Saturday, June 18, 2011

Letting Go in Lead Falling


I didn’t want to write about lead falling. I hate lead falling. My psychological nemesis is and has always been feeling comfortable with taking lead falls. Over the years I’ve been able to at least do them. But I hate them. Does anyone ever feel ok with falling?

There is more than my distaste of falling for why I haven’t written about it until now. The main reason is that everyone has already written about falling. Climbing magazines write about it all the time and climbing teachers (like Arno Ilgner) have made careers on helping people feel comfortable with falling. Falling is a central component in learning to climb both mechanically and psychologically. I have read every article and book out there on lead falling and even taken a class on lead falling so why didn’t it help me? It seemed to me that I did everything on their collective lists of things to do:

Learn the mechanics of a dynamic lead fall so you feel safer. Check.
Get a trustworthy belay partner. Check.
Desensitize yourself by taking repetitive intentional safe lead falls. Check.
Desensitize yourself further by making yourself work through you fear. Check.
Arrive at having conquered your fear. Uh, no check.

It’s this mechanical approach to conquering fear that hasn’t worked for me yet. It seemed like there was something in me they were not addressing that would help me get over this *mostly* irrational fear I have. I understand the mechanics of lead falling and feel safe but I still can’t turn off this primal instinct to not fall that can hit me like a panic attack.

Then I had an epiphany – of sorts. I saw the movie Black Swan. I know you’re probably saying, what does a movie about ballet have to do with rock climbing? One thing: perfection - my other nemesis. In the movie, the choreographer is trying to teach the lead dancer that in order for her to be perfect she has to let go. She of course doesn’t get this as she has learned the mechanics of dance perfectly. So she doesn’t understand why this hasn’t won her the success she thinks it should. It’s the same with lead falling for me. I’ve learned the mechanics of lead falling perfectly yet I haven’t been able to let go. Literally let go and figuratively let go.

Letting go of what? Control. How do you let go of control in a sport that demands its? How do you let go of control when even a lead fall has controls in it? How do you let go of control when it feels to me that control keeps me alive and free from injury? If this wasn’t my nemesis I would probably have amazing answers to these questions. But I don’t. This is where I’m at in my growth – a reluctant lead faller.

How about you? Do you have any lead falling tips you would like to share with a reluctant lead faller?

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