I’m feeling foggy and overwhelmed again. Dang. After two-plus years of Covid-brain, I thought the fog had lifted. But another fog has descended, reflecting a global tragedy that appears at least as serious.
The fog of war.
The term “fog of war” came from the Prussian military analyst, Carl von Clausewitz, who wrote:
“War is the realm of uncertainty; three-quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.”
The fog of war refers to a scenario with great uncertainty, where a commander can only see part of the volatile and unpredictable situation ahead.
Although I never plan to command a war, I think the above could be used to describe a lot of life.
The fog from war
Even if I’m not directly facing the fog of war–I’m feeling a fog from war.
In our interconnected world, the energy from a global tragedy can affect us almost immediately. Those of us living far outside the war zones may try to limit our consumption of news, yet we probably still feel some of the effects of the sorrow, fear, and anger coming out of Ukraine.
Yet what to do? Millions of lives hang in the balance, yet the outcome appears far from our control. How do we not feel helpless when there’s so much that’s broken and so little that can easily be fixed?
In the fog from war, it’s hard to focus. I have to move more slowly and take on less.
I’m reminded this week of the power of three. The principle, in rhetoric, suggests that three is the magic number of concepts people can remember in a talk or a phrase. (“I came, I saw, I conquered,” or “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”) It suggests that I should not try to think about more than three critical items at a time. If I’m thinking about Ukraine, I’m down to two others.
Still, I too easily start spinning. Even as I try to limit my big worries, my list of smaller ones keeps growing, and with it, my sense of overwhelm. Then, I freeze up and don’t do much at all.
Cutting through the fog
If, like me, you’re feeling a dark and dense fog, here are some ways to cut through:
1) Practice self-compassion. I repeat the chant, “It’s ok to feel foggy. It’s ok to feel.” Self-compassion gives me the strength to feel compassion for the world.
2) Take one (or two or three) thing/s off my list. Done. Gone. For now. Maybe in a week, I can think about them when I’m not short-circuiting. Given our business not-as-usual state of the world, I doubt anyone will notice.
3) Cultivate beauty. Sliding towards depression is not going to help that mother in Ukraine. Basking in the wonder of our first daffodils and sending thoughts of beauty and light her way just might.
4) Move. When I feel helpless to change the world, I start to freeze up. My breathing becomes more shallow and my chest and throat constrict. . Allowing breath to move through me and then taking some physical steps ahead, almost anywhere, breaks the spell.
5) Give. We can give to organizations helping those suffering from war. And we can also give closer to home. A simple act of kindness done with the intent of bringing light into our family, neighborhood or community sends light into the world. And every ray of kindness and compassion counters the dark, foggy energy of doom that threatens to envelop us.
6) Play. When times are serious, play is especially important. In a course I’m taking, artist Nicholas Wilton describes how he starts his art-making day with ten minutes of experimenting and goofing around. Those few minutes of play make the rest of his work go better. Ten minutes isn’t that long when it can help us cope with what we can’t control. I think of play as head-clearing. And playing isn’t the same as distracting one’s self, even though distractions have their place (see below).
My actions may be small, but they matter. I’m not confident in my abilities to change the world, but today, if I can cut through the fog and navigate towards tomorrow, that may be enough.
If you’re feeling the fog, be kind to yourself. It won’t last forever. The sun is still there.
Hopefully, with our prayers, it will begin to burn through.
And now for some fun, I bring you a master of play: Nora the piano cat. I’m late to the party because Nora’s been playing for years. She has a Youtube channel and a concerto composed around her piano style. Can the world really be that bad when a cat is lead in a concerto?