exhale, I let go of the rock and sat back in my harness. Hannah had me. The ordeal was much more comfortable the next two climbs, although I couldn’t quite reach the top on either. I haven’t determined if that was due to muscle fatigue or fear. I think probably a bit of both.
* * *
I grew up skateboarding in my tweens/early teens and snowboarding in my adult life. Both are activities that lend themselves to high risk of injury. Yet other than a bit of road rash and snow up my jacket and down my pants, I never had a serious injury.
I was very competent at skateboarding and I’d consider myself to be a good snowboarder, and while I don’t think I necessarily needed to injure myself to prove anything, I think the lack of broken bones and sprains is an indication of something.
An indication of my fear, of holding back because I felt uncomfortable. I found a comfort zone and stayed in it. I got stagnant in my skills in both sports because I feared pushing ahead. A few years ago I gave downhill mountain biking a go. I’d head up Mt. Seymour on Vancouver’s North Shore with my older brother and shudder down the trails.
Twice I flipped over my handlebars. It was two times too many. After the second time, the fear overtook me and I had to walk the bike down the gnarlier bits. It was the last time I rode downhill.
* * *
A few last words from David Deida:
“Your fear is the sharpest definition of yourself. You should know it. You should feel it virtually constantly. Fear needs to become your friend, so that you are no longer uncomfortable with it…Own your fear, and lean just beyond it. In every aspect of your life. Starting now.”