An Approximate Position


Dead reckoning is the process of determining one’s present position by projecting course and speed from a known past position, and predicting a future position by projecting course and speed from a known present position. The DR position is only approximate because it does not allow for the effect of leeway, current, helmsman error, or compass error.

— National Imagery and Mapping Agency


I learned today that the word evolve means to unfold. The etymology doesn’t connote progress but revelation  — not that things will necessarily become better, but that they will become more clear. Which is a form of progress, I suppose.

To use dead reckoning, you need a known point. And these tend to be more elusive in life than on navigational charts. The past is as subject to revision, to shifts in perspective and changes of heart, as the present. Our perception of where we came from depends partly on where we’ve gotten to, where we stand now. Just as our understanding of where we are now will change depending where we go from here. Fixed points feel to me like unicorns or sasquatches — things that live more in our imagination than our experience.

This is relevant to me now because I’m between places — where I used to live, and where I’ll live next, with the latter yet to unfold. I’m staying in a beautiful home with very nice people, and I’m grateful to have landed so fortunately. Yet where I am now feels a bit surreal, because I don’t yet know where I’ll be.

Even more disconcerting, when I drove through my former neighborhood a week after leaving, everything looked different, almost unrecognizable. This seemed impossible. But maybe places are changed by the mere fact of departure, altering as soon as we turn our backs. Who knows what happens when we aren’t looking?

I can only say that since I don’t know exactly where I’m going or even where I’ve been, I feel a sense of unreality about where I am. This time and place aren’t yet part of an internal narrative — they’re just now. While experiencing life this way is a zen ideal, it’s disorienting. We humans have a yearning not only to be somewhere, which is inevitable, but to feel we know where we are, which proves more problematic. We’re always somewhere real, with an approximate idea of it.

Last night I saw a movie in the city I hope to live in. Afterwards, I was tempted to wander the streets but thought, “I’ll have plenty of time to explore here after I move.” So I decided to revisit my old neighborhood for dinner. But I passed the exit I meant to take, the one I’ve taken so many times and never missed before.

This highway isn’t forgiving of those who miss their destinations — by the time you get an opportunity to turn around, you’re already at the next town; there’s no place in between. I couldn’t go home because my friends were hosting a dinner we’d decided was better for me not to attend. So I figured I’d drive two towns further, past where I live now, and check out a restaurant I’d always meant to visit, although I didn’t know where it was. Turned out it was at the very end of a pier, dark and silent when I finally found it.

Hungry and feeling geographically challenged, I passed an establishment with its lights afire, the only spark of life in an otherwise empty village. It was called The Wayfarer. I thought, that’s what I am now, so I should stop here. There’s no way to leap forward to a place that doesn’t exist yet, or return to one that doesn’t exist anymore. Years ago I saw a play with the line, “Where you are now is a place too.”



8 thoughts on “An Approximate Position

  1. haha molly great post….i can relate. lately i feel like i’m between things all the time and i know this is where i am but it doesn’t feel like a place and that seems cool and not okay at once. very interesting. something like that…

  2. I clearly remember getting “no fixed point” as I was sitting during the Genjokoan Genzo-e retreat in November, 2010. I almost fell out of the chair. Try as I might to let go of this thought as well, I was swept along by the contrasting senses of wild exhilaration and profound relief after a lifetime of fixed points, and continued to be swept away for some time. Like two months. Actually, it’s still pretty liberating, especially in those rare moments when I realize even “I” am no fixed point.

    • Yes, while I focused on the disorienting experience of “nothing fixed,” thank you for reminding us of its liberating and joyful aspects, Keith! Impermanence is the source of all hope, as well as a fair share of anxiety 🙂 Great to hear from you.

  3. I cannot tell you how much this resonates with me. I am nauseous. I am trying not to be anxious and afraid. My physical location is secure. Almost too secure. I live in a good place with friendly people. I feel like I have no refuge, however. My reality is ass over tea kettle right now. I can take refuge in the idea of God, or in bicycle racing, or in hedonism. But sooner or later all those constructs dissolve. I lose enthusiasm. I regret my beliefs as being a waste of energy and huge divestment. By the time I figure out how to live I will be dead.

    But there are a few facts that bring me some solace. Firstly, I am not alone. You just proved it. Secondly, I have known kindness. I have felt the kindness and mercy of others. So I have faith that I am not in hell and that the powers that be aren’t entirely malicious.

    I read this recently which struck me:

    Enita non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. No more things should be presumed to exist than are necessary.

    I suppose that entails the past and the future. Just like the song goes, I’m stuck in the middle with you.

    P.S. I Love and Miss You. -Martin

    • Ass over teakettle, eh?! At least you can convey your reality with eloquence and humor (as always). That’s something. That’s a lot, actually. I love the maxim, and the song. Thanks for giving me something beautiful to ponder in return. Big love back! M

  4. I’m reminded of a song we sang at plum village:
    No coming, no going,
    No after, no before.
    I hold you close to me.
    I release you to be so free.
    Because I am in you and you are in me.
    Because I am in you and you are in me.

    Maybe that’s all we need to know?

  5. Where you are is a place for sure but it doesn’t have to feel good, necessarily. I’ve had those surreal feelings about places before too. Mostly those I’ve only remained in for a short period of time. Since high school, some many many years ago, I still measure everything in periods of four years. If I’ve lived in a place for four years, I kinda feel like I know it. Wonder if anyone has ever studied this? If so, what do you think it’s called? PS Lost your new number, please call…xx

    • For me it has taken different amounts of time to feel at home in different places. Overall, I’ve acclimated to Maine pretty quickly, with the exception of certain insect-related events. There’s always something waiting around the corner, near or far, to unsettle us. So how to settle in unsettled-ness?! Will call this week, promise. xo M

Comments are closed.