THE COLUMN

Issue No. 49/January 6, 1996


THE FOG

IVAN HOFFMAN

It was foggy for me on New Year's Eve. There have been other New Year's Eves when there was no fog, only a clear and unobstructed view. But this New Year's there was fog. I could not see more than a few feet in front of me. My head lamps merely cast a blurred reflection back into my eyes. I like to know where I am going. Trusting that there's a road ahead, even if I know it intellectually, is, well it is a matter of trust if you cannot see.

There have been number of times when I have felt as though I were in a fog. My direction was uncertain. Even if only days before I was clear, all of a sudden it seemed, I was lost in the mire of my life. My first experience with fog was perhaps 20 or so years ago when the clarity of my vision, unhappy though that vision was, kept me feeling as though I knew where I was headed. I could see the road in front. I was driving a fancy foreign car on that road. True it was that the direction of that road was nothing that I wanted but I did not know I did not want it. I believed it was the only road. No alternative route as it were.

And then the fog rolled in. And I lost the road. And whatever I believed about my direction in life turned out to be completely wrong. The fog made that clear. Of course, at the moment I did not know that I was wrong, or indeed right; all I knew was that I was lost.

Some years later, after spending all that time in the mist, the fog lifted and I could see what I then believed was my direction yet again. And I drove along that road, if in a less fancy car, until, seemingly out of nowhere, the fog again appeared. I had to again drive without feeling as though I knew where I was headed. Trusting that damn road again.

But there was some difference between this experience and the first. This time I realized that I had previously emerged from being lost and so perhaps this time my concerns about not knowing where I was headed ought to be somehow abated. And they were. I was still not altogether comfortable by my lack of knowing, my lack of vision, but I could cope. And rationalize that there was something guiding me.

But this New Year's Eve the fog returned. Compared to the times when I felt certain of where I was going, now I feel uncertain. Compared to the times when I felt I knew what I was doing, now I do not. Compared to the times when I felt I understood what the universe had in mind for me, now I understand nothing at all. What I felt I understood five years ago has turned out not to be quite the way I felt I understood it. What I believed my life was to be about then has turned out not to be. What I felt I understood at the end of each year since, what I felt I understood about where I was going in the then coming year, has not turned out to be quite the way I felt I understood it.

As I look into the coming year, all I can see are my own head lamps reflecting back at me. I cannot see much beyond my nose, and while that may seem a great distance, it does not suffice. Peer though I may down the road, it is all clouded over. Nothing is apparent.

And yet, I feel as blessed and comforted by it as ever I could imagine. I feel at peace with the density of not knowing. And this despite the fog. Or maybe because of it.

What seems clear amidst the fog and clouded vision is that I must have learned over the years to trust in uncertainty. In Taoism, conduct that is not forced, that is natural under the circumstances is referred to as wu wei. In the Bhagavad-Gita, the same idea is expressed as believing we are in daylight when in truth we are in the dark. In Buddhism, the concept is known as non-attachment. In all of those philosophies, and in others, living without knowing our direction, and feeling comfortable with that, is considered being on the path toward enlightenment.

I have previously come to understand that it is only when we have more questions than answers that we have found the answer. As long as we believe we know the answer, such as the direction in which we are going, we foreclose the many other possibilities that the universe may have in mind for us. We choose not to drive in the fog because we believe we have a choice to stay in the clear. We fail to feel the mystery of the mist.

I have been blessed with not knowing. When I feel comfortable with where I am at, with my direction, I seem to turn a corner and find myself in the fog. Maybe that's the answer.

Maybe we can only find ourselves in the fog.

© 1996 Ivan Hoffman

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