The Many Forms of Rock Climbing

rock climbing, inner work, empathy,
This story follows up on A Flood of Questions as we continue to watch Mikayla's development on her spiritual path. You can find other stories about Mikayla and her journey to be a spiritual teacher as well as other spiritual allegories on this link:

Spiritual Allegories and Stories

Mikayla swiftly settled into the routines and disciplines of the spiritual order of The Penitents. She didn't mind washing clothes, getting up in the dark to make breakfast for everyone, or cleaning the communal latrines. She was finally somewhere she could achieve her dream of becoming a spiritual teacher.

She looked at herself in the mirror of the common room, adjusting her gray Neophyte robe and the white sash, indicating her rank within the order. Mikayla knew she had a long way to go, but after weeks of talks, sitting meditation, and daily prayers, she was finally getting taken out to do some rock climbing.

She was excited.

The spiritual order of The Penitents specialized in alpine and mountain rescue. Many people traveled into the Erleuchtenden Mountains every year. The mining towns on the other side offered the opportunity to get rich through extracting emerald and other precious gems, which the peoples of the south coast cities particularly prized. The mining towns also had rich copper and iron deposits. This drew others who would craft tools and, unfortunately, weapons.

With so much traffic, invariably accidents occurred. The Penitents who patrolled the area would often rescue people who'd fallen into ravines, gotten caught in avalanches, or who'd simply gotten lost. To do so safely for those needing to be rescued and the safety of the rescuers required training...A LOT OF TRAINING.

Mikayla listened intently as Penitent Abuela explained how to tie ropes appropriately, speaking precisely and with great emphasis. The other Neophytes kept their attention glued on the green sash-wearing Penitent. In this order, the sashes ranked from white to yellow to red to green to black. For some reason, no Penitents with black sashes abided at this order, so whenever someone with a green sash was around, the newer white sash Neophytes looked up to them with the utmost respect.

Even though it was still summer, a deep chill always greeted the morning at this location in the foothills of the mountains. Mikayla didn't mind it. She was too excited.

The talk went on for some time, but finally, Mikayla was given a route to climb.

She virtually flew up the rock face. She felt it more than she felt that she was doing it. Every handhold seemed obvious. Every foothold seemed natural. She reached the ten meter red achievement cloth that she was assigned to retrieve. She down-climbed easily, smiling broadly as she handed the cloth to Penitent Abuela.

Abuela raised her eyebrows. "Well done. Try the twenty meter route."

Mikayla did so and did so easily.

"How about the thirty meter route?"

Also, done easily.

Then Penitent Abuela offered different ways to do the three routes.

Each time Mikayla stepped to the granite, she dropped into another level of focus. She'd place her hands on the rock and feel her hands almost disappear into the rock. Then it felt like she'd move with the rock somehow despite the fact the rock did not move at all. She spidered across parts of the rock, squeezed herself into cracks, and lifted easily over ledges.

After the seventh time, some of the other Neophytes who'd watched her murmured in amazement.

Soaked in sweat, Mikayla beamed with pride.

Abuela nodded approvingly, but then Penitent Briar appeared, not smiling.

"Your body was meant to climb that kind of rock and pitch. How about trying Neophyte Kadedus's route?"

Mikayla agreed.

Neophyte Kadedus had been struggling all morning to climb her route. She'd barely climbed one meter in her best attempt. Her hands were bleeding. She'd also had a really vicious fall.

She looked angrily at Mikayla as she untied her rope so that Mikayla could work in. Mikayla tuned into the rock and pressed her hands to lift herself. 

She slipped.

She tried again.

And slipped.

She took another tact and then nearly fell off. She climbed two meters up, got stuck, and had to down-climb and start over. This went on for a awhile. She managed to get four meters off the ground at one point, but nowhere near to the ten meter flag on the route much less the twenty meter or thirty meter flags.

Penitent Briar nodded. "Let's try some of the other routes."

Some of the routes were as bad or worse than the one that had been assigned to Neophyte Kadedus. On one route she simply had no idea where to start. Some of the others she handled much easier. One or two she could climb much like her original route.

As the day wound down, Mikayla felt her whole body singing from the exertion. The Penitents declared an end to the training for the day. A slow procession of white and some yellow sashes headed in to wash, eat, and meditate. Penitent Abuela debriefed the Neophytes before they all turned in for the day. She offered tips and suggestions for improvement.

"Are there any questions?" Penitent Abuela asked.

A hand went up.

Abuela acknowledged it.

"How did Mikayla do that?"

Abuela frowned. "It's Neophyte Sincérité," she corrected the Neophyte, using Mikayla's last name.

"How did Sincérité climb that first route so easily? Had she done it before?"

Everyone looked at Mikayla. She felt bewildered by the attention.

"Well? Do you have any rock climbing experience? Any training?" Abuela asked.

Mikayla shook her head. "I just felt the rock and did what it told me to do."

"What it told you to do?" Abuela questioned.

"Yes, Penitent Abuela. At least for the first one. I couldn't quite understand most of the others."

The other Neophytes chattered amongst themselves until Penitent Abuela looked sternly at the gathering. "That's enough for tonight. We'll talk more tomorrow. Get your rest."

As everyone filed out, Neophyte Kadedus bumped into Mikayla.

"Things are so easy for people like you."

"Like me?"

"Yeah. People who were given everything. Not like the rest of us who had to scratch for everything, and sometimes that wasn't enough."

Mikayla didn't know what to say. The exertion of the day had caught up to her. She turned away and headed for her room.

"Neophyte Sincérité." It was Penitent Briar. "A moment of your time, please."

Mikayla walked into the room/office where she'd first spoken to Briar. They'd had little interaction since with the exception of today.

"How do you feel?"


"To be expected. Have a seat." He indicated the same stool that she'd sat upon when she first arrived. The dusk light filtered through the window creating an orange glow. Mikayla sat in that glow with Briar.

"The first ascent--that route--you were built to climb that."

"It felt like that."

"If only that was the only type of climb you'd ever have to do."

Mikayla understood.

"Get some rest. There's a lot more to come."

Interpretation of The Many Forms of Rock Climbing

Mikayla is diving into the work in this story, and we find out that The Penitents rescue people who get in trouble in the mountains. 

That's pretty accurate for what a lot of spiritual teachers have to do. 

The people who come to a teacher are not often happy and healthy--they're usually distressed, sick, upset, and/or even traumatized. They're in trouble. If a person wants to be prepared to work with others in that state, then they need to be trained.

The First Spiritual Teacher for Most People and Going Beyond

However, the most crucial first part of being able to help another is being able to help ourselves.

As those of who who have read the series following Ruby, rock climbing is a metaphor for inner work and spiritual work in general. In The Desert and Death, we saw Ruby struggle to rock climb out of her pit of issues and attachments. She wasn't dealing with anyone else's issues, just her own.

Continuing with the use of this metaphor, we see a spiritual order that understands how people have to be trained for the things that may happen on the inner landscape. Otherwise, people can get lost or hurt wandering through the mountains of their own issues and falling into the ravines/pits where their deepest and most powerful issues lie. And they certainly won't be able to help anyone else who gets lost out there.

Lost on the Spiritual Path

With that said, everyone has different types of issues and attachments. One thing we see with Mikayla is that she doesn't have a lot of major issues. She already has some level of self-awareness that allows her to "tune in" and really meet whatever is going on inside of her. Thus, she excels in rock climbing her route--dealing with issues known to her. 

However, the role of a spiritual teacher isn't to just deal with one's own issues or those attachments that are similar. Mikayla needs to be much more worldly, empathetic, and understanding of many, many kinds of attachments and issues.

Right now, she isn't.

She doesn't understand Neophyte Kadedus (look up her name in Google Translate to understand more about this character). So, while she does a little better than the other Neophyte, Mikayla struggles a lot. And she struggles in other places. Certainly, she finds some other climbs that she handles well. 

For a more grounded example, if she's overcome self-doubt in the past, she would be able to help others better face their self-doubt. But if she's never experienced or learned about sexual abuse, narcissistic abuse, scarcity fears, attachments to appearances, overwhelming experiences of lust, and many other issues, how could she know how to "climb"/handle them well? She'd have to learn.

Penitent Briar understands this, which is why he has her climb other people's routes. Those experiences also serve to teach and humble Mikayla so that she doesn't get lost in a sense of pride.

With that said, Mikayla's story is just starting. Stay tuned for more!