Bathophobia, that’s the word: fear of falling from a high place. Or climacophobia, fear of falling down stairs. I’ve been chained by my phobia since the age of 5, when I ended up doing somersaults down the stairs after trying to pluck a stray sock from a step below my perch.
End result: I blanch when forced to go down stairs sans railings, grabbing walls or — failing that — strangers’ shirts. I gibber at the prospect of using a log or stones to cross a stream. Or I used to.
I respect fear. It has a purpose: to keep you from harm. It’s healthy to fear standing on the edge of one’s roof, or to swim on a beach sans other humans, or to encounter large, wild creatures. Fear isn’t some New Age pseudo-monster overcome by the sword of positive thinking; it keeps you on your toes, and therefore alive.
But it can fence you in. While I respect fear, I also respect courage and challenge. And so, afraid as I am of falling, I spent the bulk of my trip to the Adirondacks climbing mountains, including two high peaks. Unlike other hikers with heavy boots, sundry gear and knapsacks, we wore only shorts and Teva sandals.
I breathed silent blessings to the mountain spirits as I clambered, but mostly, I let silence be my mantra. Falling in the mud isn’t the end of the world, my mind whispered as I clambered across the logs and stepping stones — and, yes, later fell into the mud. Don’t think, just do. Let your body follow its inborn wisdom, I hummed to myself as I scambled up boulders.
The most difficult part came when I clambering up a bare rock face to the summit of Cascade, after a good 10 minutes of believing that I couldn’t. Don’t think, just do. And I did. For my reward, I was treated on the various summits with a panoply of mountaintops and forest, with lakes and towns nestling in the Mountain Mother’s folds. I dipped by hand in a summit pool on the rock and traced the awen on my forehead, asking the Mountain Mother — Cailleach in my tradition — for her blessing.
I respect fear, and the mind that seeks to keep its corporeal partner safe. But there’s a beauty in overcoming it and letting the body practice its own wild wisdom. It’s not a special victory — thousands of people scale those mountains every day, young and old. The lesson is an everyday one, but no less valuable for it.