Tag Archives: fear

Nailed to the present moment


when things fall apart


This morning I started reading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron again (thanks to my royal and regal friend Maureen Monte for the gift of this powerful book!). The first time I read it, I devoured it cover to cover. Some chapters I’ve come back to multiple times. The pages are highlighted, underlined, words in the margins. I love when I encounter a book that invites me in like this, that begs me to devour it, use it up.

Back for another helping.


The first chapter “Intimacy with Fear” got me thinking about how I confronted head-on my fear during my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I distinctly remember digging a deeper well with my anger. It was a sunny spring day, the kind that begs you to be happy and experience joy, where you find your feet moving along effortlessly, your mind wandering back or ahead to to be with people you love, to do things that inspire you. But I wasn’t feeling happy nor joyful and I wasn’t moving backward or forward in my mind. I was stuck in a dark place.  Right here, right now.

A dark hole, getting deeper. Falling. Through some sort of profound grace, I found myself embracing the possibility of getting lost in this hole. I looked into it with curiosity. The longer I looked, the more open I found myself. The closer I got to the depths of my anger, the softer it became.  

Pema speaks to how getting to such a place requires us to be ‘nailed to the present moment’. It’s only when we have nowhere to escape that we can truly confront the fear that so often runs us and rules us.


Related post:


Seeing it



Photoa Courtesy of Carol at Radiating Blossom

Last fall I found the job I’d been dreaming about for several years. I moved into IBM’s leadership development organization. Then, in January, I was promoted to a leadership role within the team. Ever since then, I’ve been in a whirlwind, and all sorts of feelings have been swirling around. From moments of confidence to fear, from hope to uncertainty, from calm to chaos, from peace to distraction…and so much more. Frankly, there have been moments of profound overwhelm. And, moments of incredible possibility.

This morning I came across the poem below that I wrote back in the summer of 2012. It’s unfinished but it spoke to me so I thought I’d share it in all it’s imperfection. The words resonated with me and connected me to how scary it is when I glimpse how amazing and powerful I can be. It touched me with its doubt and its hope. I frequently come back to my experience with cancer and the fear I felt then, the hope I grabbed on to. When I go there, I am reminded that there is nothing more important than my finding aliveness and joy in whatever I am doing and that life has a way of moving me with grace when I open to it, flow with it.

Seeing it
By Vicki L. Flaherty

I glimpse it like a crack in a door
where the light comes in
or maybe it’s flowing out.

Mother always said it was there.
Father’s confidence pointed to it too.

Flickers like photographs
strewn across a table
bits of color
sparks of life.

She is beautiful.
A power all her own.
Grace dancing.
Hope shining.

Do you see it?
See it.

Better if you don’t.

Her strength is overwhelming.
The possibility is frightening.

Cover your eyes.
Glance away from the light.

Peeking, though.
It pulls you.
You have to look.

Gradually appearing less real to me

courtesy of misifusa.wordpress.com

courtesy of misifusa.wordpress.com

This morning when I read the post on Misifusa’s blog, The Presents of Presents: Why Should I Fear? (http://misifusa.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/why-should-i-fear/) ,  I thought about the grip fear can have on my life, how it limits what’s possible.

I was also inspired by my awesome friend Maureen who faced some of her fears head on. She boldly stepped out on a skinny branch to do something amazing that will shape people’s lives in powerful, positive ways. Check out her Project Butterfly: http://maureenmonte.com/project-butterfly/ to join her strong approach to life.

With such wonderful inspiration, I stretch into hope for a day of fear-less-ness…farewell to fear and all it creates in my life!

Vicki L. Flaherty

You spoke to me with your tantalizing words
You told me I couldn’t have it all
You shouted at me, vibrating through me:
Who I am is not good enough
What I want doesn’t matter

You laid yourself in front of me
You blocked entry to my soul
You covered the essence of me in noise

I missed opportunities when you showed up
You neutralized my relationships
You took the possibilities from my work
You led me away from discovery

I have lost so much because of you
You stole my sense of wonder
You squelched my curiosity
You made my dreams unimportant

Day by day I find the way
To ease you out of my life
Your false sense of importance
The expectations you create
Gradually appearing less real to me

Soul touching

courtesy of www.dreamstime.com


I introduced you to my young survivor friend earlier this year in Healing Waters and I can’t seem to let go of her. I vowed back in June that I would be here for her, not at all clear what that might look like.  She finishes her 12th course of chemotherapy on Monday (good news – it is working and has significantly shrunk the tumors). She has many difficult decisions ahead – so much information, so many uncertainties, such incredibly difficult choices. She’s a brilliant biologist and relies on data and logic to guide her decisions. The ground is so slippery for her now, given the overwhelming emotions and strong medication swimming in her system.

We met again yesterday, in a quiet lounge at our hospital. Her sister sat beside her, an anchor in the storm. (She came from their home country a couple of months ago on a 6-month visa.) My friend’s heart poured out as she shared her questions, her confusion, fears, and hopes. I shared my truths with her, still leaving so many questions unanswered. Through moments of tears, laughter, silence, sharing and opening, we became as one. Our souls danced together. I could almost grab the healing energy inside our circle of light. I barely know them and I know everything about them.

We are in a private room in the plastic surgery department. I sat in the patient chair. Last time I sat here I was confused and afraid, carrying so many questions. But, today is different. I feel strong and clear.

My friend and her sister sit in chairs across from me. I look deeply into their eyes. I smile gently, holding on to trust, trust that what I am about to do will be comforting and helpful, not scary and add to the confusion and feelings of overwhelm.

Slowly, still looking into my friend’s eyes, I begin to unbutton my sweater. I am completely focused on her as I uncover my right breast for her to see. I breathe again when I see a soft sweet smile rise to her tender face. I sense she finds comfort in what she sees. I move the other side of my sweater so she can see how the reconstructed side compares. We acknowledge the imperfection together. I invite her to touch my reconstructed breast, to see how the silicone feels when it’s been implanted. She gently compares my breasts. 

We continue to sit together for several minutes, me looking into their eyes, searching for the hope I want to give them. They appreciatively looking into mine, their hearts overflowing with gratitude for this tender moment together. Our circle of light radiates as I button my sweater.

This room will never be the same. We will never be the same.




Two years ago, the phone rang here at my house. It was Jean, my surgeon’s nurse, calling to give me the results of the biopsy of the removed breast tissues and lymph nodes taken during my mastectomy.

No cancer. “The report is very, very, very good!” she had said, leaving the details for my surgeon to share with me. It’s impossible to put into words the sense of relief I felt. In a moment it was like I could breath again. No chemo.

After the relief came gratitude. I had been so fortunate along this road called cancer. No radiation. No chemo. Only a few lymph nodes removed – low risk of developing lympedema in my right arm.

I relished the calm that washed over me and the moments of celebration…

Chugging Train
By Vicki L. Flaherty

Finally, the train has stopped.
I’m clean — no cancer.
Nothing suspicious
That can be seen or detected.
At least for now…
It’s OK to celebrate this moment.

But, the engine was meant to move —
and so it begins again, chugging slowly forward.
At this juncture, there are questions
About prevention, recurrence.
What to do? How to live with the odds?
No conclusive answers.
The engine was meant to move —
and so it begins again, chugging slowly forward.

Navigating the course ahead
It’s up to me to decide:
Do I take the medication?
What tradeoff s, given the benefits and risks?
Choices, decisions — the signals along the journey.
The engine was meant to move —
and so it begins again, chugging slowly forward.

A related post is Waiting Game.




Today was the day. Annual mammogram. As much as I tried to play it down, rationalize it as just another doctor appointment, the fear got inside me, danced on my heart. Strong emotions, from deep within, crept up uninvited. Worries about worst case scenarios. Visions of the train leaving the station again. Brought me to tears having to validate the answers to the check-in questions – yes to positive mammogram, to lumpectomy, to mastectomy, to implant. It still doesn’t seem possible that healthy little me is a cancer survivor.

It is with incredible relief that I say my fears were unfounded: mammogram normal. YAY!!!  Indeed, a case of False Expectations Appearing Real. I can let go of that fear now…ahhhh.

Overall, this year’s experience was better than last year’s. Guess that’s not surprising – having been through something once makes it less unusual the next time.  I wrote a poem after my 2012 mammogram that seems appropriate to share here.  Then, for a few moments, I thought I had another abnormal mammogram. Words somehow seem inadequate to capture all that raced through me mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically; I just can’t seem to capture the fear and anguish that moved through me, nor the enormous sense of relief upon hearing the actual results.

Here’s to another year of being cancer free…

By Vicki L. Flaherty

The anticipation –
if you can call it that –
had been building.
The appointment was imminent:
first annual mammogram
since the ‘big surprise’ of 2011.
My ‘bosom buddy’ and I
playfully refer to the procedure
as our ‘mammo’.
As if it is something fun.
In actuality, it’s not.
Scary now.  Dreadful.
We know what can follow
this miraculous diagnostic procedure.

The reality comes vividly to life
in the breast imaging waiting room.
A form to fill out –
update actually, since last year’s ‘gram.
Heartbreak as I change
the ‘NO’
for biopsy and lumpectomy
and mastectomy and reconstruction
to ‘YES’.
All in pretty pink ink.
It forces me to accept the reality of it all.
Will cancer continue to challenge me?
‘Til when?

Joking with the radiologist:
“At least I just get to do one boob now.”
The jest releases pent up anxiety.
She plays along:
“Maybe you should get a discount.”
My left breast –
the apparently good one –
squeezed flat, then from the side.
The awkwardness and discomfort
taking my mind off the fear.  
What will these images show?
Will the train of cancer start
chug, chug, chugging again?

I find myself waiting
back in the lounge.
Reading a magazine
or trying to – distraction welcome.
A doctor calls my name.
My heart begins to race.
He invites me into the examining room.
“Oh, my God!” races through my mind.
Here we go.
I’m light-headed.
In disbelief.
The train is leaving the station again.

I have to shake my head,
clear it when he says:
“Nothing abnormal.”
And, again, in my head –
or was it out loud this time? –
“Oh, my God!”
“What a relief.”
The train isn’t moving.
At least this year.

© 2013 Vicki Flaherty

(I selected the above photo because it is an image I have of a healthy breast. You can read more about the bouquet here.)

Working through anger


smoldering smoke

I was reminded of this poem today as I reflected on the duality of life over at This Abundantly Delicious Life in my post AND.  I wrote the poem about a year ago. I was working through my anger – anger that was still there almost a year after my diagnosis, hidden away yet coaxed out into the open with the help of life Coach Christina. It was important work since I’ve spent my life moving past my anger or hiding it from myself and others. Often the result was that I’d bottle it up and it would burst forth when I (and usually someone else) least expected it. The writing was a breakthrough in acknowledging, even honoring, my anger – of getting to know it, if not befriending it.

The Struggle
By Vicki L. Flaherty

feeling the walls
surrounded in darkness
in the cocoon
no light
only tiny fragments
of hope linger
in the air
like smoke
from a fire smoldering
into the unknown
tension thick
like mud unsure
what’s in here
even more uncertain
what’s out there
fear filling the air
wanting desperately out
struggling against the edges
the barriers
holding things in
spinning circles
dizziness pushing ‘round
falling to get up
only to sit still
in the gray silence

© Vicki Flaherty, 2012

Training in the Universe



I’m not sure why it is coming to me today. Perhaps because last night I had the opportunity to join a group of breast cancer survivors for dinner. Eight of us gathered at Share and did just that – we shared our stories, our lives, ourselves. I feel so fortunate to live in Iowa City where we have great medical care and where it’s possible to build a strong support system. When Jedn and I rode home together, we talked about how we would not wish cancer on ourselves; however, we feel grateful for so many of the wonderful things it has brought into our lives – like each other and all of the other beautiful women in our circle. Maybe it’s coming to me because there is more that it has brought and I want to remember…

I was reminded of July 6th 2011 – the day that I got the fateful mammogram. Perhaps I recalled that day because a friend of mine had her annual mammogram last week and I spent much of the week holding her in my heart because I know how all those raw emotions come right back up. My relationship with mammograms was forever changed around that fateful day. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

I had a mammogram at the new facility today and (it took all of 15 minutes – in and out like a flash!), and I decided to come here, to Panera, to pause and reflect on my health and remind myself about what’s important. I saw the X-rays of my breasts. They look healthy and round. I looked at myself in the mirror as I changed out of the ‘superwoman’ cape and felt grateful for my nice breasts and a healthy body…

A friend of mine had shared the little book The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba with me and I decided to finish reading it that morning. The wisdom inside really captivated me and I found myself jotting down quotes and sharing my thoughts about them:

Be grateful for hardship, setbacks and bad people. Failure is the key to success – each mistake teaches us something. What is a hardship, setback, bad person or failure? Isn’t it defined by the perceiver? Does one who lives from a place of abundance see these things? Aren’t these judgements? To me challenges, pauses, opportunities seems more fitting.

Unity of mind and technique is essential. At the instant we confront a foe, all things come into focus.  Facing our challenges opens us to possibility and the path ahead. What’s my foe?

Let attackers come any way they like and then blend with them. Reflect each attack and get firmly behind it. Open to that which you appear to be at war with. Where do I struggle? How might I embrace my struggles and move gracefully with them?

The essence of training is to bring your opponent completely into your sphere. Then you can stand just where you like. Bravely face your fears and they disappear. Shine your light – be in essence – and others will move toward you. I think of my mom saying “HI!” to ‘unfriendly’ people at work despite lackluster – and even no – response, and how eventually they all moved toward her and the possibility she created. I want to have that kind of courage and shine that kind of light.

Little did I know then that the very next day I would receive a phone call asking me to come in for another set of X-rays and that two days later my heart would be pulsing in fear at the news from the radiologist that something looks suspicious. Reflecting back now, it seems that the Universe was preparing me for what was to come. And, I am grateful for that.

‘Dropping in’ to heart

Graphic courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Graphic courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Yesterday I came across a blog post called Need Peace? ‘Drop In’ To your Heart by Cathy Cassani Adams. She talks about moving into our hearts, how doing it can separate you from your thoughts momentarily, how it’s about feeling (versus thinking), how doing it is a practice, and how you can find your heart in stillness.

The piece really resonated for me. Poetry was my way of ‘dropping in’ to my heart throughout my diagnosis,treatment, and recovery. I was able to get out of my head, that place where I uncovered fear, worry, doubt, and I was able to move into my heart, where I opened to hope, love, and possibility. Even now writing helps me connect with that peaceful place inside. Yoga helps me do that, too.

How do you ‘drop in’ to heart?

Seek to understand

Mazunte Mexico - a place where I can truly BE and move toward understanding

Mazunte Mexico – a place where I can truly BE and move toward understanding

At my Saturday morning yoga class, my lovely instructor suggested “Seek to understand, not perfect, yourself”. I really liked that. I see how this journey is about a deeper understanding of myself, putting on different lenses to see myself and my world, opening to new possibilities, for a full rich life. I am clearer it’s through my writing that I become free and in deeper contact with my authentic self and that my writing comes from a place of BEing.  The poems I wrote during my diagnosis and treatment (and that I continue to write as I continue to grow from my cancer experience) were a form of yoga – mental rather than physical movement embracing with spiritual connection.  As I reflect on “In the Darkness” I see a graceful dance from ego driven concerns to understanding and to acceptance.

In the Darkness
By Vicki L. Flaherty

In the darkness of night I allow myself to be afraid.
I awake from a sleep like there is work to do.
My mind wanders to begin, and then gets going with a fervor
racing through so many questions:

What if there is hidden cancer in my lymph nodes?
How long will I have to deal with the drains aft er surgery?
What if I develop lymphedema?
What if I get an infection?
What if the pain is bad?
What will it be like to have no breast?
How ugly will the scars be?
What if I don’t like what I see?
How will I feel? How will I cope?
What will change? How will my life be different?

Exhausted by the questioning,
I become aware of what’s happening.
Oh, I’m scared!
This is FEAR.
I was wondering where it was, that fear.
By day, in the light, it’s hard to see.
It hides behind my hope
and is veiled by positive intentions.
Now I know, it’s there.
It’s okay.

© copyright Vicki L. Flaherty, Mostly My Heart Sings, 2013