I first started sensing the void during graduate school. After college, in my early 20s, sometimes I would get in a funk, for no good reason. Life in graduate school was pretty good. It didn’t pay much, but it was a pretty good lifestyle. I had lots of friends, girlfriends, and a promising career path. But I would just get in these funks, when everything felt so empty. I remember thinking to myself: “what is wrong with me? What do I have to complain about? This is a good life.” But it just wasn’t enough. When I would think about the future, about what to do after graduate school, what to do with my life, I would feel an overwhelming with a sense of dread and hopelessness. I didn’t have anything to look forward to, long term. All the stuff you’re supposed to look forward to, a career, marriage, a family, a house, none of that felt like it would give meaning to my life.
What was missing was meaning, a purpose.
Working for a big, soulless corporation, or staying in research, studying molecular biology, neither of those gave me a sense of purpose. Thinking about a life that stretched on into the future, there was nothing to look forward to.
It was around this time I remember reading some of Jim Morrison’s writings about the void, I think it was in the book Riders on the Storm, by John Densmore. (It seemed like he wrote about the void a lot, but now I can’t find any references to it. Maybe it wasn’t really a lot, it just seemed like it, because it stuck with me.) That word, the void, it seemed to give name to what I was experiencing. The feeling that something was missing, that there had to be more to life than this.
After finishing grad school, I came closer to the edge of the void. My fledging freelance science writing career didn’t provide the meaning I hoped it would, nor did it pay the bills. I was hanging out with friends who liked to go out drinking and chasing women. All these factors were leading into a downward spiral. (It was at this time, on my 30th birthday, when I blacked out for the first time from drinking too much alcohol.)
This sounds so cliche, but it was at this time, when things were at their bleakest, that I found hope. I found meditation, and a teacher who showed me how to find meaning, how to find connection, how to find hope. And I found a community of like-minded people that made me feel less alone. I don’t know where I’d be right now if I hadn’t found hope at that time, when I needed it most, but it probably would not be a good place.
After ten years of studying meditation, spirituality, and eastern philosophy, I think the void is the result of a soul leaving the cosmic oneness of eternity and reincarnating in a physical body. (I use the word eternity here, but you can substitute many different words: God, the universe, Allah, whatever word you want to use for that concept of a “higher power”.) As the soul develops, it starts to identify with the mind and the physical body. We start to believe that this body is all we are and that reality is limited to what can be perceived through the physical senses. For a sensitive soul, this feels isolating, empty, meaningless. It leads to soul-sickness. We try to fill the void, with work, relationships, marriage, children, drugs, alcohol, shopping, partying, drama, conflict. Anything to provide some brief enjoyment and pleasure, or at least distract us with intense feelings of any kind, positive or negative.
Some people are more sensitive to it than others, I’m not sure why. I think some people instinctively learn to adapt, to deal with it, take comfort in the life they create. Others don’t adapt, and just look harder and harder, becoming workaholics, alcoholics, rageaholics, drug addicts, addicts of other kinds. For some people, nothing in the world will cut it, because nothing in the world will fill that void, nothing can stop that feeling of isolation from eternity, feeling cut-off from God.
Those who are lucky find something that brings them back to God, back to eternity, whether it’s religion, meditation, spirituality, AA, or family. The lucky few find something to help them find that connection to a higher power, to find meaning in the emptiness, hope in the darkness.
I was lucky to find meditation, and a teacher who showed me how to find that connection within myself. Even though it appears to our senses that we’re born isolated in these physical bodies, that’s not the whole picture. A good metaphor I’ve heard is of a wave, breaking in the ocean. Each individual wave rises out of the infinite ocean, starting as a small swell, then cresting in a glorious, dramatic crash before subsiding back into the ocean. But during that whole lifetime of the wave, even though it is it’s own distinct entity, with its own unique personality and identity, it never ceases to be part of the ocean. So it is with us, we rise up out of the infinity of creation, with our unique identities, and lead our glorious, dramatic lives. But underneath, we’re still connected to eternity. It’s only the mind, conditioned by society, that believes our being is limited to the physical body. The mind imagines the void, the mind creates the emptiness. When you quiet the mind, the void doesn’t feel so empty or meaningless. When you quiet the mind, you can feel connection to Eternity, you can feel the love the surrounds us all.