Observations about a harmless fall while climbing.
– Receiving the moment without condition –
We had just begun a short practice climb on a sandstone cliff. I was standing on the ground, belaying her, and she was 30 feet or so up. She was climbing an overhanging rock wall when she fell without a sound. Hanging from the tight rope, she sailed away some four feet clear of the rock wall, far out into the open space. Her arms and legs were spread apart, frozen in a posture of intense awareness. She didn’t spin, just floated away on a magnificent arc at least 30 feet, and then stalled in mid-air, weightless for a brief moment, and returned – a swinging pendulum.
I felt the pull on the rope and a slight vibration. For a split second I looked into her eyes when she swung past, 10 feet above me, and experienced a fleeting and yet enduring instant of supreme clarity. It was like a flash of recognition, we tried to talk about it later, but there wasn’t much more to say. And in a way, speaking about it only distracted, almost corrupted the truth of this moment. It was all there in the blink of an eye, nothing to add, nothing to explain. It was as if our individual perception had merged into one mutual experience.
Falling while climbing is by no means desired, but if and when it occurs, the only thing to do is accept what has happened, regardless of desire: the resignation into what happens, the sweet surrender into the now. In this case she was suspended in the air, helplessly hanging from the rope; there was nothing she could do but ride out this breathtaking swing and fly parallel to the wall, wild, free, in senselessly beautiful motion.
The idea of climbing is to play with gravity and friction, to move your body mindfully and efficiently over the steep surface of rock without slipping or falling. Reaching the top may be the immediate goal, but what matters even more is the integration of individual moves into a harmonious flow of intention. Thus, falling during a climb is usually a defeat. But she had peeled off the rock very gently, almost in slow motion, nearly without resistance. I saw the fall coming, and felt no excitement or shock. It wasn’t that difficult a climb, and because there wasn’t much challenge in it, she had not been that motivated. Looking back, I think the real “meaning” of this climb, for both of us, was this fabulous swing.
She let go and flew. What a sight it was! What a wonderful, glorious feeling. No thoughts, no need for words – and at the center of our shared experience remained complete tranquility.
I felt her weight on the rope, saw her stay clear of the rocks, saw her holding her body in this indescribable delight of pure perception, as if listening. Like a perfect Yoga posture, her whole body formed an ultimate gesture of open acceptance: receiving the moment without condition. There was a touch of fear on her face, but there was also exhilaration and a most beautiful expression of trust, a surrender to the pure sensation of being. And at one point I saw a smile of agreement on her face. Isn’t that what happiness is, to be in agreement with what is, what is actually happening?
I let her swing; she sailed by three or four times. Then I lowered her down by releasing some rope in quick bursts, calculated her landing point, made sure she took aim, and sat her down almost directly in front of me. She pulled down the rope to get some slack and smiled at me, and we embraced without saying a word, then let go. Time started ticking again when a friend who had already completed his climb caught up with us and asked: “Did she fall?”
“Well, yeah,” I said, “but you should have seen her fly”
Klaus written and revised between the 1990s and Dec. 2010