It was terrifying. I was 12 years old. In the mountains above Death Valley, walking back to the campsite with my sisters I experienced a sudden, involuntary shift of consciousness, as if everything in my life up to that point had been a languid dream and then instantaneously, I was thrust into the unbearable realness of the present moment. I tried to tell my parents but all I could think to say was “I feel strange.”
For years the experience returned to me in waves. In college I sought help from counseling services. An existentialist told me I would just have to accept the way things are. A Freudian told me I should have more sex. One autumn afternoon in 1967 I had my first of many sessions with a sweet, gentle psychologist named Royce Jones, who, upon hearing my story, said, “I think your crisis is a spiritual one,” and gave me a of a book called This is It by Alan Watts.
Thus began the journey that would take me through Zen, Yoga, Sufism, Gurdjieff and Rudolf Steiner, mystical Christianity, etc. I was not looking for systems of theology. I wanted road signs, dances and songs, electrically-charged ideas, transcendent experiences, anything that would pacify the great uneasiness always waiting in the wings. I found some hard-earned peace. When the terror approached I began to learn to welcome it as an old friend, here to guide me a little further along the path.
On midnight, May 15, 2009, I felt the Old Friend approach. I got out of bed to greet him. The next thing I remember I was riding in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Several EEGs later, I had my diagnosis. Epilepsy. I probably had it all my life. Cells in a small cluster of my left temporal lobe are pulsating to a rhythm far simpler than the rich, complex patterns of activity required for “normal” consciousness. Every now and then the nearby cells pick up the beat and move to it. If enough cells start dancing, I experience the psychic disturbance that set me out on the spiritual path. If the entire brain catches on I go into a full grand mal seizure.
The medication, Keppra, has no discernable side effects and for the past 2 years there has been almost no return of the ghosts that haunted me for over fifty years. When the occasional blip crosses the screen I can easily reason with it. Oh, that’s just my epilepsy acting up. It’s under control.
But the path was not in vain. The truths I learned were truths, regardless of whatever neurochemical incentive impelled me to learn them. The implications and insights are astounding. Just one: in order to function, the brain requires a rhythm so complex that our conventional perspective can only see it as chaos. The same is true of the universe, which means that through our consciousness we are linked with the entire cosmos. That is so incredibly cool. And that is just the beginning.…
--- Jim Nail