Several years ago a close friend of mine experienced what would have been called a nervous breakdown if he had surrendered to it and quit his job. But since his job was college teaching, there was a lot of slack in it for a broken person to reel and fall down and sleep. He was able to struggle through, and people who didn’t know him well explained his apparent hard times away as the good old mid-life crisis.
However, inside my friend was truly broken not only his nerve and nerves (nice comfortable description that–nervous breakdown) but his body and will and heart and everything except his mind. Inside he was a burning, seering ball of fire and confusion all the time, day and night, for nigh onto a year.
He told me during that time that he used to fall asleep often but very lightly, and of course his mind–the only part of himself that he remained in possession of–was preoccupied with getting to the root of all this pain, thinking that to get to the root of it would be in some mysterious way synonymous with relieving it. At that time he believed in understanding (more than he says he does now), and he believed that if he could find the false things about himself, if he could find the missing piece or pieces to the map of his existence, he wouldn’t have to suffer like this anymore.
So he was all the time searching very hard for the answer that would be this magical release from pain in one great flash of light. It never came, but in his intense searching, he learned to watch himself as he fell asleep. And he began to notice his mind saying strange things. These voices didn’t seem like dreams at all, he noticed, and they seemed to come from somewhere other than what he would normally call him. And they would speak to him as you: “You sleep now and rest for as long as you like–no more shame for resting,” or “Your heart is burning out your darkness now; let it consume its darkness so the light can come in,” or “Your grandfather’s love is with you; you are not alone; I will not leave you alone.”
As my friend began to recover about a year later, he was sad to think that these voices would probably leave him too, but they didn’t. They stayed inside of him, speaking to him always as he fell asleep, growing in simplicity and sophistication as he so grew, informing him of the total falseness of society, of our fall from nature, community, love, and mystery, of the wasting of our lives in ignorance and sloth. If ever he felt alone, he only had to fall asleep and they were with him again, as if a promise from God to those who go to the bottom of their alienation from the tree of life.
He tells me that he feels these voices are the Holy Ghost.