German Romanticism was not one of my favorite periods when I had to study it in college. Nonetheless, this painting, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer), by Caspar David Friedrich has stuck with me since. I've always sought to live by the oft-quoted line from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Rings: "Not all those who wander are lost." (I'm a digital nomad, afterall and my instagram handle, 10kMeilen, is a reference to the Chinese saying: One is wiser for travelling 10,000 miles than studying 10,000 scrolls.) But it's the passage from which that line comes that is more inspiring for its wise guidance on the nature of reality and how to see past illusion:
"All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king."
The wanderer in Friedrich's painting has hiked above the sea of fog, gaining a different perspective of reality than those below. It's a reminder that what we experience is only ever a small sliver of the whole story. Our judgments and decisions are always made from this limited view, which means that there are always alternative views and choices. A question we might ask ourselves is whether we're willing to climb mountains in order to transcend our fogginess. But even more useful might be accepting the limits of what we as individuals can know with #humility and #curiosity.
Caption: Painting by Caspar David Friedrich | Public domain | In the collection of Kunsthalle Hamburg