uncertainty and heart wisdom

25th January 2019

How are you with uncertainty?

If you’ve been following along on the ‘gram, you might know that just before Christmas my heart stopped working. Let me get the spoiler alert in early – my prognosis is excellent! As I write this, I feel physically better than I have in years.

But for three days I was in a place of deep and paralysing uncertainty.

Surrounded by dozens of kind, concerned faces, sirens, the glare of ceiling lights, the ping of machines, cannula needles in both hands, an oxygen mask strapped over my face, defibrillation pads slapped on my chest. Several times, everything went black and I felt myself slipping away. There were a few moments of terror surrounded by waves of kindness and care.

On the evening of the Winter solstice, I had surgery to attach a device called an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator. This little robot is there to keep my heart beating steadily, to learn its rhythms and if needed, to shock me back to life. Recovering physically is relatively straight-forward (if a bit annoyingly restrictive).

But the emotional, psychological, perhaps even existential healing process is going to take a smidge longer.

Its as though there is now a line on the map of my life – a border crossing into this new territory I find myself in.

I have always had a ‘dicky ticker’. Born with congenital heart defects, my earliest memory is of my first heart surgery. Mum died in her 50s from the condition I inherited from her. That I would befall a similar end seemed to be inevitable and has been a shadowy undercurrent for as long as I can remember. It’s driven me to pack a lot in, to never waste time, and possibly to not get too close.

But after walking right up to the edge of everything, I’ve found that on the other side is not an early death, but a long life.

I’m in unchartered territory and my self-doubt has taken on a new flavour of uncertainty.

All the books I am likely to have time to read, the places (EU visa notwithstanding) to wander through, all this life to savour. There is so much space and time I feel a bit agoraphobic. And the badges of honour, markers of achievement, the goals I had planned to reach before I turned Mum’s death age of 53, all feel made of flotsam now.

Being in uncertainty is not my favourite place. I have resorted to Marie-Kondofying the shit out of our house, and the resulting satisfaction has left me considering a rebrand as a decluttering coach.

I am trying to be interested in who I am now. To try parking what I think I know – not because it’s wrong – but because I have a tendency to cleave to certainty and this might be getting in the way of sensing what is new, what is not-yet-known.

I’ve been reflecting on how much our world prizes certainty.

It’s rarely acknowledged that there might be a valuable kind of knowledge that takes time to access, that would at first be vague and unclear. That emerges in its own time, that cannot be taught.

Our cultural bias toward certainty can leave us feeling uncomfortable in the face of something unclear and unknown.

‘How would I explain this to anyone? How would I defend it? What good is it?‘. We can easily end up questioning ourselves and deciding anything less than a ‘hell yes’ it should be dismissed.

But in between the endless folding and rolling of the knickers that spark joy, I have been noticing something else is popping up. I’m playing with words and memories, trying to capture a gesture, the tone of a word, a feeling, and these ‘somethings’ are taking on forms that resemble poetry.

There is a delight in this specific aspect of not-knowing. The process of distilling experiences and observations into the nub (the heart?) of things is immensely fulfilling – like finishing a crossword. It’s unexpectedly joyful.

So if you have begun this new year filled with uncertainty, I’m with you!

It may not seem likely that there would be wisdom hiding in this fuzzy, hard-to-describe something that you feel in your body, but I am beginning to suspect there is.

And perhaps this is where true wisdom is? Not in what is already clear and known — that’s old information — but in what is emerging in you – in us.

However subtle and vague, perhaps this is our heart-wisdom?

What is your relationship with uncertainty? What might your heart be saying? In what ways could your uncertainty be an unconventional form of wisdom?



Hello, I'm Sas Petherick. I'm a self-doubt researcher, coach and podcaster who helps thinking humans transcend self-doubt. If you'd like to receive these posts in your inbox please subscribe here (with bonus info and first notice of opportunities to work with me). PS: I totallyInstagram - join me there?


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