As a wee lad I used to love to wander off, with friends or by myself. I really loved maps, and when I was a little older and able to use a map and a compass, I was off on further boyhood adventures, albeit only for a few hours.
On one occasion, given a pencil and paper by my grandmother I was off exploring the immediate local countryside of Capel Curig, making notes and sketches as I trekked over ‘manicured’ lawns, jumped noisily over the rivulet that marked the garden boundary and trekked boldly into fairly dense forest. On that map-making journey of adventure, it became clear that I had to decide on the scale of the map and would have to decide what to include or not. Somethings I included, somethings I excluded. Big things I included, and smaller trees etc I excluded as I didn’t have a big enough sheet of paper, and if I’m honest what was left off was, sometimes, quite arbitrary.
Later that day, I showed the map to my grandmother, and although she was very encouraging, it was clear that, as I explained the map, I had left off an awful lot of detail either by design or because I hadn’t noticed it. The map was only partially useful.
‘To journey without being changed is to be a nomad’
As an adult I am an amateur astronomer with a huge telescope, inspired by my Dad who, when I was a wee lad, bought me my first telescope. To me, then, it was huge, but in comparison to the one I have now it was small. But, to a small boy it was an awesome size and opened up the universe to me. And, it set me off on another child-orientated project, of a stellar kind. Assisted by a planisphere, a star chart, I was commencing yet another journey of adventure.
My first use of the simplified star chart was a lesson in ‘economics’! I could see more stars with the naked eye, and many more through the telescope that night, than were depicted on the star chart. My Dad was encouraging and explained that the start chart was like a ‘road map’ for the stars, and would only assist if bright stars were included and others omitted. Too much detail would render this and any map useless. The map was essentially an ‘outline’.
‘To change without journeying is to be a chameleon’
As an adult I still love maps – global positioning satellite maps for their functionality are wonderful, but oh, give me a paper map that I can fold, feel, smell, and hear as it crunches and bends as the wind catches it.
But, I now use maps differently to when I was a child.
Then I would avidly look at the map and ‘fit’ the world around me into it. I was so intent on looking at the map, hand-drawn by me, purchased Ordnance Survey maps or gifted star charts, that I missed much of what was going on around me, missed much of the wonder of nature.
Now, I gaze at nature, the countryside or the heavens, and then use a map to confirm what I’m looking at, or to pick out some feature on the map and find it in real life and aim for that. The map is now secondary.
I’ve learned that ‘the map is not the territory.’
Odd then, that as grown-ups so many of us use maps of different kinds, such as philosophy books, prayer books, ancient sacred texts, liturgy etc, and then gaze at the world around us. Our primary focus seems to be elsewhere, when our primary focus should be on nature and others, on life itself, with a gaze, then, afterwards, at the philosophy books, prayer books etc. Ofcourse, the latter are important, but too much gazing at them alone may mean we’re missing out on what on going on around us. They are ‘pointers’ to reality or a greater reality. ‘Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin.’ [Matthew 6:28). Max Lucado rightly says that, ‘Nature is God’s first missionary’.
‘To Journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim’.
(This, and indented quotes above by Mark Nepo, ‘ Seven Thousand Ways To Listen: Staying Close To What Is Sacred)
We can be so busy on the intricacies of the journey, so focussed on the map, that we miss much of the journey of life and transformation itself. For instance, we can be so ‘involved’ in planning and doing (performing) a ritual that we can miss its deep meaning. Ofcourse, planning and doing it well are good, but if perfection ‘distances’ from the deep meaning, the inner journey of transformation, then we’ve missed out.
Our spiritual journey rightly involves outward activities, sacraments, rituals, liturgies, but focus too much on them, and though we might do them perfectly and even have praise heaped upon us by others, one wonders about the corresponding inner journey of transformation.
‘As above, so below’, it has been said. Others speak of an inner/outer congruency. It seems we need both: outer activity and inner transformation. ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ (Romans 12:2a, The Book).
‘Change is inevitable, but transformation is by conscious choice.’ Heather Ash Amara
And, yet, that transformation may be lacking, or delayed, or stalled! You can see that sometimes when someone says one thing but does another, or seems outwardly spiritual in their actions but inwardly is materialistic or immature by what they say. None of us like to admit that, and our ego rebels against such a notion, but if its tries to ignore the challenge (and it will be true for some, and perhaps true for al of us at sometime in our life) then we miss out even more on that inner transformation. Better to name it, and work for change.
‘Transformation isn’t a future event. It’s a present day activity.’ Jillian Michaels
On our spiritual adventure of a lifetime, maps of all kinds may assist, but they are not the territory, or as Alfred Korzybski said, ‘The (spoken) word is not the thing. Perhaps their role is to point out the need for transformation and to give hints about it, but it is up to us to do it – to be transformed (bit by bit. It’s continual).
Mark Nepo mentions something similar to this, and concludes with an exercise – see below:
– Centre yourself and without judgement bring to mind a time that you refused to let your experience change you. [Resistance].Simply feel that time’s presence.
– As you breathe, bring to mind a time that you changed yourself to please or avoid another. [Distancing]. Again, simply feel that time’s presence.
– As you soften, bring to mind a time that you journeyed forth and were changed by the journey. [Surrender]. Feel this time’s presence.
– Without judgment, give thanks [Gratitude] by accepting all of this. Give thanks for being human.
‘The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.’ Albert Einstein
Ofcourse, all this begs the questions: what is transformation, how is started, how is it completed, what are transformational ‘tools’, what are the benefits of transformation to the individual and the world? Yes, there’s more (which will appear here over the next few weeks).