December 12, 2019
This is one of what I hope will be a series of posts on the concepts of mapping.
- Maps fascinate and stimulate because they address such fundamental human questions of location and destination. We use them to orient and to navigate, to look back over the paths we’ve taken, and to think about where we are heading. They allow us to discuss both situation and aspiration. They are at once essential logistic and strategic references and powerful metaphors.*
We map geography in its literal sense, but we also use mind maps, strategic maps, life maps, activity maps, system maps, and so much more.
This post also explores an aspect of my work which I really love: helping people to reclaim their ability to connect directly with the world of Nature, and through this, to more reliably access their intuition. I’m hoping to post quite a bit more on this topic as well.
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In 1999, I moved to Dublin from rural America, and I found myself living in territory which was new to me on many different levels. Excited to be here, and wishing to develop a working knowledge of the city as quickly as possible, I literally mapped it with my feet. For three months I walked everywhere, picking a new direction from home each day, and walking for an hour or two before returning over the same route. I learned about my new home far faster and far more thoroughly than I could have in any other way. The detailed level of understanding I had acquired was made possible as much by my pace as by my persistence.
Mapping is an essential part of the human drive to explore, to discover, and ideally, to understand the world and universe in which we live. Yet how much do any of us really know of what should be the most intimate of home territories: our own bodies?
Over the years I have carried out a certain amount of personal development counseling, mostly for adolescents. Almost invariably we have to start with the most basic questions: “who am I”; “what do I want from my life”; “how do I feel about…“? None of these can really be answered without first coming home to oneself, one’s body; because not only does the body constantly inform us about our environment, and our physical needs, it is also the register of our emotions. Although this work was developed to help adolescents make sense of their transition to adulthood, for many older people in today’s world, the same questions have yet to be resolved. The self-discovery process is applicable to many, regardless of age.
So how do we go about reconnecting? As in any journey, it helps to have a map. There are various approaches to mapping, but they all require observation and developing familiarity with the location. As in the literal and very physical mapping of Dublin’s streets which I did upon arrival, mapping one’s homeland in the body is done step by step, area by area.
The basic strategy is to start a journal to record each day’s observations and insights derived from the mapping. Choose a part of your body, something really obvious at first such as your favoured hand, and pay attention to what it does, how it looks, and how it changes and feels throughout the day. At the end of the day, or ideally periodically throughout the day, record your observations.
This is done for every part of your body, devoting an entire day to it. Properly done, your body survey will take many weeks to complete, and by the end of the time, not only will you have mapped your home territory, but you will notice an increase in the level of detail which you notice. At some point along the way, you will notice that your self-awareness will have become far more subtle than when you had begun
I first published the bulk of this article in Sustainable Ireland’s Convergence Magazine, in 2002. It seems more pertinent now than ever.