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The Road Map Is Not The Landscape



Van Gogh tells a story of a countess who commissioned him to do a portrait.  When the portrait was finished and it came time to unveil the canvas to his subject, she had a startled response.  “My God, she said, “that is not me!”

“No, Madame, you are quite right that is not you, that is a painting of you.”


Frequently as we meander through life, we internalize images and thoughts and these images and thought are stored in a “consciousness-storage” container.  Some place in the brain-body matrix we have visions and we hold on to these visions as memories.  They take on an internal life of their own.  We can close our eyes and see a light we saw ten years ago, or we close our eyes and we see a person saying something to us.

At times these visions of our internal world become so real that they appear to us to be our reality.  In fact these visions and memories are simply symbolic representations of those people, places or things.

What is contained in our minds represent the world outside of us, but it is not the world outside of us any more than a road map of the eastern United States is the landscape of the eastern United States.

We can find Flint, Virginia on the map, and a good map will represent the way to get to Flint Virginia, but, it is not Flint, Virginia.  In the same way we often have a dialogue with ourselves and that internal dialogue takes a form that resembles reality.  We can become convinced that this internal dialogue is life, when in actuality the internal only symbolically represents life.

If we go looking inside ourselves for our souls, we will find inside a representation of our souls, but our souls are not in us.  We are in our souls.  The soul, what Emerson called the Over-soul is something that we reside in.  It does not reside in us–we reside in it.

It is an important philosophical distinction because if we can not let ourselves know that life is out-side of us, we will continue to believe that when we find Flint, Virginia on a broad map that is all that there is to Flint.  Guide-post exist inside of us that we can use to find the world, but we ought not confuse the map for the reality.  If we only find our selves on the map we will fall far short of the satisfactions that the universe can provide.

Let’s give it a shot.  Let’s go find ourselves in the world rather than remain content with the representational, symbolic world that exist as a chemical matrix within.



1 Comment

Q & A on borderline issue

Albert, your post today really resonates with me and puts something into words that I have been seaching for – that is, seeing the person as caught in the narcissistic phase of development, which comes from an inability to understand their pre-verbal drives, and who sees conflicts as ‘out there’ rather than ‘in here’, and so is looking outside of itself for answers, because he can not decipher the messages that are coming to him internally. You say that the messages that come internally are experienced as foreign and therefore the tendency is to act on the outside world rather than on the internal conflict that is perpetual. Is this due to the lack of holding, and psychological containing as an infant by the care-giver, who could not help the infant decipher the ‘inside’ messages and so they remain ‘foreign and inaccessible?

How do you help with this developmental/pre-verbal conflict that has not had resolution? I ask this because I recognise this in myself, the seeking of approval from others, the defining of myself through my connection or communication with others, and now , slowly, through analysis and art-making, starting to find the core ‘me’ inside myself, that grounds me in my being, rather than through being mirrorred by others.