No natural disaster sounds like something I would like to experience close up, but severe earthquakes have always held a particular horror for me. The idea that not even the ground beneath my feet is stable is a terribly unsettling thought for me.
And yet, this journey through the chrysalis feels so often like living through nonstop earthquakes as one by one every bit of self-knowledge, every foundational belief, every value, every defining thought is drug into the open and tested—and more often than not either modified or discarded. Life is filled with loss, but I’ve always thought of myself as being the one constant through it all, much as the ground beneath my feet appears to be the stable foundation for life on this planet. So when I realize that I no longer know what I believe or think, I no longer recognize the face that looks back from the mirror, I no longer know who I am, it is like having my inner ground shaken with a prolonged earthquake of epic proportions.
There are days that I can approach this questioning and evaluating like an intrepid explorer on the adventure trip of a lifetime, but there are also so many days when I long to have one stable unchanging thing to cling to and find nothing in reach. When I don’t recognize myself, it affects my every relationship as I cease to be the person I was. Thus, there is no relationship that is unaffected by all this change, and so there is no other person to whom I can cling. My spiritual beliefs are undergoing as much re-evaluation and questioning as every part of my life, so there is also no higher power to which I can cling. My physical circumstances are changing as well, and continuing to change in ways that decrease stability by the day, so that is also not a point of rest.
This all leads me back to the stranger who stares back at me in my mirror. Who is she? Who am I? It is only through continuing to let everything I know about myself dissolve and fall away that I have any hope of finding answers, of discovering the person who awaits me in the center of the Ring of Fire when all else has burned away. Whatever survives the flames will be all that is left to begin building a new life, a new me.
I know this is a necessary, and ultimately fruitful, process, but the flames are no less painful for that knowledge. My soul feels scorched and burned, and I cannot see the path ahead of me. And so I keep grasping for something to hold onto along the way—even some small piece of self-knowledge—only to watch the flames consume each one before my hand can close around it.
Yet no matter how tired, shaken, and fearful I am, there is nothing to go back to. The flames have consumed all that once was my life, and I can only keep moving forward hoping to one day break through the Ring of Fire into center where the burning stops and I can begin the process of rebuilding with whatever is left behind when the flames are through with me.
I hope that day comes soon.
(Many thanks to Martha Beck for the Ring of Fire imagery from Steering by Starlight: Find Your Right Life, No Matter What!.)