Not long ago I was talking with a woman about spiritual guidance. She complained that she was at a crossroad in her life and that the spiritual principles that had worked in the past seemed to have no impact. “I’m looking for guidance, but all I see is fog.” Because I too have stood at a similar crossroad and stared into that same bank of fog, I shared a truth that I have come to know: It is often when your world is shrouded in fog that you gain your clearest vision.
In thinking of spiritual principles, our tendency is to see them as tools that will help lift the fog. Our fulfillment is somewhere out there in the distance but we are unable to see it. We cannot see it because some distracting condition has occurred. So we reach into our spiritual bag of tricks—positive attitude, denials, affirmations, forgiveness, tithing, random acts of kindness—and we make a renewed effort to apply one or all of these until the fog of uncertainty lifts.
The problem with this approach is that it does little to either lift the fog or to advance our spiritual understanding. Whether or not you do anything about it, fog, in its many forms, comes and goes. Things go well for a time, then they seem to fall apart. The deeper spiritual issue has less to do with the fog and more to do with understanding the one who is peering into it.
The self-image that we drop into the world every day is full of specific dreams and desires meant to enhance and protect its stature and increase its peace of mind. The soul, however, is not tied to the needs of the self-image. To the contrary, the soul issues a perpetual reminder that we are much more than we think.
The self-image is like a glass jar into which we have tried to stuff the soul. From within the confines of this jar, we have tried to live a free life. What many are calling spiritual development and self-improvement is nothing more than a scramble for a bigger jar. Our spiritual arsenal is a bag of tricks intended to protect and bring stability to this inherently fragile structure. Rather than understand the vulnerability of the jar, our mission becomes one of protecting it from the possibility of breakage. Thus, our aversion to fog. We might crack our jar bumping into something we cannot see.
What if we understood that the fog is not a thing out there, but a film on our glass jar? What if we realized, as Paul suggested, that we are merely seeing through a glass darkly? Would we not stop battling the fog and turn our attention instead to climbing out of the jar? In its second noble truth, Buddhism attributes the cause of suffering to the act of clinging. In our analogy, this implies something much more than the tendency to cling to the needs of the jar. We are to examine our need to cling to the jar itself.
Can you, for a moment, imagine shedding the image of the person you think you are, to rise from the confines of your jar and simply let yourself be? In the few moments it takes to accomplish this, you see you are not the least bit threatened by those glass-breaking people and things you encounter in your life. The stones they cast pass right through you. You no longer have to wait for the vision-impairing fog to lift. You yourself rise above it. And it’s not because you have suddenly become something more than you were just moments ago. You are simply experiencing the truth of who you are and who you have always been.