Stroll with Nicole

Scaling new heights

Plucking up the courage to go bouldering has given Nicole Law valuable life lessons.

I had been watching a few friends climbing walls dotted with coloured ‘rocks’ on my social media feed and marvelled at the skill and grace on display. Without a harness, they scaled these walls with ease and I was content to be a passive observer and supporter. 

Yes, that was enough for me. The sport, known as bouldering, involves free climbing and it filled me with considerable unease. Yet, at the gentle encouragement of a good friend and with a renewed desire to take more risks, I decided to join her at a local bouldering gym. 

I turned up suitably attired and changed into special climbing rental shoes. My friend ran me through the basics of climbing and of how to plan one’s route while on the ground – which foot would go on which rock and the arrangement of one’s hands and feet. 

The goal is to climb to the top by using rocks of the same colour. I stood at the base of the wall and craned my neck upwards to locate the rock labelled ‘Top’ for my chosen route. It looked quite far up and I felt a strong sense of inertia. The usual fears of trying and failing surfaced and I found myself caught up in overthinking the way. 

But as I placed both feet on the ‘starting’ rocks, I soon learned that my orchestrated plan to finish the route evolved as I ascended higher and higher. Halfway up the wall, the path ahead was hazier than I had conceived. Instead of falling into a conformed way of thinking, I trusted my body’s ability to adapt and re-assessed my route. I made some tweaks, tried a few different holds and eventually reached the top. 

And this turned out to be a timely reminder to myself as I have recently been stuck in all too linear thinking patterns. Like life, the paths ahead are many and sometimes we need to find the way that works for us, given our unique circumstances. 

I soon learned the importance of riding on momentum instead of being crippled by fear.

Whenever I over-analysed the route upwards, I found myself hanging on the wall for long periods of time and feeling the lactic acid build up in my muscles.  

My friend reminded me that riding on momentum was key to allow the motion to carry you through for a more fluid and fuss-free climb. Each time I hesitated, I started to second-guess whether I was climbing the ‘right’ way and often felt the exhaustion set in. 

We encounter this momentum when we’re on the cusp of something, when the next few steps require a surge of confidence. I witnessed it first hand at the climbing gym as some experienced climbers steadied themselves for a large leap from rock to rock, where any hint of hesitation would slow down their movement and cause them to lose their footing. Making bold decisions requires an additional dose of courage and I think I’m slowly reclaiming that attitude. 

After completing a few climbs of lower difficulty, I was intrigued by a specific route in the gym. Rather than ascending vertically, this particular route involved significant lateral movement. The rocks were situated adjacent to each other and one section of the way involved the climber transferring weight from one wall to another wall adjacent at a 90 degrees angle. 

This helped me see that both lateral and vertical motion can be needed for a successful climb. It may appear that the climber is not making ‘progress’ or, more broadly, we may find that lateral movement in life is an indication of stagnation. 

Trying out that particular route reminded me that as much as we are attracted by the vertical ascent, much of life is also about doing the necessary work at our current level, however frustrating. 

I’ve recently felt this sense of stagnation, creatively and in my personal life. Reframing my current ‘static’ phase as a preparation for ascent and a transition into a new phase of my career allowed me to see beyond the immediate to a deeper sense of purpose. 

Since my first climb, I’ve returned to the gym a few times and always left with new insights into bouldering and life in general. I’ve fallen sharply off the wall a few times, tired myself out prematurely and found myself halfway up the wall with little idea of how to proceed. 

Unsurprisingly, bouldering has mirrored my personal situation and it has been both a physically and emotionally meditative experience. I’ve learned to create a stable base, reach to my full arm length, switch weight on the edge of a rock just large enough for the tip of my foot and started climbing walls jutting out at angles. 

And I’ve been trying to apply this also to my daily life, work and relationships. It’s been a wild ride of discovering and rediscovering what it means to scale new heights. 

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Nicole Law is a writer for Adamah Media, who writes a column entitled 'Stroll with Nicole'. She is an educator based in sunny Singapore. Her calling is not only to mould young minds, but also to nourish souls through her faith-based podcast. She has a soft spot for burnt cheesecake, Dean Martin and swing dance. When she’s not engaging with her listeners, she’s planning new conversations for her podcast - she believes in the power of conversations and the beauty of our relationships.

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