The Map Is Not the Territory

This article explores the proper use of the models that are being used to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some of you have probably heard me use Alfred Korzybski’s famous quote, “the map is not the territory.” This idea may seem obvious on some level, but if you are paying attention, you see how often humans look to their models, maps, and ideas of what they think reality should be as opposed to what it is. 

We may believe that doing this allows us to ‘shape’ our reality, and there is some truth to this. However, in my experience, without an ongoing open awareness of what is, we end up in a hell of our own making, even when we get the outcome we thought we wanted. 

How do we, with such limited understanding and knowledge, know what would make us truly happy? In my experience, it is a massive day for us in our spiritual progression when we realize that we don’t honestly know how to make ourselves happy. We may think we know what is best for us, but if we are scientific about it, we find that that is usually not true either. We often don’t pick what is actually in our own best interest.

So why do we use maps, models, and ideas then? Well, because they can be handy and helpful tools. They can help to shape the future, can help people heal, and can help bring Heaven to Earth. But when maps, models, and ideas blind us to the reality in front of our eyes, they can become very dangerous. It is the same with other tools, like a scalpel. In the hands of a surgeon, a scalpel can help save a life, but in the hands of a toddler, the same scalpel is very dangerous. We don’t need to outlaw scalpels; we need to be sure they’re used in the right way. The same is true of our thoughts. 

Some spiritual teachers talk as if your thoughts are your enemy. And yet they are using thought to communicate this to you. Interesting, isn’t it? I teach that thoughts can be your worst enemy, or your best friend, depending on your relationship with your thoughts. 

With the right relationship, thoughts are our most powerful tool as humans and look at what we have created with them, both for good and bad. With the wrong relationship, thoughts create hell on Earth. This is one reason why Jesus said you must be like a little child, innocent, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It is also why he said, “the Kingdom of Heaven is spread upon the Earth, but people do not see it.” Hell exists in one place only, the human heart/mind. You can’t escape it because you take them with you everywhere you go.

So what is the right relationship with these models? Well, I think a good analogy might be brushing your teeth. Let’s say you didn’t know you should brush your teeth, and your dentist is trying to convince you to do so. You ask, “what do I get if I brush my teeth?” And your dentist replies that you don’t get anything. Instead, you get to keep healthy teeth. You might still get some cavities or gum decay even when you brush as there are other factors at play like diet, how well you clean, and how often. But, also, if you only brush some and poorly, you will still have fewer cavities than if you hadn’t cleaned at all. 

And so it is with social distancing. What do we get if we do an outstanding job? Our healthcare system does not collapse, and it seems like we overreacted for nothing. What do we get if we ignore the warnings? A lot of death and suffering that could have otherwise been avoided.

-Douglas Johnson E-RYT 500, YACEP

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