closing words (excerpt)

…What I will leave you with is one more idea that didn’t have an adequate place within the paper until now; it might be a helpful analogy.  It is simple and almost physical.  I didn’t speak much about fear, but fear is a powerful motivator to inhibit one’s willingness to be exposed, one’s willingness to engage risk.  Maybe because I am one-part rock-jock I like to make these comparisons to exercise, but if I can explain this well it may reveal why I am so drawn to the mountains, and why I’ll push myself to do the things that seem really scary.

I’ve always thought of fear as a notable negative finding.  In other words, it is not a thing itself, but the negative space that reveals the ‘size’ of what is there within a person’s state of being.  Think of weight lifting.  Whether you are a body builder or just starting out in the gym after making some New Year’s Resolution, you can bench press a certain amount of weight.  Then think of ‘weakness’.  That word means something entirely different to each athlete who speaks it.  To the gym-newbie it might refer to their inability to lift half their own weight.  To the seasoned athlete it might mean that they can’t press 4 times their own weight.  But it is a notable negative finding.  It is not a thing itself, not until the subjective objectives of the athlete conditional to his/her personal state at that moment in time are included in the equation.  Of course if we lift weights, with proper form, rest, nutrition, and by increasing intensity over a course of time, careful not to injure ourselves or cycle into negative gains by over ambitious overtraining, we will break through our prior notions of weakness and will establish a new meaning to the word.

Now imagine that there is some muscle in the brain that we can exercise through exposure- engaging in risk and new-experiences or ways of thinking.  We can stretch and strengthen those brain muscles with intentional exercise.  We can also strain the muscle- tear it by over training or performing at a level way beyond our present capacity.  The training that results in positive gains might be called a growth-zone.  The training or performing that tears muscles might be called a panic-zone.  And the training or lack of training that results in muscular atrophy could be called a comfort-zone.  What we feel when we try to lift some metaphysical weight but it feels difficult I am calling ‘fear’.  And of course there are degrees of that notable negative finding; some that we can push through and others than are absolutely debilitating.

So fear is muscular weakness of one’s will.  It can be exercised and strengthened.  This is why I climb.  This is why I often choose ‘hard-roads’.  This is why I attempt to be intentional with the choices I make.  This is why after years of rejecting ‘higher-education’ I have decided to get my undergraduate degree.  And there of course are many more examples and many more ways I could better engage this personal training.

But maybe that idea is helpful?  It has been for me.  It reminds me of the values my high school yoga teacher, Bob Butera, would teach: “slow and consistent, balanced.  Do a little more.  What’s important is that you continue the practice everyday.”

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  • Rebecca

    I know why you go to the mountains. It is the same reason I accepted marriage.