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If You Must Carry Maps

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

In a YouTube video, a man asked the Indian teacher Sadhguru something to the effect of, "I want to achieve enlightenment, but I feel I'm not really giving it a hundred percent. What are my chances?"

Sadhguru, whom many consider enlightened, told him not to seek enlightenment.

Why not? Because we can only look for something if we have an image in our mind about what that something is.

This means that to seek enlightenment is to define enlightenment. And we define something by describing it in terms of what we already know. To seek enlightenment then is to secretly cling to our status quo.

This would seem to put us in a pickle.

The concepts in my mind booby trap me no matter where I turn that mind, even when I have the best intentions—to be "loving," "caring," "helpful," "spiritual," "enlightened." These words come with a trail of baggage I constantly trip over. They are, largely, bullshit.

My experience isn't a concept. Every moment is new. Every human I encounter is different from the last. Even the same human is different this afternoon than they were this morning. And I am new too.

Our concepts are like maps. And maps show us only select features of a landscape in abstract form. If you want to experience Hawaii, you don't point to it on a map and say, "There! That was fun!"

And yet we constantly do the equivalent by insisting on our abstract concepts in new moments. We miss the moment. We miss the trip to Hawaii.

So, what is the non-abstract answer—the "way out" of this pickle?

It is, first of all, not simplistic. It cannot be written down in words because the very nature of words is abstract. Just as a map of Hawaii is not Hawaii, the word "squirrel" is not an actual squirrel.

The answer can only be lived by each of us. Life, you've probably noticed, is a participatory sport.

Each of us can examine our beliefs—even the ones we think make us virtuous. Each of us can stay alert to what our mind is saying in any moment and put some space between that voice and ourselves—not take it as necessarily true.

Each of us can consciously intend to drop whatever roadmaps have been taking us in circles and then enjoy the new places we get to visit.


"In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

—Shunryu Suzuki

“If you do not expect the unexpected, you will never find truth.”


“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

—Marcel Proust

“He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”

—Jesus Christ

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