I sat on the couch, attention having drifted once again to the inner dilemma du jour (or would that be la nuit?) from another recorded episode of the foodie talk show The Chew, in which the cast had been transported to Orlando’s Epcot Theme Park for some kind of culinary festival involving countless celebrity chefs mingling with the likes of Donald Duck and family. Providing a refreshing oasis from far too many sightings of another Donald; still peppering the airwaves (for reasons that defy even my wildest imagination) with alarming frequency.
I should have headed upstairs to bed long ago, of course, but found myself still unpleasantly wired. Animated in the worst possible way by the thought of a couple of speaking/teaching commitments I’d somehow agreed to (despite my still, at times, debilitating stage fright) approaching on my personal horizon like asteroids on a collision course.
Although I normally zoom through commercials with our remote, my preoccupation with my unwelcome predicament had caused me to lapse, allowing an ad for an insomnia medication to suddenly penetrate my self-pitying reverie. As if to mock me, an actor delivered extravagant promises (really, are there any other kind here in dreamland?) of uninterrupted, all-night repose to those of us plagued with difficulty falling or staying asleep. While blissfully refreshed consumers went about their apparently well-rested days cycling, golfing, and cavorting in meticulously landscaped gardens and athletic fields with their children or grandchildren, even as the dark underbelly of this miracle cure reared its ugly little head.
“In patients where depression may be an underlying cause of insomnia,” the soothing voice over reluctantly cautioned against a New Age score, “suicide has been identified as a risk. Sleepwalking and behaviors that individuals might otherwise not engage in during waking states have also occurred. Loss of memory of what transpired while on this drug has been reported.”
Although I had never resorted to anything stronger than Chinese remedies and vitamin supplements to treat my condition, just hearing about the possible side effects of this prescription medication, entertaining possible behaviors its victims might not otherwise have engaged in and would never recall; left me breathless. “Jesus!” I said, wondering how anyone—insomniac or otherwise—could possibly sleep after listening to this, let alone actually purchase and swallow the stuff. I mean, Jesus—really! There has to be another way!
And so it was that I found myself once more instantly transported to my inner professor’s office, where he sat at his desk, leaning back in his chair, as if expecting me. Outside the open beveled windows behind him, crickets called from the grassy, campus quad below, while the cinnamon-tinged leaves of an ash tree rustled in the soft breeze.
“Cup of Joe,” he asked, gesturing toward a small, chrome brewer in the corner. “Hot cider?”
I took my chair, facing him, and sighed, the sigh for which I remain justly famous in certain circles. “No thanks,” I said.
He smiled. “What can I do for you this evening?”
But where to begin? I thought about my dedication to this Course, to my new inner teacher, to my fellow students, Christ, on a good day, anyway, to every other seeming one of us wandering this illusory world feeling lost, alone, forever banished from their only real self and home, unable to sleep from the stress of it all or mindlessly escaping into sleep—no matter! My growing willingness to make practicing its radical forgiveness of what never was—all that seems to differentiate, threaten, and divide us—however impossible and improbable it still sometimes seemed, the new purpose of my dreaming days.
But I’m not going to lie to you. The more I thought, the madder I got. Why was it that although I had used my fear of public speaking as a classroom for quite a while now, as the Bearded Wonder sitting right across from me constantly advises us to do with everything that seems to upset us, I was still having such a hard time? Although I had repeatedly questioned the cause of my anxiety as it arose, reminded myself I could see peace, and experienced, if not complete release from fear, at least enough diminishment to allow whatever words needed to flow from right mind to do so unimpeded, why exactly was it that every new venue and situation appeared to throw me back to square one with this panic, hell, this Course?
Why did it always come back to bite me? Why did I still have to struggle with it? I mean, why couldn’t it just generalize and allow me to focus more fully on my other problematic classrooms (really, are there any other kind)? Involving the precarious health of my elderly parents, say, celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time ever without my daughter, the most prolonged writer’s block I have ever experienced or the continuing issues arising in my own aging body?
“I could go on,” I said, because he had been eavesdropping on my thoughts again, I could tell.
“With examples of continuing classrooms. I mean.”
His eyes widened.
“Unresolved issues in special relationships.”
He continued to smile.
“Climate change, racial and sexual discrimination, mass shootings, terrorism, Congress, the impending presidential election. God knows, I could go on.”
“You could,” he agreed.
I sighed. “But I don’t really want to, do I? It’s just that, after all the hours I’ve put in, all the study, all the practice, the equivalent, come on, you must admit, of a couple PhDs?”
His brows shot up the way they do.
“Why can’t I at least be done with just one of these freaking curriculums? I mean, am I going to be a student for, like, ever?”
But, damn it, he just continued to smile, even as he slid the big, blue book across the desk toward me.
Reluctantly, I opened it, certain from experience that he would answer me, hell, had answered me on every page, and read these words:
“You have heard the answer, but you have misunderstood the question. You believe that to ask for guidance of the Holy Spirit is to ask for deprivation. … Little child of God, you do not understand your Father. You believe in a world that takes, because you believe that you can get by taking. And by that perception you have lost sight of the real world. You are afraid of the world as you see it, but the real world is still yours for the asking.” (Chapter 11 VIII. paragraph 6, line 6, and paragraph 7, lines 1-4)
And I realized that I hadn’t really been asking for his help at all, asking to see the problem as it is, so to speak, instead of the way I set it up. Instead I had once again tried to point to my emotions as evidence that I will never make it home, never be forgiven for what I secretly believe I did to God. Instead, I’d been bemoaning the fact that I still have an ego, fearful of the judgment of other egos, expecting that I should somehow be beyond ego by now. Even though that only happens at the very end of the journey when all the unconscious guilt in our mind over believing we pushed the only love we share and are forever away has dissolved through the very present practice of forgiveness. In which we are asked to question every reaction we have, as it arises, admitting over and over again that we haven’t a clue about our own best interests. And can’t possibly, from our puny, distorted perception, tell the difference between learning progress and failure as long as we believe there is a distinction between them.
In short, I’d been trying to navigate this journey all by myself again, even though we were both all too familiar with the consequences of that excursion. Worse, I’d been auditioning again for his love. Attempting to prove how much I had sacrificed for this Course, my fellow students, my teacher, when, in truth, the experience of the peace we still are was right here, right now, for the asking.
I wasn’t mad any more. “Will you help me with the cause of my fear in these situations?” I asked him, now, because it works when I do that, it really does. I’d just forgotten again.
“Because the end is sure, right? We all made it home. Even me?”
“Can I get that in writing?”
He glanced down at the big, blue book, still gaping open between us.
I yawned then, in the best possible way. It was getting late, and I was just so tired. “I see what you’re saying,” I said.
“You always do.”
And I found myself back on my couch. On the screen, Mario Batali waxed eloquent about the importance of tomato paste in creating a balanced flavor profile in pasta sauce. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I clicked the TV off and carried my little dog up to bed.
“You do not know the meaning of anything you perceive. Not one thought you hold is wholly true. The recognition of this is your firm beginning. You are not misguided; you have accepted no guide at all. Instruction in perception is your great need, for you understand nothing. Recognize this, but do not accept it, for understanding is your inheritance. Perceptions are learned, and you are not without a Teacher. Yet your willingness to learn of Him depends on your willingness to question everything you learned of yourself, for you who learned amiss should not be your own teacher.” (Paragraph 3)
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.