Stuck Between a Rock and New Place
Thoughts from an embryonic climber
It's all-new. And so damn familiar. The sun warms my back, a trickle of well-earned sweat runs the ladder of my spine. When it comes to sport climbing I am still a fetus in terms of experience. I am still covered in the afterbirth of this physical pursuit. And yet, there is that ping of the familiar. An emotional déjà vu.
"Just above your left foot… an indent. Try that. Trust your shoes." This from my climbing partner, who quite literally holds my life in her hands. I trust her. I have to. From her vantage point, she sees what I cannot, as my face is against the slab, my nose filled with the scent of rock heated by the sun. My willingness and skill are too fledgling to take big risks without a little help from below.
"You're almost over the crux!" Her enthusiasm shivers up the rope.
The crux. The crux, I say to myself. The alarms of familiarity, of knowing, of "hey I've been here before" vibrate through my vibrating limbs.
In the climbing world, the crux is the most challenging portion of a climb. It is what determines the rank of difficulty assigned to any ascent.
In my world, the crux is the most challenging, confounding, often heartbreaking, and thus rewarding aspect of any internal adventure. It is the sticky spot in the journey that holds the gems, the doorways leading to more, the dropping into more of the True Self through surrender. It is the space in which we lose the identities and labels we try to hold so tight. The ropes that bind us to a deceased past or imaginary future—the very same tethers we rail against only to turn about and retie them again and again.
My fingers find a narrow ledge, the width of a drinking straw. I trust my climbing partner and find the mythical shallow toehold she speaks of. I trust her. I trust my shoes. The scrape on my knee stings as more sweat finds its way into raw flesh.
I've never done this wall before. But I've done this… the crux… a thousand and one times. While I cling and wonder where the hell to go next, I realize the necessary elements of trust, small movements, pausing for rest, abandoning ego (again and again and again), the willingness to fail, and the desire for more are the same in any crux.
Shifting weight onto a leg that bounces like a sewing machine, there is enough Irish stubbornness left to push up. There is a bigger foothold, followed by a handhold that feels as wide as a tabletop.
"You're over the crux!" she shouts.
I feel it— in the space between me and the rock. Between me and the hard place. I am no longer plastered, clinging, flattened into the banging of my own heart against unrelenting granite.
The rest of the climb is all pleasure, unbound beginner's enthusiasm. The view from the top is spacious. My buddy waves a fist in the air.
She shouts, "Take some time to enjoy the view!"
I look out into mountain peaks, a green river snaking through the valley, clouds piled up into white sculptures.
Looking down, I wonder where the crux has gone. I wonder, was it even there? Did my resistance make it more difficult than it had to be? Was there an easier way? Will I ever get the hang of this? Will it always be this arduous? Will I always come away with scrapes and bumps and bruises?
I don't stay too terribly long with the view or these root questions; I know they will come back around when I close my eyes to sleep. And my True Self already knows the answer to each is Yes.
For now, I think of the next climb, only wanting more. Always wanting more —which is yet another crux.