When I was in the midst of my physical pain and emotional turmoil, I saw a television show where the guest was talking about feeling grateful for experiencing illness. I can’t remember now what illness this person suffered from, or what the whole show was about, but I do remember how very annoyed I was at the time. I could not understand why somebody would feel grateful for something so terrible, and I decided she must not be in a lot of physical pain. I thought my physical illness must be much worse than hers must. I could not fathom feeling grateful for something so very painful and emotionally difficult.
Now, here I am, living my very fulfilling, joy-filled life, typing away, feeling … yes, grateful. I am grateful for my own illness, and no, I am not delusional, and yes, I do remember the physical pain I felt.
In her book, Steering by Starlight, Martha Beck writes about a concept she calls the Ring of Fire. This is one of the most difficult places to be and one of the most incredible places to be—the ring of fire transforms your life. Going through the ring of fire burns up all of your beliefs about yourself, your life, who you are supposed to be, and lands you squarely in the Core of Peace. Obviously, the core of peace is peaceful and a very pleasant place to be.
Most people require a little push into the ring of fire. We don’t generally seek out such emotionally intense transformational processes on purpose, because they are difficult and not a lot of fun. They are, however, worth it. The core of peace is a place of certainty, where you know yourself quite well, are comfortable, love yourself, and feel a deep sense of purpose and well-being. It is the home of your Inner Healer.
When illness lands in your life unexpectedly, you are kicked unceremoniously into the ring of fire. Everything you thought you knew about yourself, everything that used to describe you, changes. You feel lost, at sea, alone, and confused. You no longer feel a strong sense of identity. Though this sounds awful, it is actually the perfect moment for your journey to begin. If you can accept that you are now journeying forward toward your core of peace rather than fighting with all your might to move backward to the old you, you will be rewarded with speedier travels. I don’t know about you, but anything with the word “fire” in its title is something I’d like to hurry on through.
After surviving illnesses, people often seek new careers, volunteer for causes, change relationships, or make other bold, life-changing moves. Being booted into the ring of fire accelerates the process of becoming who you are meant to be, not just in terms of careers and other labels, but in the sense of that deeper, more meaningful perception of yourself. Arriving at your core of peace is much like the sensation of coming home. You’ve just come home to yourself.
It’s such an amazing experience that I am absolutely grateful for my illness. It hurtled me into the ring of fire, a place I would not have gone willingly. Without my illness, I would not have come home to myself. And I really, really like it here.