The Flame and the Void has been tried and tested in real life by someone experimenting with different meditation techniques. Here's his description of how to do it and how successful it was (emphasis mine in all the quotes below):
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.
He describes it as being easier than the other types of meditation he tried, which would make it well-suited for teaching to soldiers or Soldiers who would be too busy learning to fight or channel to bother spending much time on complicated meditation techniques. He also mentions that the Flame and the Void left him feeling emotionally harder and more focused rather than relaxed. This matches the effect it's described to have on Rand in the WoT books, and is again well-suited for use in battle.
The Flame & The Void is my favorite meditation so far. It holds all the benefits of mindfulness meditation and has the additional benefit of being way easier to dive into from day one.
Focusing on the steps of this meditation (feeding thoughts & emotions into a flame, and then maintaining a shield-like void around one’s self) is much easier than focusing only my breath, making it a more immediately effective method of eliminating everything from my mind.
However, it’s not as relaxing as other meditation methods. Instead of being calming it is more hardening. I don’t feel relaxed during or after meditating; I feel focused. I feel the strain of maintaining the void.
This shares many similarities with mindfulness meditation, the main difference being that this is easier and mindfulness meditation is more calming. I can see myself practicing both styles in my life, using The Flame & The Void for work & sangfroid in-the-moment and mindfulness for training myself to be calm and focused overall.
I’ve gotta say, I really didn’t expect The Flame and The Void to be so impactful. I only tried it out because I’m reading The Wheel of Time novels and thought it would be interesting. Lo and behold, it’s the most effective and easy to learn meditation style yet.
The results discovered by this 'reviewer' of meditation are again consistent with the description of Rand's experience of using the Flame and the Void:
- Drastically increased ability to tolerate discomfort, both physical & emotional.
- Ability to almost instinctually begin meditating whenever I find myself in an uncomfortable situation.
- Ability to have near complete focus on the moment & what I have devoted it to when I use The Flame & The Void while doing anything.
- Increased ability to clear my mind.
- Increased ability to stoically do what I have devoted a given time to, even if it is not enjoyable.
- I become more emotionally ‘cold’ when I am using The Flame & The Void.
Summary: the Flame and the Void does work as described, and it is a very effective meditation technique for achieving emotional coldness, clearing the mind, and distancing oneself from pain and sensations of all kinds.