Leaps of Faith

Going through my writing notes this evening for something to tackle, I came across an unfinished but promising bit I had once written after a rock climbing session. I reread it, adding and moving things around until it was shaping into something post-worthy, and then I noticed the date of the original note… It’s from exactly one year and one day ago!

Ah, synchronicity. I love hints o’ magic like that.

Without further ado:

I recently [heh] met up with a couple of family members and a friend to hit our favorite bouldering spot on the local mountainside. They showed me a jump start they’d been developing and challenged me to try it. The move began on a rock about four feet from the boulder, with a leap up and over to grab two holds some seven feet from the ground, catching feet high on the wall to stabilize.

Since I am 5’2″, the distance was a little daunting, but it seemed like a fun problem. I was willing to give it a go. I chalked up, positioned myself on the rock launcher, and faced the wall of granite in front of me. Two spotters and a crash pad made it pretty safe to go flinging my body at it… If I bounced off at least I wouldn’t hit the ground hard. 😉

I softened my knees, bent my arms, took a breath, and–

Went nowhere.

Ok wait. I got this. Ready! One, two, threeee– yeeah that seems pretty far. Aaaaaah. Hang on hang on hang on. Thanks guys, sorry. Ok. I got this–

Fortunately my spotters were supportive and very patient climbers.

When I finally did jump off the rock, I landed about halfway between it and the boulder.

It took quite a few attempts to get to the point of touching the holds themselves, although I was still not close enough to stick anything. Each time I tried, getting even slightly closer to making it felt like a big victory.

At very long last, with daylight gone and only a dusky dimness to light the boulder in front of me, I somehow, miraculously so it seemed, managed to grab the hand holds and not fly out onto my backside as had happened once. It took us all by surprise. I made it?! Sweet victory! Everyone cheered. Finally!!!! It was an exhilarating feeling. And it got me thinking about a few things.

It got me thinking, first of all, about the very real, physical act of leaping, as I realized how infrequently we actually jump as adults.  At one point amidst my many efforts, my brother suggested that the ground was lava and, just like we would as kids, to pretend that my life depended on grabbing those two holds. (If it had, I’d be dead. Like cat dead, all nine lives used up!)

Unless you’re into parkour, the last time you jumped onto or down from something was probably none too recently. Yet as kids we jumped all the time. This decline of physical dexterity could very well be an outward reflection of our learned inner rigidity; as we take on “adult” responsibilities and activities, we seem to lose a bit of our freedom to play and experiment; we often become afraid of trying new things or leaping into the unknown. The lava is there, in disguise, but it seems like too much is at risk now to try leaping over it. We got way too serious about that lava.

My bouldering experience got me thinking about life risks, and reflecting on how our movement forward is impeded not so much on what is at stake as the high expectations we have of ourselves when taking a leap, expecting ourselves to pull it off in one smooth feat rather than to break it down into manageable pieces. Such a mentality can really interfere with our ability to progress.

Facing the rock initially, I was expecting, or rather hoping, to be able to make the leap successfully my first attempt. But it was too big of a challenge, and I was not quite ready. Very simply, my brain and body were not prepared; they did not have the information necessary to make the appropriate calculations and pull it off. That’s why at first I just stood there and kept hesitating to jump at all. I had no reference points for what the leap was going to look like, other than seeing others do it. Which was useful data, but there is nothing like personal experience to true your efforts.

As it turns out, I had to approach the problem in baby steps. A lot of baby steps. Jump a little. Land feet away from the rock. Jump a little more. Land closer. Walk up from where I stood and touch the rock, to get a sense of the distance. Jump up to grab the holds from directly below them, to know how they felt in my hands. Then grab the holds and hang there with my feet on the rock, to understand how my feet might fit there and stabilize a landing. As I did this, I became more familiar with the rock and what I was attempting to do. Despite many failures, success starting feeling more and more possible as I came to understand the various aspects of what success would look like.

Making the leap onto the rock was not about having faith that I could jump and reach my goal in one shot, but rather to have faith in myself as I kept on trying. The same carries in life. Leaps of faith are not about singular do-or-die attempts. Rather, they’re about trusting that you are capable of making it happen, of pulling off what you set out to do, of making your goal stick… even and especially though it might not happen right away.

Achievement is a process that may likely require multiple steps to reach. We often forget this. We often labor under the adult version of the-ground-is-lava, so we do not trust ourselves to lift our feet and step forward. The lava, may I point out, is imaginary.

Leaps of faith into new and challenging territory does not mean you have to take off flying blind at the proverbial boulder. Take baby steps. Discover the movements. Investigate the area you’re heading into. Look at it from all angles. Approach it in different ways. Walk up close and touch it. Warm yourself up for the big jump by taking smaller jumps, exploring what the full leap will require of you. Watch others who are already there, who have done it. Then go for a test run, have a taste, get a feel.

The more aspects of familiarity you can create with what you’re after, the stronger your belief in what is possible. Fail forward, as they say. But have faith.

You can do it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *