Have you met the place inside you that stays empty, no matter what you try?
The place that’s always uncomfortable and home to a selection of various fears?
I call it the void inside me. The crater that can not be filled.
Today I think it’s an echo of the big Void that existed before the Big Bang and will continue existing even when each molecule in the known universe has transcended into something different.
My first glimpse of the Void was last summer. 2020. The summer of cancelled flights and thin hopes for a normal life that would last beyond. At least in Estonia we wanted to think that we can continue our normal lives and fill our inner voids again with people and huge parties. The world said no. The echoes of emptiness inside us want to be seen.
But, back to the story…
In July of 2020, on a day hot enough to melt the tar on the road, a friend made an alluring proposal for a break to swim in a bog lake. Feeling a little cautious, I agreed, for it was darn hot and swimming in a bog sounded… interesting. See, I’m a sea-swimmer. My usual go-to would be sandy beaches or small pebbles. Shallow, safe and grand.
Lakes are small, contained. They have still, deep and muddy waters. One in a bog? Hard to find and harder to reach. One might get lost before getting to one. I agreed because my friend assured me that she knows the way and for the love of adventure.
‘These waters here are the same since the last Ice Age. Timeless.’
Hearing my friend’s introduction as we neared the place, the entire undertaking felt a bit more jurassic. The area was quiet, with only occasional screeches of birds. The dark water glistened like polished obsidian in the sunshine.
The edges of the lake were decorated with large looming ferns and saplings of birch trees with thin leaves quivering in the wind. I saw a butterfly, then another. Then, as I let my gaze go, I could see dozens more – bright blue, yellow and white. They were flying around, flirting with the ferns and the small flowers under the birches.
For a moment, we were standing in some grand scene of a novel. One where time is gentle, only barely touching the elements. Where the sun always shines, the wind is just a caress and the water is timeless. Ice Age. What would these waters know?
As I slid my body into the water, filled with expectations of cool refreshment, I was taken aback. The lake felt skin-warm and reluctant on my body. As if I had intruded a strange realm with unknown rules. The sea always welcomed me. But this place…didn’t.
My uneasiness surprised me. Was it because of the story? Had I been so enraptured by the idea of this water bearing hints of eternity? Was I too reminded of the fact of my own fragile being?
You’re being silly, I told myself. You’re a good swimmer, you can do it. Just relax and enjoy. Brushing off my discomfort, I decided to prove myself that there is nothing to be afraid of.
I moved further away, towards the center of the lake, relaxing with each stroke. Then, to cool my head, I dove in, eyes open as I always did.
No! I scrambled up to the light, panicking.
Unlike the sand beneath the sea, the deep dark bottom of the bog offered no reflection of light for my eyes. In the pitch black darkness, I could see nothing. In the skin-warmth of the water, I could feel nothing. In the density of the water, I could not breathe.
Except for my racing heart, there was nothing in this short dive.
Breathing slowly, I tried to calm my panic. I focused my gaze on the butterflies as messengers of the beauty of this world. I swam closer to the ferns, trying to stay in the moment. You’re being stupid, Helen. This fear is silly, I told myself. It’s just water. You like swimming. Get a grip.
I didn’t want to. My body wanted out. I almost agreed, before remembering that I’m not that kind of a woman. I can’t be afraid to swim in a lake! No matter the stories, it can’t be that bad if I know it will be dark, right?
I negotiated with my body. One more glance of the depths before we return to the shallows, alright? Agreement. I lowered my head to the water and opened my eyes.
This time, curiosity let me feel it. I looked into the blackness, seeing nothing. Through some law of correspondence, this connected me with the vast nothing. The Void.
To this Void, I am less than a fraction of a speck of dust. The world of light I am used to is perhaps as big as that speck. Perhaps only slightly more significant than I am. Perhaps even less. The eternal darkness knows everything and cares about nothing.
My existence is utterly, completely meaningless.
This Void does not care whether I live or die, am or am not. It does not care whether the sun shines or doesn’t or what happens with the galaxies or the universe around us. There is no love in this place. No light.
I raised my head from the water, my heart pounding again. I was done. Shocked and overwhelmed, I got out as fast and as carefully as I could. Seeking solace in the sensation of a warm towel, I finished my adventure by looking back at the polished surface. What did these waters know? Well, I had asked.
There is something that’s bigger than all of us and that something does not care.
Walking back, sharing the experience, I realised that the only thing this void had a purpose after all. It allowed. It hadn’t cared, but it had allowed me to exist. And I had been utterly dependent on that allowing.
Without it, I would not be here.
It’s a terrible thing to realise that what I depend on, does not care for me.
No wonder we’ve collectively made up this imaginary friend called The Universe. That benevolent power which cares and wants the best for all of us. Helps us manifest our dreams, cares for us when we need it. In the contrast of something bigger that does not care, we so long for the existence of something bigger that loves us unconditionally.
I think we develop the desire and the fear in our early childhood, at the time when we’re utterly dependent on our parents to fill our needs. Whenever any need is not met fast enough, we experience that void that doesn’t care. Even when the love is resumed, the possibility of nothing remains.
My personal void looks like a deep crater filled with fear that no-one else cares for what I do. That I am not good enough to have my needs met. That I simply can’t receive love for I must not deserve to be loved.
I’m guessing your void may look a little different, depending on your experiences. But we all have one. Why else would we invest most of our lives desperately trying to fill ourselves up with stuff and experiences and meaning?
Throughout my conscious life, I’ve been working relentlessly to fill mine. With food and alcohol, books, games, movies, sex, relationships, friends, other people’s troubles, projects, jobs, travelling, meditation, workshops and women’s circles.
I can try to need less of it all, force myself to not try to fill myself. The result is anxiety, restlessness, inability to think about anything except having something. The hunger to be complete never really goes away.
‘You seem to want to tell the world that you’re fine,’ one of my psychic friends said last week. ‘But right now, all I see is someone desperately fending off the dark hole of depression.’
Tears started streaming down my face. She saw through my deception. I had thought I was better, but I had failed again. Again, I could see the huge crater in my mind’s eye.
‘No matter what I try to put into this, it never fills up,’ I whispered. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
She thought for a moment, then offered an idea. ‘How about filling it from the inside? If you feel all the way down, there is a bottom. Can you grow something there?’
In my mind’s eye, I noticed a tiny green speck of a jungle at the bottom of this crater. Fledgling, but potent. I could grow it. But how? She couldn’t say.
For the past week, I’ve had to face it more than fill it. To acknowledge the crater that can not be filled from the outside. To allow the fact of that inner void as I’ve had to allow the fact of the big Void at the bog lake.
Depression is real. Loneliness is real. Fear of hunger, fear of making mistakes, fear of not being loved, not being deserving. All these fears are real. For my entire mode of survival is based on the fact that someone, anyone must care for me.
Knowing that something doesn’t? Yikes.
Realising that as a master copycat of bigger patterns, I don’t care half as much as I could? Ouch.
The bigger Void does not care either way and maybe my parents didn’t know how to provide the care I was yearning for…
But, I can care, right? I have the capacity to care today. For myself and for the others and for that small jungle at the bottom of my crater.
So I tried to care more, to give just a little more and wow, it worked!
When I shared my heart with others, I forgot about the emptiness. When I did things that really helped someone, I filled up. When I write in the hopes that you might read it and it might resonate, that crater gets smaller.
The Void I met in the lake was an emptiness that merely allowed me to exist.
The void inside, the corresponding emptiness, is where my seeking began. My fear of survival, my longing for something better – that elusive trinity of peace, love and happiness.
Together they taught me that I am allowed to care where something or someone else does not. And I can grow flowers in my crater.
The spring is finally here. The sun is shining as the leftover snow slowly melts in the bogs, enriching those Ice Age waters with news of the season. The timeless water doesn’t care.
But for me… I have one more day full of light and the illusion of meaning. At least one more day to witness the beauty of butterflies.