I'm always really excited when we can squeeze in a trip to the climbing gym. And not because I'm any good at bouldering because... well... I'm not. But this sport is both fun and immensely humbling.
Do I like falling? Good question. What I can tell you is that I like bouldering, and falling is part of bouldering. Falling reminds me that I don't need to be the best and that enjoying a sport is a 'good enough' reason to do it. Just before racing the 60 meter hurdles in this past weekend's Millrose Games, experienced (understatement of the century) Olympic athlete Lolo Jones (and fellow LSU alumna) told USA Today Sports: "I just found out I didn't make the Winter Olympic team a few hours after winning a gold medal. That's going to put anybody in a pretty frustrating, devastating, heartbroken place. Even before I was a professional track and field athlete, I was a runner... I needed to get back to what I enjoyed doing, and that's running and competing. At the end of the day, it's just me out there running and getting back to the joy of it." Yep, the joy of it. And if joy is good enough for Lolo, it's good enough for me. (Spoiler alert, she placed 7th this weekend #TeamLolo). So while falling isn't exactly the objective, the padded mats are practically begging you to take a tumble, which also means that they're nudging you pretty hard to get up there and climb.
Fear of heights, climbing, and falling is completely natural. So much so that if an infant lacks the Moro reflex (gasping and outstretching his or her arms when given the sensation of falling), it's cause for concern. This fear keeps us from toeing the edges of cliffs, walking off of bridges, parking the car half on/half off the top level of the parking garage... basically it keeps us alive. You know where there isn't any fear? In your comfort zone. You know what else isn't in your comfort zone? GROWTH. Combine facing fear with the problem-solving required to navigate the routes, calculating the risk of a move that could either end with grabbing the next hold or taking a tumble, and strategizing the best ways up (or around, or under!) and you've got a recipe for growing mental resiliency. Both the accomplishment of reaching the top and the sensation of falling can be exhilarating, so soak up the adrenaline and relish in that feel-good excitement.
Mindfulness also has a place in bouldering. Because the focus needs to be 100% on body placement and awareness, there's an element of meditation - the interruption of uncontrolled habitual thoughts - that enters the process almost without invitation. Meditation teacher Nick Dickinson supports meditation as something that needs to be flexible - something that can be done anywhere and regardless of what the body is doing. Like yoga, bouldering requires a blatant disregard for some of the typical inner dialogue (the stuff that can sound like "I can't do this" or "I'm not good enough"). In the same way that mental chatter will make balancing in eagle next to impossible, it's more likely to loosen your grip and get your butt off the wall and on the ground.
More to the point of strategy, bouldering is a reminder that I can't just muscle through things all the time, whether it's life or sport. Sometimes the best thing to do is hang (literally) back, assess a situation, and move SMARTLY rather than strongly. The first time Ray and I went bouldering, we could barely move our arms for a couple of days. Typing in the electronic medical records felt like a slow and certain death and the only "comfortable" position for my arms made me look like T-rex. That's because we were muscling through it. Maybe it'll work for a little while, but it isn't sustainable - not in climbing, and not in life. When done properly, bouldering requires both full body integration and flexibility. There are so many more directions than just up and the human body can do a lot more than just pull.
Ray is much taller than me. Overall he is stronger. But I am more flexible. It's so fun to look at a route together and see the ways that maybe his height is an advantage for him, and my flexibility will make a completely different hold accessible to me. What a beautiful way to celebrate our strengths and our differences. It's a natural part of the strategizing, trial-and-error part of this sport. And a good reminder that everyone's path to the top (success) is going to look a little bit different. Do I need to the draw the real-life corollary or are you catching my drift?
Bouldering routes are mostly graded using the V scale to denote the level of difficulty. I can't claim to be working at anything higher than a V1 right now, and that's ok, because everybody has to start somewhere. You know, crawl before you walk, walk before you run kind of thing. But you know what's really cool about the V scale? It's open-ended. While it's rare to see routes labeled higher than V17, there is no ceiling on the scale. Literally limitless.
It doesn't need to be bouldering, but I challenge you this week to try something that takes you out of your comfort zone. See how it affects your mind and your body, and be open to letting it change your perspective. Find joy in whatever you choose to try! Comment below to let me know what you try and what comes up for you in the sport and in your life!