Shifting Focus

Taking clients and students on peak ascents is a wonderful experience. First there is the  preparation, pulling equipment together, packing what is truly necessary and paring down what is not.  Then there is the emotional and mental readying for what is to come, perhaps the ascent will be extremely physical or involve dealing with fears and anxieties. Finally, the trailhead is reached and the excitement of what is about to begin; the weight of the pack settles into the shoulders, the smell of the forest fills nostrils and the crisp air provides a sense of freedom and anticipation. The toil begins, onwards, upwards, step by step, height is gained, views increase, nature becomes more stark, there is a proximity to the clouds that induces a closeness to higher power, and so it goes on. If the planets are aligned then a peak is reached, the world opens up under our feet and a sense of euphoria sweeps us up.

This though is often when the real work begins, tired, emotionally spent we have to descend with the accompanying tightness in the knees, the proneness to day dreaming and the exposure of facing out and down. This is often the time when fears are outed and it is usually compounded by having to negotiate steep, loose ground. There have been a number of times when someone in my group has frozen, deciding that they are not up to the task. Their skittering feet and the potential of the fall mapped out clearly below them stops them in their tracks. This is when the plea of, “I can’t do it, I can’t go on” really is not an option. There is no turning back and making it go away. So how does one deal with it?

My usual response is to pull out two flat rocks and place them on the back of the hands of the person struggling. I will model how to walk down hill balancing these friends. Immediately, my knees bend, my butt closer to the ground, legs acting as shock absorbers, back straight, hands in front, poised like an extreme skier. This is the ideal posture for negotiating such terrain, feet stick and if they do not, then the loose screes can be surfed. For the mentally drained, focus turns to the back of the hands, the distant view becoming blurred, like a shifted aperture on a camera. While the location is still obvious they disassociate from it and it no longer occupies the prevalent place in their mind, they are disconnected from their fear, they do not worry about their feet or the fall, they think about balancing the rocks. The result is truly magical, fear is replaced by drive, confidence comes from practice and the descent is safely navigated. Accomplishment is the order of the day

If you are feeling overwhelmed, and you are freezing up, what can you do to refocus? By shifting the emphasis to a small seemingly insignificant detail can you replace anxiety with elation? Good luck.

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