There it sat, the source of my latest existential crisis (yet again! yet again!)—a web page read no doubt by far more people than this blog and my book, linked to a website which should know better. The “it” was a lengthy rhetorical piece on the Void, At least, the piece said it was about the Void, though it was not, at least not in any sense in which people who actually know the Void use the term.
No, this was a mash-up of badly misunderstood metaphysics, no doubt earnest but superficial spirituality, absent psychodynamics, uninformed references claiming equation of the void (small ‘v’) with hell, purgatory, and the outer darkness. There were claims of objects and entities: animals are there, it said, and “strange creatures,” along with “ignorant souls which many people would consider to be evil.” Oh, and the souls of those who committed suicide, in a foggy section. Anyone’s presence in the Void was attributed to—of course—a stubbornly determined “lack of love” and refusal to accept the light.
The piece will reveal “the purpose of the void and how to escape it,” it said. The void, it said, sits right next to the earthbound realm as a lower level of debasement and evil. For self-absorbed souls who refuse love and light, it said, there are many Beings of Light nearby to help them find their way to the Light and heaven. The moment the choice for light and love is made, it said, the light and tunnel appear and the soul is drawn into the light.
It said all that and more. And more. Glints of recognizable Truth flashed briefly but then fled. I was in a wash of tears of frustration and rage and helpless sadness. People are coming for information, for help, and this is what they get?
No. No and no. And more no’s. I don’t know where those arguments all come from, but certainly not from mature interpretations of mystical experience, nor from informed reading beyond a very narrow shelf, and certainly not from any actual encounter with the Void. It was like reading a religious tract found at a bus stop. For all I know, some people may believe that an experience of the Void results from insufficient vitamin D; that is no more fanciful than much of what appears in that article.
I do not for an instant doubt the sincerity of the people who believe those things; I am simply stating that they are seriously and harmfully misunderstanding the Void.
The chaotic jumble described above is not the Void of deep spiritual experience (NDE or otherwise), not the Void of the Christian mystics and Buddhist sages and Islamic Sufis, not the Void experienced however peripherally by El Collie and me and others who read this blog. Not at all.
- The true Void is Emptiness; it is not populated at all, not by animal, human, object, spirit, weirdness, or concept. Empty of everything but potential.
- The Void is terrifying but it is not hell. It is not Purgatory. It is neither the Outer Darkness nor alienation from God. If anything, it is terrifying in its proximity to the Source.
- The Void is at the center of everything; it is not a debased realm.
- The Void holds love and all goodness in the same way it holds depression and hatred and suffering and the individual self: released beyond all recognition into that Emptiness.
What Mystics Say
It is a commonplace in mystical literature that the emptiness of the Void is paradoxically full of everything, and a simple Google search brings up abundant and experienced commentary. In the words of metaphysician Alice Ouzounian[i], in a Tantric Buddhist symbol “Emptiness is represented by the central dot and symbolizes a focal point, the seed of the spirit in which everything is in a potential but static state.” In Christianity, she notes, ‘it is represented by the center of the cross and the swastika, the basic principle at the center of the Wheel of the Universe, from which all flows and to which all returns; the center that is everywhere and nowhere.”
It is important to notice that where everything exists only as potential, nothing is visible; nothing has emerged; there is no-thing for the senses to engage. Emptiness.
British philosopher and mystic Paul Brunton[ii] explains that everything any of us knows and experiences are things in this world of the five senses. But the ultimate journey to what he calls the Overself “is not within their sphere of operation and therefore not to be known and experienced in the same way. This is why the first real entry into it must necessarily be an entry into no-thing-ness. The mystical phenomena and mystical raptures happen merely on the journey to this void.”
Brunton also observes that with the Void:
“All that consciousness holds must be reduced to nothing. When the personal mind is stripped of its memories and anticipations, when all sense-impressions and thoughts entirely drop away from it, then it enters the realm of empty unnameable Nothingness.
“[The mystic] must make a final act of surrender whereby his whole sense of personality–all that makes up what he believed to be “I”–is let go as the last of his thoughts to vanish into a Void. He must make the abrupt leap into self-identification with the wide pure impersonal thought-less Thought. He must give up the last of all thoughts–which is the “I” thought–and accept in return whatever may come to him out of the great Unknown. A fear rises up and overcomes him for a time that with this leap he may so endanger his own existence as to plunge into utter annihilation.”
Psychotherapist David Richo[iii] states flatly,
“At the deepest level the Void is a terror, a fear of abandonment by every spiritual support. If prayer works, it is not the Void. If activities work, it is not the Void. If anything works, it is not the Void. The terror in this spiritual panic attack is that nothing works to save us from the vacuum into which we have been thrown. The experience of the Void means no foothold, no handle on things, no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel. It is not quite adequately described as aloneness, loneliness, emptiness, forsakenness, abandonment, desperation, isolation, or even despair. It is all of these at once!”
All shall be well
Before taking a nihilistic plunge after reading those comments, please know that this is post #1 of a small series on reconciliation after an experience of the Void. I hope you will want to stay tuned for where this goes. Although the truth (Truth) of the Void has its terrors, they are far less inchoate and meaningless than what I consider the flat-out incoherence mentioned earlier. Hang on! It’ll be a good ride.
[i] Ouzounian, Alice. “About Spiritual Emptiness or the Void,” Hermetic philosophy and the Mystery of Being. http://www.plotinus.com/spiritual%20emptiness_copy.htm. Acessed April 15, 2015.
[ii] Brunton, Paul. “The Void as Contemplative Experience.” http://paulbrunton.org/notebooks/23/8. Accessed April 16, 2015.
[iii] Richo, David. “Standing Alone at the Edge of the Void.” http://www.vitalitylink.com/article-spiritual-growth-and-well-being-1261-standing-edge-void-ego-face-emptiness. Accessed April 15, 2015.