Good fish, beautiful fish

I am so deeply moved by those of you who have shared your stories of our beloved Teacher Kenneth Wapnick with me—thank you! His generosity truly knew (and knows) no bounds! My heart continues to go out to his dear wife Gloria and their family, and the Foundation for A Course in Miracles staff. I am still reflecting on his recent passing, but really do feel a renewed commitment to live this work and heal.  The following essay was written in mid-December. 

Beta FishI sat in my car shivering in the Starbuck’s parking lot, struggling to turn the pages of the Subaru manual in an effort to glean why I could not get the key to turn in the ignition. But my fingers kept going numb. The arctic blast that had gripped Denver in its icy tentacles for a week was supposed to have moved on. I had not thought to bring gloves—forcing me to rub my palms together, blow on my frozen digits. Besides, I could barely read the words swimming on the page through the blur of tears standing in my eyes.

The day had begun with the macabre discovery that Victor, the little Beta fish I had inherited from my daughter–received as a gift from a former boyfriend four years earlier–was dead. While making my morning rounds of supplements to ingest and pets to feed, I had flipped on the light switch to the new aquarium I purchased a couple weeks ago thinking to spiff up Victor’s habitat for the holidays and sprinkled a pinch of Omega-enhanced Beta super food (they can sell me anything at Petsmart!) onto the water’s surface, the sight or smell (who knew?) of which usually prompted Victor to wiggle away from his nest in the fake foliage to snap up breakfast. Only to find the tiny fellow lifelessly lodged against the filter tube, “unresponsive,” as they say in the movies, to my jiggling.

Victor was dead, I concluded, as the news slammed into my solar plexus. A fact I found literally hard to swallow, as evidenced by the completely unexpected ball of emotion gathering in my throat. A Course in Miracles teaches that—appearances aside–we are not many bodies vying for survival in an imaginary world but one, loving mind. But I could not even keep it together over the death of a fish!

I had awakened with the same sense of vague malaise that had plagued me the last several days, ever since presenting a talk to the Sunday gathering at the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center here in Denver on A Course in Miracles workbook lesson 182: “I will be still an instant and go home.” Entering deeply into the lesson both in preparation and delivery had reunited me–however briefly–with my real me (us?); that undifferentiated union of our true nature. That “oneness joined as one” the one Child of God that lingers in our memory, even here in this renegade dream, beckons us toward. But, adhering to an all-too-predictable pattern; the period of right-mindedness in which I lost track of myself had been followed by the same old sense of disconnection. The same old vague hopelessness over the fickle seeming nature of the sustainable peace I professed to crave, and yet obviously chose to flee again and again in my secret effort to preserve this belief in a miserable me.

This was not the first fish to abandon me. In my twenties, perhaps in an effort to prove I could take care of something when I barely seemed able to care for myself, I owned a goldfish named Sam that flourished under my loving care despite my frequent business travel schedule. I would gently run my finger along the ridge of Sam’s bowl and he would follow, wagging his tail like my old dog Mischka, who had also eventually perished. Circling around the little Diver Dan Scuba man I bought him. When I met my future husband and began to travel even more to visit him in Denver, Sam must have seen the writing on the wall. I found him one morning on the floor, a couple of feet from his bowl. But another victim of love in a long literary line.

And now, Victor, too, was dead. Although initially annoyed with my daughter for abandoning him during her move to college, suffice it to say the fish had grown on me. I had even practiced “making it about them” on him, as Ken Wapnick recommends in his transforming CD set Cast No One Out, ( meaning, consider how others—sentient and insentient alike—are feeling, instead of always putting your own needs front and center. A habit that helps chip away at our belief in, and addiction to, separate interests. I would gently trace my finger along the side of Victor’s tank, stooped over to face him. “Good fish, beautiful fish,” I would say. “Kind and loving fish.” And whether in response to the sound or sight of me he seemed to respond—I swear to God!–much as Sam had, circling in apparent excitement, glowing a little brighter under my adoring gaze.

And now Victor was dead, and so was my car. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” Judy Garland continued to croon in my head, the song lodged there since I’d purchased my Americano fifteen minutes earlier, choked up, even then, by the scenes from Meet Me in Saint Louis, it instantly evoked. Victor was dead, so was my car, and try as I might, I could not find a reasonable explanation in this freaking manual! I tried calling my imaginary Jesus but, what with the holidays heavily upon us, he must have been busy with other Course students facing far more difficult illusions in their personal hierarchies than the death of a fish and a car. I would be forced to call my husband, the last person on the planet I wanted to contact this morning. After all, we had quarreled the night before following a lengthy period of détente. The argument seemed to have sprung out of nowhere fully formed, quickly taking on the surreal, inevitable quality of an accident, and left me feeling once more unloved and unloving; deeply doubting I would ever achieve true forgiveness of what never was for all.

Succumbing to the cold and the realization that I had to be back in my office for a Skype call in a little more than an hour, I dialed him up, expecting to hear a deepening sulk, suffering sigh, as I related my predicament. Instead he said he would shower and be right over. “Victor is dead,” I blurted, before he hung up; I can’t say why. He made sympathetic noises. “I may have murdered him,” I confessed, recalling that I had added a little untreated water to his tank just last week. “But I’ve done that before,” I said. My husband had done it, too, many times, he reassured me. Betas were hearty fish. It was just his time.

Pressing tissues to my leaky tear ducts as I sat waiting for him, I realized I was not upset because of Victor, Sam, or the fight with my husband. I was not upset because my Dad had a life-altering stroke a couple months ago, or because of the precarious seeming health of other bodies I especially love and need and am terrified of losing. I was upset because I became afraid of inevitable, abstract reunion with our creator far beyond the lie of separation realized we’ve told ourselves that keeps us guiltily imprisoned and identified with bodies designed to inevitably fail us.

“As long as you perceive the body as your reality, so long will you perceive yourself as lonely and deprived. And so long will you also perceive yourself as a victim of sacrifice, justified in sacrificing others.”  (A Course in Miracles Chapter 15 XI. Christmas as the End of Sacrifice.)

But no story we’ve told ourselves, no amount of fearful, stubborn sticking with it, has or could squelch the prevailing Love of our true nature we will awaken to when our fear inevitably subsides. As it will a little more quickly each time we’re willing to withdraw our belief in an external cause for our suffering.

When my husband arrived with our little dog Kayleigh wearing her petite parka, licking me madly and wagging her tail, we figured out together that the problem had something to do with the automatic security system freezing up so that the car’s starter was temporarily unable to recognize my key. (Talk about a creative ego explanation!) Anyway, this time, the car started right up. I thanked my husband, and we hugged, agreeing that Victor had been a good and beautiful fish. He went off to work. I headed home to my business call, Kayleigh shivering beside me, gratefully aware that maybe our inner Teacher had been with us all along. 🙂

“In the holy instant the condition of love is met, for minds are joined without the body’s interference, and where there is communication there is peace. The Prince of Peace was born to reestablish the condition of love by teaching that communication remains unbroken even if the body is destroyed, provided that you see not the body as the necessary means of communication. And if you understand this lesson, you will realize that to sacrifice the body is to sacrifice nothing, and communication, which must be of the mind, cannot be sacrificed. …”  (From paragraph 7)

I highly recommend these new CD releases (from Ken Wapnick’s most recent workshops/academies): I have listened to Watching with Angels and Taking the Ego Lightly and am currently listening to The Community of Love. All three seem like intimate gifts from Ken to all his students, powerful summaries of all he has taught us and invites us to truly live!

HALF-HOUR MENTORING SESSIONS NOW AVAILABLE: Although A Course in Miracles is clearly a self-study program and the one relationship we are truly cultivating is with our eternally sane and loving right mind, mentoring can help remind Course students having trouble applying its unique forgiveness that the problem and the solution never lie in the difficult relationship, situation, behavior, health issue, etc., but in the decision-making mind. In every circumstance, without exception, we can experience inner peace and kindness toward all, unaffected by the seemingly random strife of a world designed to prove otherwise. By choosing to look at our lives as a classroom in which we bring all our painful illusions to the inner teacher of forgiveness who knows only our shared innocence beyond all its deceptive disguises, we learn to identify and transcend the ego’s resistance, hold others harmless, and gently allow our split mind to heal. One-on-one, hour or half-hour mentoring sessions are conducted via traditional phone or Skype (your choice). Please contact me to find out if mentoring is right for you before submitting a payment below. (No one is ever turned away for lack of ability to pay.)

I’m making some exciting new changes to my Tuesday-night forgiveness class, designed to deepen our study and practice and accelerate our learning in the New Year! (PLEASE SEE THIS SITE’S CLASSES/EVENTS PAGE FOR DETAILS.) We’ll begin 2014 by embracing true prayer, forgiveness, and healing as described in The Song of Prayer pamphlet (pamphlets available for purchase from the RMMC or already included within the most recent edition of A Course in Miracles). The Song of Prayer was scribed by Helen Schucman following the Course’s publication and helps clarify misunderstandings about its non-dualistic metaphysics. Our classes on this topic will conclude each week with an optional 20-minute true-prayer session.

We’ll devote the rest of the year to opening to the text, chronologically, from the heart, through selected readings, occasionally augmented by complementary workbook lessons and/or selections from the Manual, pamphlets, and recordings by premier Course Teacher, Author, and Scholar Kenneth Wapnick. Each week will conclude with an optional, 20-minute question and answer/comment/sharing session.

My latest book, Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, is available on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions. If you read and find the book helpful, I would so appreciate you posting a brief (a sentence or two is fine) review on Amazon. 🙂

Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want is also available at the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center in Denver, Colorado, where I teach weekly on Tuesday nights, takes up roughly where my last ACIM essay collection left off, and conveys my growing faith that no matter how wrenching, wild, or wacky the dream of our lives may appear, we always have a choice about which inner teacher we are looking and listening with: the ego, the part of our mind that believed the “tiny, mad idea” of separation from our source had real effects. Or the “right mind” that remembered to gently smile at the bizarre thought of it. If you’re thinking about buying a book and live in Denver, please consider purchasing a copy from the RMMC to help support their great work.  Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, and my previous book, Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, are now also available from the ACIM Store:



  1. External causes for suffering? Moi? 🙂 Isn’t it amazing the multitude of ways we try to go along with the ego’s inevitably unsatisfying ‘outer shield of oblivion’ strategies to keep us mindlessly preoccupied with fire-fighting (space-time) events of any and all magnitudes, such as your essay exemplifies for all of us? Yet the peace of the ‘inevitable, abstract reunion with our creator’ calls us to go beyond our ambivalence and eventually transcend our imagined guilty prisons… Thank (non-dual) goodness! 🙂

  2. Yup. No matter how we spin it, the innocent love for us all is still there! Thank you, Bruce! 🙂

  3. Gabrielius says:

    What a nice story, Susan 🙂 It touched me nicely, warmly and softly.

    Me and my girlfriend, also had a Beta fish. And our Beta fish also died 🙁 (though we have two aquariums right now, one is not in ‘production’ nevertheless). What was very cute, is that when our Beta fish got sick, my girlfriend, Dovile, very nicely treated the fish. She likes animals and fishes very much (additionally we have two cats, Keira and Mao, one is mine though) and gets anxious when something gets wrong with them. So she got anxious when the Beta fish started to be sick, and as I mentioned, started to treat it, extracted it into a separate bowl, filled it with medicine, etc. It was very cute to watch her, I told her, that she should open an animal hospital, because she treats them so kindly, nicely and with respect and love (even she is not aware of it).

  4. Thank you for sharing this lovely story about your girlfriend and your fish, Gabrielius. We learn to treat all beings kindly, nicely, and with respect and love (as you say) one being at a time! 🙂

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