The Map is Not the Territory
Like so many Americans, I have been agitated and distracted by our relentless national chaos and have been wondering about my place in a nation that I thought I at least somewhat knew. I’ve responded in predictable ways. Old anxieties of mine surrounding belonging – and not belonging — have resurfaced. Over this last year, feeling unmoored and looking for antidotes, I’ve doubled down on my own advocacy and have withdrawn into my family, friends and studio. l wrote a clumsy book. I hid in the garden and in the hills. I read. I binged on Masterpiece Theater. Ultimately I fretted that all of the noise around me was reinforcing my own myopia and disorientation. I needed to reset my compass, find a new course, draw up a new map.
We rely on maps to navigate earthly and celestial terrain, and I feel grounded, in control somehow, when I am pulled into a fabulous map. Oh here I am! There I will go! And then there are maps for our internal landscapes and methods we call on to steer through spiritual terrain. Mine help preserve sanity and joy—and trek through heartbreak and confusion. But they were falling short of guiding me through my own brand of American angst. When I rediscovered the expression “the map is not the territory,,” coined by Alfred Korzybski, I found inspiration. “Territory” is the noun of conquerors, but I it has a more oblique connotation— a prompt to go deep instead of wide. I looked at my own territory with fresh perspective— the territories of human interaction, of cultivated and uncultivated landscapes, and of numbers. Numbers are, after all, maps to access many things, including the infinite. So I found infinite space in detail — territories within territories —and my sense of agency returned. In this instance I don’t require a map to anchor me, just a renewed commitment to authenticity. Here I am. Now I can go.