My whole world is a complex system of interlocking maps. My reality is self defined and, as Douglas Hofstadter has opined, a series of “strange loops”.
Beliefs fuel my interpretations and they are each made up of a bundle of assumptions. Maps of the world, while useful, are imperfect representations of the area and topography they describe.
So much of life is an admixture of personal and shared fiction blended, often subtly, with fact. We are first weavers and tellers of stories. We learn through metaphor. Symbols and signs are the ways in which things get stored in memory and then we imbue these symbols with emotional, intellectual and spiritual significance.
In an allegorical sense, we are in the Wachowski Brothers’ “matrix” where mental models ( constructions of mind) color much of what we see and do. Spiritual awakening in all religious traditions emphasizes waking up (e.g., epiphany, enlightenment, kensho, divine illumination, nirvana, bodhi, realization, satori, gnosis). So, how can we appreciate our maps in ways that free us to see beyond them?
I am a lover of maps- maps of all varieties ( the world, other planets, the moon, and the stars). The map room in the Vatican Museum is my all-time favorite. The more maps that hang on our walls the less likely are we to mistake any one map for the real territory. With many perspectives, we are free of the constraining assumptions tied to just one.
The answer to how we get free of our mental models is to allow multiple ones to collide.
What does this look like in daily practice? The best strategy is to pose a regular small set of questions to whatever I perceive, such as:
- What beliefs am I clinging to as I invest in my interpretation of what’s real?
- What if I challenge those beliefs? How might thing change?
- On what experience does my confidence rely?
- Where does my knowledge end, and perception, guess, and imagination begin?
- What are my favorite sources of information? What other sources would add a wholesome set of checks and balances?
- Where is the “orthodoxy” in my thinking? Playing the “heretic” or “devils advocate”, how might things otherwise actually be?
We really hate change especially when it threatens treasured formulas and ways of understanding. It is itself an act of enlightenment to doubt, and bring a scientific mindset to our notions of spirit while listening intently to the tacit knowledge of the heart .
© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.