The Experience of Nothingness

Some years ago I had - for me at that time experienced as "out of the blue" - a consciousness experience of "nothingness", an experience of "just nothing" seemingly not exceeding the duration of a finger snap in time and space, an experience that was not an experience because there was no one there having an experience and nothing there to be experienced, and at the same time in this relative world of time and space there was a "before" and an "after", and in the absence of more suitable terms - as far as words can describe such things at all - "experience" is the best description I have found so far. This experience happened while I was in contemplation of a scientific text about consciousness development, a technique which had grown more and more in me since some years and which enabled me to understand issues which were not accessible to my mind at first - and through which I now experienced nothingness. 


This nothingness was an Absolute Nothing, and connected with it was the utmost clarity that this entity, which I now refer to in writing as I, does not exist. [The sentence seems strangely technical and concise, and at the same time it contains "everything," and everything that follows is only an attempt to express something indescribable in a way that can be understood in writing]. 


In the spiritual traditions there are many descriptions for the experience of "Just That", or even for the emptiness of all form, but for the experience of "Just Nothing", as I have had, for a long time I did not find any descriptions that really came close to my experience - until I came across Robert Wolfe with his descriptions of "ajata": 


Advaita is difficult to discuss; ajata is infinitely more so. Advaita tells us that reality is "not two". Ajata tells us that it is "not even one". 


Ajata translates as "no creation". This means to say that nowhere has anything ever come into being. Therefore, the entire universe (or universes) - and everything therein - has no reality. In other words, the ultimate condition is nothing, or nothingness.  


[..] In Advaita, we come to realize that "all that is, is That," or the Absolute.

Ajata is where we subsequently come to realize that there is not even That (or the Absolute).


Technically, from the standpoint of ajata, even nothingness is non-existent.


No creation - this describes the experience precisely: The nothingness, the Absolute nothing, no creation - already the English "nothing" or "nothingness" is basically too much, the German word "Nichts" seems to me much more precise, where no precision is needed. There was nothing, and in this nothing no fear, no darkness, no joy, no light - it was simply nothing. 


Out of this Absolute Nothingness emerged then, again after the moment of a finger snap (if one would measure it in time and space) everything, an "Absolute Everything", the "Absolute Possibility Space", in which everything is: everything that was, everything that is, everything that will be and also everything that will never be - a seemingly infinite, dimensionless space or field that contains everything. 


This has imprinted itself in "me", as which I feel directly afterwards and since then yes further also mostly, this "knowledge" about the Absolute Nothing and the non-existence of this being, and then at the same time and in cosmic dimensions nevertheless a "moment" later (possibly this is the period which is described as Planck time) everything, and really everything, all possibilities in a dimension without dimensions which is indescribable. 


Directly after that I came back into this reality in which everything appeared as before, and yet nothing was as before. 

This paradox has determined my existence ever since, at first rather repressed into the subconscious for a long time, because at first it could hardly be grasped and processed by the mind, then becoming more and more conscious over the years and more and more present in my everyday consciousness. The question that arose immediately afterwards was "And how do I live this now?" - and this question has shaken my being here as a me for a long time and dissolved more and more. In the meantime I am in a process of rebirth, of re-creation, which is more and more "comprehensible" intellectually - a clear term for this process has not yet emerged here either.


Since then I had to learn to live with the paradox of the knowledge of nothingness and the experience of being at the same time in every moment - which may sound easy, but after this experience is not at all easy to realize, for which I fortunately found more and more sources with the time, which supported me in the fact that this is not a trifle - in contrast to esoteric remarks in the sense of "there is nobody", which cannot begin to grasp the challenge of living the paradox in the here and now and thus permanently - in time and space.


I was grounded in integral theory and had read and researched a lot on consciousness, but had always been in these fields out of an epistemological interest and not out of any specific spiritual motivation. Thus, I did not belong to any spiritual tradition in which I could have found guidance, and my original Roman Catholic socialization had not prepared me in any way for such an experience, nor given me tools to deal with the process that was now beginning. Many instructions for dealing with such a situation that I found on the Internet or in books referred to unity consciousness, advaita, and not to ajata.


Thus, more or less voluntarily and largely alone, I embarked on a journey of understanding and integration that lasted several years and was very challenging for a long time, also because the Covid situation that emerged about a year and a half after this experience catapulted me even more out of my former life, since within a very short time I lost all my assignments as a clinical supervisor in geropsychiatric care - and thus the basis of my economic existence. To describe the following years as a spiritual crisis did not seem helpful to me, considering the usual connotations of this term, because during this time I had experiences that I did not find described anywhere in this form for a long time in the psychotherapeutic setting, while in the spiritual field they were often described in an exaggerated and idealized positive way, while perplexity prevailed in my case. The dissolution of world and self in the moment of the "experience" subsequently manifested itself very real in my life - I finally found a little orientation and relief in some texts of Tibetan Buddhism and later, among others, in the book "The End of Your World" by Adyashanti.


With the help of some friends who could offer occasional support, thanks to my mind which still found orientation even in the most absurd situations, and due to the fact that I finally found access to two people who themselves had had this or similar experiences and who could be my companions for some time via eMail, and finally also due to the accompaniment of a transpersonal psychotherapist who also knows this reality, I was able to re-emerge into this world, full of intimate insights into dimensions of consciousness, some of which I had previously only been able to perceive as "pathological" in people with dementia, and which I had now also experienced in a somewhat different form as part of what is called spiritual awakening. Other realizations and experiences exceed my understanding in a way to this day - I have experienced something which is basically indescribable, and yet which, as many spiritual traditions have assured me again and again in their writings, is the basis of being, the basis of the human experience of existence. 

I assume that many more people have such or similar experience than is known, but that many cannot comprehend this experience and therefore have to repress it - and thus cannot face the associated experience of the dissolution of the I. Here I see parallels to dementia - also because when I observed myself in this process, I found some parallels in my behavior to that of many people with dementia whom I had accompanied in my previous professional life - with the difference that my mind did not seem to be affected, quite the opposite: it was running at full speed and trying to understand the experience and the consequences.


In our Western culture we have hardly any comprehensible, secular descriptions of this spectrum of experience that do not pathologize and instead take the sensation of being in a pathological process seriously and classify it in an orienting way. I myself have had many moments when I was very aware that my descriptions, if I were to say them publicly, would be very close to the words of a person in acute psychosis, and was thus very aware - especially as a gerontologist, as a specialist in gerontological psychiatry - of the danger of social exclusion and of slipping into a world of pathologization, medicalization and institutionalization. I had a few people with whom I repeatedly reassured myself of my orientation towards reality - although I was sure that I was fully oriented myself, I was also aware that this self-assessment also applied to a person in acute psychosis, and so I felt it was both a help and a kind of duty to get appropriate feedback from the outside.


This website is testimony to the fact that I managed to live through this phase of my life in a psychologically and spiritually healthy way and to come back with insights that hopefully can offer orientation and help to other people, especially people with experiences of consciousness that the biomedical system calls "dementia". Not all people have the good fortune, skills, and access to consciousness research and scientific knowledge in general that came together in me when they have this experience. For them, too, I go out into the world with my experiences and insights. 


I came into this experience and into this dimension of consciousness from the scientific pursuit of knowledge and my scientific curiosity has helped me through the last years in understanding - so also my further way will consist of a connection and integration of this experience of consciousness with spiritual sciences as well as classical sciences.


This report is only an abridged version; overall, the experience of nothingness had several years of great inner turmoil in advance and took quite a few years to integrate, which is unlikely to be fully completed within what we consider a lifetime.

But I see that we have to talk and write about these experiences, because there are some examples where this or very similar experiences led later into a manifestation of diseases, which obviously could not be managed out of this consciousness, but quite soon led to death, as for example with Suzanne Segal and with Bernadette Roberts. I also see significant connections or parallels to dementia, which I elaborate on under DementiaTranscendence.


This "absolute" level of consciousness has not been "realized" in me - the experience has never left my "system" and has also become more embodied over time, but I am far from perfection and cannot imagine it being completed in this lifetime - more on this under "Cosmic Address".


My motivation to show myself is based, apart from what I have brought with me in insights about dementia from this journey of consciousness over many years, among other things also on the life story of Suzanne Segal, who - although a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation - needed ten years until she found in Jean Klein someone who could explain to her what was going on with her, and whom I would like to quote in conclusion:

As Westeners seeking spiritual transformation we need to help each other out by sharing our stories. 

Since we encounter spiritual experiences in ways that Easteners do not, we need to gather our accounts of transformation in order to create new "ancient texts" that provide Western-style maps of the spiritual territory.  

Suzanne Segal