Yesterday I went climbing with some church youth and friends. My group of five included several young people who don’t know me very well although they are good friends together. I was impressed with how they cheered one another on and made supportive, helpful comments, particularly when one girl got a bit anxious. I tried to use some of my best therapist honed skills in encouraging them, being motivational and hopefully reassuring. Understandably perhaps I didn’t receive quite the same support back. Although it seemed a good idea to be part of the activity rather than just watching, I got the distinct impression that they weren’t bothered to pay any attention while I was climbing, preferring to chat amongst themselves and leave me to the care of the thankfully helpful and competent instructors.
Of course, I wasn’t unsupported. The ropes, harnesses, carabiners and other climbing metal bits all performed their functions effectively. Equally importantly the guy on the other end of the rope knew what he was doing, gave good instruction and encouragement and ensured safe ascents and descents for all of our group including me. He even tried to persuade me to have a go on the last wall although I wasn’t so bothered. If any of the group had tried to persuade me, I would have been up for it. I think my lack of enthusiasm could have easily been overcome if I’d felt I was letting any of the group down or that any of them would have been vaguely interested in my achievement. I guess I was just a random adult to them, albeit one who had tried to model positive attitude and encouragement throughout the session. They probably had no idea how much I would have appreciated some encouraging words.
Part of this doubtless reflects other areas in my past where I haven’t felt well supported. It’s probably important for me to recognise the support I don’t always see at first. For example, there was significant support from others to facilitate the climbing activity. One generous couple had contributed the vouchers that meant we could all go climbing. Other supportive adults had driven us across town to get there – further vital assistance with a good size group of teenagers. My friend who had organised everything worked so hard to make sure it all went smoothly.
At the end of the evening there was a chance to do some free climbing on the boulder wall. This allows much shorter climbs above very padded ground without ropes or harness – even if you fell, the small distance and padding should prevent injury. In a way this was climbing without support – most of the young people had a go although I was happy to sit and watch by this stage. One of the girls demonstrated just how much she trusted me by leaving me to watch her half-eaten pack of maltesers. Some of the other climbers were clearly more professional but even they found parts of the boulder walls challenging. I didn’t witness anything quite like Tom Cruise’s epic opening scene to Mission Impossible 2, but you may not be surprised to hear that he wasn’t exactly climbing without support either.
Other observations from the climbing experience included how sometimes even a small step up can make a big difference. Faced with no apparently useful holds above you, moving to a slightly higher foot hold may open up a range of new possibilities. It also keeps you feeling like you’re going somewhere. Things which seem scary and impossible may not actually be either of these. You are capable of a lot more than you think, especially if you are well supported by others. I don’t look like a climber. I wouldn’t call myself a climber. But I climbed. We all did.