A few weeks ago I went with a friend and fellow climber to a Chicks Climbing workshop in beautiful Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, and I tell you, it was a game changer. My physical skills did improve over the course of the four days, but mostly I began to grasp the mental aspects of climbing.
There were about 15 of us in total, divided into four groups according to skill level. My friend and I were proud Advanced Beginners. Our instructor was the inimitable Dawn Glanc, rock and ice climber. Dawn started climbing at age 20, which is the age of many competitive climbers. But she loved the sport so much that she stuck with it, and now, in her late 30s, Dawn is competing nationally and internationally.
The most important lesson I learned from Dawn has to do with the process of relaxing and thinking rationally when I'm right in a difficult or scary part of a climb. When I'm seriously "in the business," as Dawn puts it, there is a very specific set of physical and mental steps that I can use to create calm clarity. (What are these secrets? Ah, talk to Dawn about this. She's available year-round on rock and ice; I recommend any workshop where she's teaching!)
Dawn's technique, modified only slightly, also applies when I'm "in the business" on solid ground. This is what I love most about climbing: very much like yoga, climbing is a metaphor for life.
When climbing, I must focus on what is real, what is happening right now, and not on mental projections that may or may not be based in fact. I must also move with confidence, with decisiveness. Making tentative, half-hearted moves increases the chance that I will fall. Or fail.
The great thing about climbing is that you're wearing a harness, and the belayer on the other end of the rope has absolutely got you. If you fall, she's got you. So no worries! Climb on! This is where the climbing versus life metaphor breaks down, of course. Life on the ground can be a lot sketchier.