Many of us would have heard or read this phrase by the great Alfred Korzybski – “The map is not the territory”. What does it mean? For starters, it is usually used to convey the difference between one’s belief and reality. Map here signifies our perception of the world as generated by our brain and the territory signifies the real object in the real world that is being perceived by our brain. Any edits made to the map usually does not change the territory itself.
For example, you could have all the knowledge about investing but if the trends are not in your favor there is no amount of knowledge or belief that is going change the reality. Although all of us understand this but for some strange reasons, we are wired to sometimes let our beliefs slip into what we would like to believe instead of what the evidence suggests. And it applies to life also; despite knowing that life is not fair and all of us at some point or the other will have to go through the hardships of life whether it is physical, emotional, or financial; we still tend to live in denial and do everything we can to avoid the reality and conveniently stay in the wishful zone thinking that if we stay ignorant and believe that some divine force will take care of us, all the problems will just magically go away.
This is not to say that such people are completely out of touch with the territory, in fact, this is to say that such attitude raise their heads due to the indoctrination(at an early age) and these brainwashing efforts are actually incapable of completely convincing someone of the benefits of the believing in the effects of scribbling on the map. That is why you will see most erratic behavior(like terrorism) due to indoctrination happening at an early age i.e., before the effect fades; I have even come to believe that no man can be persuaded to believe in this hogwash for long before the unknown starts to raise logical questions. I would even go on to say that no matter how orthodox or conservative a man might appear, you can always see a glimpse of the dormant skepticism in them when you lock them up with logic; this initial spark of sleeping skepticism can be observed in the form of an utter silence or an outburst of anger. This just goes on to prove how much the religious and pseudo-scientific indoctrination have blurred our vision from discerning a difference between the map and the territory; and at the same time also shows that such kind of indoctrination that tries to bend the inherent nature of mind is not capable of completely consuming one without leaving at least a seed of doubt. All thanks to the unfalsifiable claims of religion and occult science, with little effort each one of us can think and develop the ability to start walking on the territory instead of scribbling on the map. And we don’t have to wait for the unknown to start posing questions at us.
If you are still wondering what is this all about, it is about my experience with the truth. My own truth, the relative truth. The truth that helped me distinguish between the map and the territory. This is no tale of some extraordinary experience, it is, in fact, a description of how a very ordinary experience can change the way you think. It is an account of my experience on a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat. I have been meditating for quite some time now but this retreat was a little different. Going into it I did not have many expectations and neither should anyone as we will discover later and being a skeptic that I am, it was not a surprise for anyone who knew me.
It was day one, all of us had to submit our mobile phones along with all the reading/writing materials that we had with the management for the entire duration of the course. To top that there was another rule that no one must talk during their stay on the premises. And the biggest of them was that the meditation sessions were 10 ½ hrs long, although not continuous but still something that I was not prepared for. Somehow the day passes by after a grueling 11 hours of meditation and discourses when we were finally allowed to go to our rooms and were asked to sleep on time so as to be able to wake up at 4 in the morning. As you would expect, the body clock does not sync with the schedule immediately and I get up all grumpy having not slept at all. Not to mention all the pain and stiffness from having sat for 11 hours. It was day two and I am already questioning my decision and feeling like quitting. I somehow gather all the strength and go to meditate that day only to worsen the condition. Days were passing by and it was not getting any better and the pain was getting unbearable from all the sitting I had to do. Although I did have a sense of purpose to sincerely meditate throughout those 10 hours but we weren’t allowed to even perform any basic exercises to alleviate the pain. The entire idea was to be able to sit through those 10 hours and develop the ability to observe all the sensations that occur. It was only on day five that some magic happened and I was able to sit with less effort. This allowed me to channel my attention towards the sensations. Things were starting to get a little better or so was I thinking, suddenly on day 8 the pain returned but this time I could observe it without being distracted. It was then that a question popped in my mind – if I was able to observe the pain then who was bearing the pain? – meaning, I was able to observe the pain, was bearing the pain, and at the same time was able to observe the entire action of thinking and bearing from outside as if it was happening to someone else. This moment just changed everything for me. I am an avid reader with an immense interest in philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology – having read numerous books on ontology, epistemology and functioning of the brain – it was this very experience that did it for me. It gave me my own truth. The truth that there was nothing I was doing, in fact, I was searching for myself and had failed miserably in doing so. I felt like whatever was happening was just happening on its own. Did I discover the truth? I don’t know, the experience was very short-lived and I haven’t experienced that since then. Whatever it was but it did teach me to be equanimous no matter the situation and bear the pain and observe it. For starters at least I had stopped scribbling on the map, I understood that it was not changing my reality. I understood that my beliefs and knowledge didn’t matter. I understood that whatever is happening is just happening and my interpretation of it was just a reflection which when distorted was creating numerous other reflections. The reality was still the same no matter what.
I understand that this can be a little too much to take in if you yourself have never had such an experience but the whole point is about the fact that you can read all the truth of life and self from the greatest of philosophers and masters to have ever lived but it is the experience that sticks. If not a profound discovery, this at least will give you the strength to be equanimous in life. All in all, it was a great experience for me. And the reason I told not to have any expectations was because of this very thing – the experiences – the moment you start something with an expectation, you miss out on all the other experiences other than what you set out for. And sometimes some or all of these experiences can have a more profound effect than your expected experience. To sum it up, meditation isn’t a tool to achieve what you want or to get rid of your miseries, it is instead a way of life wherein you observe and are aware of everything that is happening. It is a state of self that looks inward and not outward. It is a state that sometimes can tell you about yourself and help you be equanimous, and other times can let you lead a more beautiful life full of focus, kindness, and compassion. It is a path to get rid of the religious and pseudo-scientific crutch and see life for what it is. It is way to address the logical question that the unknown poses at you, not by getting consumed by the claptrap but by observing the claptrap and recognizing it for what it is and accepting the logical conclusion. In essence meditation is a wonderful guide that can help you discriminate between the map and the territory.
Be Happy and See ya until next time 🙂