I recently came out of retirement to earn some extra cash. Turns out it’s taking more funds than I bargained for to keep three cats in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed. So I found a great part-time job helping people affected by Autism and/or intellectual disabilities. I take them out into the community doing activities that they chose, and helping them work on skills that they have chosen. I often get paid for going walking, playing basketball (or trying to), or simply playing card games with my clients. While there are some frustrations, mostly with charting (my nemesis from medical days), it’s quite rewarding emotionally.
One of my clients has about ten songs that he likes to listen to. Over and over and over and over. His favorite is Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. I think he would be content listening to it on repeat for the entire day. After my first week with him, I had to put limits on how many times we listened to it each day, as for days the song would worm its way into my ear and play over and over and over and over in my mind.
Did I mention “Ring of Fire” was one of my least favorite songs?
Not being a great fan of either country or mariachi music, I never cared for it. So when my client would listen to it, disliking arose. I would grit my teeth and think “Ugh. Again? Seriously? I wonder if he’d notice if I hid it from the playlist?”
After about the 50th time of listening to it, something clicked, and I realized that while I don’t think Johnny Cash had any Buddhist leanings, the song speaks plainly of burning with desire. The song points to the desire of a romantic relationship, but it could be the desire of anything.
“I fell into a burning ring of fire, I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher, and it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire”
Compare that with the following from the Buddha’s fire sermon:
“The eye… is burning, forms are burning, eye consciousness is burning, eye contact is burning, the feeling that arises from eye contact, whether pleasant, painful, or neutral, that too is burning. With what is it burning? I declare that it is burning with the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion…”
The Buddha goes on to say the same about the ear/sounds, the nose/smells, the tongue/tastes, the body/felt objects, and the mind/thoughts. As I understand it, it’s that burning feeling when we’re really craving something (like wanting to hear a song again and again), or when we really dislike something (like having to hear that song again and again). It’s a sense of burning either way.
I started thinking about all the things that I get “burned” with. And when I’m being more aware, I can hear the song when I’m in the midst of really wanting (or not wanting) something.
And it burns, burns, burns…
And with that thought pattern, disliking subsided and liking arose. I’m not playing “Ring of Fire” over and over when I’m not with my client, but I’ve found that with a new mindset, hearing it is almost pleasant. And there’s certainly pleasure from seeing the smile on his face when he realizes I’ve hit the replay button.