What Is The Void?
Question: What is the void? I sometimes go with a friend to a Zen meditation class and the Japanese monk who teaches there keeps talking about ‘the void’. Can you explain what this means please?
Most of our life we spend channeling mental energy into our attention – we pay attention to things we want, don’t want, things we think about, imagine and so on.
And our over-energized attention flitters about from object to object – thinking about everything, conceptualizing and reacting, making our emotions churn, which creates mental smoke that obscures other, more subtle aspects of being – particularly awareness.
We notice things and a millisecond later they become concepts – so our real-time sensory experience of the world – of hearing, seeing, tasting and smelling – is constantly being obscured by the concepts we make out of our senses. As such, we spend most of our life thinking this smoke of concepts and subsequent reactions is reality.
But this languaged mind world we live in is not reality at all. It is simply what we have made out of reality. But as I said, because we spend most of our time in that parallel reality, we think it is the only reality there is.
So then we start meditating.
In meditation we teach our attention to let go of everything and be still. So, it slowly learns it doesn’t have to cling to things and think all the time and make concepts out of everything. We learn to accept reality as pure experience, without going to the next stage of conceptualizing.
Relieved of its duties, so to speak, the attention stops creating emotional reactions and relaxes. As a result, less mental ‘smoke’ is created – the emotions calm down, thought energy changes from conceptual bursts to intuitive flow.
The mind opens up and becomes still within the flow of real-time reality.
In this new stillness, our attention merges back into awareness, and all of the qualities we commonly assume are ‘reality’ – of concepts, time, place – they all disappear.
And that disappearing of the usual ‘stuff’ of life is known as the void.
But it’s not a void at all – it’s called that simply because when we first experience it, it always seems as if everything we know has disappeared.
But of course, that doesn’t include ‘everything we don’t yet know’ – which is revealed – and it is this aspect of awareness that cannot be explained, because that would be making it into a concept.
The only way to know it is to experience it.
An experience of ‘the void’ will only happen if we meditate for long period of time – in silent retreat in a meditation centre or temple.
The first experiences of this ‘void’ are very quick – and they are very intense and very beautiful. But as extraordinary as they are, in this first stage, they are a quite frightening to the mind. As soon as a void experience arises, the mind’s first reaction is to go ‘OH!’, then immediately scramble to re-assert its usual activities.
It takes quite a few ‘void’ experiences to get used to it enough to let go and fall into it.
So one should meditate without looking for them – and the more of these ‘Oh!’ experiences we have, the more we become used to letting go of the conceptual reality we had always clung to, and accept this new ultimate reality.
And that’s the beginning of the process of enlightenment.
“You may have expected that enlightenment would come Zap! instantaneous and permanent. This is unlikely. After the first “ah ha” experience, it can be thought of as the thinning of a layer of clouds…“
– Ram Dass
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)