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Feature Article: Void vs. Emptiness
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Marty L. Cooper, MFT

(415) 937-1620


4831 Geary Blvd.

San Francisco, CA 94118





October 2014              Vol. 6, Issue 10  

Sometimes, as much as I try to write as plainly as I can, certain subjects just don't seem to want to comply.  I wanted to write about the difference between a critical misperception that happens in depression, between the experience of "Void" and that of "Emptiness," and how avoiding the former strangles the life of the latter.  But it wouldn't show up as anything but a fairly abstract statement.  Not sure why.  Maybe will figure it out later (and I'm open to any and all feedback!).  I thought I could keep trying to tease the practical out of Plato's Cave, but apparently don't yet have the right snack, so it seemed better to put something out there.

So, that said, I hope this helps in some way, at least to point out that the Void is not the same as Emptiness, except that they, at a certain distance, kind of sound like the same chord. 

I hope the incipient Fall is treating you well.  In San Francisco, odd place that this is, we're getting beautiful warm Spring days, although there's a bit of seasonable nip starting today, so all is well.
Best wishes,


Void vs. Emptiness
There is a critical distinction between the experiences of Void and that of Emptiness that it behooves us who experience anxiety and depression to know about.


"Void" here refers to "the presence of absence." It is experienced as a closed, retracted, painful state, like touching into a pocket of acid. It is the equivalent of a abscess in the body. It's not empty space. It's full of toxins and dead material, but is trapped in a bubble. When we experience Void, we are experiencing a place in our psyche where what was, or should be, in that space has collapsed or been destroyed. It is without positive energy, uncreative, pulling in the way an acid eats at its surroundings.


"Emptiness," in contrast, is the "presence of potential." This state is experienced as open, creative, full of potential in the form of abundant energy. It is without forms, but is not a space of destroyed or pulverized forms (as with the Void). It invites us into it, is not (when we are fully recognizing and encountering it) threatening, is not toxic or unsafe. The archetypal open meadow on a sunny day in Spring, lying on our backs staring up, is the state of "Emptiness": we are not threatened by the space, and can feel and tap into the vast energy and possibilities. It is a space in which the lack of "objects" is not experienced as horrid; we are drawn to this space, when we recognize it, because it is where life arises.


The Void is when our systems register absence as threatening, unsafe; Emptiness is when our systems register absence as safe, open space. Void is the product of something destroyed which has not been grieved and healed; the wreckage of that destruction is trapped in and as the Void.


The problem is when these two get confused, and in our attempts to stay out of the wreckage and toxicity of the Void, we mistake Emptiness for Void and then, understandably, avoid it. Which creates a painful dilemma: to clarify the difference between Void and Emptiness requires us to study their difference, but this study feels akin to trying to distinguish between a rattlesnake and a garden snake. To get close triggers the sense of danger, and we retract...and yet this study is what we have to do to reclaim Emptiness. If we don't, then our own attempts to be safe by not being consumed with Void, also starves us of the energy and abundance in Emptiness.


This fundamental misperception is pervasive in depression, and creates a core dilemma: the life energy we need, and seek, is in the open space of absence, but our experiences identify absence as only Void. Such that, when we experience Emptiness, it quickly gets mis-felt as only Void. Then life seems to be continuously consumed by Void.   (The film The Never Ending Story presents this magnificently in depicting Void as "The Nothing," which progressively consumes all life, until the protagonist finds Emptiness, in the form of imagination, and is able to take that raw potential and, from "nothingness," restore life.)


We try to solve this terrible dilemma by throwing stuff into the Void, hoping to fill it up. Drugs, relationships, work, things, philosophy, all can be used to cover over the experience of Void, or to act like pitons anchoring us on the edge of a cliff. We get a sense of control, of order, of meaning. But they don't last forever. Void keeps pulling for attention, but we confuse that with pulling us for our life energy and contract, desperately, clinging to whatever has some solidity to avoid what feels like a decomposing of our selves, like falling into a black hole.


Eventually, we have to give our attention to the Void. But we have to anchor ourselves well to do so. Or perhaps it's more like building channels for storm water, that keeps them from flooding and drowning everything around. We do this through relationship, through building faith (which at essence is the projection of openness into uncertainty), through building trust in even the existence of Emptiness, and then in its reality through accumulations of experience of the Emptiness as separate from the Void. It requires measured grief, because the Void is (at least in an aspect) unfinished grief over past losses and destructions. We need company and skillful guides and maps, to point out how Void differs from Emptiness, and to hold us steady when we're tottering over the cliff, looking down.



My Book is Available:

Anxiety and Depression:  42 Essays on Overcoming the Wild Moods

My book,

Anxiety and Depression:  42 Essays on Overcoming the Wild Moods (2011), is for sale as a paperback or Kindle.


It is a collection of short essays, focusing on the challenge of managing, and ultimately, uprooting depression and anxiety.  You can find a few sample articles here, and can purchase the book on Amazon here.

Archive of Past Newsletters
     All past issues of Tame Your Mood can be found here.
Audio Recordings
     Various audio recordings can be found here.
About Marty

I am a San Francisco psychotherapist who helps individuals struggling with anxiety and depression to not only manage theseMarty L. Cooper, MFT "wild moods," but eventually learn how to overcome them.  I work comprehensively with mental, emotional, bodily, and spiritual dimensions of anxiety and depression, all of which are necessary to overcome the chronic quality of anxiety and depression.

If you are interested in exploring working together in psychotherapy, please contact me at:


(415) 937-1620,