What do Disneyland and spiritual retreat centers have in common?
Not on the surface. But scratch that surface a little bit, and you’ll find a world of depth, a world of insights, a world of profound spiritual truths just waiting to pour into your mind and heart, changing you forever.
Especially when it comes to one particular ride.
When I was seven-years-old, I went to Disneyland for the first time.
We were spending the summer in California, and the highlight of the summer was a trip to the magic kingdom. Like most kids, I found the place captivating: The rides! The crowds! The Disneyland characters!
Actually, not everything about Disneyland was captivating. About halfway through our Magic Kingdom adventure, my family went on the Matterhorn. I was terrified. I had no idea I was going to be thrown around like a sack of potatoes on wheels. Who thought it was a good idea to build a roller coaster in a mountain?
The Matterhorn almost ruined my love for all things Disney.
And then it happened. I discovered another ride. The most amazing, magical, transformational ride I had ever experienced.
That’s right. I’m talking about It’s a Small World.
Perhaps you don’t think of It’s a Small World as an agent of transformation. Perhaps you’re unaware that listening to large, animated dolls singing a song again and again and again can bring the listener to state of spiritual ecstasy.
But that’s what happened to me.
As I sat in my little floating boat, listening to the internationally-attired dolls singing about our shared humanity, I was transfixed.
It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears. It’s a world of hopes, it’s a world of fears. There’s so much that we share, that its time we’re aware: It’s a small world after all.
It’s all there! An acceptance of the joy and pain of life. And an awareness that no matter who we are, we all share these joys and pains.
Sure, the song is a little corny. And the dolls are totally stereotypical. (If not scary, as dolls are wont to be.)
But the dolls speak the truth!! And as a seven-year-old kid, I was totally open to hearing this truth. Again and again and again.
At the time, Disneyland had a ticket system. It’s a Small World was an “E” ticket, considered by many to the cream of the ticket crop. (Indeed, Sally Ride, when asked to describe her experience on the space shuttle, referred to it as an “E ticket ride.”)
But I used up all my remaining E tickets on It’s a Small World.
Even though I was a shy kid, I even went on the ride by myself the last few times, just to get another hit of spiritual transformation. (My solo rides were also the result of my parents’ refusal to expose themselves to yet another round of said transformation.)
Years later, I went to Disneyland with my partner at the time. I forced I strongly encouraged her and her two kids to join me on It’s a Small World.
It’s an amazing experience! I told them. You’ll love it! It’s magical and transformational!
About two minutes into the ride, I could tell my partner was not enjoying herself. The song was already driving her crazy and the dolls were freaking her out. Even though I rarely teased her, I leaned over and whispered in her ear: This ride is an hour long, you know. I hope you can make it.
She looked at me with a expression of revulsion and horror. She later told me that she seriously considered jumping into the water and running for her life.
In other words, It’s a Small World is not for everyone.
But the message is.
It’s one thing to say that we’re all one. It’s another thing entirely to feel it. And live by it.
If you asked me, as a kid, why the ride was so magical to me, I probably would have told you it was the dolls. And the music. And the experience of floating in a little boat, gliding through an enchanted world.
But looking back on it, I can see that the magic was the feeling of connection. Experiencing my oneness with everyone, everywhere. Knowing that this bond cannot be broken.
That’s what kept me coming back.
There is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone. Though the mountains divide, and the oceans are wide, it’s a small, small world.
What’s your experience with spiritual amusement park rides? And/or transformational experiences?