Enlightenment’s Evil Twin: The Pit of the Void

Pic: Expretta (CC)

Pic: Expretta (CC)

Jeff Warren explores the promises and pitfalls of vipassana and other mindfulness meditation on Psychology Tomorrow Magazine:

Practicing vipassana, you have more space to make appropriate responses, and more space, too, around your looping thought-track, which can dramatically reduce stress and anxiety as well as raise a person’s baseline levels of happiness and fulfillment. This is one reason why mindfulness has become the technique of choice for thousands of clinicians and psychotherapists, and there is now a considerable body of scientific research demonstrating these and other benefits.

Yet most of the clinicians who so enthusiastically endorse mindfulness do not have a proper understanding of where it can lead. The fact is that mindfulness in large doses can penetrate more than just your thoughts and sensations; it can see right through to the very pith of who you are – or rather, of who you are not. Because, as Buddhist teachers and teachers from many other contemplative traditions have long argued, on close investigation there doesn’t appear to be any deeper “you” in there running the show. “You” are just a flimsy identification process, built on the fly by your grasping mind — a common revelation in meditation that happens to be compatible with the views of many contemporary neuroscientists.

In fact, the classic result of a successful vipassana practice is to permanently recognize the impermanence (anicca), the selflessness (anatta), and the dualistic tension or suffering (dukkha) of all experience, which may sound like an Ibsen play, but this is the clear empirical understanding that many otherwise sensible practitioners report. For most people this shift is the most profoundly positive experience of their lives. In the words of [Buddhist scholar and future neuroscience-consultant] Shinzen Young, “it allows a person to live ten times the size they would have lived otherwise, it frees them from most worries and concerns, it gives them a quality of absolute freedom and repose.”

But once in a while, something goes wrong. In Buddhism this is known as falling into “the pit of the void.” Young is more modern: “Psychiatrists call it Depersonalization and De-realization Disorder, or DP/DR. I call it ‘Enlightenment’s evil twin’.”

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15 Comments on "Enlightenment’s Evil Twin: The Pit of the Void"

  1. The void can be a warm and comforting place…. once you learn to love the cold darkness.

  2. American Cannibal | Jan 31, 2014 at 3:55 pm |

    Monogamy is the pit of the void.

  3. BuzzCoastin | Jan 31, 2014 at 4:04 pm |

    Goenka Gi has been offering free 10 day vipassana training for decades
    only 1% ever take the course twice
    even fewer meditate using vipassana once the course ends
    the danger cited here
    is a gross distortion of the facts in a sensational way
    that will protect no one from “the void”
    by may prevent some from escaping it

    • If you read the full article, the main point of it is to suggest that psychology professionals and meditation instructors need to be better equipped to guide people if they end up in a crisis like this, regardless of how it started. The article also suggests that such a phase could be beneficial or even inevitable on the path of spiritual development. I’m not sure what you mean about a distortion of the facts. I personally didn’t like the “evil twin” title, if that’s what you mean.

      • BuzzCoastin | Feb 1, 2014 at 3:21 pm |

        considering the infinitesimally small number of potential cases
        infind your argument specious

        embracing the sloth of despond
        is a part of amay spiritual practices
        for which modern medicine has no spiritual answer
        they just have pills to make you think you feel better
        for a short while

  4. Hoarfraust | Jan 31, 2014 at 4:24 pm |

    Only the ego could see the loss of the psychological “me” as a void. When the last vesties of ego are dropped, the “void” gives way to the vast, rich, fertile, and eternal ground from which all creation springs.

    • Abstract terminology aside, some people do find themselves in terrifying “spiritual emergencies” that aren’t resolved by simply adopting a different philosophical point of view.

  5. Stare too long into the Void
    And the Void will stare into you.

    -Some German Guy

  6. Simon Valentine | Feb 1, 2014 at 12:47 am |

    allow the corporate sponserships to seep into you
    know the corruption will perfectly alter your corrupt being into the bliss that is nwo

    … *rolls eyes*

  7. Is this what’s also known in zen as falling into emptiness, or false enlightenment? If so, a decent whack with a stick helps…

    • Adam's Shadow | Feb 1, 2014 at 5:58 pm |

      A good whack with a stick helps most situations.

      • Adam’s Shadow opined “A good whack with a stick helps most situations.” Were you speaking as the whacker, or as the whackee? Me, I find whackers and whackees sorta icky,and so do not abide with them any too long at all.

        • Adam's Shadow | Mar 18, 2014 at 9:40 pm |

          Both: not perfect or optimal in any situation, but always practical and gets the job done.

  8. teh LoL is funner-er

  9. “When the last vestiges of ego are dropped, the “void” gives way to the
    vast, rich, fertile, and eternal ground from which all creation springs.” Hoarfrost, do you speak due reading, hunch, or due direct experience sans “all vestiges of ego”?

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