Rebecca Lambert grew up in Falmouth. She met her husband, Michael Lambert, at a rock gym in Rhode Island, and they are raising their tiny human, Wilder, here in Portland. During this interview, she talks about climbing, spirituality, and living life with an injury related to climbing. Below, we’ve included the link to her TED Talk called “The Earth Saves Us.”
So when did you start climbing?
I didn’t get sucked in until after college, when I climbed outside. Then I was totally obsessed.
What drew you to the sport?
I spent most of my childhood in trees. I was watching Wilder the other day on the playground climbing up high in the spider gym and he said, “this is our home.” That is how climbing has always felt for me. As soon as I heard the Maine Rock Gym existed I wanted to try it.
Can you give me a lil history of your climbing timeline?
Right before I turned 30, I set three physical goals for myself: To do the Presidential Traverse in a day, to climb 5.12’s, and to walk the 17-mile coastline of an island in a day. I’d been climbing 5.10’s for years and had never set goals beyond them. Once I set goals and started projecting to climb 5.12, I got hooked in a new way. Projecting pushed me to the next level.
Oh hell yeah. Tell me more.
Well, climbing became a lot more fun for me, because by projecting, you’re making the impossible possible. The year after setting the three goals, I redpointed two 5.13’s at Shagg Crag, and left one unfinished. Then things changed.
I got pregnant (intentionally) and was injured during pregnancy. That didn’t stop my obsession with climbing, though. I redpointed a 5.12 within a year of giving birth, and two years after giving birth, I finally redpointed my unfinished nemesis Fat Pig (5.13a). Unfortunately, shortly after that I was diagnosed with arthritis in my middle fingers, so I’m currently taking a break from climbing.
I know the injury is a big thing for you right now…how are you feeling about that? Can we talk about it?
I’ve had injuries before, but never like this one. Some injuries can help make you a more well-rounded climber. Once I had an injury that forced me learn slopers and overhangs (I’ve always loved crimpers). I’m sort of trying to figure out how to cultivate the same climbing connection in other parts of my life…and I’m scrambling.
What sorts of things have you been turning to?
I’m doing island pedal circle navigations (hiking around an island on foot), I’m taking lessons in drumming, and I’m leading retreats.
Right, the retreats! Where did those come in? When did you start leading them?
Five years ago I left my job and went on a vision quest. It was three days of fasting in the Utah desert. I was able to let go of a lot of pressure I had put on myself to “figure it all out.” I also let go of some of the guilt over my family, and the environment. In the environmental movement, the guilt can be crushing, because everyone knows we’re part of the problem.
Crap that’s so true.
The quest allowed me to step out of that overpowering guilt, and also begin to really listen to the other voices in myself. The “shoulds” were so loud that I couldn’t hear what called me at a deeper level. Once I was able to tune down the “should” voice, I realized what I wanted to do was guide retreats like the vision quest. I have been on many retreats since then. This still feels like environmental work (some of the retreats are for environmental leaders), but it’s also work that really feeds me.
Where are they?
I guide in Maine, there’s no name for the organization, no web site, and it’s totally word of mouth.
This guiding is what you were referring to in your TED Talk, right? Can you tell me about the TED talk?
I think climbing helped me prepare for the TED Talk, because it was actually pretty terrifying. I was talking about things that are quite vulnerable for me. It was scary to open up about my Dad’s death, about being a Rockefeller, and about talking to trees (laughs) and then knowing that it’s going to be put on the internet.
What specifically about climbing helped prepare you for the TED experience?
I drew from my experience redpointing and projecting. Every time I tried Fat Pig (5.13a) at Shagg Crag I would put my hand on the granite and have a moment of peace—opening my senses to the sounds and the feel of the air and the breeze. I had this vision with me before going on stage, of touching the base of Fat Pig and centering myself.
Climbing really can help in all aspects of life.
It is the greatest training for doing anything daring, whether it’s having a baby or doing a TED Talk or even your own personal spiritual growth. Having that practice, knowing that something that FEELS impossible can BE possible is life changing.
I feel this intense love for the earth and I feel like my calling is to share that; I feel like Mike and I are doing that through the gym, too. It’s been so cool to see so many new climbers because of EVO.
What do you think people can learn from climbing?
Being connected to granite by your finger tips and toes is an amazing space to be in. There’s a deep therapeutic connection to nature if people are open to it—but I think it’s also possible for climbers to take the land for granted. We should be thinking, ‘what an incredible opportunity to spend the day outside in these beautiful places.’ But the last time I was at Shagg, it was full of climbers from out-of-state who didn’t respect it at all.
That’s scary. We should do something at EVO that connects people to the land.
I know Mike and others at EVO are committed to “Gym to Crag” education. Rock climbing awakens your senses, it awakens your consciousness. It rewires your brain to process fear and stress differently. Climbing is a very powerful practice, whether people realize it or not.
What have you learned from your injury?
I think this is a chance for me to distill climbing. I had lost touch with it as a spiritual pursuit; I had gotten into chasing grades and training. I had kind of lost the connection to what fundamentally draws me to climbing: the pure movement on rock, and simply being outside with friends. To be in a calm-flow-state of mind. That’s so much what I loved about climbing, and that’s what I’m trying to find. I still really miss the community, and I do hope I find my way back at some point, but the universe is saying, ‘this isn’t where your attention needs to go right now.’
Thank you so much, Rebecca. This was fantastic.