• Hannah E Greenwood

A Spark in the Silence

Updated: Jun 9, 2019


Photo by Dominic Nazeri

I am in New York in thick snow. Just over a week ago this city was filled with delirious exuberance and wild hope. Today, muffled by the icy cold, people are subdued and quiet, questioning the promises they made in readiness for 2017.


On Friday, I went to see Martin Scorsese's new film, Silence, a formidable film about faith under pressure, his conclusion being that just because divine intervention is seemingly silent it does not mean it isn’t there. It is not an easy film to watch but it is one that has stayed with me through these last few days as I walk around Scorsese’s hometown. New York is the city of hope, built on centuries of immigrants, people who left their homeland with no guarantee of what they would find here but, often driven by fear… and again… wild hope, trusted that this unknown continent would bring them future security. This pioneering spirit is what New York and America is made of.


New York is also dirty and overwhelmingly noisy and yet it is paradoxically a place I find stillness and the spark to my creativity, my ‘fertile void’. It is no coincidence that I always write when I am here.


I wrote in a recent blogpost End Well to Begin Well about the precursor to this creative ‘fertile void’. In contrast, the ‘futile void’ is a scary space: it is the unknown that pushes all our buttons and we do everything to escape this void, spinning in the ‘busy fool syndrome’, filling it with noise, anything not to stay in our stillness and face what is in there. And yet, ironically, this place is not a de-void place. It is deep and full. It is the container of deep, buried feelings and beneath that something far richer. For if we allow ourselves to feel the fullness of this space, we are then able to move forwards into one of my favourite places: the ‘fertile void’.


This is where true creativity and rich experiencing happens. It is the field that, having been allowed to stay fallow for a season replenishing its nutrients, is now ready for growth. This ‘fertile void’ is the place of hope and rebirth and it is only in the stillness of the silence that we can truly listen and make good, authentic choices and decisions going forwards.


And this is what I have done in New York these two weeks. The first week was full of fun and light in the lead up to the New Year and this second week has been a deep recharging stillness preparing me for the year ahead.


I also love New York because I have great friends here, one of whom, Marie, talked with me about her recent experience going through great changes, when she often felt very lost and bewildered, ‘looking for the spark that the universe is remembering you’:


Hannah: What triggered this time in your life? 

Marie: A few years ago, I was downsized from my company. The news was not unexpected. The company I worked for as well as the entire industry experienced major turbulence and contraction after the 2008 recession and the ongoing effects of the digital disruption. Employee layoffs occurred in large waves over a 5-year period. At the time, I was a senior executive in my mid-50's and re-organized enough times over an 18-month period that when the separation package was presented to me it was welcome. I viewed it as forced change that would allow me to step out of the chaos and reinvent myself. However, what I thought would be a 12-month process to identify my next chapter turned out to be a 3-year journey that tested me to my core.

Hannah: You used the phrase, ‘Looking for the spark that the Universe is remembering you’ Can you say more about this?

Marie: My very active search efforts were met with deafening silence and dead ends. I began to question my value and skills and everything I had accomplished in a successful 25-year career. After the first 18 months of my futile search I entered what you call, Hannah, “the dark nights of the soul”. It was a truly dark place for me. How could this be happening to me when I had followed all the steps and suggestions of the coaches and professional transition experts. After months and months of searching I began to wonder - where was the magical moment, the connection, the kismet, the grace that is supposed to unblock, connect, create movement and open passages? Isn’t this how life works?

Hannah: How did you respond when you experienced the silence and felt nothing was happening?

Marie: Even though I was determined to stay positive, midway through my experience I slowly began to pull back from family and many friends and anything related to “fun”. Deep down I was frustrated and angry and I went inside myself.

Hannah: What helped you through the worst of this time?

Marie: I began to search for hope. Every day I would look for shards of light that would let me know the universe had not forgotten me. I began to try to foresee the life lesson I was going to walk away with. I found some comfort in inspirational books and inspirational speakers. I bought a journal and wrote down things that inspired me and encouraged me that things would turn around very soon. Ironically I often found stories of others having entered and come out of their own individual experiences of “dark nights of the soul” jump off the page at me. Often their circumstances were emotionally and physically much harder than what I was experiencing which also put things in perspective for me. The words of wisdom they shared by looking back on their experiences and more importantly reflecting on their new life after the darkness turned to light, were often comforting. Excerpts from these pieces also ended up in my journal.

Hannah: From what you know now, what advice would you give someone going through this? What advice would have helped you? 

Marie: I don’t have any magic pill or firm advice to anyone currently living in this space. I had a few wonderful friends who wouldn’t let me sink and never let go of my hand during this time. Some of them I would have guessed beforehand and some I would not have. It was really these wonderful individuals who joined me in the lifeboat and rode out the storm.

As for me I have slowly crawled out of the depths of my predicament. There was no “big bang” moment or “switch” that changed everything for me. Three years later and after a few fits and starts that didn’t work out I am now happy to be working in a new industry. I’m not sure it is the perfect fit but I will give it a year before I decide to make a change. Looking back, I’m still not sure I understand yet the purpose of that time in my life but I am in a much more optimistic, hopeful and creative place.

Hannah: It sounds as if you are on a cusp moving from the fertile void to the action stage, Marie. 2017 is going to be a very exciting year for you!