Archetype of the Void

Fundamental to all experience are the opposites of emptiness and fullness, space and substance, sound and silence, something and nothing, female and male, light and darkness. We not only meet these polarities at every moment in such things as hearing a sound that is only apparent because it is surrounded by silence – the silence between the sounds – but also all people and objects are only individually identifiable because they exist in empty space. But more important than that in understanding the archetype of the void is that each day we cycle through the alternating experience of existing and not existing – of having focussed personal awareness and then meeting the loss of it in sleep. The midway point between these polarities is dreams.

In dropping into this experience of sleep where there is a void or loss of personal awareness, we lose any sense of self and body and so the transition from waking self awareness to the void is easy. But the archetype of the void is about meeting it with awareness. For many people this can be a difficult or frightening thing. We tend to think of the void as a huge nothingness, a vacuum in which the human personality will disappear. This can seem very frightening, that behind everything is a sort of nothingness. The amusing thing is that this is an everyday human experience. In sleep we have dropped into that void. Our personality has indeed, as far as we are concerned, melted away and disappeared. Yet the next morning we awake and all is well. We have survived.

When people think of the void they usually see it as a destruction of everything – a death of self. But the nothingness of the void is part of the paradox of existence – for the nothingness is at the same time everything. But everything is all inclusive. As such it cannot have any defined characteristics or shape, otherwise it wouldn’t be everything. This is because if you were to say what a beach is, you could not say the sea was the beach, or the sky, or the land. None of them separately is the beach. The beach is the indefinable amalgam of them all. In just that way the Nothing is the indefinable everything that underlies the particulars of life.  The Next Step.

The conscious meeting with the void is part of the gradual expanding of personal awareness. It is akin to, or the same as, going to sleep with full awareness. When we sleep our body and brain enter into a very different state; we lose awareness of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch; our voluntary muscles are paralysed, and our experience is internalised. So, consciously entering sleep is a journey into a very strange world completely unlike our waking life. Part of that world is the full surround virtual reality of dreams, but there are dimensions beyond imagery, beyond form, beyond the opposites, beyond personal separated existence. This is the void, and to confront it consciously is a transformative experience.

Seeking the void is at the heart of the Buddhist way of life, as it is also at the heart of Christian mysticism. See Dimensions of Human Experience; Cloud of Unknowing; buddhism and dreams; void; yoga and dreams.

The void may be depicted in a dream by a shimmering haze, a transparent wall into which you can walk and become absorbed. At times it might be shown as the ocean, falling into space with just points of light, or a huge abyss’ or a massive hole. At other times it might be met as an ordinary scene or object that yet is seen as infinite space or complete liberation or a wonderful or threatening emptiness. Meeting such imagery or experiences in any degree produces powerful personal change. It produces a new sense of oneself; one no longer focussed on the ego or body personality – the self we consider ourselves to be through our body shape, gender, beauty or ugliness, or through our social position, our wealth, work or acclaim. It is, as the Buddhists name it, liberation. Meeting it is part of what Jung calls individuation. See: example under void.

Example: To my amazement a huge living and wondrous circle appeared on the wall. It was full of movement, everything dancing in time to music. At the very centre of the circle was emptiness, nothing, a void. Yet out of this nothingness all things emerged. There were plants, animals, people, hills, rivers and mountains all coming to birth. They danced out in their own individual movement, yet each unknowingly was part of the whole wonderful and intricate dance which made a great pattern and movement in the body of the circle. All danced to the periphery and there turned and moved, still in their ballet, back to the centre. At that centre they plunged into its oblivion again. But at that very moment new life sprang from it to dance once more.

When we do meet it however, the strange thing is that what appeared as an absence or denial of oneself is actually an addition. Suddenly we see that everything has been added, and nothing taken away.

The negative aspect of this archetypal experience is the loss of any personal meaning or motivation, the feeling of melting and perhaps even death. The positive side is of tremendous opportunity to live beyond previous limitations and boundaries; the realisation of ones own core existence in timelessness and infinite potential, along with the meaninglessness of prevalent views of death.


Useful Questions and Hints:

What do I feel about the nothingness that constantly surrounds me?

Am I scared of the idea of that at base I might not exist in the same way I usually see myself?

Can I let go of all that is involved in the little me and surrender to the vast me?

It might be helpful to read Individuation and Methods of Awakening.


-andy wymark 2010-07-30 19:17:37

About 25 years ago I had the most vivid and terrifying dream I have ever experienced. I was ill with a temperature of over 100. When I went to sleep after taking medication I experienced my first ever lucid dream. I entered into a place – a void of nothingness – it was space with only limitless pulsating black. It would not end and time had no meaning there. I was aware of this and desperate for it to stop and to awaken. It was a physical place-a somewhere else. After an eternity that was probably an hour I awoke from this sleep. I did have a fever – this much is true. Once I fell asleep again I went straight back to this place. It was terrifying. It continued all night. Some years later I was recounting this dream to a very close friend. This moment confirms to me that this was no ordinary dream. I have not told you a small section of the dream. I was telling my friend of the blacknes and the pulsating black – his eyes widened (sorry to be dramatic) – I was about to tell him the next part but he finished it for me. All of a sudden from the blackness did you see a cottage in the background with a basket and rose clippers with some roses in. I was stunned. I had never told anyone of this. My friend had had a fever at the time as well some years after mine. I have experienced the feeling of the void a couple of times since. I was flying to Peru 10 years ago and happened to glance out the window at a massive mushroom storm cloud we were passing under and the same feeling flooded back to me – the feeling of massiveness and of the something else.
I don’t think the dream needs interpreting, I just wanted to share it.
Kind regards..

    -Tony Crisp 2010-08-01 10:12:47

    Hi Andy – The void you describe is the polar opposite to the waking state. In other words in our everyday life we feel separated from everyone else, with a body, and location. When we sleep we lose that and we say we have been unconscious. In fact in sleep we descend through the levels of consciousness or mind to the very core of our being. Having done this myself many times, I know it as the greatest gift. But of course we are often frightened of losing ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth, after all you do it every night and survive. I believe the void as you call it is the source of our dreams, and the incredible wisdom it gives us. That nothingness is the Source of Everything. If we invite it into our lives openly we are truly enriched.

    There is an ancient book titled The Cloud of Unknowing. The unknown author invites us to stand in the Cloud of Unknowing and be blessed. The state of unknowing is the void.

    We cannot have one without the other, and it is healing.


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