Night of January 5/6
We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
...The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires.
~T.S. Eliot, "East Coker"
~T.S. Eliot, "East Coker"
I am in a dismal psychiatric hospital with dingy yellow stained walls and seizured fluorescent lights. A variety of infirm people are milling about in a commons area.
I'm not a patient, and I have some kind of purpose here, but I don't know what it is. I'm trying to leave but patients keep detaining me, trying to tell me their stories. I need to get back to my children, I say. I've been gone too long.
Something is amiss, there's some sort of threat being announced. Someone is attacking. I begin to move out of the commons area into the hallway, and they're saying it's a lock-down, that no one can leave. I have a growing sense of the presence of evil, and of being trapped. I must escape.
As I move into the hallway, chaos is building, and there are more people, all rushing in different directions. I'm trying to move past them, get to the doorway at the end of the hall. I notice a figure to my left. She's skinny, blonde, and ugly, with gaping pale blue eyes, and she's carrying a small black to-go box containing an iceberg lettuce salad. She's not human. She's an evil creature; I can feel it, and I'm terrified. She seems fake, like she's made out of heavy rubber.
She's inching up behind someone, sniffing at the back of their head with horrible intent. She catches me looking at her, and then throws some of the lettuce toward me. I'm doomed. She moves toward me and I know I will not leave this place alive. I know she has the strength to do with me what she will, and there's no point in fighting it.
I say something to her, how I know that she can throw me against the wall and kill me in an instant, and she says, "I don't have to." Just then, I notice huge rusted pipes, the thickness of barrels, lining the wall of the hallway. They begin to creak and rumble, and I realize that they're filled with water. They're about to send a force of rushing water through the building that will quickly drown everyone there.
"Here it comes..." she says.
And I woke up.
The evil black sludge had filled my bedroom, it was a tangible presence, and I was frozen. I haven't had a nightmare like this in a very long time. There have been times when I've sensed the presence of evil on the perimeter of my awareness, and deliberately pushed it away, but now it encompassed me, and I couldn't even get out of bed.
My first rational thoughts were that a) It's the night before Epiphany, and I have had an epiphany of evil, and b) if evil has actual substance and presence, how much more does God have, the divine love and goodness.
I made myself get up eventually, and I went to the living room to ponder and pray. I wrenched myself away from the sludge enough to turn my thoughts and heart toward God, toward the quiet love I have avowed myself to. I thought of a scene in Paulo Coelho's novel, Brida, in which the heroine must spend the night in the forest alone. At first she is terrified with the sounds and the shadows of the night, but then she realizes that she has the CHOICE of how to feel, that if she turns her mind and heart toward love and beauty and goodness and joy, then that is where she will be. Because it's real. She eventually falls asleep in peace.
I also thought of Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, who witnesses a manifestation of evil among his fellows, and can never embrace them again, even though he's not sure if it really happened or if he dreamed it.
Sitting here now, several days later, in the comfort of distance and day, it's easy for me to see how I manifested the nightmare in response to the events of the day before. The deep fears and pain that I had given up trying to control were leaking out. Threatening to rush out, in fact, as if from huge rusty pipes, and drown me. I have had several insights into the meaning of this dream just by writing about it here. But I can't write it off as merely "psychological." It was a manifestation of evil that was not merely within me. It had a presence of its own.
I don't want to get into armchair theology of evil just now, because that would diminish the actual experience and what it meant to me. Besides, I don't even know how to distinguish between "within" and "without" when an issue comes to this level. The sludge was definitely in the room, but isn't the room "in me" in the most profound sense?
As awful as this experience was, it showed me my spiritual growth, because I didn't just run and turn on a light and try to externally comfort myself. I never even looked at the clock. I also didn't sit and try to analyze it, to think it away. I immediately went to God, to divine love for that comfort. I leaned into myself to the source instead of outwardly to some illusion of control. And this deliberate invocation of divine love was much more effective and comforting than turning on a few lights and telling myself it was nothing. It didn't make the sense of evil "go away," but rather came into that evil and illuminated it. Experiencing the substance of evil confirmed for me at a deep level the substance of God. The light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.