The Ring of Fire

With apologies to Johnny Cash, I use the phrase Ring of Fire to mean the burning sensation of losing our identification with everything we love in the Shallows. Alice did this as she coped with divorce, her second husband's mental illness and death, and numerous other heartbreaks. She made her magic list after accepting the loss of her surface hope: "Maybe I am not supposed to share my life."

This embrace of loss is what paradoxically seems to attract gain. I can't explain this, but I've seen it—often. My friend "Helen" was told by doctors that she had less than a year to live. She made provisions to support her children, grieved infinite losses, researched methods for dying on her own terms rather than lingering in agony. Then it turned out the doctors were wrong. Helen will live—but not as she did in the Shallows. Letting go of everything, she says, put her in a different world. "It's almost scary," she told me. "Everything I think seems to materialize. I picture my ideal house, job, a school situation for my children, whatever, and it happens. I swear, if I held out my hand and said 'apple,' one would appear." She held out her hand in illustration. Another friend pulled an apple from her bag and put it on Helen's palm. We laughed...nervously.

This kind of experience has become weirdly familiar to me, as it may be to Alice, and possibly to you. Perhaps when our shallow desires burn away and we write what we really want, we're primed to notice veins of gold in every part of life. Maybe list-making simply focuses our attention on what was always available. Did I mention I have no idea how this works? But if you let go of everything mutable or temporary and express your yearning from the pure core that remains, I suspect you'll find that same magic. You can tell me all about it—later. Right now, I've got some lists to write.

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