Fear! (OT and on-topic too)


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Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 7, 2007 - 02:20pm PT
Climbers are always in relationship to fear.

Fear is one of the most powerful ruling emotions humans experience and mastering it is one of the greatest lifelong accomplishments.

There are two basic categories of fear.

1. Instinctual protective fear (fear of burning your hand around fire, falling off a cliff)

This fear should never be eliminated, but can be managed, acted in the face of, and channeled.

2. Psychological fear.

Often of the future, conditioned by the past. There's this in climbing as well. Fears of failure, inadequacy, and many, many other things. There can be a physical component related to instinctual fear as well, fear of permanent injury and it's consequences and so on.

There are many faces to fear. Men like to think they are brave and may risk death but would do anything to avoid facing their emotions and talking about them.

So it's a broad topic. Talk about your fears and braveries, your walk and struggles with fear. Where you're going with it.

In the Castaneda books, the Shaman calls Fear the first enemy of a man of knowledge.




Penn's Woods
Jul 7, 2007 - 02:29pm PT
The defining traits of "panic" from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM):

# palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
# sweating
# trembling or shaking
# sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
# feeling of choking
# chest pain or discomfort
# nausea or abdominal distress
# feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
# derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
# fear of losing control or going crazy
# fear of dying
# paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
# chills or hot flushes

pretty well sums it up.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 7, 2007 - 02:32pm PT

Panic can certainly happen climbing. We've all seen it at one time.

What do ya'll think the relationship of Panic to fear is. Make makes Panic happen?(besides those symptoms)

How do we keep panic from arising from our fear



Penn's Woods
Jul 7, 2007 - 02:58pm PT
It's funny how panic arises and accelerates out of nowhere. One second everything is fine, the next it's full on sense of impending doom, for no really good reason. Went walking in the surf last week, knee deep water with breakers chest high, loving every minute of it until I spotted something pitch-black floating in the water a few yards away and boom, all the symptoms above suddenly flashed over me and all I wanted to do was get away from there as quickly as possible. Problem was I was barefoot and had slowly worked my way out from shore tracking little sandy shoals amid the sharp lava rocks. All at once I had no balance, no depth perception, and every step was a mini-epic. Moreover, the evil black thing, whatever it was, seemed to be coming closer. I managed to retrace my steps back to the beach, where my daughter asked "What were you doing out there? You looked like a dork." Still don't know what the thing was, probably someone lost their swim trunks or something, but imagination is a powerful thing.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 7, 2007 - 03:41pm PT
The ocean is great of creating panic. So out of our control.

I was trying to bob around near some Spinner dolphins off Kalalau in Kauai this winter and suddenly I was being carried out from shore and getting tired fast. The sort of calmish conditions evaporated as a big north shore set came in and pounded me repeatedly.

Redline was near and I had to stay calm and conserve. Just calmly swim away out of the rip to the side and time the ducking under the big waves. Didn't seem to be working but when my toes touched sand it was an amazing redemptive feeling.

I had time to realize "Maybe this is it?" and wonder how long I could last before swallowing my last drink. I intuitively knew I'd make it, which is also my bottom line climbing sometimes.




Social climber
Hercules, CA
Jul 7, 2007 - 04:35pm PT
Dancing, for some reason, scares me. Last time I tried to go dancing, I 'bout had a panic attack. I got frozen in place and could hardly talk, thinking about going onto the floor.

My gf got really pissed off with me because it seemed like I didn't want to do this thing that she really liked. By the time we left, I was emotionally wasted.

Funny thing is that I know I can dance and actually like it. For some reason, the anticipation was incapacitating me. For me, it's one of those things that I shouldn't really think about because that just makes it worse. Just go out and do it.

Strange that I can go whitewater kayaking and climbing, where death is a possible outcome, and then get too scared to dance, where the worse that could happen is that I might trip. It's a totally irrational fear.

Trad climber
Jul 7, 2007 - 05:16pm PT
I liked the Carlos Castaneda books too. Don Juan advised: "Take death as your adviser, it cuts thru all the crap." In climbing, for me, fear is the voice of death and I endeavor to take it as my adviser. Wherever fear arises I stop and reassess until I figure things out; then fear disappears.
Brutus of Wyde

Old Climbers' Home, Oakland CA
Jul 7, 2007 - 05:51pm PT
Much of what we think of as instinctual fear is not in fact hard-wired at birth, rather it is a learned reaction from gained experience:

a little baby will reach out and put its hand in the pretty fire until it experiences the consequences of that action.

Learning fear is but one step on the route to becoming a "learned man"

Paul Martzen

Trad climber
Jul 7, 2007 - 06:59pm PT
One thing I have always appreciated about climbing and kayaking and similar activities, is that fear is more accepted and understood. Fear is part of the game and the causes of the fear are more obvious and appreciated. For me it has always been much easier to deal with fear in physical activities and outdoor exploration than in social interactions. Might be true of others on this list.

In climbing, danger and other obvious causes of fear are pretty clear, so we have devised rating systems to help individuals choose appropriate levels of risk. We don't tell a beginning climber to climb A5 in order to be cool. We know that the easiest and safest climbs are more fun than harder climbs for that beginning climber.

In most life situations we do not have that structure to tell us what is appropriate for our abilities, so it seems easier to get in over our heads in many other situations.

In climbing it seems that fear can build up if I stop or am stuck. If I keep moving, keep acting, fear is kept at bay.

The sensation of fear can be reduced by movement, by deeper breathing, by relaxation and looseness in the body. Fear is amplified as the body tenses up and breathing becomes faster and more shallow. People who suffer panic attacks tend to be very tense and tight in their musculature, though they themselves, being used to it are not aware of their tenseness.

Think of a guitar string. If it is very tight, a small amount of energy creates a loud sound - high amplitude. Loosen up that string and that same amount of energy does not sound like much at all.

A side effect of tenseness is that we tend to get tunnel vision. Our field of awareness narrows and we become less aware of subtle cues on our periphery. It is like driving in the fog. When something finally appears in our awareness it is already very close and closing in on us.

When we are more relaxed we tend to perceive changes and hazards coming from a greater distance giving us more time to react and compensate.

I can relate somewhat to the fellow who talked about his fear of dancing. I dance a few times a week these days, but yet I can get frozen trying to think of some next step. I have a basic repertoire of steps that are totally ingrained and I don't have to think about them. But after the 10th repetition I wish I could remember some step I learned two days ago! Then my mind goes into freeze mode and there is no way I can remember something I probably spent an hour on.

In order to remember the step I have to tell the lady what is going on and ask permission to experiment and screw up. If she says okay, then we start stumbling around and hopefully laughing about it and slowly the muscle memory returns and then I can gradually figure it out again, hopefully. So far the ladies keep dancing with me.

If I was afraid to try a new step until I remembered it in my mind though, I would be lost. I would tense up and be a wreck. It is only when I can shut off my mind and just let my body react to the music that I really have fun. If I think I need to do a dance perfectly it is a lot harder to do it well. If I feel like it is okay to mess up then it is a lot easier to let loose, mess around and I tend to dance better.

Ice climber
hartford, ct
Jul 7, 2007 - 07:10pm PT
awwwww... shucks.......
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 7, 2007 - 07:26pm PT
These are some great posts above. I'm grateful you guys are here. Beats what we read in the mags (Don't get that started here though)

Dancing is not an irrational fear. It comes right from the basic fear that nags every human. The vulnerability of our identity/ego which, for most of us, is an imaginary concatenation of our perceived personal history and self concept If we base our idea of ourselves on an evanescent sand castle, it's natural that we're always threatened with fear within. The alternative, give up investing in the ego. Just BE and see how you feel and where it leads

Thanks for that great post by Paul in particular



Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 7, 2007 - 10:29pm PT
Dragon with Matches poste this on the Ton Sai thread


Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jul 8, 2007 - 02:49am PT
I know I have fear, but I don't know how I experience it when I am in danger myself. That is a strange statement, I know, but I've always had an over analytic viewpoint in first person.

This is another kind of fear than what Karl mentioned...

The one time I was in fear, however, was about the possibility of my good friend Lawrence having been killed ice climbing in the White Mountains on one of the frequent trips we took in the winter. It all starts in the strange ways that climbing road trips can take. Lawrence, Mike and I decide we have had too much of school, living in NY City and not climbing. A plan is hatched and on the appointed day we set off for New Hampshire. I think we left late and crashed at Lawrence's parent's house in Thetford, VT. Getting a few hours of sleep in a sort of youthful touch-and-go that I probably couldn't pull off anymore.

Lawrence has to stop off at his old fraternity at Dartmouth to pick up the fourth for our outing, a young woman named Libby. On the way over Lawrence is explaining the arcane concept of co-ed fraternities, and his own climbing fraternity. We park, Lawrence disappears into the late late night and returns with Libby... greetings and introductions all around. Although it is way early in the morning, the local constable pulls us over, shines his 16 C-Battery flashlight in all our eyes and demands that Lawrence prove that he can recite the alphabet backwards while standing on one foot waving his arms in the air. Which he does with aplomb. Off into the chill we go.

I don't remember much of that drive out, but we get to Pinkham Notch, assemble our kits and hike off to Huntington's Ravine. Lawrence and Libby are going to do Pinnacle Gully and Mike and I on O'Dell's Gully, both WI3 climbs, both real classics.

The sun is up now but the thermometer which hung off my pack wasn't above 10F and wouldn't be that day at all. We make our way up the gully. I remember having a mixed set of ice screws, the Salewa steel screws always seemed to ice up, but the Chouinard screws were better, and we could set them with the handy ratchet tool. Even still, we never believed that any of this pro would hold long falls. Crazy times... fortunately we didn't test the protection much (actually ever).

Mike and I get to the top of the gully, and we're at the famous "Alpine Garden" which is a large bench beneath the summit of Mt. Washington. The wind is howling as usual. The sun is out. No Lawrence or Libby. We call down, no reply up... we decide to eat some food. The food prep is always interesting in the northeast. We cubed the cheese into raisin size bits because it freezes. You put these pebbles into your mouth and sort of warm them from the outside in licking the soft cheese to get to the frozen cheese beneath. Raisins are also frozen. The crackers aren't but our water is, punching through the top level of ice in the bottles to get to the liquid stuff within.

We are now cold due to our relative inactivity and the fact that there is really no good place to get out of the wind. We call down again, no reply, so off we trudge, figuring that they finished before us and went down to do another gully. Off Lion's Head we go, and down to the lean-tos. A wild ride in powder and spruce. We hang out in a lean-to, ours were the only tracks on the descent, Lawrence and Libby weren't early.

Sitting there, the caretaker comes by and we have a conversation. By now the sun is behind the mountain, the temps are dropping again, and Mike and I are getting anxious. "Come by if they don't show up soon" is our invitation. Another hour or so goes by, early evening and a glorious Aurora fills the sky with a beautiful diffuse red glow. Still no Lawrence or Libby. We trudge to the caretaker's cabin.

Inside it is warm and light and safe, but I am overtaken by dread, and by fear. My very good, young friend Lawrence is missing, and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of possible fates. I only think about what I will tell his parents. Since Mike and I are both "married" and we both have children, there has always been an implicit trust given to us by Lawrence's mother that we'll keep him safe, not wanting to leave our own loved ones.

"I'll call down to the Harvard Hut and have them go up under the gully and look" the caretaker says and radios down. It takes a bit of time, filled with a most intense anxiety, for them to get up to the base of the climb, but the good news is that there is no sign of climbers there. Still, where could the be gone for so long? the worry continues. "I've got the rescue team coming up." Those guys really make short work of the trail, and I am giving them a description, I'm too wiped out to go with them. Off they start, up the way we came down...

They're not gone five minutes when a single headlamp appears above them. Listening in the cold, still air the entire conversation is clear to us. It's them, trudging off the climb. I am now totally exhausted, worry and fear start to go away. They get down to us and are obviously ok. Lawrence is acting like it's no big deal. Later we find out that this is Libby's first ice climb, ever. And it took a while for Lawrence to teach her the basics! on the climb!! When the finally go to the top they were hungry so the stopped to get some eats, and then started down.

We get to the car, now really late, and somehow I am put in charge of driving back to Thetford. Ugh, the only thing that saved us on that ride was the frost heaves on the Kangamangus Highway that would jolt me awake regularly. We pull in, find a note directing us to dinner. I'm totally shot from the emotional roller-coaster of the day, "I'm not hungry, I'm going to bed."

Sleep comes easy and we wake late. It's Sunday and we're having a traditional New England dinner at around 2pm. Lawrence mother is making conversation, "my, you were so late we were thinking of calling out a rescue party" Mike and I are looking at Lawrence, who mumbles something polite...

...but I still remember that dread and fear of having lost a partner.

Social climber
No Ut
Jul 8, 2007 - 02:58am PT
REEEEEALY great thread!
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 8, 2007 - 10:31am PT
Ed's post brings up some interesting questions. I suspect that fear of the loss of a partner is a psychological fear that projects a future possibility.

The question is "What's the real source of this fear, or combination of sources?"

Is it sheer empathy regarding the pain of another? Does Empathy have fear built in?

Is it fear of personal loss? What is fear of loss rooted in?

Is it fear of our own vulnerability and mortality projected into the circumstances of another?

Is there an element of fear of responsibility and blame that we'll experience if somebody goes down under our watch? Fear of our own inadequecy to protect.

Basic fear that we lack control of happenings in life?

I can't say I know but it's worth looking into.

It's tough to look within and see the root behind the basis of the fear, but identifying the root is essential because the thing in itself isn't the real fear. (ie We don't fear dancing, we fear being inadequate or something like that)



Jul 8, 2007 - 01:06pm PT

Have you read the rock warrior's way? I think arno talks about fear management in the book

It seems like certain events or your mental state really contributes to how one manages fear. For example if you've been climbing regularly and have your lead head "screwed on" whipping on gear isn't such a big deal, but after I lay off or not climb regularly I'm not as willing to fall on gear...etc

Most people are born with certain types of rational fear. Dying, heights, snakes, and some other things. Certain experiences in life contribute to fear. I know a couple folks who were attacked by dogs as children and are scared shittless when a dog comes running up to them.

Crowds freak me out. The mall, sporting events, tourist crowds in the valley, crowded bars. blah! Slab climbing ahh!!

Trad climber
Jul 8, 2007 - 01:47pm PT
Fighting my fear is just about an everyday occurance. It has taken me awhile to realize just how conservative my parents really were, and how much their fears settled into my unconsciousness. Fear of abandonment, fear of a lack of money, fear of physically getting hurt and being unable to work and pull your weight.

The Rock Warriors Way gave me some concrete ideas on how to evaluate if something is a rational or irrational fear, and what to do about it.

I have learned a great deal as well be reading Castaneda.
(An aside, just how many of us have read all of Castaneda's work?)

I was excited when I saw this topic Karl, thank you for posting it, and thanks to everyone else for their insightful posts.

My fears? Good grief, it's ridiculous. One of the biggies is a fear of crowds. I think it totally depends on the "group mind" involved with the crowd in question, because sometimes I'm fine, and sometimes I'll get a panic attack.
Fear of getting hurt is the next one, and this one can really hamper my style! I'm starting to relax some on this, I've been hurt and survived. A very good friend of mine was seriously injured and should have been dead last year, and he's back climbing 5.10 Tuolumne slab!

I really have to get outside my self to look at my fears, and this is something I had no idea how to do until a few years ago.

Thanks don Juan!

Jul 8, 2007 - 01:58pm PT

I started the teachings of DJ, but never really like it or finished it. I've heard some of the other books are more interesting. The RWW is pretty helpful..

Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 8, 2007 - 02:30pm PT
It's funny about those fears that are quirky, particular and not understood at the rational level. Some of it could be traumas, real or imagined, that we had as kids.

Folks who are open to the idea of past lives might consider the many ways we could have been traumatized and killed in previous existance. It's a powerful enough experience to carry over if anything does.

I gotta read Arno's book. One of these days. Read all the Casteneda books but the last one or two before he died. Actually got to hear him speak once. Trippy guy, he was getting old but very alive and animated.

The special fears we have of one kind of bug or another is rather odd and unique. I have a friend who hates bees. Spider and Snakes and so on. Some folks can cuddle with one and hate the other.

It's probably a good idea to choose a fear we have and make a point of flirting with it once in awhile, see if some progress or breakthrough can be made. Oftentimes, the barrier is more imaginary than real. Dealing with it could be as simple as (for guys) asking directions from a strangers, even when you could figure it out yourself.

Another one is bringing up some emotional issue in a relationship that we're not certain is going to be easily recieved. Sometimes it's a relief if done with compassion, acceptance and honesty and the unseen but always-felt pressure is lifted.


Paul Martzen

Trad climber
Jul 8, 2007 - 03:28pm PT
I am not afraid of bugs or spiders or anything, yet if I decide to pick up a grasshopper especially or a moth, to get them out of the house or just to pick them up I can get a bit rattled. You have to grab them quick and firmly but not too firmly, and then they jump or flutter hard. Grasshoppers have that sudden flick kick to escape and it startles me, even though I know it is coming. If I don't grab him solid, that kick comes and my hand just jerks back even though a grasshopper can't do anything to you. Just the suddenness of the movement seems to startle me. And once startled it is hard to make the next grab smooth. Then the performance anxiety can set in! Thoughts like, "What's the problem? Just grab it, wimp!" I could go overboard and just grab it hard, wash off the grasshopper guts afterwards, but that never occurs to me. So I am trapped a bit between trying to grab it firmly, but not too hard, while my jumpiness makes it more difficult to grab it firmly and smoothly.

Crawdads are worse cause they actually nip, but its easier for me to say, "I don't really need to grab that crawdad." So then I can stare at them from a few inches away or poke at them with a stick, without risking my fingers. Maybe the fear is intensified from that indecision between wanting to grab and fearing to grab?

Moths aren't as bad, but still they start a tremendous fluttering just as you grab them that can be startling. Probably a lot more scary for the grasshoppers, crawdads and moths than for me though.

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