I welcome all feedback and look forward to reading your comments. Please be respectful of everyone's voice. My intention is to create a safe, secure place where people can be completely vulnerable and express themselves fully without fear or inhibitions of being judged or criticized. I ask that you respond not react. Practice the art of mindfulness in your comments.
"When one experiences truth, the madness of finding faults with others disappears" - S.N. Goenka.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Stepping Into Fear

“Power over others is weakness disguised as strength. True power is within, and it available to you now.  -  Eckhart Tolle

Fear was a major life motivator until it practically consumed me.  There was a point where it held on so tight I felt desperate for breath.  It only took a few months for me to realize it’s not a comfy place to pitch a tent. It’s too cold, dark and lonely – a place too desolate and barren to set up camp.  We each have had intimate relationships with fear, in one form or another, and in varying degrees.  We understand its power and its conviction.  And we all want to break free from its hold.

My life during those few desperate months would have appeared to an outside observer to be picture perfect. I had a supportive, loving husband along with two beautiful, healthy, spirited daughters. We shared a home nestled in an established neighborhood just outside of New York City.  I was a full time mother, grateful to be home with my kids. 

The many hours home alone burdened me with what the Buddhist call the “monkey mind.”  My mind would swing from one absurd thought to the next – from the distant past to the unknowable future.  These random ruminations wouldn’t necessarily be a huge problem if our emotions weren’t tied to our thoughts. But thoughts trigger emotions, so I evoked a variety of feelings in a matter of minutes.  At one moment, I was happily thinking about our past vacations, or our vacation to come, and then – BAM! – I’d quickly swing back and be in a state of panic as I envisioned our plane crashing and our family plummeting to our deaths.  I’d spend time convoluting scenes into worst-case scenarios.  I’d watch CSI and imagine my life in their story (I eventually stopped watching CSI)! I took the term “monkey mind” to the next level. In the west we’d term it “obsessive worrying.”

The big problem with swinging back and forth through the vines of our thoughts is that we’re very rarely present where we are.  We’re mostly someplace else, completely disconnected from our bodies, and from the moment. Unfortunately, my someplace else always ended up somewhere scary. My personal catharsis occurred while jogging one day (see “Listening to the Whisper”).  I guess you could say that my days of living with my obsessive, fearful thoughts served me well.  It was my soul’s way of shaking me awake. 

I was so distracted with thoughts, I started missing some of those first time moments with my children.  Precious moments that would never come again: – their first discoveries, first jumps, first dives, first time recognizing the letter “A”. 

In the end, through my children, I awoke to myself. 

In order to experience anything, you have to witness its contrast first.  As Neale Donald Walsch states in Conversations with God“You cannot experience what you are until you’ve encountered what you are not.” Simply put; you cannot view yourself as overweight until you become aware of thin.  Using this reasoning, even fear can serve a purpose.  Experiencing fear and living it are distinctly different.  I believe that we as a society spend entirely too much time living it.

Many of our religions teach us to fear the wrath of god.  We live our daily existence in perpetual fear of a vengeful God who is quick to punish with eternal banishment and everlasting damnation.  Those are some serious motivators!  Catholics believe that if a child dies before receiving the Sacrament of Baptism, he cannot go to heaven. We have created punishment for innocent babies who aren’t able make their own choices! 

Fears we’re not even aware of are instilled upon us the moment we are born!  Our society is so fear base driven its become the new norm.  We fear rejection, so we keep our guard up. We fear loss so we numb ourselves from feeling often using drugs, alcohol or food as a means. We fear looking within, so we live without. We fear losing, so we fight to win no matter the topic. Why do we always have to win an argument – even if we know in our core, that we’re wrong? The moment we express our love to someone, we fear they may not reciprocate. Even if they do, we start to worry about the moment it will end.  We see ourselves as constantly under threat and we live our lives by reacting.  We are playing this game of life on defense.

When we begin to pick fear apart and examine it from the inside out, it begins to lose its power

 Instead of resisting fear, why don’t we just walk right into it? See what happens.  Ask yourself – “what am I really afraid of?”  “What’s beneath the surface?”  Stop resisting and instead welcome the opportunity to learn from your experience. 

What we resist persists. 

So maybe we don’t resist, maybe we start off by leaning into the fear.  Dip one toe in the water to see what it’s like.  We think that facing our demons is reliving some traumatic event or discovering our worthlessness. What if instead it’s enduring uneasy sensations and finding out that – guess what?  We’re still here!  We don’t combust into flames!  And, in fact, once we cross that terror barrier, we feel profound relief and freedom. 

Fear shows up in many forms and in varying degrees: nervousness, anxiety, worry, unease and phobias.  All of these forms stem from the same place, from the idea that something might happen and not from anything that is happening now.  As Eckhart Tolle states in The Power of Now

“You are in the here and now, while your mind is in the future.  This creates an anxiety gap.  And if you are identified with your mind and have lost touch with the power and simplicity of the Now, that anxiety gap will be your constant companion.  You can always cope with the present moment, but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection – you cannot cope with the future.”

Staying in the present takes practice.  Try this: pause, look out in front of you and take three breaths.  While filling with breath we create a perfect opportunity to listen to our world and to actually see what’s in front of us.

We will never find complete liberation until we stop identifying ourselves with our thoughts. Our thoughts can change in an instant, yet our essence remains the same.  That power within us, that inner truth, never waivers. It’s a unifying constant within us all.  What changes is our degree of awareness of it.

How can we move from a life on the defense to a life on the offense?  How can we go from a life of reaction, to one of action? From being the victim and letting circumstance lead, to manifesting and creating our own future?  We simply open the door to ourselves.  We start to become aware of the whisper within.  We pay attention, we look and we listen.  This is the beginning.

Keep connected to this blog and we'll continue to explore and walk this journey of discovery together.


heather said...

This is unreal!!! I also (along with many others), am a stay at home mom. I have 2 daughters and three sons (two sets of twins in the mix). Your husband always made my husband and I feel like celebrities haha
It is so true though, give me a minute to ponder and I'll panic over my 11 year old riding her bike home from school.
My shows were Law & Order SVU & Criminal Minds which I was a regular on, in my own mind!
Thank you for blogging & thanks to pete for sharing your blog!

Barbara H said...

I cannot thank you enough for sharing this thought. I have struggled with anxiety and fear and worry for the past 15 years or so and it is such a prison. Over the past few weeks (Since April 5) I have embarked on a personal weight loss journey - I have lost 22lbs so far in body weight. In fears and anxieties and worries i think I have lost 100 lbs (LOL). I began to understand that I was hiding my fears by stuffing myself with food and then I could hide behind my weight.

As I am shedding the pounds and beginning to let the skinny me out I am finding out just how tied to fear and anxiety and wory I have been. This week I went back too church and I chatted with my pastor about the fear and he asked me "What are you afraid of?" I could not answer him. I could not explain why I was so anxious about going back to church. Then it hit me. Vulnerability. I was afraid because I am losing the ability to hide behind the walls (walls i thought were protective but are in reality they are prisons). As I lose the weight I realize I am beginning to shed more of the fears and I am becoming the woman I once was and even better!

Thank you so much for sharing. it is good to know someone understands :) I am not alone in the journey.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! This is really good stuff!
“We will never find complete liberation until we stop identifying ourselves with our thoughts.” In my opinion most of mankind’s current ills stem from this error.
I became aware of my F.E.A.R (False Expectations Appearing Real) after a long term relationship ended. After coming out of a brief depression intact and realizing, “I’m still here,” I awoke from a 30 year long dream in which I was completely identified with the hardened memories of my environmental conditioning. I was a nationality, a religion, a political party, a race, an occupation and countless others. I unconsciously sought experiences that strengthened my idea of who I was. If I was having an experience that wasn’t congruent with my conditioning, it created negative emotions like anxiety and fear.
I know our conditioning and titles are important to maintain a tidy society, but now I practice participating in them without the attachment.
I now playfully describe myself as a biological organism energized by some mystery we call life. Having the awareness to separate this somewhat unexplained existence from rigid societal expectations truly humbles me. I now walk with an opened mind and heart. I wouldn’t consider myself fearless at this point but certainly not as fearful as I once was. Life has now become an awesome journey to the seemingly indefinite place of fearlessness.

Please continue to bring your light into a world that is dim and unaware of its wholeness. There is so much that needs to be said in modern language to point humanity inwards. Your ability to articulate authentic, insightful thoughts in writing, at length, is truly a gift.

Thank you.

Valerie Vendrame said...

I"m SO thrilled to get such amazing feedback from everyone! My intention was to start a forum where we all can share our stories - to gain insight, feel supported and be witnessed. Establishing a space where we can speak freely about anything on our minds or in our hearts - and having the ability to remain anonymous while doing so. We all can learn from one another - we all have our own story, and we all have our own inner wisdom to share. So, thank you all for sharing! Your comments give me the inspiration and courage to continue writing these blogs. Thank you for your support.

Heather - My husband was happy to know one of his favorite celebs made a comment ; ) It's always great to know there are other moms out there that can relate to my story. Someone should have warned us to keep the TV off after giving birth ; )

Barbara - Your story had a profound affect on me. I felt your sense of liberation -- shedding your weight, while working toward shedding your fears. Looking inward to really understand where your struggles come from takes a lot of courage. But once you make the discovery, it's as if you start to see your world differently. I'm excited for you and your journey! good luck! Your story was a true gift. Thank you for sharing it. I would love to continue to hear from you.

Anonymous commenter - First of all - I love that you gave the acronym for FEAR - false expectations appearing real! I completely forgot about that one! And it's definitely a keeper. I remember when i first heard it, it totally blew me away - i would repeat it every time i felt fear creep up. Thank you for reminding me of it. Your profound insight on "who you are not" is admirable. We all identify ourselves with labels..and when something changes, our world begins to fall apart....instead, if we connect with our inner truth, labels and things become worthless - because we recognize they don't define us. Since I started my spiritual journey, I started describing myself as a spiritual being have a physical experience ; ) I think it all means the same thing. Thank you once again for your wonderful insight. Your words make me wonder if I know you - but i'm assuming you remained anonymous for a reason. I hope to read your insight again in the future.

A big thanks to you all!

Valerie Vendrame said...

It appears as though some people are having difficulty posting a comment. I apologize for the annoying inconvenience. In an effort to make it easier and give everyone the opportunity to post, email me directly at -


and I'll post the comment on the blog for you.

Thank you.

Peter said...

Val, thank you for posting "Stepping into the Fear" and starting this conversation about fear. You have tremendous courage and your courage has given me the courage to share my story.

As a man who has a demanding career in corporate America, my "Monkey mind" (I love this term) revolves around work.

When I pay attention to what occupies my thoughts when I am not at work, I realize that most these thoughts are preoccupied with my responsibilities and relationships at work. And a significant portion of these thoughts are the fear that "I am going to lose my job".

When I reflect on this fear, I think what a bizarre thought, but this thought feels so real.

Like you, to the outside observer, I am a success. My success is derived from a 26 year career in a Fortune 500 company. The career has been and continues to be both challenging and fulfilling. Not to brag, but I have received numerous awards, both corporate and professional, throughout my career.

But my fear of losing my job is real to me. Part of this fear is based in reality: in present day corporate America, there is no such thing as job security. Each year, I find that I have to prove my worth. However, in these changing economic times, understanding what your worth is to a corporation is not always obvious. But life is full of uncertainties. Why am I so fearful about losing my job?

I have come to realize that most of this fear is due to my insecurity about my self worth. When I am honest with myself, I have to admit I have tied my self worth to my career. Let me state that again: I have tied my self worth to a career that is not an innate part of me.

So how am I dealing with my fear? I am trying to "lean into it", by not requiring an absolute belief that I am a warrior, indestructable, and the greatest corporate visionary since Henry Ford. Yes, my ego has no limit to its demands to be stroked.

I am trying to accept that I am vulnerable and to accept myself as I am. When I am able to accept my vulnerabily, a great sense of relief overcomes me. Always trying to convince yourself that you are indestructable takes a tremendous amount of energy. When I am able to accept my vulnerability, I have a serene feeling that everything will be alright. The world does not fallen down around me.

Brene Brown has a TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html) on vulnerability, which is wonderful and insightful. Watching this video helped me understand the beauty of allowing myself to be vulnerable, and I recommend that everyone watch it.

So, maybe life is a process of learning how to accept who we are: to accept both our gifts and our deficiencies. Maybe life is a process of learning how to be kind to ourselves.

I hope everyone reading this blog finds self acceptance and lets a little more kindness into their lives.

The Balanced Republic said...

The Balanced Republic throws its support and appreciation behind Smile With Your Entire Body and its great article "Stepping Into Fear".

Full comments:


"... Can you relax in the face of fear? When the fear erupts, if you sit and wait patiently, what will you discover? Can you just watch while the fear and the tightness and the smallness whirl around inside of you? You can.
And if you do relax in the fear, you have just bought your own ticket to an important event. This is no minor curiosity. To work with fear is the great opportunity of human existence....".

Steve said...

Val, i think i need to give you a hug.

Rev Kate said...

Our Deepest Fear
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I
to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened
about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure
around you.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is
within us.

It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone.
And as we let our light shine,
we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence
automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson

Metabolic U Loses Weight said...

This was so amazing that I had to speed though it to see what I could learn. Then I settled down and read through slowly sucking in every morsel that could take me from this life of monkey thoughts and fear. I listen to Potus Stand up and used to say to myself, "I wonder who she is, the woman he speaks of as a 'goddess' I wonder." Then tonight I heard Smile with...... and the rest is history. Now if I could just figure out how to follow a blog, I see some really good adventures in front of me. Will work in it tomorrow. Thank you Val.
Cindy Ferraro
Huntingdon Valley, PA


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