Thanks to social media, the epic tale of my first-ever MRI has grown to near-mythic proportions. While it hasn’t attained the viral momentum of, say, a man being hit in a delicate spot with a football, the saga of me running from my MRI, shrieking into the night with my hospital gown billowing behind—and causing severe emotional damage to a pre-school class and a few blue-haired ladies at a knitting circle—is now at least known to the majority of my friends. It didn’t really happen like that, but I’ve already caught wind that the story is evolving in that direction.
The facts are that I faced my fear—for almost a minute!—and my fear won.
A Series of Complications
The tale begins with me arriving for a one o’clock appointment. The Tech told me he was a “temp” and could not figure out how to put me into the open MRI for my test. I was rescheduled for three hours later at a facility a few cities to the East. Then they sent me to another location one more city away.
I arrived at the third place to indeed find myself on the schedule. I waited in the lobby for two hours and my name was called. I spent those two hours trying to quell my claustrophobic fears.
Once I was in the room, I kept my eyes averted from the machine. The Techs asked if I was claustrophobic and I told them I am extremely claustrophobic and have been since I was a child. Though I’d never actually been trapped, some of my earliest nightmares are fears of being closely confined in darkness; as if I were being buried alive.
The Technicians were very calming and reassuring and I was soon positioned on the machine and being moved inward. I kept my eyes closed and made a stalwart effort to control my breathing. One of the most significant things I learned when I studied a martial art was that, no matter how brutal the beating I would receive in my tests for a higher rank, the hours-long ordeal would eventually end and I’d be alive. And this was only lying on a bed with a nice blanket while keeping my eyes closed and breathing deeply. How hard could that be?!
On the bed, I was positioned slightly to the left and, as they fed me into the device, I could feel it squeezing me inward to the center. Gulp!
OK. Breathe. Breathe. BREATHE! I mean… Breeeeeeeeathe…
I had ear plugs in place, yet I could still hear the tech when he asked if I could feel the fan.
My voice cracked when I answered, “………………….YEAH!” Even I heard the sound of panic in my voice but I kept my eyes closed and tried to focus on steadying my breathing. Focus on your breath… Focus on your breath…
A few moments later I heard his voice through the intercom. “OK… you’re doing fine… here comes the first loud noise…”
“Hang on. Something came unplugged…”
And in that momentary delay, I lost it. I was trapped! I could not free myself! I was stuck in the tube and it was going to close down upon me and squeeze my breath from me! My breathing turned to desperate gasps! Don’t do this! I told myself. Relax! But my entire body began to shudder. I flailed my legs and one free arm and I then articulated my predicament to the Tech with the exceedingly intellectual and witty apothegm, “AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGHHH! YAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
Being a trained professional, he instantly fathomed my concern and was in the room in a twinkling. I felt the bed moving me outward and I stifled my guttural utterances. The men eased me into a sitting position and asked if I was OK. My brain said to them, “Why, most assuredly! Thank you.” But it came out more as, “Oog frmt glrgl frmmmmm…”
The main Tech, who I later learned was named Major, patted me on the back and spoke gently to me. He assured me that they went through this every day in their job and some people took but one look at the machine and ran from the building. “At least you tried!”
My hands were shaking and I felt mortified. I had panicked. I had lost all control of my rational mind and succumbed to irrational fears. I didn’t really care what other people did. I only cared that I had panicked and shrieked more loudly than a pre-pubescent horde at a Justin Bieber concert.
Now Comes the Shame
When I got into my car my hands were still shaking and I was unsuccessful at restraining tears. My humiliation wasn’t so much that I had capitulated to my fears, but for the immensity of the shame I was feeling at not being able to simply lie down (albeit in a confining tube) and relax until the exam was completed.
I started my car and made my way towards home with the sounds of my inner critics telling me that all I had to do was lie there and I couldn’t do it! How big of a failure are you?! How can you help comfort a child and mitigate their fears when you can’t even lie down with a warm blankie and relax?!
All the way home I assailed myself over my failure and then enumerated a litany of all of the failures in my life. I trotted out divorces and other relationship failures; jobs I’ve lost and others I’ve quit in anger and/or frustration; opportunities I’ve squandered through my own fears of failure; mistakes I’ve made as a parent; all of these and more I paraded stridently and in blazing clarity before my inner eyes as proof—actual undeniable proof!—that I am the consummate failure in this world.
At the same time, another part of my brain was trying to remember if I had any money in my pocket and whether there was enough to buy a bottle of scotch. I’ve learned so much about my Addictive Personality in the past few months and how looking outside of myself for satisfaction or to relieve my pain is the polar opposite of what I really need to be doing. I knew the scotch would only temporarily deaden the shame—and then lead to more guilt at having succumbed to the liquor—but I wanted it so desperately!
For the rest of the 90-minute drive, I castigated myself with feelings of failure. But there was a tiny beacon trying to ignite itself in my awareness. Raising a tiny hand from a heaving sea of torment was a feeling of understanding, of compassion… for me! Me feeling compassion for me! Well, this was new!
I did not stop to buy the scotch. When I finally closed my eyes in bed that night, I was startled awake a few times by the image of being inside the machine, but that soon passed and I was able to sleep.
By the next day, I had forgotten the fear, but, and most importantly, I was not beating myself up about my failure in the MRI of Doom. During my weekly meeting at The Miracle Distribution Center, Beverly McNeff was speaking about our thought patterns. For the first time, I took to the microphone and shared some of the details of my recent MRI debacle. My frustration, I told her, was that I could not control my thoughts and used my MRI experience as a glaring example.
A discussion ensued in which she further explained the concept on which she spoke, but then asked me to look at how quickly I’d recovered from my depression and my bad thoughts about myself.
I furrowed my brow. “Well, yeah. It was the next day…”
“And how long would it have taken before?”
She pointed out to me how much it matters to a person to be working on oneself, how much doing the work makes a difference in your life, and offered my experience back to me as an example of how quickly I’d recovered. She talked about how our ego (our personality, if you will) uses any event to fill our heads with talk of our failings, of how bad we are. For if we could again realize that we are a beloved son of God in whom He is well pleased, the ego would have no function and perish; and that is why it fights so vehemently.
A Little Enlightenment
As our discussion continued, it dawned on me that, unless we go through these challenging events in our lives, we cannot become masters of our minds and our lives. Beverly quoted A Course in Miracles by saying,
It takes great learning to understand that all things, events, encounters and circumstances are helpful. (M-4.6:5)
I began to see that our world is here to provide us with opportunities to demonstrate our level of mastery. I thought, “You learn to be an architect by studying architecture in school, but you’re not an architect until you design a building…”
I can read books and go to lectures and seminars, but I cannot attain mastery until I can demonstrate that I have learned my lessons. I need these events, the experiences in my life to show me how much I am learning, and how much I still have to learn. The world is here to provide me with the opportunities to demonstrate my learning. My life for the past year has been filled with sadness and pain. Yet I am catching a glimpse of the Light and am beginning to feel my gratitude for the events in my life, for, be they painful and difficult to bear, they are providing me opportunities to see Myself. Every event, every encounter is a Holy opportunity for me to express Love instead of fear.