I’ve always been a lover of maps. When I was a kid I would get really excited if a novel I was reading had a map at the front or back of the book, so when the characters were in a specific place or on a journey I could refer back to it and get bearings on where they were, where they were going, what’s going on around them, how close different story lines are to one another in terms of location. Heck… I still get excited when a book I’m reading has a map. I’m a Lord of the Rings lover for life.
As I’ve gone through my various incarnation as a person; seeker, wild rebellious youth, philosophy scholar, yoga practitioner; I’ve equally gravitated towards maps, but those of a different sort. At around the age of 15 or 16 I purchased my first tarot deck, which can be understood as a map of the human psyche; the major arcana, the cards that begin with the Fool and culminate with the World, symbolize the path that consciousness takes towards its own awakening, the steps necessary on the journey for its evolution and development.
In turn, I think one of the reasons I fell in love with yoga so hard is due to the sheer extent of how many maps there are in the various avenues of the practice. For example, some of the philosophy schools were able to break the whole universe into understandable parts in a map called the Tattvas (for a detail description of these, I recommend Christopher Wallis’ book Tantra Illuminated). I definitely consider the energetic system (the nadis, sushumna, chakras, etc) a map of the way life force, or energy, moves through us and yoga teaches ways to work with it. Whether or not you can stand behind the idea that we have wheels of energy circulating in various areas of our body aside, we can still look at the chakras as the components that create a developed human being and the various ways those components get out of whack and how that effects our personhood. I will talk more on this in later posts.
In the quest for learning how to live ethically and in line with our highest good we yogis have maps such as the Yamas and the Niyamas, which can be understood as the Indian version of the ten commandments (not a perfect comparison but effective nonetheless), but they differ in that there is no punishment from an external source if you do not abide by them. Rather, they are an approach to take, techniques to utilize, to help you make decisions in how to live in a way that is fulfilling and drastically limits the amount of self-induced suffering you will experience. A useful map indeed.
Reading the biographies of the yogis, saints, sadhus, holy women and men, practitioners who have been on the path longer than we have that can give descriptions and first-hand accounts of the perils and joys of the journey is one of the most useful maps I’ve been blessed to draw on throughout my own quest. I cannot stress enough how important it is to find guidance in the journeys of others, be it through stories and tales of those who lit the path before, through teachers you can learn from in person, or through a community of practitioners. Listen to each other. Tell your stories. Read with earnest the histories of the yogis of yore.
Maps are meant to be used as a guide, to give you beta of what is ahead and around you, not to replace your own inner conviction of which direction to take, how to approach a given situation or obstacle, or even if you want to head anywhere at all. Sometimes it’s nice to look at a map, even if you don’t plan on walking the path or heading to that area. Sometimes looking at a map can be enough to make you feel as though you were there. Other times, the map can be a light in the darkness when we don’t know where to turn or where to go.
My intention for this blog is to offer other seekers, others who are thirsty, some maps that might help light a flame within them. Not that I am much further along than anyone reading, but writing as a fellow practitioner who yearns to be part of community that builds each other up and offers light, truth, and insight into their journey and what they have discovered or has helped them along the way.