People come to treatment in many different states and stages of readiness to change.
Some arrive with the pen and notebook with and a binder to keep it all together. Some arrive with the intention of being a minute late to every group “just cuz.” But neither of these dispositions are an indication of an ability to get well by their own merit.
The first time I heard the term “fertile void” my soul smiled. They were the words I felt but had yet to hear. As a contemplative, I’m drawn to paradoxical thinking and find that a question properly held is worth more than any clinical answer.
The state of everything and nothingness, pulled back from our methods of meaning, revealing only our naked Self. I love this place. This is where we change.
Mental health treatment is a collaborative engagement between clinicians and clients in pursuit of a new way of being, in which old ways are left behind, and new ways are brought forward.
Externally we aid this by providing a tranquil environment, multiple holistic methods of healing, and the constant pinging of feedback from staff and peers.
But what about the internal world? What is this place? How do we know if we’re there?
For me, the fertile void refers to the space between the current version of yourself and your new potential Self. When we remove the addictions and compulsive behaviours, we present ourselves with the opportunity to create this new version – but this won’t happen on its own.
In primary care, our goal is to stretch our sense of Self holistically to where this new idea of the Self starts to emerge.
As clinicians, I believe it’s our job to help create this space; recognizing it, talking about it, reinforcing it, in every interaction in every interaction of the program.
Creating the Container
The first step is to create a container to hold the things we have been struggling with. In group counselling, we have the opportunity to share our experiences, some of which have burdened us deeply, and allow ourselves to draw strength from the group to help us hold those difficult experiences.
In time, we begin to see them differently and draw strength from our ability to work through emotions with the knowledge we can find reliable support.
A major shift occurs here when we start to feel a sense of strength and hope; the fertile void appears like an emotional horizon.
Whenever we start to hear that clients feel “weird,” can’t sleep, or start to have small behaviours or processes that start changing, we know that they are starting to shift.
Oversleeping the alarm, forgetting about a meeting time, or saying something out of character can be behaviours in the real world that are met negatively.
In treatment, the clinical staff sees this an opening where the ego is becoming soft and malleable, fertile.
So why can’t it just be fertile, why the void?
A void, although it has nothing, is completely open. It has no judgment (yet) and will take in whatever exists for what it is. It’s from this lack of perspective, as the Stoics would say, “the viewpoint from nowhere” that we can see things as they are without our previous attachments.
There are no distractions in the void – just the one thing that we are looking it as we put it mindfully in its helpful place.
The Joy and the Hope
One of the joys of being a counsellor is sharing in the curiosity of what new things emerge into this fertile void, lost aspects of the Self which have been forgotten, joys remembered, gifts of character unfurling into the light.
And as these new things emerge, we begin to look back at how different our pain and struggle appears.
In this new perspective, they can be seen as gifts – completing the transition of darkness to light.
This non-negotiable event becomes the new belief, the anchor, keeping us grounded through whatever we move through next.