What the hell do you do when you’re having a panic attack clinging to a rock face 600 feet in the air?
This is the situation I found myself in this past weekend as I attempted to conquer my fear of heights while climbing Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain. It was the first time in my life that I thought I might actually die, and presented me with quite the dilemma. As the panic set in, I experienced the fight or flight response I know so very well start to take hold. Except this time, there was no-one to fight, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be flying anywhere. After a minute or two of blank confusion there was a realization that staying put was not an option either — the mountain sure as hell wasn’t going anywhere — and I needed to press forward (and upward) if I was to get back to the footpath.
Forcing myself to move, I concentrated hard on the just next foothold — just the next handhold, nothing else existed. The next 200 yards felt like 200 miles but as I moved, I noticed a feeling of self-trust that I can’t recall ever experiencing before — a confidence in my grip, my footing and my ability to complete the task regardless of the fear I was feeling that felt almost primal in nature. I guess this is what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi would call a true ‘Flow’ experience.
In truth, Snowdon in not a particularly difficult mountain to climb — my (previously) crippling fear made it so. However, the whole experience got me thinking: What would my life be like if I treated all my fears like being on the side of a mountain, with no chance of retreat or escape, only progress. What lies beyond fear?
I’d love to hear from anyone who’s had a similar experience!