I sat in the movie theater at the local multiplex with my husband watching The Big Short, a film about movers and shakers in high finance who foresee the housing bubble collapse that preceded the recent recession, fighting back dizziness and nausea that had nothing to do with the exposure of fraud and greed but everything to do with my secret fear of peace and joy. As usual, my husband had chosen a seat dead center in the theatre, leaving us surrounded by other viewers, rather than the aisle seats I always choose when attending alone that ensure the possibility of swift exits. A long-term preference that now felt much more like a desperate need. I whispered I wasn’t feeling well and excused myself, unsteadily making it to the bathroom.
Although I did not actually get sick, the pounding headache and accompanying symptoms continued. I ran paper towels under cold water and squeezed them out, walked back to a bench in the hallway just outside the theatre I had exited, and sat pressing cool compresses to my temples and wrists. A folk remedy I recalled receiving from a kind counselor my first summer at Girl Scout camp. When I had awoken in my tent in the middle of the night, suffering from a mysterious illness that likely had more to do with homesickness and a wild imagination (that heard lions, tigers, and bears in every outside rustle) than any actual malady.
The cool towels soothed my hot forehead but did little to assuage the sickness as I considered my next move. My husband and I had planned to ski that morning but both awoke feeling unwell. A movie seemed the perfect, passive diversion for a dreary Saturday afternoon. He’d wanted to see this one. I could count on one hand the number of times he had actually joined me at the cinema in the last few years, and didn’t really want him to drive me home unless absolutely necessary.
We only lived a mile or so away and I would normally have simply walked, but seriously doubted my ability to stand, let alone place one unreliable foot in front of another. What if I passed out right here in the hallway en route to the bathroom and someone felt obligated to call the paramedics? I would just have to stay put and try to tough it out. I texted my husband to let him in on my plan. My head throbbed as I struggled to focus on the tiny screen. He responded “OK.”
I had been listening to Ken Wapnick’s CD set, Our Earliest Memory in which a student comments that Jesus’ peace (as opposed to the ego’s non-stop, rollicking drama) seemed boring. An observation to which anyone who’s been practicing A Course in Miracles for any length of time can easily relate. Ken agreed, pointing out that most people wouldn’t pay to see a movie and then sit in a theater and watch a blank screen for two hours. But in a sense, that’s exactly what I did for the next hour-and-half, crouched on that narrow bench against the wall, watching the occasional teenage theater employee shuffle by. Pretending everything was OK, and hoping I didn’t arouse suspicion for sitting here so long. (After all, they had checked my bags for weapons on the way in.)
I watched the waves of my physical distress and sense of panic about it form and break on the blank, white beach of my mind, somehow aware that nothing was really happening. As if my inner professor, that symbol of the part of our mind that never took the “tiny, mad idea” of separation from our Source seriously and continues to merely smile at everything that seemed to have transpired since, had donned his invisibility cloak again, snuck in, and settled down beside me. Even as I fretted over how I could possibly lead the gathering at the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center the following morning (where I was scheduled to teach on A Course in Miracles text Chapter 9, VII. The Two Evaluations), as I texted two other ACIM teachers, explaining the situation, to see if they might substitute for me the following day, I nonetheless could feel the palpable strength of that invulnerable presence.
And I realized I was doing the normal thing, as Ken always advised, not denying my body but not indulging it either. Somehow certain even though I couldn’t find a substitute that it would all work out. The point really wasn’t whether I felt better or had to cancel altogether, but my willingness to sit here watching the images of my thoughts at this very moment and the next and the next for however long it took to realize they could not affect my inner equilibrium unless I let them. Looking at all the obstacles to peace I had currently chosen to review in a covert effort to keep that invulnerable presence at bay and realizing that not one of them truly had the power to do so. Watching them slowly dissolve through that dawning awareness into the nothingness from which they sprang like diabolical, little cartoon toys.
I texted my husband again that I would be waiting for him when the movie finished. And I thought about how over the past few weeks; I had experienced elongated periods of something I could only describe as joy. Although it shared no characteristics with what we think of as joy in the world, joy in reaction to something positive happening in our external lives, our loved ones’ lives, the seeming life of a seeming world, or the “comfort and joy” referenced in the Christmas carol resulting from a child born to sacrifice himself to atone for our evil ways. I was not joyful for any reason I could pin down, cup in my seeming hands. The joy was just there, in the mind, where it had always been, hiding in plain view. Serenely waiting for me, waiting for us all, certain I would eventually recall its actually rather obvious whereabouts.
Apparently, it scared the crap out of me, though, once I did. Because there followed, predictably, another ego backlash of epic proportions in which my fear of punishment for allowing myself to partake of that joy assumed the form of multiple problems with my body, from suspicious skin eruptions to hip, neck, and shoulder issues and a persistent sinus infection accompanied by a nonstop internal rant that I didn’t deserve to be happy for no reason. I had done nothing whatsoever to earn it and my life circumstances most certainly did not warrant it. In fact, should I continue to side with our intrinsic innocence over the inherent guilt in which I am mired when I have chosen the ego’s mistaken reaction to that “tiny, mad idea,” I would die a grisly death at the hands of the ego, even sooner than previously scheduled.
But as I sat outside the movie theatre with my inner teacher now, observing those malicious, animated thoughts, I saw clearly in my mind’s eye the ego shift abruptly from menacing, comic book villain to tiny little boy all dressed up in his super anti-hero costume. Wielding a cardboard paper towel holder as semiautomatic weapon, cursing and threatening and mimicking the sounds of Hollywood destruction as little boys will, full of sound and fury and empty threats, scared of his own shadow, poor kid, or, more precisely, its terrifying absence. Since nothing, after all, can cast no shadows; our elaborately fanciful dreams to the contrary notwithstanding.
When the movie ended, my husband drove us home. I claimed my real estate on our couch with a cup of ginger tea and settled in with my little dog to doze in front of the TV. My husband later brought me chicken noodle soup from our favorite Thai place. The next morning I received a text from one of the teachers I had contacted that she’d be happy to take my place if I still needed her. My symptoms had receded somewhat, although they had not gone away. Still, I decided to show up and let our inner teacher teach the class for me, as always. And learned, through that willingness, all I needed, right then, to know.
“If you choose to see yourself as unloving your will not be happy. You are condemning yourself and must therefore regard yourself as inadequate. Would you look to the ego to help you escape from a sense of inadequacy it has produced, and must maintain for its existence? Can you escape from its evaluation of you by using its methods for keeping this picture intact?
You cannot evaluate an insane belief system from within it. Its range precludes this. You can only go beyond it, look back from a point where sanity exists and see the contrast. Only by this contrast can insanity be judged as insane. With the grandeur of God in you, you have chosen to be little and to lament your littleness. Within the system that dictated this choice the lament is inevitable. Your littleness is taken for granted there and you do not ask, Who granted it?” The question is meaningless within the ego’s thought system because it would open the whole thought system up to question.” – (Text Chapter 9, VII. paragraphs 5 and 6)
Susan Dugan’s books Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, and Forgiveness: The Key to Happiness are available at RMMC and on Amazon. She writes about ACIM based on Ken Wapnick’s teachings at ForaysInForgiveness.com and teaches Tuesday nights at RMMC.