A Light in the Fog
As a Bay Area native, I have always enjoyed the fog.
Whether it is during a “June Gloom” in San Francisco, listening to the foghorns from Alameda on a late Fall day or watching the fog from the East Bay hills fingering its way from the ocean to the Bay, I am allured by its quiet power. I am not, however, a fan of driving in the fog (Central Valley tule fog, anyone?).
During a holiday trip to rural Italy in December 2015, my family had an interesting experience with fog. We were taking many day trips from my in-law’s home to the medieval villages throughout Le Marche province. While I was trying my best to enjoy our time there, I had a continuous nagging feeling of “something is not right”, like death was impending. As it turned out, that was the last visit I would have with my father-in-law before he died three months later.
While I didn’t really know that was going to happen and it was likely the source of my feelings, I knew something was going to happen that would be scary and life threatening. So, imagine my fear, then, when our family was driving through winding country roads back to the valley where my in-laws lived and the fog started coming in. Fog’s nature is to be low to the ground and thick, therefore I was becoming increasingly more frightened as the fog steadily grew, shrouding the roads and giving us little visibility. I thought for sure this was the result of my sense of impending doom. It was not, but by the time we made it safely back to the house, I think we all were a bit anxious and agitated; the fog had become a nemesis to our safety.
Once we settled back into the warmth of the home and let our shoulders down, we all could shift our relationship with the fog. I stepped outside to observe this amalgamation of water particles to render the fog innocuous (its just water, right?). To my surprise, the fog was so thick it was like a snow bank two feet from the front door, obscuring the beautiful valley scenery typically observed. The trepidation and foreboding that I felt while in the car, returned. I couldn’t see anything. Who knows what is lurking in the fog. Will I be safe?
To calm myself and to share this amazing sight, I called my daughter to come outside. As curious, trusting children do, she discovered that the fog was so dense that if you shined a flashlight on it, the light would be reflected back. I thought to myself, helping to ease my mind, something that reflects light back can’t be all that bad, right? We then turned it into a game of making letters and shapes with the light beam on the fog, where our whole family came out to play. Once again, my fear of the dangers hidden in the fog melted away.
As a student of Acharya Shunya for the past 6 years in her Vedic Spiritual Studies program, I have the privilege of receiving many transmissions from my Guru. One lesson that she has oft repeated, and that has stuck with me, is the way our minds trick us into thinking the thing coiled up in the corner is a snake when in fact, once you shine the light on it, it is found to be a rope.
My Italian fog experience is emblematic of how the snake/rope dichotomy is played out in our daily lives through our avidya (lack of Self-knowledge) and not having clarity of who we truly are.
My mind conjured up stories about “what-ifs” and feared the loss of my impermanent body (Deha Vasana): “What if we drive off the side of the cliff because we can’t see through the fog?”. My body then experienced the effects of the mind attachments and aversions (raga/dwesha): heart flutters, knots in the stomach, sleeplessness, feeling anxious. In other words, attachment to my body and fear of injury, created actual physical effects: I did it to myself.
This pendulum of likes and dislikes (raga/dwesha) creates a mental and physical spin, stirring up the dust of ignorance in the mind (avidya) which creates our own mental fog thereby obscuring the inward seeking for the Truth of the Self: “The fog is neat, but I’m scared of what I can’t see.” The back and forth is exhausting. I have observed that to make this “fog” less scary and bring it more under my control, I imbue it with more fogginess of my own creation: lifestyle choices I know don’t serve me or infusing emotions of “attachments and aversions” into conversations to where the “discussion” disintegrates into what we do or don’t like, what is good or bad. All of this leads to more confusion.
But when I can see that it leads to confusion, that must mean I am progressing on my spiritual path, right?
It becomes like the proverbial hamster on the wheel: I am running so I must be going somewhere. When we self-create the fog to do our “spiritual work”, we are at a stuck point in our path to Moksha or spiritual liberation from our own self-imposed limitations. It is not bad or wrong (judgments are also raga/dwesha), simply a signal. This is the time to deepen our spiritual studies, being aware to not be caught up in its mere intellectual pursuit known as Shastra Vasana, and embody the Upasana Yoga practices (self-disciplines) we have been taught, such as:
Waking up at Brahmamurta (sunrise) allows us to remember the ever-present light and to harness the Sattwa that is abundant in the universe at that time.
Chanting mantras and prayers become brooms that sweep away the dust from our minds.
Lighting the lamp is a symbol of the light of our true, powerful, ever-present nature, Aatman.
As in nature, the fog in our minds is a transitory state. It is a signal for us to slow down, proceed with thoughtful caution and go inwards to trust that the way through the fog is in us.
The author Janya Tuere Anderson is a long time student of Acharya Shunya, and serves as Co-Director of Vedika's Awakening Community Circle program.
Learn more about how you can study Vedanta, Yoga and Ayurveda with Acharya Shunya in her