I climbed the stairs lined with oversized Buddha heads to Vanessa’s yellow home.
I was excited to continue the conversation she sparked during her TEDx Bay Area talk a few weeks prior. When Vanessa opened the door, she was just as I remembered; like her eyes, she was electric, yet calm.
Vanessa understands fear and personal journey from multiple dimensions: as a young child that was brought back to life after drowning; as a lifelong student of Eastern philosophy, Western psychology, and meditation; as a coach/healer/advocate for hundreds of clients who seek her help in resolving personal crises.
At the foundation of her work, lie the questions: “As humans, what are we doing here, besides being the best person we can be? How can we make the world a better place?” After decades of reflection and over 30,000 client sessions, Vanessa has recognized that fear is the mainstay monster that holds us back from becoming what she calls, your “most bold, beautiful you” and that empathy is the weapon we must use to slay this beast.
[bctt tweet=”Vanessa Inn – “As humans, what are we doing here, besides being the best person we can be?””]
Given this focus on fear, we dove right into the biggest, baddest fear of all: the fear of death. It was Vanessa’s head-on collision with this fear at a young age that has allowed her to “alchemize” this energy into resiliency and love.
Vanessa described her drowning as a “mystical experience,” a movement from being transfixed by the dazzling sun shining on the lake to hitting the sandy bottom. I couldn’t help but nod – it was only earlier this summer that I had been similarly enchanted by the sun twinkling on the water. Vanessa explained, “All I can describe is that I became one with the light, with Light – like I was one with the lake, with my family, and the world. It was all moving bits of energy and there were no boundaries.”
This linkage between science, metaphysics, mind, and heart characterized the remainder of our conversation, which crept beyond the thirty scheduled minutes into a three hour-long session. This is the kind of thing that seems to happen with Vanessa – whether on stage or one-on-one – you get lost in her presence. She acts with focus, speaks with intention, and welcomes you with a look that helps you unwind.
Inspired by the notion of fluid energy, I started digging into my notebook to share an Einstein quote, “Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”
Vanessa’s eyes lit up. She said, “This is how I’ve lived my life. It’s been my reality.” It’s also how she approaches her clients, asking questions like “How can we unfold their Fibonacci spiral? How can we radically listen? If everything is energy, as Einstein says, and as we now know, then everything is just data and information. Do you know who Neil Degrasse Tyson is? He says we’re all stardust. What are we doing with our stardust?”
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Building upon the foundation that we, and everything we do, are bits of data and patterns dancing within our largely undiscovered universe, I was curious to learn more about Vanessa’s process for making sense of it all. “95% of the whole universe is dark matter” is what Vanessa’s physicist friends explained to her. She relayed matter-of-factly, “most of us is dark matter. That’s where intuition – tuning into the vibe of where things come from – recognizing patterns. There’s a massive intelligence in dark matter.”
At first, I didn’t really fully grasp what dark matter was. I asked, “Do you mean most of our body is dead weight?” Vanessa went on to explain that it’s what we don’t know, the unknown. The intelligence behind this unknown is unleashed by listening and is manifested in creativity. She leaned a little closer, thoughtful in her response; “Creativity taps us into another dimension of ourselves. There’s the order and the chaos. When we’re in chaos, there comes the creativity.” She paused, and then: “if you try to resolve it too quickly, it becomes – sophomoric. I think about it in my practice and after doing this for decades, there are patterns; there are only so many variations of the human mind [in dealing with the unknown].”
[bctt tweet=”Vanessa Inn – “When we’re in chaos, there comes the creativity.””]
We were sitting amongst easels and in-progress abstract paintings in Vanessa’s comfortable, bohemian study; Vanessa shared how she has harnessed her creativity to further tap into her intuition. Eight years ago, at the age of 50, Vanessa began taking painting lessons, knowing this was something she had always wanted to do. She explained a feeling of terror during her first lesson, a desire to scream and run out of the building; there was so much energy running through her that she felt she was about to combust. After a quick tête-à-tête with her instructor, who encouraged her to just pick a color and put something on paper, she felt at ease with this new adventure, with trusting her instincts and her gut. The lesson learned: “true creativity comes from letting go and listening to something instinctual.”
Slowly we were unwrapping what it means to be alive – wading through the unknown by means of creativity. Vanessa went one step further, naming resiliency as the “common denominator.” She laid it out all out: “The highest level of resiliency that we can have is to keep coming back to loving ourselves. Keep coming back to loving other people. Loving the planet. In all of the sessions that I’ve done, that’s the idea. Where are you not loving yourself? Or life? Or other people? Where is that block? At the bottom of it is always fear.” With her hands folding an imaginary ball, she asked, “How do we go about alchemizing that? Shifting that? If everything is energy, our fears are energy, our love is energy.”
Just like for herself and her clients, Vanessa revealed that each person has a natural affinity and deep down knowing of how they will impact our earth. “We try to create an order. Create a story. In that pattern recognition, we’re always creating a story. That can be limiting. How can we create a new story?”
We imagined what the world would look like if we collectively practiced more empathy and “radical listening,” given our current state of affairs, Vanessa going on to praise the work of CEOs like Chip Conley and education pioneers like Marie Gordon. How can we apply this concept to scary things like sexism, homelessness, rape, and gun violence? Can we ask ourselves: “How can I help this situation? At a minimum, how can I make it not worse? We can’t do everything. That’s the beautiful thing of doing things together.”
As we continued to talk, Vanessa asked me to close my eyes. She asked me to summon my most rebellious, fearless teenage self and facilitated a conversation with Agnes now and Agnes then. I could see her: wearing an Allen Iverson jersey and large hoop earrings; she was defiant, a bit bratty, and couldn’t be told what to do. She was entitled, sure, but she was sure of herself. I’ll spare you the details of my psyche, but Vanessa harnessed the energy I was putting out, linking patterns throughout my responses and helping me unfold my Fibonacci spiral. All it took was a little listening – from her and from me.
When it was all over, I said quietly, “That was truly an experience. You can talk about empathy or fear forever but until you face it head on, it’s just an idea.” To which Vanessa responded with gusto, “An idea isn’t enough for me. I want you to experience it and own it and play with it in your life.”
Vanessa’s next chapter – her next adventure – is to share her findings and practical tools with a larger audience for the first time by hosting workshops, speaking publicly and writing a book. After hosting a 40-person workshop for Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project in Las Vegas and moving a 400-person TEDx audience, Vanessa now feels empowered to continue spreading her mantras:
Boldly be yourself because the world needs you to do that.
You’re not alone; we’re doing this together.
At that, it all came together. Listen to your energy and your affinity; have faith that you are where you belong and that we’re working within a greater fabric that we can’t even begin to fully understand. As Vanessa put it, “each chapter is an adventure. And you’ve got to be deeply curious about that. Not just on the outside but on the inside. What does my heart really desire? If I’m quiet, what do I really vibe with? Can I find my spine, my fearlessness, and go after it? And just be able to go.”
On my way out, I noticed a chalkboard hanging on the wall – the word “Fear” was painted on arrow pointing towards the door while “Love” was housed in an arrow facing inward. I left with a bounce in my step, moving further along on my adventure, a little less fearful and a little bit more like my bold, beautiful self.
Agnes Pyrchla is an adventurous spirit with insatiable wanderlust. Her thoughts and writing often meet at the nexus of nature, art and the human psyche. She is living proof that city people can be outdoorsy.