My first draft of this blog post was a detailed description of my recent Red Rock climbing trip. The salient points were, a) I am good at climbing rocks, b) I know some good places for Asian cuisine in Las Vegas, and c) I am moderately witty. Realizing I spent far too much time coloring such a story, and valuing your time, dear reader, I will spare you my narrative of rock climbing heroism, and ask you to trust me on these points.
What I would rather illustrate is the notion of finding one’s self through suffering. By “one’s self,” I mean some greater understanding of who I am, or what I’m capable of. Whilst climbing last week, on the side of an obscure rock, miles from anybody besides my climbing partner, I found myself fully panicked and hyperventilating. Tiptoeing and thrutching up the face of a mountain, I surprised myself by resisting gravity over and over again. The route (Time’s Up, 5.11d) had an exclamation mark next to it in the guide book; I interpreted this as a sign of exciting climbing, and it certainly delivered. The climbing itself was not unique or terribly difficult, but the protection was extremely marginal. Climbing bolts traditionally provide a sense of safety, but in this case, the bolts were homemade hangers as old as my dad, rusted and unlikely to stay in the rock if I fell (to keep me from plummeting to my death). I did not test the theoretical protection; in my mind, falling was not an option. I own the responsibility for being in this situation, and do not ask for pity. I was clinging to the side of this cliff because, to me, it was a matter of aesthetics and of pushing boundaries. I defied my partner’s suggestion of retreat, because the climb followed a beautiful corner system up a brilliant path of varnished sandstone. I thought I could do it, but didn’t know for sure. This brings me to the reflection…
Where do we find an accurate reflection of who we are? In our lover’s eyes? In the criticisms of coworker? In our journals, facebook pages, or engrossing blog posts? Am I, Calvin Laatsch, the climber, the guide, the scholar, the spiritual seeker, or the buffoon?
Trying to nail down an identity is quite silly. I don’t believe a label would help me at all. Knowing myself is about seeing the raw, bare essence. When I am 400 feet above the ground fearing for my life, sticking to an improbable piece of rock, it is belief in myself that keeps me from falling. It is so amazing. I want everyone to experience this. Not the fear, but the opportunity to confront limitations and to proceed by sheer will and faith. This may happen at work, at a dinner party, or a softball game, anytime we must perform. Sometimes these things blow up in our faces, but without taking risks, we won’t know ourselves. When I am freaking out in the middle of a stiff route, I can’t build an identity in that moment; I will either stay on the wall, or I won’t. I can’t color my performance in a favorable light. It is black or white.
Is this a grim conclusion or one of great hope? I dunno. I want it to be a reminder. A reminder that our true nature is revealed in each challenge of our lives regardless of what we try to show, and when we reveal it to ourselves it feels pure, real, and free.