A few years ago I was teaching a clinic at Earth Treks in Rockville, Maryland. As I walked through the gym, I heard conversations between climbers and belayers. One conversation caught my attention. The climber was hesitating, unwilling to commit to the next moves because she was pumped and afraid to fall. Her belayer “encouraged” her saying: “Don’t worry; it’s all over when you fall.” I thought: “No, it’s not all over; it’s just beginning.”
Thinking it’s all over when we fall is a typical misperception about falling.
Climbers think that since we’re falling through space there is nothing we can do. So, they revert to a passive mode and wait for the fall to be over. This is dangerous and positions us as victims to the external situation. It’s a matter of knowing what to focus on and what we can control.
Falling, just like climbing, is a skill.
Therefore, there are components within each skill we can control. The skill of climbing includes us, belayers and the rock. Belayers and the rock are the external components of the situation. If we focus on them, then we’re focusing our attention on what we can’t control. We can’t control what belayers will do or what features we’ll find on the rock for protection and for climbing. We can only tell belayers what we prefer for belaying style, but we can’t control them. We can control ourselves, the internal situation. When we’re climbing, we can control what we do, such as breathing, staying relaxed, thinking effectively, and climbing efficiently.
Likewise with the skill of falling. We can’t control the external situation: belayers and the fall zone. We can’t control belayers and whether they’ll give us a cushioned (soft) catch. We also can’t control obstacles within the fall zone. If we focus on them, then we’re distracting our attention in unhelpful ways, on what we can’t control. We can instruct the belayer how to give a cushioned catch. We can assess and mitigate the obstacles by placing more protection. But we can’t control the belayers or obstacles that exist within the fall zone.
Even though we’re flying through the air, we can control ourselves, the internal situation. Therefore, we focus our attention on what we can do. We focus on breathing, staying relaxed, looking down, and assuming proper falling posture. Doing this keeps us active during the fall so we can respond to whatever occurs, as well as possible.
Thinking “it’s all over when you fall” is a typical mind trick.
Developing our mental skills requires awareness. We become aware of what we think, what we say and what we do. If we approach mental training knowing that everything we do can be improved, then we stay vigilant to those mind tricks.
We may say “I hate crack climbing.” With awareness we observe that we’re equating “crack climbing” with “hate.” Then we can take the next step. We can ask, “why do I hate crack climbing?” That question, in itself, moves our thinking process toward being aware of our motivation. Crack climbing is probably stressful, so we “hate” it. Since stress is necessary for learning, we’ve allowed the mind to label something that is stressful, that we could learn from, in a negative way. If we’re unconscious, we’ll never get on crack climbs, missing a learning opportunity.
The mind is a great tool, but that’s it.
If we perceive our essence as our thinking mind, then we’ll be lost in the mind. We’ll be victims of it’s limiting tendencies. Rather, we know the mind is something that thinks for us. We utilize its intellectual abilities to think, but we observe it. We take a step back and notice when the mind thinks. We “witness” it. The Warrior’s Way® calls this the witness position. Doing this gives us options to consider.
Mental training is about beginning, always beginning. We improve day by day, but each day we begin again to observe the mind. We vigilantly observe it so we can be powerful when we climb and when we fall. It’s never over. Becoming aware is always beginning.
Practice Tip: Breathing, Eyes, Body
The only thing you can control is you. Therefore, focus your attention within you. Let’s look at falling. Falling is an action. That means you’re engaging your body. There are only three components to focus on when taking action: breathing, eyes, and body.
Focus on exhaling throughout the fall, looking down, and assuming proper falling posture: arms/legs shoulder-width apart and bent. What’s important is doing all of these components as you go into the fall, not before. Visualize sitting back into a chair. Doing this allows you to lead with our hips—your center—positioning your body and eyes effectively.