I’ve told this story before (Minding the Light, July 2011) but I have been encouraged to tell it again from the perspective of the current query.

From around the age of 12 (or maybe younger) until the age of 61, I was frequently visited by sudden, unexpected states of altered consciousness that terrified me and played havoc on my social life and sense of well-being. From lack of any better point of reference I turned to religion for help.  The well-intentioned but bland mainstream Christians offered no answers, and the evangelicals, while fervent, could not pass my intellectual scrutiny.  I set out on a long journey through many esoteric disciplines, each one revealing a small piece of the puzzle, and eventually forged a tenuous and hard-earned sense of peace centered around the practice of surrender to an unnamable Benevolence.


Then on midnight, May 15, 2009, everything changed.  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.


This empirical and fact-based explanation of the mystery of my life has only deepened my awe of the Mystery of life itself.  I can (and do) ponder endlessly about the existence or non-existence of God, but none of this really matters.  A long time ago a mere neurological phenomenon set me out on a journey through many wondrous climes and terrains, taught me many secrets and inspired me to create hundreds of songs and stories.  And then at a certain point, determined by who-knows how many different factors, it revealed itself for what it really is.  I choose to believe there was (and is) a purpose behind the timing.  What if I had been diagnosed at the age of 12, when the experiences first began?  Is it possible I would have just gotten “normal” and missed the whole ride?  It’s interesting to note that the medication that now keeps me seizure-free had not been invented in 1960, and the existing medications came with much more severe side-effects.


We shouldn’t limit ourselves to intellectual explanations. Science itself is beginning to reveal that the Universe itself is far more mysterious than science itself can reveal. The stories we tell may be truer than the facts we learn. 

—Jim Nail