“The Map is not the territory”

Twenty or so years ago I heard those words on one of the first personal development courses I went on.

It was a year long training where we spent weekends in the New Forest discovering how we communicated with ourselves and uncovering the stories and beliefs that we used to shape our worlds.

Some of those stories were useful, and some it was time to let go of!

During that year, I remember that we did high ropes courses, jumping off telegraph poles to grab trapezes, we took night walks and learnt incredible things about nature – did you know that there’s a type of moss that will burn as an ember for hours, and some grass that tastes like marzipan, and owls triangulate their sound to hunt?

I also remember that phrase: The map is not the territory.

Basically the way I understood it, it was saying that someone’s outward behaviour, what they show you, doesn’t mean that’s their true self.

Their behaviour is just one part of them, not all of them.

The same for how we see ourselves. We may think that we’re not good at something, and that may be the story we tell ourselves, but is that really true?

Is that really true in all areas of our lives, or just one area, or was it  on just one occasion?

I was reminded of this phrase again today when I visited the national cave centre in Wales and this was the first view that I had:

It’s beautiful.

Lush, rolling hills and rich green trees, and in typical Welsh fashion, it had just been raining, so everything felt more vibrant and alive.

Seeing the hills, it would be easy to take that as the story of the land.

Their beauty would be enough to satisfy most nature lovers.

However under these hills lay the most extraordinary caves, rich in their own beauty:

There was a cave as big as a cathedral and equally as impressive, there were waterfalls, rivers and incredible rock formations of all shapes, sizes and colours.

I love being in (large and spacious!) caves. They make me feel so deeply calm, connected and peaceful, and yet when I shared the images on instagram, someone commented ‘Caves are a no go for me’.

Same caves, different story and experiences.

Neither is right or wrong, they are just different.

When we encounter a person, a behaviour, a situation, we tell ourself a story about it and them. This story will be based on our own experiences, expectations or what we’ve been taught

We like things to be clearly one thing or another. To be black and white, right or wrong, good or bad, but that is rarely the case.

Seeing the hills today, with their hidden treasure reminded me that on first sight we rarely know what’s going on beneath the surface… with people, behaviours, hillsides, even sometimes with ourselves.

If a city was to be built on top of this hillside, the grass would indeed be gone, but the beauty under the surface would still be there.

The caves only came to light because two brothers were brave enough and curious enough to go and explore.

What if you had that same sense of curiosity about the things and people you came across?

When we take the time to ask:

What story am I telling myself about this person, behaviour, situation, feeling etc?

When we take the time to be curious about:

What’s going on beneath the surface…

We might just be surprised at what we do discover.