By Duff McDuffee
Often people experience a frightening thought that at the center of their being is a void, a terrible nothingness that threatens to swallow them whole. Less often a person is aware enough of this concern to express it in words. Frequently people live their entire lives avoiding, that is to say, being driven by this existential anxiety, the fear of death or non-being.
This fear is realistic. At the center of one’s being, of all that one clings to and identifies with, there’s nothing really there. There is no thing that makes me essentially me. There is no idea or set of ideas, no behavior or set of behaviors, no cell or set of organ systems that I can point to, freeze, and say “this is who I really am.” And some day, it is guaranteed that I will cease to be. But this lack of an essential, permanent nature is a certain kind of “no thing,” a lack that provides the possibility of profound freedom.
Existentialists feared that The Void was like a pit of despair that was bottomless. Luckily despair is not so powerful, not so infinite. Despair is just another something; there is no infinite sadness. Even people who are deeply depressed can notice this when they pay close attention. Despair comes in waves and varying intensity levels, morphing into sadness, then grief, then anger and righteous indignation, now levity and humor, anxiety, joy, shame, vulnerability and tenderness, peace. All unpleasant experiences come and go—this is the silver lining of the cloud of despair.
The not so pleasant side is that pleasant experiences also come and go, as do neutral experiences. Paying close attention we notice this, as well as any tendency we have to try and fix some experience permanently, and how much needless suffering we experience in the attempt.
If we want to think about it, we could imagine this void as a kind of infinite nothingness, but a dynamic one—a shimmering emptiness, not a dark pit. Like a field of possibilities, it doesn’t exist yet provides the potential for all existence. But if we take any notion of what “it” essentially “is” too seriously we risk missing the point, as well as the benefits.
Surrendering all our identifying, clinging, and grasping, giving up on trying to make finite things infinite, we encounter this void, this absence. Our letting go can, in a glorious moment, culminate into an experience of complete dissolution, and in doing so, we are suddenly aware of things we didn’t notice before. Far from being a pit of despair, the world becomes alive in a way never before experienced, or perhaps instead as a kind of déjà vu, an uncanny newness as if we remember experiencing it from some parallel universe. Yet this “it” isn’t anything but a letting go, a freedom from habitual unconscious acts of causing ourselves (and others) needless suffering. What a relief!
What we were avoiding ends up as a fascinating exploration into inner space, “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” In this spaciousness, can we find an unshakable peace beyond pleasant and unpleasant experiences?
Published with the author’s permission. First published here. Duff McDuffee is a “Modern Magician.” He’s studied many esoteric tomes and learned many practical incantations for making change happen as a coach, and in his own personal and spiritual development. For more information about the work he does see here.