This is part of The Daily Meditation Experiment, where I am practicing one school of meditation per week(ish) to understand the overall structure & effects of each.
Meditation Method: The Flame & The Void (Mushin Meditation)
The nerdiest of all meditation styles I’m trying in this experiment, The Flame & The Void comes from The Wheel of Time fantasy novel series by Robert Jordan. It is very alike to Mushin Meditation practiced by martial artists (a state of flow where the body moves on instinct and training instead of thought and planning), and to Mindfulness Meditatation.
Characters who use The Flame & The Void in the books experience a complete focus on the present moment & what they are doing in it, while being completely detached from anything else (including physical pain, fear, etc). One mark of this is to be able to be aware of physical pain and yet detached from it as if it were “happening to someone else”.
“I imagine a flame, and then I push everything into it. Hate, fear, nervousness. Everything. When they’re all consumed, there’s an emptiness, a void, inside my head. I am in the middle of it, but I’m a part of whatever I am concentrating on, too.” – Rand Al’Thor, The Dragon Reborn
How it’s done:
- Imagine a flame.
- Feed every thought, emotion, & feeling that comes to you into this flame.
- It may help to take a visual representation of the thing and feed that into the flame.
- When everything is gone, let the flame go and surround yourself in the Void of emotion and thought that is left.
- Go back to step 2 if the void disappears.
- Take the actions you need/want to take, unaffected by thoughts or emotions.
I practiced The Flame & The Void in many different scenarios, some extremely uncomfortable or even painful:
With my hand in ice-cold water, on a bumpy and uncomfortable bus, in bed going to sleep. I would also do miniature meditations when I needed to deal with something like emotional turmoil, boredom, or getting my eyebrows plucked (I’ve got a unibrow by default. Gotta keep that thing tamed).
Ice water was the most painful, and therefore most indicative of success in trying to distance myself from physical pain. I was able to hold my hand in ice water for 3 full minutes, the maximum I’m sure I can go without causing myself harm (chosen by following in the footsteps of Mythbusters in their Pain Tolerance experiment).
Most people can’t do this, and I know I would have given up in the first minute if not for this meditation.
Throughout the three minutes, I had a few solid moments where I was completely successful in not caring about the pain, and a few where it hurt intensely and the only way I was able to keep my hand in the water was to just continually feed that pain into the flame as fast as it was hitting me.