Inner Voices

It was noon, a man squat close to the ground, his heavy frame cast no shadow. A herd of goats lay nearby sheltering from the hot sun under a small tree. A stranger approached.

‘Hello!’ Said the man as he shifted his heavy frame onto his right heal as he turned to face the stranger.

‘Hello,’ the stranger replied, ‘Are you a goat herder?’

‘Yes, they’re my goats, I tend them.’

As the man stood up the stranger noticed old and fresh cuts on his arms, abdomen, thighs and calves, he could see dry blood mixed with crusted mud partially obscuring his wounds. The man had an intimidating air about him. The stranger thought he looked half man half goat. Taking out a large hankerchief he wiped the sticky sweat from his face and neck, his own smell seemed sweet next to the man’s pungent odour.

The man asked, ‘Why are you walking this far up in the hills?’

‘I find walking the best way to think; thinking is a whole body activity.’

‘Hmm,’ the man’s expression gave little away.

‘And why are you up here in these hills?’ Enquired the stranger.

‘It’s God’s will,’ the man replied.

‘God told you?’

‘Yes.’

‘To tend goats?’ The stranger wanted clarification.

‘Have you read the Bible?’ The man asked.

‘Some.’

‘Mark 5: the Gadarene Swine?’

‘Tell me.’

‘Jesus heals a man possessed of evil spirits, the man calls himself “Legion” because there are many spirits. Jesus casts them out into a herd of swine, the spirits then drowned the pigs by driving them down into the water,’ explained the man.

‘Like him,’ as though to demonstrate the man held out his scarred and bloody arms, ‘My name is Legion: for many demons torment me day and night.’

The stranger smiled and said, ‘I am also Legion.’

‘You’re mocking me!’ 

‘No!’

Raising his voice as though addressing an invisible adjudicator the man proclaimed, ‘Yes you are. As if these devil’s voices were not enough, now Belial sends another to torment me.’

‘No, I’m serious. I am Legion – we all are – everyone has inner voices. We are all many,’ implored the stranger.

‘God told me to have faith, he will send his servant, my healing will bare witness,’ asserted the man.

‘And what if I am he, what if I’m an angel sent by God?’ Suggested the stranger.

‘Impossible.’

‘I might be – how would you know? I wouldn’t know. Besides doesn’t your God work in “mysterious ways”?’

‘Yes, but still you mock me!’ Rumbled the man’s voice.

‘No, if God had sent me I wouldn’t know.’

‘And so by the same token you could be of the devil,’ exclaimed the man.

‘Ah yes, as I say, “I am many”; I am God and Devil, creator and destroyer, liar and truth teller, healer and thief. I am father, son, and mother and child…’

‘And,’ the man interrupts, ‘You are a cruel man and a blasphemer; you mock me in my suffering. You are of the Devil..’ the man’s voice trailed off under his breathe.

‘How about you listen to what I have to say and then judge me?’

The man fell silent for a moment and then replied, ‘Go ahead.’

Drawing a deep breathe the stranger continued, ‘Listen carefully to your voices, talk with them. When you try shutting them out they only get louder and more presistant. Whatever your inner torment, if you were to listen, you’d realise there’s probably things going on within you that you’ve not yet even begun to consider.’

‘You’re suggesting I accept these demons?’

‘No, I’m suggesting you listen, become curious. Besides, integration is a fallacy; it’s a comforting myth we tell ourselves about how to deal with internal conflict.’

‘Then what?’

‘From what I can tell, you think you’re captive to these voices right? Well I don’t think it’s either the voices or a devil that hold you captive; it’s your belief in a self that imprisons you,’ replied the stranger.

‘Wait, you said “I am also Legion”, now you’re saying there is no self – you make no sense at all!’ The man laughed.

‘Yes we’re all a multiplicity,’ the stranger frowns as he listens to his own words, ‘You’re internal conflict creates energy; you could turn that energy outward instead of inward. It’s turning it inward that gives you an illusion of self. The self is a tight bundal of energy all bound and bunged up – it is captive because that’s what it is; you hold onto to it for fear of losing yourself. Without it you might not recognise yourself… You have lots of work to do – I can see why you look for an easy way out.’

‘Faith is not easy,’ the man replies angrily.

‘You remind me of the saying; “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”.’

‘I choose to be on my own,’ The man replied.

‘You prefer your own for company; we all keep ourselves closest, only when we’re so at odds with ourselves, like you are now, we seldom recognise them as ourselves.’

“You think I chose this company of evil spirits?’

‘Not exactly, but when we talk inside our heads we create a listener and when we stop the listener disappears. Most of the chatter serves no other purpose than to avoid solitude; it’s easy to confuse a silent companion with no companion at all.’

The man’s gaze fell to the ground, he remained silent for some time, his eyes darted back and forth as though looking for something in the earth, then meeting the stranger’s eyes he concluded, ‘None of what you’ve said sounds like healing to me.’

‘Mm, maybe not…’ Acknowledged the stranger, ‘But if you were to listen to the voices you might take a break from tearing at your flesh with those stones – at least your skin would get a chance to heal.’

Folding his arms the man persisted, ‘Flesh is mortal; what about my soul?’

The stranger looked agitated, although when he found his voice it was soft, ‘The best thing about exorcism is that it doesn’t work, the psyche is way too cunning, it’s too clever; besides there is no deliverance from yourself,’ pausing briefly as though to take his own words in, he added, ‘Exorcism can be very damaging; you’d be better staying with self-mutilation. You could always try checking yourself into a secure unit, you might get electroconvulsive therapy, you think I’m cruel? That’ll fry your brain! It’s like carpet-bombing, with you as collateral damage. You won’t worry anymore about the voices since there won’t be much left of you to be tormented.’ With this the stranger started walking off.

‘Where’re you going?’ The man called after him.

‘To the river, it’s where I was going when I set off this morning, I want to cool off,’ turning back to face the man he added, ‘You’re welcome to join me.’

As he caught up to the stranger the man explained, as much to himself as to the stranger, ‘I can have a wash. Besides I don’t meet many people; I rarely hear any voices other than my own.’

‘What about the goats?’ Asked the stranger.

‘Oh, they’ll be alright, they’ll come with us; they like the water.’ 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

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