The only sure things are death, taxes,,,,and the Void. Actually the Void is death in another garb, kind of a dress rehearsal. This gateway to Ordeal and Initiation feels like a tragedy to many in our culture. The Void is a looming tragedy to the uninitiated ego to be avoided at all costs. And many avoid it at great cost to their psychological and spiritual growth.
It is the Elder’s primary message for the initiate to fully and voluntarily step into the Void. For the Elder the Void is the place of transformation. The initiate’s questions are answered in the Void. The Elder also knows that the fate of his community and his family depends on those answers.
But for the uninformed, the naive innocent, the Void feels more like unending depression. Hell could be no worse. And to be sure many of the feelings are the same. In the Void an initiate feels unmotivated, lacks concentration, often feels fatigued, lacks appetite, has lowered energy, has a lower libido. Sounds like depression doesn’t it? No wonder men create diversions that spur adrenaline, heighten libido, and take anything natural or synthetic to increase dopamine, the feel good hormone. Can’t blame them. Without any reason to take this emotional pain the getting out of Dodge seems a very prudent approach. So most men are faced by the Void and run, most often to a comforting addiction.
Yet there is a reason to stay and step in, a very good reason. Even though a man feels what I call initiatory instead of clinical depression, the Void has enough to offer to make this depression not only bearable but extremely hopeful. Aboriginal boys could look at initiated men in their tribe and see humans at peace with themselves and their world, utilizing their talents in service of their community. In mystical, religious circles initiates could see their ancestors who possessed wisdom and amazing powers that were voluntarily given for the good of all. They all found reason to endure the pain for a higher purpose.
The Void is the psychological and spiritual black hole that once stepped into eventually opens onto a whole new universe. Stepping into the Void is stepping into Ordeal, the necessary place of initiatory transformation. (See Chapter 13, ‘Death’ in Toward Manhood). Like any initiation the timing is very fluid and the outcome unplanned. The ego is stymied. A space is made for deeper wisdom to enter, Elder wisdom, as well as an opening to a sense of direction in both small and large matters that comes from beyond oneself. In the Void a sacred space opens where a man learns more abut his mission.
I have found that once men have an explanation for the Void the Warrior within gets his adrenaline going. With the knowledge and direction of the King within the Warrior rises to the challenge. It always amazes me how much courage, focus, and healthy aggression men show in stepping into the Void once they understand its meaning.
However, the Void does not give up its secrets easily. Rarely does an opening come quickly. If a man has experience with meditation or mystical prayer he has a taste of this entry and the shock of emptiness that follows. Now comes the need for aggressive patience. It feels like something is missing. Suddenly there are no markers and no map. The Chinese have an expression and a guideline called ‘wu wei’. It means literally to actively do nothing. All a man’s energy needs to go into the courage to stay in the emptiness with its alternating boredom and extreme loneliness.
This is the time for listening. This is the time to have the humility to not know. This is the time to listen for wisdom from a place beyond one’s personal ego. What can come up is a new feeling, a prompting memory, a sense of energy about a dream or direction. This is the start of finding manhood from the inside out. This is the transformative start of an emerging manhood.
For some opening prompt can come from the outside. A new opportunity appears, a book finds itself in your hands, a friend mentions an experience that resonates. None of these prompts would have been recognized without the awareness of the Void and its lessons.
Actually, we are all regularly getting prompts and circumstances that have a lesson or message. We are continually being initiated, pushed to grow into a bigger, more compassionate, more giving self. We are continually pushed by a higher power to wider awareness and deeper understanding. But we all have to learn to regularly ‘stop the world’ as Don Juan, the Yaqui elder, said. We have to stop regularly to listen and look and discern. There are small and great initiations. All involve deeper or lesser change of direction or attitude. All are corrections to the course of our lives.
The essence of understanding and transformation comes only from being there, alone and vulnerable. Words can attract but not explain. The Void is always there, paradoxically both terrifying and archetypally attractive. Being in and through the Void is the greatest adventure a hu-man can experience. This is the most authentic drama.
Next: Surrendering to the Void.