What are these forces that disturb the soul as one sleeps? Or is one actually asleep? Are you asleep, dreaming that you are being disturbed, or are you awake, and being disturbed by forces beyond your mental and spiritual grasp? To the best of my knowledge, they come in as one sleeps; and if one wakes in the night, they seek to continue the unpleasant conversation-battle as one is in a semi-conscious, semi-awake state. One can choose: If this waking up occurs again, rather than try to return to sleep, or try to dismiss the troubling forces, one can arise and seek to be as alert, as awake, as one can be, “watching and praying.”
They come in, uninvited. So one may say to oneself something like this: Fully awake, I shall invite them in for a conversation, and call upon the Almighty, the all-good One, to assist in the examination. But they may be like death in Bergman’s “Seventh Seal,” that cheated at the game of chess by misplacing a piece in the chess game of life. I shall invite them in, as St. Anthony of the desert invited the devil into his cave, to dialogue with him. I must arise, keep alert, and enter into a dialogue with as much light and peace as possible. “Evil loves to hide,” so I shall speak with them in the light. If I try to avoid these unseen critters, they gain all the more power over me.
What are these “critters”? Who are these nocturnal visitors that bring not peace and sweet sleep, but restless dreams and some sense that one doing combat in the night, as one seeks to sleep? What are these forces?
Who are you? Are they parts of me, parts of you? Are they more or less forgotten parts of one’s psyche? Are they memories, past events, persons with whom we have an incomplete, imperfect, even troubling relationship? Are they spirits from a darker world than the mind knows? Or are these visitors perhaps sent by dark forces to torment us? Are they in some sense purgatorial ﬁres, a foretaste of hell if one does not rather surrender to the all-good? If they are purifying the soul, then they are purgatorial. My own sense is that they are not intentionally purgatorial, or leading one into the bliss of divine union; rather, they are forces of resistance to divine Presence. They are, as it were, temptations not to rely on the all-good, who is available even in sleep to all who but call on Him. Or they are residues of our failures to draw fully on the power of the Good.
What I sense is that these visitors are memories, unresolved conﬂicts, less than noble responses to others, or to the trials of life. They are indeed parts of oneself, parts that are actively yet hiddenly resisting a full and loving surrender to the all-good God. They arise when the soul is not yet beatiﬁed, made supremely happy, fully at home in God. They are, perhaps, part of oneself that are not fully integrated into the conscious life one has chosen. They are evidence of incompletion, imperfection, even the unsaintly—or at the extreme, the demonic—in oneself. These forces are in me and of me, myself not truly brought into “the Kingdom of God,” not baptized into Christ, not fully immersed in divinity.
So the soul is indeed in-between the rule of God, the Kingdom of God, and the rule of one’s ego, one’s ﬂeeting and even destructive self. True or not? The soul not fully in God is gnawed on by its own forces resisting divine victory, which is the deiﬁcation of the human being, becoming truly and wholly one with Christ. One wants it both ways: God and self.
Is this true? Who are these nocturnal visitors? Desires, thoughts, memories, actions not truly in accord with one’s being-in-Christ. They are more active in semi-consciousness because one does not overcome them sufﬁciently when conscious. A primary purpose of meditation is to overcome these forces of oneself contrary to God in the light of divine Presence. In meditation, “the bottom of the soul comes up,” and one feels, sees, experiences the battle of self-forces against divine love. Meditation is the condition of being wakefully puriﬁed and brought into union. If this is true, it makes sense to sit still in meditation before sleeping, before “turning in for the night,” so that one can indeed confront these dark forces of oneself in the divine light by the holy Spirit. Again, I must ask, Why not now?
Ah, I sit quietly, and immediately begin to fall asleep. “The spirit is indeed willing, but the ﬂesh is weak.” One becomes stronger by resisting the pull to sleep, and sitting as alert as possible in the light of divine presence, now.