Falling, Part Two

The threat of gravity contains beauty. Or, more precisely, beauty can be unearthed, unveiled by gravity. Gravity is pure, like truth: it makes no judgements and offering no favors, it simply is. Run afoul of it and you fall, period. It demands excellence of any wishing to resist it. It demands perfection.

I went back to soloing today. I climbed Standard Right to PenguinDracula and Standard Left this morning, finishing up before 11 a.m. since I had a partner for Repentance at noon. I got the urge last night to climb ropeless, and in an instant my hiatus was over.

My goal for the day was not to reach the summit, it was to slow down. My goal was to try to coax the presence I’d found on Dracula last time to more moderate terrain, to test my theory that soloing doesn’t have to continually push the envelope to be centering. “Slow is steady, steady is smooth, smooth is safe.” That was the mantra I rolled through my head as I drove to the cliff. (Actually a variation on Michael’s mantra: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” I’ve learned a lot from Michael.) The ice doesn’t have to be vertical, or even steep. Just breathe, live by those words, and embrace each individual movement. Don’t try to climb the whole route at once. Embrace the process. That was the goal.

Living that, however, is harder than saying it. I started climbing Standard infront of a crowd. Old habits made me rush, which then forced me to climb slow, and not in the deliberate fashion. Brittle conditions had me sending down lots of ice, bombing those below. I felt like an ass, having rushed up in front of the crowd to shower them with debris. I felt like a jerk and a phony, and my self-consciousness and self-judgement kept me out of the moment, kept me from the clarity and the presence I had set out for.

But once I was off Standard Route and on Penguin, back on my own, I was able to once again find the center. I topped out Penguin with a smile, and I climbed Dracula awash in calm — the route just flowed under my picks. I hit Standard Left, a route I’d never climbed, and the clarity followed. I stayed slow, steady, smooth and safe (for the most part), and presence followed.

The biggest challenge, I’m realizing, is not in the climbing, but in the crowds, in me. I let my social anxieties and concerns about judgement subverted my clarity. Gravity offered me beauty, but I kept it at arms length until I was alone. Perhaps the most potent fear I need to tackle has nothing to do with the vertical.

But still, despite human/social complexities, gravity offers one more opportunity to take a step along the path. It gives me a way to push into discomfort to find clarity, and then find within myself the tools to carry that clarity to earth. Today I brought clarity from grade four the grade three. At some point I’ll get it to grade zero.

Gravity, however, also carries consequences, and it has been on a winning streak lately. It caught two of my friends this week, one on Dropline, the other at Texaco. Nick suffered a torn muscle between his ribs; Mikey broke an ankle. Nick is a professional climber. Mikey gets out a dozen times a season. Gravity treated them both the same — neither got away clean. The perfection requirement doesn’t bend, remember that.

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