September 2, 2013

Climb Rock. Find Self. Follow Bliss. ~ Jill Wheeler

“Every day I am thankful for the walk in the woods that led me to the rock; and to the rock, that led me to myself.” ~ Craig McGillivray

Next year will be 20 years since I first climbed and fell in love with it. As I ascended the billion-year-old rose-colored Redgarden wall in Eldorado Canyon State Park in Boulder earlier this summer, I was filled with love, wonder and gratitude.

Climbing with a partner is a funny thing. We have our lives, literally, in each other’s hands, yet 90 percent of the actual experience of climbing is solitary. Eldo’s boisterous waters pour through the valley and most of the communication is through tugs of the rope—a climber’s Morse code—an unspoken language I know well after 17 years of ascending routes with my climbing partner, Christopher. I had plenty of time to think while we climbed Redgarden.

Considering millions of years that went into shaping and forming such a masterpiece playground of rock, I finally had a little compassion for myself and my own growth and formation over the past 20 years. I’m evolving just as I should in my own time, no matter how slowly and unrecognizable at times.

I used to be in such a rush. I worried too much that I was missing something. I had a serious FOMO (fear of missing out). I often second-guessed what I should be doing, instead of just following my path, my bliss. I pressured myself to be productive. I questioned myself more than I would have liked. I listened to stories (sorry, Mom) from my family that climbing wasn’t a realistic profession and it was time to grow up.

Climbing Redgarden reminded me that there is a place for everything in nature. There is a place for me and I don’t need to over-think my purpose. As I evolve, I find more joy and ease in my climbing and myself—on and off the rock.

Not long ago, I believed that I had to leave Colorado to get serious, to get things done, to work, to be an attentive mother. I was too distracted here by my passions. I could easily slip into these mountains and disappear for hours or even days. Now I know I can better balance the growing needs of my family and my desire to adventure, whether I live in Colorado or not. Key word: better (not sure I’ve nailed it, yet). I actively work towards blending the two, not having to choose one.

For a long time I wondered how I was serving the world by retreating to the wilds of rock and mountain.

My mother told me it was selfish (she was scared for my safety) and I felt I needed to do more for society. Now as I achieve more of a balance it’s not so much what I should be doing but how I am being in the world that makes a difference. I know I must live my passion for adventure and I am fortunate to be able to share my passion authentically and wholeheartedly, and to inspire others just because of who I am. The more I appreciate who I am, the happier and more at ease I am.

Some of my Wellfit Institute women’s group members and adventure participants have affectionately called me “Fearless Leader.” But the truth is, I am afraid. Not afraid of normal things—heights, surfing in shark-infested waters, getting too much air on my kiteboard)—but of growing up, paying bills, not being a good enough parent, spending too much or not saving enough. I grapple with the need to climb, kite, play, adventure and explore and to also do my life’s work, serve and at some point “settle down.” I don’t think I am alone.

“We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve the purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.” Does Joseph Campbell mean all our doing in the world is unnecessary? Is the simple pleasure of engaging in our most passionate pursuits enough and the rest of the doing is the cream on top?

I am not sure, but as I sat on the tiniest ledge crammed into a summer-sun warmed rock corner belaying Christopher, I watched the slow pace of the world unraveling and felt no rush.

Throughout the day I counted five pairs of climbers inching their way up a classic route across the valley. I noticed the human trail of chalk and polished rock all over the face of the wall. From across the valley the climbers looked small and peaceful, quietly dancing their way along the ancient rock.

I got to thinking about the foot and handprints humans have left on the rock and how some purists think it’s an eyesore. We do make an impact, but it’s a simple and beautiful exchange up here. We leave little trace, just rubbed-away microflora from decades of climbers crimping, hand-jamming, tiptoeing, scraping and scaling their way to the top. To climbers, these vertical trails are our inspiration, a path of kindred spirits that made their way before us, now inviting us to come along and share the adventure.

The question of whether my doing (or simply being) will pay the bills from this vertical world remains unanswered.

But, one thing is for sure: when I am in the moment, on the rock, living my truth, engaging in my passion, I am not concerned about my worthiness. I know I am enough in those moments. My existence is essential and mediocrity doesn’t exist.

My journey as a climber is much like the journey I wish for my children, my clients, and for you—to relinquish the need to make everything make sense, to be more free and follow your bliss. I hope that your journey informs your purpose and guides you to your own rock.


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Assistant Ed: Leace Hughes/Ed: Sara Crolick


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