Tuesday, September 15, 2009

not fearless

“...being brave doesnt mean you're not afraid--it means overcoming your fear. I have learned that I want to live until I die.”

Fittingly enough, the above quote was the last line in an article in a skydiving magazine, but it articulates a sentiment that I can appreciate. There have been many times I've been absolutely frightened beyond what I thought I could handle, but just as many times I've gotten to experience the growth that comes with making a decision about that fear. I remember hiking the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls as a kid and having to deal with some serious fear--it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. One. Step. At. A. Time. Same thing the first time I did the cables on Half Dome (and second time, because apparently I like that sort of thing). Many moments while climbing--usually when I pause, or at an anchor--I have suddenly felt aware of my fear and had to choose to act despite being afraid.

And it's not some high I'm chasing. I experience no flood of overwhelming emotion when I reach an objective. I am glad when I reach my goals, but I appreciate the process as well. For this reason, I find that I rarely cry at what are supposed to be monumental events, like graduations and weddings. I've had time to consider the implications of failure and success and decide how I would like to respond.

On Sunday, I was frightened. I was inexplicably nervous the entire day I was at the dropzone. I am perhaps most fearful at takeoff, because it is the moment of commitment. Once that plane is in the air, I have a very finite amount of time to mentally prepare for the skydive. I always review the process of the jump, from exit to landing, multiple times until I can see myself doing it completely--much like sending a difficult bouldering problem. When I realize my body is tense, I have to take a deep breath and exhale all the nervous energy.

Skydiving for me has become very much a process of evaluating the possible outcomes of a decision and accepting any of those outcomes. If I'm doing a formation jump, we might not complete the formation. If I'm trying a new skill, I might not be able to do it right away. If my parachute malfunctions, I may have to deploy my reserve. If I don't flare correctly when landing my canopy, I might have a hard landing. And then there's the always the possibility of factors I don't anticipate, like a midair collision or a strange wind or a double malfunction (neither parachute does its job), any of which could seriously injure or kill me or another person. How do you wrap your head around being okay with those outcomes? Any of them?

I'm not fearless. I don't claim to have fear all figured out. But I'm glad it's there. Fear forces me to make decisions and to learn from their consequences. Frankly, I'm afraid of a lot, and on a daily basis. But I can't let that fear incapacitate me. I can't be so afraid to fail that I don't try. And learning to apply that principle to other aspects of my life--relationships, career goals--is a challenge I'd like to accept.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

live it anyway

I'm in a kayak. I'm not really sure exactly how this reference started, but it caught on some months ago with the climbing crew--especially the girls--I hang with. I'm sure that our Monday night pub excursions (complete with doorjamp pullup contests/initiations) definitely helped it along, as they became a place for us to defrag after a climbing session and as we learned to let our guards down with each other we learned to make light of our respective relationship statuses. We came up with an elaborate framework of boat-related references to describe all means of relationship status that still holds water (er, pardon the bad pun) to this day. A kayak, by our definition, indicates that the individual is happily single and on the prowl, but not for a significant other...but for adventure. And so I happily reside in my kayak these days.

In fact, I'd say I'm pretty darn happy most days. Which is why an occasional down day or series of down days can catch me by surprise and send me thinking. I'm more often inexorably happy than not. When I'm not...why is that?

Well, there's the idea that every action has an equal and opposite reaction...or something like that. Which means that when I am up in the stratosphere, excited as all-get-out, there is usually an equal and opposite downturn within a few days that sends me reeling and scrambling to self-medicate with more climbing and probably way too much coffee, and even sometimes solitude.

I've been pursuing all of these things in the last several months that I enjoy very much. I have been able to focus a lot of energy on climbing harder and better and learning to skydive, and I love having the mental and emotional freedom to do those things. It would be hard for me (I say for me, because others might find it easier than I do) to hasten after these pursuits were I not in my kayak, so to speak. And so, I'd venture to say that I've had the opportunity to learn a lot about myself lately.

I learned to say no. I've never been good at saying no, and now the conflict lies not in my ability to say it, but in my ability to not be agitated when I decide to say it. It took me having the opportunity to chase after goals that were uniquely and solely mine and recognizing that to give me a different perspective. I still struggle with “no” every time, but I have a sense of ownership of that decision that I didn't perceive before.

Infused with the cluelessness and persistent optimism of being a 20-something, still perhaps shedding some of the trappings of adolescence, there's a good deal of uncertainty that seems to linger on the periphery. That said, if nothing else, I've learned in the last several years that nothing is certain and that many of the expectations that I held for myself just a few years ago are mostly irrelevant. There's something to be said for figuring out how to hold dreams and then chase them with your whole heart. And no one really teaches you how to do that. One of the things I LOVE about being a counseling student is that my classes are full of people who refuse to stop dreaming...it's contagious.

I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up except a dreamer and doer. And since those aren't really all that tangible, I think it best to take it all one day at a time, living fully. And that means that some days I'll feel all full of vim and vigor (and maybe even a little “rawr”) and others I might need to spend some time on the downswing. I'm gonna have to be okay with that, and live it anyway.

The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. -Christopher McCandless