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How “It’s a Small World” Kick-Started My Spiritual Path

photo: Anna Fox on flickr

What do Disneyland and spiritual retreat centers have in common?

Not much.

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!

photo: Curtis Palmer on flickr

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?

Not me.

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.

photo: Justin Ennis on flickr

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.

photo: Spencer Wright on flickr

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.”)

An E ticket could get you into the Matterhorn, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Jungle Cruise. We’ve already established how I felt about the Matterhorn. And those other rides, they were okay.

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!

photo: Darren Wittko on flickr

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.

photo: shyrynn on flickr

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.

photo: Miranda Martin on flickr

What’s your experience with spiritual amusement park rides? And/or transformational experiences?

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15 Responses to How “It’s a Small World” Kick-Started My Spiritual Path

  1. Karen October 23, 2012 at 6:37 am #

    Love it, Z!

    Like you, I did NOT like Matterhorn type rides as a kid, and I didn’t trust my mom for months after she subjected me to such a scary experience. It took a lot of toys from the dimestore for her to regain my confidence.

    Fast forward decades, and I’m here at Disney World with my beau. He went into a rapturous state when he saw “It’s a Small World After All,” and continued in that state throughout the ride. He’s a 20-year army vet, and I wasn’t expecting him to connect so intensely with that ride. For him, it has the same kind of meaning that you’ve described.

    • Z Egloff October 23, 2012 at 10:59 am #

      Hi Karen,

      Yes, the Matterhorn is a crazy ride! I actually didn’t mind it when I went on it later as an adult, but as a kid it was totally terrifying for me.

      I love this story about you and your beau on It’s a Small World. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who achieved a rapturous state in that little boat. It’s yet another reminder of the connection we all share. Beautiful, really.


  2. Tracy Stewart October 23, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    Isn’t it just incredible that we are all one yet all so unique?

    So in honor of the diversity of our Oneness I’d like to say, having grown up at Disneyland, even worked there as a teen, that I’m not fond of “it’s a Small World”, to say the least. But I enjoyed hearing the words again for the first time. Thanks Z!

    Alas, for me, the thrill, the shear joy of life is in the ride. I LOVE the “Matterhorn” and even better “Magic Mountain”. There’s something about riding a roller coaster in the dark where you don’t know what’s coming next, just that it will be peeinyourpants exciting and all you can do is chose to enjoy it. Thank you Life.

    Love you and your blog,

    • Z Egloff October 23, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      Hi Tracy,

      I’m sure that there are lots of folks out there that are not huge fans of It’s a Small World. And I totally understand! Yet, like you say, adventures are to be found in many places. The Matterhorn made me swear off roller coasters for years. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I tried another one, and that time I fell in love. When I went back to Disneyland years later, I tried Magic Mountain, and I agree with you – Fabulous! So not only are different rides different for different people, but people are always changing, and what was once awful can become fabulous. And so the ride continues. . . .

      Thanks for visiting!! :)


  3. squirrel October 23, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    good morning, z. happy tuesday.

    i hope that song isn’t stuck in my head all day. :) it was not a transformational ride for me, unless you count the descent into madness. 😉 this is one of those things where i go to “what works for you may not work for me and what works for me may not work for you.”

    anyway – transformational experience… about 4 years ago, i got into a really bad car accident, i rolled my car a couple of times and it changed my entire perspective of life. it brought me closer to Spirit. i had been on my way to meet with my sponsor at the time to do my third step (made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god, as we understood him) when it happened. i really looked at that for a long time. i walked away with a sprained neck and a couple of scratches and bruises and a little bit of short term memory loss. i really had to surrender to what was. the doctors were amazed that i didn’t break my neck and that i was actually (more or less) functioning.

    i didn’t know it at the time but that was a turning point in my spirituality and my faith; it was an integral part of my path.

    thanks for all you do and all you be, dear one. til soon…


    • Z Egloff October 23, 2012 at 11:08 am #

      Hi Squirrel,

      Thank you for your story. It’s amazing that what can seem so horrible can also have such huge benefits. Thank God that you came out of it in such a strong place, both physically and spiritually. I guess you took your step 3 very seriously. :)

      If the song is stuck in your head all day, I apologize. Or maybe I don’t. 😉


      • squirrel October 23, 2012 at 11:15 am #

        haha you crack me up. and, thank you, i did take it seriously. lol


  4. Jill Shinn October 23, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Hi Z, I am totally there with you on this! I, too, was seven years old the first time I went on this ride and I had exactly the same response as you. It was a kid “peak experience,” and something that any child lightworker of the day would have felt, I’m convinced.

    I thought it was the most magical thing ever, but when I took my kids on the ride recently, they, too, were disgruntled. I don’t get it, because it’s still as great as ever for me. Yes, the costumes are cliche, and the robots are scary, and the boat gives your butt splinters, but the intention is there, and intention is 9/10ths of the law, right?

    Once again, great minds think alike.

    • Z Egloff October 23, 2012 at 11:47 am #

      Hi Jill,

      I’m not at all surprised that you had the same IASW experience as I did. If only we could have gone on the ride together! :)

      When I took my stepkids, they didn’t “get it” either. Maybe it’s a generational thing. The Truth is still the Truth, though. It just takes a certain type of person to be able to receive it from strange, singing dolls! :)


  5. Laura Feahr October 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    It was not my first time, but my children, husband and I went in the fall one year. It was raining, and soon everyone was wearing the white cheap plastic ponchos sold in the park for 2.00. We were one with all, dressed the same. We did Small World, as we had liked it before. And it was relaxing. Well, there was 4 inches of water in the boat, and cool inside, so we were more aware of all the moisture and we got stuck once between two countries/languages and sat for quite a while. Everyone around us started complaining, and that was a drag. Needless to say, it was memorable. I have never enjoyed the big rides because I have inner ear issues. Upchucking is no fun. Still love the place, but going back without kids would mean riding all the kid rides as alone. Love how you take me back to things.

    • Z Egloff October 25, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      Hi Laura,

      I love how everyone has their own Small World memories. Thanks for sharing yours! It sounds like IASW gets stuck quite a bit, if the comments on this blog are any indication. Maybe that’s because we really are all supposed to hear that song again and again and again! 😉

      I agree with you that upchucking is no fun. Better to stay with the more mellow rides. I actually love roller coasters now, but the rides that spin around are still not for me – the teacups and those kinds of things.

      Thanks for joining in the conversation! :)


  6. JoAnn Newton October 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    I’m with Tracy on this one, Z! One time I went on It’s a Small World and it broke and we WERE listening to that song for 1/2 an hour! Thought I would go crazy!!! I LOVE the Matahorn and Magic Mountain though! Thanks for the memories…or maybe not about It’s a Small World! (:-D

    • Z Egloff October 25, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      Hi JoAnn,

      Yikes! That sounds crazy. A broken Small World is not nearly as fun! :)


  7. Georgia October 29, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Amazing post Z-bert…Don’t worry, the Tikki Room was a bust anyway. For some reason I always loved IASW too, although you are the master at really drinking it in….and even at such a young age.

    Love and blessings,

    • Z Egloff October 30, 2012 at 10:02 am #

      Yo G!

      Actually, we had fun at the Tikki Room last time I went. Mostly because it was so goofy. It wasn’t nearly as heartfelt as IASW, though. And not nearly as perilous as the Matterhorn. I guess there’s something for everyone. 😉


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