Step 1: The Map is Not the Territory

To put a city in a book, to put the world on one sheet of paper — maps are the most condensed humanized spaces of all…They make the landscape fit indoors, make us masters of sights we can’t see and spaces we can’t cover.”
Robert HarbisonEccentric Spaces

She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.”
Roman Payne

“…there is no map of the soul because we make it up as we go…”
John Geddes

I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable around things such as certificates, prizes, too much planning, preparing and scheduling. It may sound a bit odd coming from someone who’s life is reflected in a Google calendar (at least I’m not using paper J) and runs workshops on disaster/emergency planning and resilience…but that’s part of me too!

I love simple, clean, almost monastic spaces, but my house is full of gypsy throws, scarves, cushions and dresses as well as books and mementos as I also love beauty and the sensuality of mixed patterns, textures and colours

While I don’t like pre-planned journeys, I love maps (I collect antique and rare ones, including those from fantasy worlds)


And a Map is what I suggest one does when wants to make any change: in Permaculture language, this goes with the “Observe and Interact” principle: if you were given a damaged and lacking landscape and ecosystem, there is no point on dreaming what you’ll do when or if you have access to a perfect one as that may never come…the best you can do is to stop your journey and stop making that landscape more wasteful, ugly and unsustainable than what it currently is and observe what’s in it and what’s going on. It’s only then that you’ll be able to dream and envision the possibilities

How do you do that?

  • Know that maps are descriptions of systems. All around us (and even us) is a system
  • Knowing that, determine the boundaries of the system you want to map: do you want to map your physical home? Your backyard? The food you consume? Your energy consumption? Your health? Your relationships? Your community (physically or socially, or in terms of assets and needs, skills and opportunities? Whatever you want to map, boundaries are important if you don’t want to end up lost
  • Use tools you feel comfortable and familiar with but also try exploring new ones. I used to map using lists and charts and then mind-maps and brain-storms. Recently I learned how to map using models from systems thinking and it was awesome. It opens your eyes to things you didn’t see before
  • Map the objects, quantities, people, animals, plants and other elements first: this is a description of the “stocks” or stuff that is otherwise “stable”. Map what you can see, touch, hear, smell or feel without any judgement or “value” attached to it for now. Just what it is
  • Now that you have the objects or elements you observe, map the relationships you see: this person may be related to that one, this cup may be related to your breakfast or tea, that plant may be related to that tree, etc. Still, keep judgement away
  • Map the roles or functions of each object: this will take time too…sometimes weeks or months, depending on the boundaries you originally marked, in other cases it will be easier: a job function may be to pay the bills, that shelf’s function is to keep my books organized, my work’s flexes are to keep me sane and able to work on my real passions or just relax, and so on…
  • Once you have all this somewhat documented, start sorting and “judging”: what’s working? What’s not? What areas, relationships or “objects” represent a challenge? In systems’ modelling, if you have modelled well with stocks (the stuff) and flows (the increases, decreases), the arrows (the relationships) and the patterns (reinforcing or balancing loops and archetypes), you will see the lost opportunities and the challenges right in front of your eyes. If you want to learn more about this, I suggest you review this website or, if you want a more formal approach, take the systems thinking course at Gaia College
  • Steps like the one above may show things such as a job that’s draining your time and energy while providing “resources” you need to stay afloat financially; you may see imperfect relationships where someone in your life is not perfect but is providing support and encouragement in many other ways; you may see that your attachment to stuff keeps your house cluttered and your life anchored in a cycle of debt and so on…


Another (also from Permaculture and Holistic Management/Thinking) approach is as follows:

Start with the present and list in your life:

  • Who/what are the decision makers and what the flows/stocks that influence them are. Example: you may think you are the main decision maker in your life but by doing this you may discover that other factors such as a difficult relationship, a dependent, time constraints, financial constrains and your own health and levels of energy are your real decision makers as all “your” decisions are depending on those factors/actors instead of primarily being you…for those living really difficult situations, the decision makers may be stuff like wars, economic recession, crime in the area or someone in the family with addictions, mental health issues or a chronic condition. It is important to map this as it helps you to determine how you can affect these factors, work with them or change them so you take more control of your life
  • Map the resource base you currently can access, such as land, buildings, tools/equipment or machinery, other physical assets you can count on, personal skills and people in your life…this step can open up your eyes about the wealth you already have even if you are homeless and without any stuff: you may have a caring community, family or friends, neighbours who can offer you land or a room exchange for work or company and so on…
  • Map your financial resources starting from any inheritance, savings, salary, etc (map also any liabilities such as student, medical, personal or credit card debt, mortgages, etc)
  • Map your main resources: time, health and energy. How much of them are you currently using for each area of your life such as work, family, friends/socializing, learning/studying, contributing to community, providing for your own sanity and inner growth/spirituality and so forth…and in what areas are you lacking or your health/energy or time are acting as deterrents or drainers instead of allowing the flow/regeneration?

I suggest you take some time a week only for you and work on this. You will be surprised by the results: avoid any temptation of judgement against yourself or those around you, your circumstances, etc. You can take notes when those feelings of frustration and anger come, but don’t include them in your map just yet, there is another map for this: the map that documents your own thought and feelings patterns

Avoid also any temptation of visioning just yet: yes, you have all the right to day dreaming, but unless you have mapped all what is right there, you may start trying to make changes you’ll regret in the future. Same as you wouldn’t jump and plant whatever you want into a damaged or poorly cared for landscape because chances are that the crops may die or do really bad, same is here: you want to take some time to see the many possibilities and not to be confused by the same patterns that have brought you were you are


This is my gift to myself in this 2016 year…a long postponed gift

I’m currently working on the following maps of my life:

  • Time/energy and health and how I use them, how they affect the areas that are important to me
  • My Food System (what do I eat and where that comes from, what that food is making to me and my health)
  • My Energy use (for heating, cooking, lighting, transportation and the hidden energy behind the stuff I buy and consume, both physical items and services)
  • The Waste and Pollution I produce: where it comes from, what causes it, what do I do with it
  • My Livelihood and Financial resources, including debt
  • My relationship with Stuff: what do I have and how do I use it

And now…I’ll continue with the “New Year’s cleaning” of the house…

It is not what we have but what we do that changes us and helps up grow. Often the things we have get in the way” ~ Scott Nearing

There are four limitations on your enjoyment of a full, rewarding life. The first is the ability to live: that is, the sturdiness of your body, your fund of energy, your emotional balance, the keenness of your mind, the range of your intuitions, the clarity of your vision. The second is the wisdom with which you choose between various lines of conduct. The third is the extent to which you can live according to these choices. The fourth is the stimulus to exquisite living that you can experience from the beauty of nature.” ~ Scott Nearing

Some resources I highly recommend include:

People & Permaculture” by Looby MacNamara

Loving and Leaving the Good Life” by Helen Nearing

The Empowering Manual: A guide for collaborative groups” by Starhawk

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