The Map Analogy

April 30, 2014

“Some people seem well-suited to following maps, while others are always looking for new ways to get where they’re going. In the end, the only reliable compass is within, as every great spiritual guide will tell you.” –Madisyn Taylor, from her blog The Daily Om

Years ago I asked a friend to drive me to the airport from work. This was in the days when Mapquest was the rage and GPS systems were just a glint in someone’s eye. I had dutifully printed Mapquest’s directions. With my bag, purse and directions in hand, I hopped in the car and off we went.

It was the beginning of rush hour and in Northern Virginia. That’s not a pretty picture, especially when you’ve got a plane to catch. My friend Kathy had a meeting to attend as well.  Time was of the essence.

We seemed to be buzzing along fine at first, until Mapquest led us off the main streets and into a rural area. Kathy started asking questions, and I anxiously tried to assuage her that I had had great luck with Mapquest in the past. Their directions certainly wouldn’t lead us astray. Before we knew it, we faced a roadblock on what seemed to be a dirt road with no human habitation in sight. Where had “trusty” Mapquest led us?

I won’t share with you the panicky feelings I had on whether I would make my plane or the embarrassment I felt urging Kathy to drive the Mapquest way. The only thing we could do was turnaround and find a main road that would lead us toward the airport. We eventually felt our way back to civilization and the airport.  Kathy made it to her meeting on time and I made it to my plane, but not without a lot of anxiety.

What’s This Say about Maps

Madisyn Taylor goes on to write, “The maps and travelogues left behind by others are great blessings, full useful information and inspiration, but they cannot take the journey for us. When it is time to merge onto the highway or pull up anchor, we are ostensibly on our own.”

Kathy and I had to figure out how to get to the airport on our own. We knew the general direction, but the exact route had to be discovered by our own choices. This meant taking steps we weren’t sure would lead to our desired destination. It also meant possibly making mistakes and missing our respective appointments. The pressure was on.

Maps are a good thing because they get you headed in the right direction, or at least in a direction that feels comforting to start with; however, they are based on, what Ms. Taylor calls “observations from the past.” New roads are built every day; highways cut through neighborhoods we thought were sacrosanct. That map we’ve been using could be woefully out-of-date.

With or Without a Map

A lifelong challenge of mine has been believing in myself. So, when I read Ms. Taylor’s blog, it gave me pause. For years I’ve tried following the guidance of therapists, mentors and gurus. In some cases, their advice has been invaluable, just like a map. In other instances, I wasted, or at least I thought I had wasted, valuable time and money that didn’t get me to where I thought I needed to go. I had reached another roadblock. I had to turn around and find my own way.

That stirred up feelings of anger, hurt and resentment. I wanted someone else to tell me where to go and how to do it and then I would discover that’s not where I wanted to go or how I wanted to do it. I had to deal with those feelings and learn that that was just another bend in the road, one that wasn’t on the map I was following.

Ultimately, I had to decide for myself which way to go, what would serve me best, and how to honor my true self.  Ms. Taylor describes this awareness as “moments when we learn to attune ourselves to our inner compass, following a map only we can see, as we make our way into the unknown territory of our own enlightenment.”

Attuning to Our Own Inner Compass

Perhaps the best thing we can do before we embark on any new project or direction is to check in with ourselves. This may be difficult when some expert has had so much success with his/her approach to the same issue we are wrestling with. We see the possibility for our own success using that person’s step-by-step approach.

Our enthusiasm for it can be blinding, so much so we can’t see the compass needle, which is telling us to do whatever we are seeking in another way that uniquely works for us.  At the same time the enthusiasm for following another person’s path drowns out our own inner voice–a voice that always speaks the truth.

Essentially it’s a battle between the inner voice and the ego. Discerning which is which takes time, practice and perhaps a number of missteps. For some of us, it takes many missteps before we slow down and start listening.  Maps are good, but we are the only true experts on our individual journey of life.  By believing in ourselves and paying attention to our own inner compass, we’ll get to where we want to go, perhaps with more ease than expected.

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