On falling, not failing

Conquering fear - glacier hike in Iceland

Conquering fear - glacier hike in Iceland

I didn’t realise how much I was afraid until I contemplated a glacier walk. There are many things to be afraid of, espcilally as an artist. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, imposter syndrome, fear of inspiration drying up. To combat this I put myself into situations which really challenge me, I try and stretch myself to try new things, find new inspiration, set myself challenges like a daily collage, weekly blog and a monthly newsletter.

This all came into focus this weekend as I confronted my fear of falling - not failing, but falling. I’ve arrived in Iceland with a week to spend before my artist residency in October, so I wanted to go and see a bit of the famous landmarks, and glaciers was top of my list.

It was a short glacier walk according to the brochure, so I figured it wouldn’t be too bad. Like any outdoor or artistic endeavour you have to have a mindset of succeeding. I thought I had a reasonable amount of fitness, but on the tour bus was a woman of seventy five who was keen to do that walk and she ended up doing it without even getting tired. I was a bit more hesitant, kept asking questions, double checking my equipment: helmet, crampons, harness (in case you fall down a crevice), ice axe, camera, jacket etc etc.

It was actually quite a walk just to get to the ice. Did you know that the glaciers are receding? I think by now you must and I’ve certainly talked about it enough since I’ve been in Europe. However when you are actually there you get a better sense of just how far they have receded in the past ten years.

Walking on ice can be dangerous, you can slip which is why you wear crampons strapped onto your boots. You have to really lift up your feet and put them down and walk like you are stomping. I found it exhausting so by the time I got to the top I was ready to go down again! Was the effort worth it? There wasn’t a great view and the ice was quite black from lava ash and rocks, but yes it was worth it.

I didn’t realise how my mindset had been holding me back from attempting such adventures until I made my daily collage about the experience. I only had one brochure to tear tear up and another tourist flyer so I tried to construct my experience from this. The pivotal moment came when I put a splash or orange in the picture, my helmet and a nod to the coloured parkas worn by the tourists traipsing up the ice in lines. Suddenly I was back on the ice, stomping my feet trying to make sure I was upright.

This collage revealed to me the depths of my fear and my exhilaration at successfully getting up to the top and down again without stumbling or falling. It set the tone for today on the short boat ride on the glacial lake, which by now is eight kilometres wide and growing. I was in that boat and rearing to go. Success was mine and the sun was shining. Everywhere I looked was more pointers to how I would tackle my next challenge of the month long artist residency. I’ve found a focus and direction, I just had to trust in myself and release that fear of failing, not falling.

My daily collage of that glacier walk from Saturday 28th September, 2019.

My daily collage of that glacier walk from Saturday 28th September, 2019.

Heather Matthew