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Climbing and Spirituality

Original Post
Don McGrath · · fort collins, CO · Joined May 2008 · Points: 40

In this interview, Jon Lemmond shares with us what he has learned about climbing and spirituality.

Read the whole interview here:

Here is an excerpt:

Don:    Can tell us how you discovered rock climbing?

Jon:     Being a pastor can be quite stressful, and one of the ways I dealt with this was to workout regularly. I used to go to a gym at the local college, and I would run on the treadmill.

One day I walked in and just simply had an existential crisis. I said to myself, “I cannot get on this hamster wheel one more time. It feels like death. All I do when I’m on it, is think about work. It’s stressful. It might make me healthier, but to what end? I just absolutely hated it.”

And so I walked out of the gym. And yet I needed to do something. I was in my mid 40s and I needed a way to deal with stress. I needed to get myself out with a different community. And I just bummed around and tried to look for things.

And then one day, I got a Groupon in my email for the local rock gym. And I went, not expecting too much from it. And I so fell in love with it that first day, that I haven’t looked back.

It’s given me new community, it’s given me challenges that I never imagined. It has given me resources and ways of thinking about who I am and the world that I inhabit. It has just really been life changing. It’s probably one of the most significant life changes that I’ve ever experienced.

Don:    I love that story, Jon, because a lot of times climbing is a pretty self-serving activity. But I’ve come to believe that it can be transformational. And that's part of the reason I started this project. So I love your story.

Can you remember when you first realized the significance of rock climbing in your life?

Jon:     I think that it was the first time that I climbed outdoors, where I had to face a sheer rock wall that didn’t have colored holds. I had to navigate elements of height that I had not had to encounter in my gym before. And the ways in which I was just laid bare by the power of being out in the world, and so up high, was so scary and so exhilarating.  And it made me feel so in touch with myself.

I remember the exact place where it was. I remember that climb. It was a 5.7 climb that I was doing on top rope. Man, I felt so alive when I was doing it.

And that really led me to the biggest thing about climbing that has helped me, which is the way in which I think about fear and failure.

Don:    Can you tell me more about that?

Jon:     I think fear was definitely something that I wanted to avoid. That seems a normal response I think for most people. And I think one of the reasons we really want to avoid it is because we confuse what fear is.

You can even hear it in the way we talk. We say things like, “I am afraid.” And when you say that, you’re actually making fear your very being, your very core, rather than recognizing it as a feeling, a feeling that can be both analyzed and overcome.

And so when I am climbing outside, it's amazing how I’ve had to grapple with fear in ways that I didn’t have to in my normal everyday life.

A recent example that is interesting: I've recently got into Trad Climbing, which I’ve just fallen in love with. We were out at a local crag, and it was my first trad lead. I led it, and I was climbing at sometimes 20 feet above my protection. I was so focused in having such a good time, that I didn’t even notice the fear.

Then, my partner led the next pitch. When he was belaying me up, where I was essentially on a top rope, I felt very afraid. This really troubled me. I had led the previous pitch and had been exposed to places where a fall would mean sure injury, yet I was more scared when I was in a much less risky situation.

And what I began to figure out was that the wind had picked up on the second pitch, and it was blowing my clothes and blowing in my ears. And I had just this visceral response. It made me feel afraid and I think the old me would have just been stuck in that fear. I would have thought, “I am afraid,” and then “Oh my gosh. I'm going to fall and something bad is going to happen.”

But when you realize that fear is a feeling, you can look at it; you can hold it in your hand. You can put it in a part of your mind, where you say, “what's going on? Why am I afraid? Oh, I’m afraid because the wind is blowing. And it’s bothering me.” And when you can name the fear and realize that you are separate from it, then you can enter into all kinds of situations in life, and not run.

This week, I had one of the worst experiences a pastor has to face, which was to be with a family whose young son had died. And in those situations you feel those same fears, “Oh, this is really scary.” And you have that fight or flight response. I want to run. I don’t want to be present. This is really awful.

But because of my climbing experiences, I am able to say that I am not afraid but I feel afraid; and to understand why I feel afraid; and then make choices that then counteract or otherwise help me deal with it or work in concert with it.

So that has been really helpful for me and my job, because I encounter a lot of stress and a lot of difficult situations that are really hard for people. And so fear can be a very lurking thing.

But now I’m not afraid of fear. It can often tell you something that’s really important. But you just have to separate it; you aren’t the fear.

Jon Nelson · · Bellingham, WA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 4,675

This seems to be more about fear than spirituality. But it is an interesting excerpt - thanks for posting it. 

For me, fear seems to happen because I don't trust something such as my tie-in knot. I don't feel like "I am afraid" as Jon says above, rather I just have to convince myself to either trust that thing or somehow enjoy the experience of feeling scared. 

It is interesting that he felt more fear while following than leading. I notice that a lot, though I will choose to avoid the most dangerous leads.

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 451
Jon Nelson wrote:

This seems to be more about fear than spirituality. 

Hmmm... this is a good beer&campfire topic.   I.e.  What is spirituality?   

It is interesting that he felt more fear while following than leading. I notice that a lot, though I will choose to avoid the most dangerous leads.

I quickly found that I climbed better and was less afraid when leading.   I think it was because I was more focused.  I usually chose the intimidating leads.

Hey Don, when are you guys gonna show up in RMP?  

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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