Mapping our Inner Terrain

Our next major challenge this year is to make an investment in the self. We learn to map our skills, interests, and the deepest longings of our hearts. Doing this helps define who we are and gives us a point of focus. When we define ourselves and what we want to achieve, we focus our energies on developing particular skills, streamlining our lives, and eliminating unnecessary stuff that isn’t a reflection of our true purpose. The material or fabric of the psyche is similar to a physical landscape, and we can map its terrain, as cartographers map the Earth’s topography.

What are the benefits, from an environmental perspective, of mapping our inner terrain?

  • When we have purpose and meaning in life, we may be less likely to engage in mindless consumption to fend off boredom or fill the emptiness inside of us.
  • We wake up every day excited about practising and perfecting our craft, instead of wasting our creative, spiritual and emotional energy on buying things we don’t need.
  • We reduce the negative social and environmental impacts of our actions by exploring new and innovative ways to make our chosen craft more sustainable for the Earth.

We have unique qualities, skills and natural talents we can utilise to express our creative self, and give something back to the Earth. We aren’t always good at what we like, nor do we always like what we’re good at, so it’s necessary to discover what it is we truly love.

Returning to our childhood roots for inspiration

Do you remember when you were a child, exploring and discovering the world? What did you love to do? What were your hobbies? What inspired you and ignited your imagination?

Write down ten things you loved as a child:

Here is my list:

  • Hiding out in the caves in the mountains near my home
  • Caring for domestic and wild animals
  • I wanted to be an artist and was taking art classes at school
  • Taking long walks on my own, following the course of the local creek
  • Being fascinated by natural disasters and the power of nature
  • I wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved animals
  • Exploring the abandoned quarries near my home
  • Mocking up my own magazines, graphic design and writing articles
  • Building a mud cubby with my best friend
  • Catching tadpoles and frogs

What brings us joy in childhood provides valuable clues as to what our adult self will love. I remember drawing sheep skulls in art classes and being fascinated by the holes and crevices in the bleached bones – as an adult I love the work of artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

Mapping the mind

I developed this exercise when I was at a major career crossroads many years ago and needed direction. It’s not considered a true mind mapping technique, as it doesn’t centre on a single concept with multiple branches, but instead connects multiple ideas at its core.

However, it has a similar function to a true mind map as it’s a visual representation of thoughts, organizes information, attempts to create common, coherent threads between themes, and is a way to brainstorm and generate ideas, solve problems and make decisions.

Here are the five steps in my Mind Mapping Exercise™:

  1. Think of everything you have done, loved or wanted to do in your life.
  2. Categorize these interests and activities into three general and broad areas.
  3. Draw a triangle with one area at each angle – divide the triangle into three sections.
  4. Allocate interests, activities, and childhood loves under its relevant broader area.
  5. Outside the triangle, list careers or hobbies that could combine two of these areas.

This exercise expands our field of possibility and shows potential avenues of expression.

Here is a condensed version of the mind map I completed seven years ago as an example:

Mind Map

Defining our purpose

With so many possibilities available to us, how do we choose what to pursue? I envy people who have only ever wanted to do one thing, but I’m not one of those people. I’m an all-rounder, with many diverse interests and passions, and unable to focus on just one.

Two books helped me to reconcile my varied and seemingly random interests:

Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher shows us how we can combine everything we love so that we can enjoy a life of variety, and to challenge the antiquated notion that in order to be considered successful in Western society today, we have to get paid for what we do and receive external validation. We can excel at something purely for the love and joy of it.

What Colour is your Parachute? by Dick Bolles inspired me to formulate my mind mapping technique. This book is great for showing us how our skills are transferable between careers, and how to package and market our unique self in an increasingly competitive world.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau was an explorer, scientist, diver, conservationist, filmmaker, photographer, researcher and author, but there was a common interest at the heart of these choices – the ocean (he’s a man after my own heart).

Visualising and creating success

Creativity maps, vision boards or desire maps (when I did my first one years ago we called them dream collages), can help us to create a visual representation of our goals. They can be a constructive tool if you’re a visual person like me, but we may need something more.

We can visualise and put ‘out there’ what we want, but we need to take actual steps to achieve our goals. Dr. Neil Farber encourages us to throw away our vision boards and replace them with action boards, because we need to put in the effort to get us where we want to go.

Getting my undergraduate degree was on my last ‘vision board’, and I achieved that goal, but I couldn’t have done it simply by sitting back and waiting for it to happen. I needed to put in the necessary work, which amounted to six months of preparation and four years of study. I would not have achieved this goal if I had just waited around for it to fall in my lap.

I believe life rewards action, so we need to back up our visual maps with a concrete strategy. We can use the S.M.A.R.T. system to create an action plan that helps us to focus our efforts to achieve our goals.

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Goals must be specific – avoid vague goals, break the goal down into smaller steps.

Goals must be measurable – establish quantitative criteria to monitor progress.

Goals must be attainable – develop required traits, abilities and skills to achieve the goal.

Goals must be realistic – we must be willing and able to put in the necessary work required.

Goals must be timely – establish a time frame within which we will achieve the goal.

Synchronicity speaks

When we make a decision to pursue a particular path and we take relevant action, the environment around us will provide confirmation – through experiences, dreams, synchronicities and signs – that we are on the right track. This wisdom is a valuable and vital ally on the path to authenticity.

When I first set out to discover what it was I truly wanted in life many years ago, I found this to be true. When I was mapping out the course I wanted the Environmental Warrior blog to take this year, it wasn’t too long before my environment started to reflect this plan.

For a long time I’ve felt it necessary to make my lifestyle compact so I could make room for a larger life experience. This year I decided to re-read the minimalist classic Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, published twenty years ago (and an old favourite).

This book is designed to be read a day at a time, each section a small step in a three-hundred-and-sixty-six day journey to abundance through simplicity. After deciding on the theme for this year’s blog, my desire to live a simpler but larger life was reflected in the words: “The simpler we make our lives, the more abundant they become.”

I’ve also felt the need to travel and explore, although an extended period of time away is not possible for me yet, so instead I’m embarking on an inner journey.

This year is also about making pilgrimage to the centre of the heart.

A pilgrimage is a significant journey undertaken by a spiritual seeker, either externally, as a literal trek to a place of worship or location of specific importance, or internally, as a metaphorical trip into the unconscious world of our own beliefs and spiritual values.

While researching and writing the last post on gratitude, I picked up The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau and randomly opened the book. On the page was listed ‘The Five Excellent Practices of Pilgrimages’. Practising gratitude was number five.

Our environment around us will provide confirmation that we are on the right track. Synchronicity speaks.

© 2015 Environmental Warrior
Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash

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