Braedon UNH graduation May 2013In 2010 my friend Suzanne Braun Levine published another one of her great books in which she wrote about being patient with the confusion of the Fertile Void we often experience in later adulthood. By remembering that my powerful sense of unknowing what was to come next for my husband Jerry and me actually had a rich fertility within it, I let go of trying so hard to plan it out and surrendered to not knowing and seeing what might germinate. It was that very year when I was invited to become the first woman to serve as Executive-in-Residence at IMD Business School. Who could have imagined how sublimely happy we would become in our new life living in a 15th century UNESCO Heritage Site protected village Lutry on Lake Geneva surrounded by the Swiss and French Alps? Me teaching senior executives from our every nation in the world: Jerry, who says he’s “gone to heaven without dying” biking around the lake and meeting an ever-growing circle of friends in our village and beyond as he approaches 80.

So, it is with a great sense of being grounded with roots in our new community of three years nourishing both of us, that we joyfully now are visiting the US to celebrate the college graduations of our two oldest grandchildren. Our grandson Braedon is plunging into the world of civil engineering and our granddaughter McKayla is pursuing her dream of combining her interest in urban planning with her passion for bicycling  (yes, Jerry – AKA Granddad – planted early seeds of this for her). When my friend Suzanne learned about the unbridled joy that’s emerged from my dark Fertile Void, she encouraged me to write this piece.

I had first read Carl Gustav Jung in the 1960s and was fascinated by his archetypes long before I possibly could viscerally grasp – even if I cognitively understood – the generative aspects of the Fertile Void. Only now, coming full circle as I’m living in Switzerland can I appreciate how Jung, a Swiss who founded analytical psychology, would have articulated something I’m living on a daily basis. I’m flourishing in what germinated from within tremendous – almost terrifying – uncertainty. If you want to know more, see Suzanne Braun Levine’s website. While she focuses through the lens of women’s experiences, her insights resonate for all genders. You also can read “Embracing the Silence of Not Knowing: Entering the Fertile Void” by Susan Campbell.

And, whatever age you are, please share what you’ve discovered in letting yourself wander in that rich place of not knowing.

{ 21 comments… add one }

  • Pat Lewis June 11, 2013, 4:49 pm

    Nadine –
    Thank you for sharing this with us. It really hit home with me, and by sharing your story you’ve helped ease some of my anxieties about the ‘next’ chapter’ in my life! Best of luck in your ‘wonderful’ new life in Switzerland! Sounds fantastic, I must say!

    • Nadine Hack June 11, 2013, 7:28 pm

      Pat – I’m so glad I alleviated your worries: wish someone had done that for me!

  • Peter Cook June 13, 2013, 11:44 am

    The realm of uncertainty and not knowing is a place I visit often as someone who plays music and tries to break free from established boundaries. In my professional life, I also spend time helping others to expand their tolerance of not knowing in a world where we appear to know more and more in terms of the exponential rise in data / information. A great post which comes at an important time for individuals, organisations and the world.

    • Nadine Hack June 14, 2013, 7:19 am

      Peter – yes, musicians when they riff find that wonderful space of creativity where the next is never known until it reveals itself. And, businesses that will survive in the 21st century will have to learn to live with the same uncertainty.

      • Peter Cook June 14, 2013, 9:12 am

        It’s not a well understood area – I mean coping with uncertainty rather than uncertainty per se. Many people I deal with like order control certainty and are therefore somewhat unprepared for a more complex, changing and potentially chaotic world.

        • Nadine Hack June 16, 2013, 9:55 am

          Amen: it’s the dealing with uncertainty that’s key!

  • Robin Foster June 14, 2013, 12:33 am

    It is so wonderful to see couples find peace and happiness. These are the fruits of lifelong work and service!

    • Nadine Hack June 14, 2013, 7:20 am

      Thank you Robin! We continue our service, which fills our lives with deep meaning. That, along with family and friends makes for a life rich (not using finance as the metric) beyond measure!

  • Barbara Duke June 14, 2013, 1:07 am

    I enjoyed your post. Over the past three years since breast cancer and living with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I keep wanting to know in my mind, what comes next. What is the next chapter?The only problem is that trying to figure out the next chapter is difficult for me. I seem to live from one day to the next. It is wonderful that you have realized your dream and I wouldn’t take anything away from that. Best wishes and happiness in all you do.

    • Nadine Hack June 14, 2013, 7:23 am

      Barbara – I will keep you in my thoughts with hopes that you recover fully and completely. We went through another frightening period just recently as Jerry had a life-threatening blood infection that totally debilitated him for the last three months of 2012. Blessedly, he has regained his full energy and health. But, during that time, I was reminded to be grateful for every moment of life.

  • Cortney McDermott June 14, 2013, 5:49 am

    The void. The gap. The space in between. This is where all creation takes place. Thank you for the reminder of this simple truth, Nadine.

    This insightful post also brought to mind the immortal words of T.S. Eliot: “We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.”

    To me, this is what it’s all about: the Silent Knowing. The awareness that comes from a fulfilled existence, a single breath dedicated to light and love.

    Thank you, as always, for the inspiring example.

    • Nadine Hack June 14, 2013, 7:24 am

      Cortney – As you seem to know well, always explore and grow: this is the secret for feeling truly alive!

  • Kathleen Gick June 16, 2013, 8:20 am

    I truly enjoyed your description of that state of unknowing. I was thrust into that state a few years ago with a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Parkinson’s is an uncurable debilitating disease. Living with it makes everyday a state of unknowing. Will I be able to type today? Can I do buttons on my clothing today? Can I use a knife to cut the apple or shall I forgo it? Will my voice be strong today? Every moment is a moment of discovery. Plans, what plans. My physical state will determine my plans from minute to minute. I realize I am not in control. So after a period of almost mourning, I found a place where I “go with the flow.” It’s taken me on some interesting journeys and I have met good people I never would have met without Parkinson’s. I am slowly simplifying my life, making accommodations. And, I am truly happy. I think of what I can do rather than what I can’t do.
    I am pleased to know that you have found a good life, good friends, and career recognition. Makes me feel wonderful when my friends are fulfilled and content. Gives me that feeling, too. Thanks, Nadine, for sharing and for prompting some introspection. Cheers and best wishes always,

  • Nadine Hack June 16, 2013, 9:54 am

    Kathleen – I am touched to my core reading how you found a way to go with the flow after mourning your losses and that now you appreciate what you can do rather than focus on what you can’t. My brother-in-law Bob has had Parkinson’s for many years and one of my friends has had MS, a different type of debilitating disease in which you never know day by day (even minute by minute) what will be possible. Sharing triumphs with them (e.g., I can speak and be understood, I can walk ten steps, etc.) has deepened my understanding of gratitude. I wish you continued strength as you “find a way out of no way.”

  • Judith Schraemli June 20, 2013, 10:58 pm

    Today I graduated from an educational program in SUNY. I re-learned the beauty of my country. I learned two new phrases. One in this book, the void the spaces in between. The other there is no expiration date in America. especially for people and the oppurtunity for people and anything we engage in to grow, change develop. No expiration date on a corporations efforts to become focused on the people who work there as well as their bottom line.
    What could be more uncertain than going to school and being homeless. Yet the students at SUNY-BEOC came to class. What void must there be when a woman goes to school in the morning after dropping her children off at their school. Not knowing how she will make it to work, school and still pick up the children and feed them dinner with food stamps. Today aprx 150 brave souls did just that. Some who could not speak English when they first began school. Some who are care takers of an elderly parent. They graduated with me. People only fit into boxes when we make our minds a box to put them in.
    Anything and everything is possible. Humans are always our most valuable resource.

    • Nadine Hack June 21, 2013, 1:37 pm

      Judith – congratulations on your SUNY graduation! Having raised amazing children through young adulthood, you were so brave to go back to school & all your efforts paid off! YOU are an amazing resource!

  • Susan McGee Bailey June 22, 2013, 8:28 am

    It’s lovely to be in touch and see a glimpse of where these last three or so years have taken you. I’ve been writing a bit about how much I have learned from being Amy’s mom—part of which is ‘resting in the world’—something her arrival in my life gave me a chance to learn at an earlier age than many may have had.

    Your reflections are part of the same kind of in-the-moment joys I believe accepting uncertainty so often brings.!

    • Nadine Hack June 22, 2013, 10:51 am

      Susan – You write: “Most feminists, particularly those of us with close personal experience with disabilities, think we understand the issues. We think we are doing what we can, maybe even all we can. Maybe we are. Maybe we aren’t. We need to talk about it.” And, you’re so right: we do need to talk about how to enfranchise ALL people. I encourage my readers to check out Susan’s insightful blog entry via link above.

  • Katarina Skoberne August 3, 2013, 1:30 pm

    Thanks Nadine, it’s so important to create awareness of the Void and that it can actually be Fertile. When in the Void, it is not the first thing that comes to mind. The culture of desperately seeking certainty, one that for many of us was the default environment of our formative years, often seems to be what limits creativity, lateral thinking, and tolerance. Fostering the ability to deal with uncertainty, along with the art of contentment, would be most beneficial as part of a school curriculum.

    • Nadine B Hack August 7, 2013, 1:50 pm

      Katarina – I love your idea of fostering an ability to deal with uncertainty as well as learning the art of contentment as part of a basic curriculum. There are so many lessons to learn! – Nadine

  • Sherry Roth September 27, 2015, 7:48 pm

    Mastering the ability to not know and plan everything is an art!


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