TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

DRAWING YOUR OWN MAPS 

Part 1 of 3

Neil wrote:

”Maps…

Once I was hosting a radio phone-in program when the question was, « How do you get on with your mate driving in the car? » Calls were a riot. Most of the callers, especially the women, recalled incidents when their husband got lost. The reaction was invariably the same. First the husband denied he was lost; the he refused to stop the car and ask for directions; finally in a fit of pique, he angrily declined to look at the map.

That program got me thinking about maps. Of course, if you’re lost it’s stupid not to look at a map and figure out where you are. But suppose you didn’t have a map. Or something worse, you had the wrong map. Imagine, for instance, you live in Montreal and you are motoring to Boston. Everything’s fine until you arrive in Beantown. Then the whole trip begins to unravel. You can’t find your hotel; you can’t even find the name of the street your hotel is on. You pore over your map. You can’t find a single name or reference point that makes any sense. You continue to drive around aimlessly, bewildered, growing more anxious and angry by the minute, totally frustrated. Finally, you spot a policeman. You stop and show him your map.

He looks at you quizzically and says it’s no wonder you’re lost. You’ve been driving frantically around Boston. But you’re trying to follow a map of Detroit. You have the wrong map.

Isn’t that how many people go through life following the wrong map? And if that’s the case (and experience suggests it is) then is it any wonder that so many of us are anxious, bewildered, angry, frustrated and ultimately lost? Is it surprising that we experience a chronic inner dis-ease, that we are not comfortable in our skin and that we expend enormous energy trying to disguise this condition from the outside world?

Of course, we are now talking about an interior map, a map that relates to the landscape of our own psyche, the topography of our innermost soul. So where did we get this defective, inaccurate map that has led us down so many blind alleys, cul-de-sacs and roads that went nowhere? In my case the map I followed for many years goes back to my boyhood. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, except the map was drawn by other people. From as long as I can remember I was trying to live up to the expectations of other people: my parents, my priest, my teachers and, to some extent, the community in which I lived.

Trying to live up to the expectations of others never works because (in your own mind at least) whatever you do, however much you succeed, it is never enough. The bar is continually being raised. What this leads to is not a genuine sense of accomplishment but an oppressive sense of failure. We can never do enough. And it’s not far from feeling that we are failures to feeling that we are unlikeable. Not just that others don’t like us but, fundamentally, we don’t like ourselves.”

… To be continued

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