On the Edge of the Abyss

When is it time to hold on or let go?

I had a dream that left me thinking this Sunday morning. A man was climbing a cliff face. He was free soloing. That means he was climbing without the protection of ropes and he was not climbing a cliff that over looked a beautiful ocean that could break his fall. He liked it that way.

He was climbing with a group of people who had climbed ahead of him and who were nearing the top. Although reaching the summit of a climb means you have successfully got to the top, that is not what makes you a successful climber. Returning safely to the bottom makes you a successful climber.

When I met this man in my dream he was seeking his next grip so he could lift himself up. He was not afraid of the great heights he had reached. In fact, he was quite proud of the many successes he’d had. He’d climbed Everest. He’d climbed some of the highest and most prominent city buildings and had a huge rush from jumping off them and flying down. He always landed safely and never had any trouble with his parachute or any equipment. He was in peak physical condition. He was famous for his antics. He thought of all of his successes as he climbed, and now had no idea what was next. He had accomplished everything he had ever wanted to. This had gotten boring for him. So boring that he thought he could just let go.

original illustration of a free style climber

Illustration by Linda Laforge

That horrified me!

The only thing that stopped him was his concern for what his fellow climbers would think. If they thought he fell because he messed up he would be mortified. He missed the fact that he’d be dead and wouldn’t be around to hear them talk about this one last failing. He couldn’t stand the idea of people thinking he made a mistake like that so he found a shelf on the cliff to rest on. He could stop and think more on his death. He felt he had nothing left to live for. His ego, which once kept him climbing towards more dangerous adventures, now kept him from taking a leap towards the last and greatest one. And that is where I left him. Sitting alone on a cliff thinking about how he should die.

This stayed with me for some time. I asked myself, “What could I say to him to make him see the error of his thinking?” What could I say to him to help him to realize, “It’s time to make new goals.” I compared my goals with his. Mine are so different, and at times have felt selfish. I want to make a comfortable living doing what I am best at – creating things. Writing. His goals are very ego-centric. His accomplishments are pretty cool, but the man in my dream isn’t doing anything to enrich the lives of others.

Every piece I make has a goal

It is to effect the viewer in some way. I usually want my audience to laugh, to think or to find a happy place. I had never realized this before, but everything I write, paint or sculpt is my gift to others, whether I can make a living off of it or not. Everything an artist does is meant to be shared. That is what the climber is missing out on.

Now, this doesn’t mean I would try and sign him up for an art class. If I could get myself back into that dream to sit with him on that rocky shelf, I would tell him this is his time to find new purpose. If he is a hero to young people, then he needs to find a way to share this wonderful ability of his with them. Write a book! Teach! Volunteer! Create a new organization to help others.

There is nothing more rewarding than doing things for others. I would tell him it’s time to see his new purpose. That it may feel like death has come to him. In this sense it has. It’s the death of an old life and the birth of something new. Something beautiful. Something that allows him to flower, to renew and to become more alive than he ever has been. This is his wake-up call, not time to hang up the phone.

What would you say to this Cliff Hanger?

by visual artist and art instructor (and sometimes writer) Linda Laforge.
See her art and some of her writing at www.LindaLaforge.com


  1. Response to Climbing Man Dream

    A climber is free soloing, which seems like a new direction already – no equipment, no parachute.
    While he climbs he thinks of his past accomplishments.
    Is this a retrospective accounting?
    He is bored with the status quo, doesn’t know what’s next, his impulse is to let go.
    He is famous for his antics, his high flying, death defying feats.
    Sounds like there might be an attachment to the high and the rush in coming down.
    His equipment never fails, but now he is without it, by choice.
    To be mortified is to die of embarrassment, which for such an entertainer, is a great threat, and it would seem, equal to the threat of real death.
    In any case, the thing he wants to try – letting go – is blocked by this fear of embarrassment in the face of his climbing peers who behave much like him.
    But they have gone ahead and he is ready to try something different.
    The dreamer is horrified at the thought that the climber might let go.
    The dreamer’s fear is evidence that new information is coming in, something new and therefore threatening.

    The climbing man is showing the dreamer a new way.
    Instead of using his great physical resources to please others, to keep everything elevated, his impulse is to let go.
    Finding a new, meaningful way may require grounding.
    To be motivated by fear of what others think does not sound rewarding and it seems this type of motivation has led the climbing man to this moment on the shelf.
    Maybe spending time at rest contemplating mortality is not a bad choice.
    Surrender to ego death is the welcoming of a new identity, in this case, one free of the motive of pleasing others.
    What will people think?
    Who cares?
    If this were my dream, and this climbing man represents how I get things done in the world, in the dream space I would try out the option of surrender to the fall – the fail, the last, greatest dangerous adventure and see what happens next.

    [See Jeremy Taylor http://www.jeremytaylor.com/pages/suicide.html
    When “death” appears in a dream, it is a very reliable indicator that the dreamer is growing and changing so profoundly that only the “death” of the old “me”, (or part if “me”), is an adequate symbol of the psycho-spiritual process that is taking place.]

  2. You know – that is exactly where I am at Karen. Though I have never been too concerned with what people thought of my work. At least I never thought I was! So cool. I am the climber! I was actually the climber in the dream too! 8) Left with more to ponder as I sit on the rocky shelf…

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