Monday, April 10, 2017

When Our Maps Fail

Last week my life was interesting in a less-than-fun way. I became ill. Now most of you know I have a chronic illness (CFS/ME/FM) so dips in functional health happen. But this was different in that it did not conform to pattern- I had not done any of the things that sometimes trigger a relapse, and none of my trusted strategies made it better. In fact, some seemed to make it worse.

And this got me thinking about maps- theories, beliefs and stories- the things we use, often only semi-consciously, to navigate what is happening now. Maps are useful. They save time and help us make sense of our own experience so we can get where we want to go.

Until they don't. Then, we just feel lost, bewildered and a little stunned. That’s where I was last week.

Years ago I took a physics course. At one point the prof was talking about sub-atomic particles, and how they left a trail in a cloud chamber set up for experiments.

I said, “Wait a minute- are you telling me that all this is just theory, that we can’t know what is leaving that trail in the cloud chamber, that. . . . for all we know it’s little green men?”

The class laughed, and the prof said, “She’s right. It could be little green men. . . . there’s no way to know right now.

Ideally we use a theory, or a map, or a story so long as it’s useful. The problem arises when we forget that our beliefs and stories about life are “just” maps that may help us navigate, and not the territory itself. Holding and being unconsciously attached to our maps means we may ignore or not even see aspects of life that do not fit with our inner maps about life and health and money and virtue, about punishment and reward, politics and physics, about the sacred and the mundane. . . . .You name it- if we’ve lived long enough, we have a map we are using to navigate just about everything.

Last week’s health challenges were not consistent with the map I usually use to navigate illness. All the data/stories/theories my map contained about my neurological and immune systems (based on a plethora of previous experience and lots of research) were not helping me get out of bed. And that’s when something interesting happened: I started to see glimmers of earlier and largely unconscious maps: sneaky beliefs about ill health as punishment; the need and ability to “earn” health; the exclusive attribution of physical symptoms to psychological or spiritual dis-ease.

And I started to bring a deeper level of curiosity to the stories or beliefs- the maps- I and others are using, particularly when we disagree about what is happening in the world and have very different strategies about how to move forward. I got curious about and tried to imagine what possible inner map/story/belief someone might be using that gives them a perspective and position I find baffling or dangerous. I started to wonder if we might be more able to communicate if we held our maps a little more lightly and were genuinely curious about the experiences that could shape an entirely different map for someone else.

Because wherever we are going, my map indicates that we go together. That’s a theory, a story, a belief that shapes the map I draw. For the moment, I’m okay with that, although I am also aware that it may not be the only way to perceive the journey or draw the map.

Old maps tend to stop at the edge of our known world, and may include warnings against going further, things like: Here be dragons! If we are afraid of the dragon of not-knowing it can feel dangerous to remember that maps are just maps. But if we can let compassion fuel our curiosity about ourselves and others, we might just discover new territory and fresh hope for the shared journey.

~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

Love this image of the night sky from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming- reminds me of those who navigate by the stars.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

When Human Beings Do Horrible Things

I am regularly moved and inspired by people's compassion and willingness to help each other. But today, I am contemplating what it is in human beings, that allows us to do things like use chemical weapons on each other. . . on children. I say "us" because, although it is unlikely that I will ever be in a position to make that kind of choice (and I would hope that I would refuse to do such a thing,) it is not particularly useful to separate ourselves from those who make choices to deliberately inflict harm.

At it's core, harming another is enabled by an ability to make others less-than. That is where the violence starts. Sometimes this is mixed with fear or greed or a lust for power, but always it requires not seeing others as fellow human beings, not cherishing all children as our children.

And. . . disconnecting from others to a degree that allows us to do violence to them, always entails disconnecting from ourselves at least a little, so we do not feel our common humanity. This is true even if the level of violence is "just" verbal. .

And there it is- the need to stay deeply connected to our own precious, flawed humanity. It's what helps us live side by side when we disagree, what enables us be clear about what is good for our shared communities without having to vilify those who disagree with us as something less than a fellow fallible human being.

Please don't misunderstand me- accepting that someone who has done violence is a fellow human being does not mean we condone the action or fail to hold human beings accountable for those actions.

Not making someone who had done violence less-than is not easy. The man who raped me when I was a young woman is a fellow human being. See what I mean? Hard. I don't need to see or engage with him. Nor do I approve of or understand what he did But he is a fellow human being, And sometimes human beings do horrible things.

It all reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Aleksandr Solznhenitsyn: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

This being human- not always easy. Sometimes we have to take turns remembering who and what we are, reminding each other, leaning into each other, finding ways to live together in our shared world. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

With gratitude to Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming for this image of the darkness and the light.