Curriculum, Psychic mapping

Psychic mapping

Psychic mapping is the essence of our process of reading literature, that place where we do the seizing of wisdom that is central to this process. As such, it is also the place about which we most likely experience trepidation: if we have access to wisdom through our process of reading literature, then surely we already know a thing or two about improving our own and others’ lives. This is why the previous post was on our tendency to flee to the ‘high horse,’ and how to recognize that conundrum and move forward: psychic mapping is an exercise we don’t want to admit we already know how to do.

To begin psychic mapping, read over a set of character identifications from a text in their entirety, allowing yourself to feel into the essence of each character as you read rather than analyze your writing at the line level. In other words, as you read the experience of one of your characters, you should receive this information in your gut and heart, not at the mental level which still maintains some distance; this is because otherwise, you will be pretending that you are in some way ‘different’ from the characters about whom you read, thus blocking the entirety of the process.

As you read, begin to create a list of terms which come to you as essential to describe each of the characters’ experiences. For instance, if a character appears to struggle with faith, and your description shows that he keeps trying to believe in something, but failing, you could write the word ‘faith,’ You could also write the words ‘doubt’ or ‘belief,’ or any other that comes to you as appropriate to describe this situation. The point here is to let these words arise from your gut and flow onto the page, words that describe states of being independent of which character they came from—to which characters’ experience they were relevant.

At the end of this process, you should have a list of about 10-20 terms that describe the states of being apparent to you as you read this work of literature, and in the character identifications which you wrote from it. Usually toward the end of reading through your character identifications, you will notice that the number of terms you write begins to trickle; this is because you have started to nail down the essence of what this text communicated to you, and further terms would be redundant.

For instance, after reading through a set of character identifications I’d written on ‘Hamlet,’ I wrote down the following list of terms:



























These terms arose from the experiences of not only Hamlet, but also Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Laertes, and the King—all the characters into whom I’d written before I felt that my work on character identifications in ‘Hamlet’ was finished. Furthermore, the final two terms—‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’—came to me as encompassing terms after I’d written out the entirety of the list preceding them; it seemed to me that ‘childhood’ was a fit term to describe the first ten or so of the terms in the list above, and that ‘adulthood’ described the remainder, so I intuitively placed them there.

From here, the next step is to look over the list of terms—with an open gaze, as you manifested as you read over your character identifications—and to begin to organize them into a flow chart, mapping out how they relate to one another. After all, writing through a series of character identifications on this text means not only that you’ve identified the states of being which its characters inhabit, but also that you know something about how they relate to one another; this is why, in your character identifications, you were able to illuminate what characters could do to free themselves from their situations, what things they wrestled with that were responsible for their suffering. From each of the characters’ negative possibilities, you were able to identify their positive possibilities, which means you know a thing or two about how they could navigate from point A to point B.

To begin communicating this information, which is the substance of the ‘psychic map,’ pick a term or two that seem to you to be the essence of the suffering, the difficulty, in this work of literature, and place that term at the top of a fresh sheet of paper. For instance, in working on my ‘psychic map’ about ‘Hamlet’ and on the above list of terms, I realized that ‘loneliness’ seemed to be an encompassing struggle with which multiple characters dealt, as well as a cause of ‘sarcasm,’ ‘evasion,’ ‘self-pity,’ etc, so I picked loneliness and wrote that at the top of my fresh page.

From here, begin to sketch out the possibilities that birth themselves from ‘loneliness,’ or from any other state of being that stands at the top of your page. What are the choices that spawn from this state of being? Where can we go, and what do we have to do—or fail to do—in order to get there? In my map, for instance, ‘loneliness’ led to ‘sarcasm,’ ‘evasion,’ and ‘self-pity,’ as a cycle that stemmed from suppression of the fact of loneliness; as well as ‘listening,’ which signified admitting to ourselves or others that we are lonely.

Hamlet psychic map

The process of drawing the psychic map is intuitive and feels sacred, as it is an admission to ourselves that we understand human nature—indeed, understand our own minds—that we can move around among states of being with direction and understanding. In this, we shine lights in the darkness of our unconsciouses, an act which signals both responsibility and compassion.

Completing the course of psychic mapping, we next want to create a set of principles which apply directly to our lives, thus transferring the wisdom which at this point stands in the abstract into a tangible form which we could use. At this point, it would still be possible to deceive ourselves that the map we’ve created applies only to ‘Hamlet’ and the characters therein, and this final step is where we insist to ourselves that this isn’t the case—that what we’ve rendered is true for us as well.

This is achieved by writing out a set of principles in the first-person, present tense, principles about our possibilities as well as choices within the context of the map. As in a previous post, the first-person tense is used because it makes us responsible for what we’ve written; and the present tense because it renders this experience immediate.

To write out your principles, focus on the nexuses of the psychic map, those places where an inner ‘choice’ is made, even if that choice is often invisible to us. In this stage, we bring consciousness to that choice, showing ourselves not only why it results in what it does, but also that a different choice could be made.

Once you’ve focused on one of the nexuses, ask yourself to articulate the choice being made, and write a description in the first-person and present tense. For instance, following are three of the principles I wrote down in articulating the workings of my psychic map on ‘Hamlet:’

  1. I can force others to reject me by hiding from them who I am; this is a natural reaction to falsehood.
  2. If I want love, I can ask for it through confession; this is part of knowing myself well and being an adult.
  3. My ultimate desire is to make free, loving choices for myself and those around me.

As I’ve found through doing this a number of times, the principles we write for ourselves will usually dwindle after about ten or so, again because otherwise we would enter redundancy. In writing out these principles for ourselves, we have articulated what we have learned and gained through reading the book, and this information is powerful because it applies directly to ourselves.

Rendering a psychic map and drawing out its principles of wisdom is a profound act because it accomplishes a number of things at once. On the surface, it sees us admitting to ourselves that we do know a thing or two about how to live life, at least about how to live our own lives; this will mean that the next time we face a situation like the ones described in our map, we will be conscious where before we had been unconscious, and this will bear on the decision we make. More deeply, the process of psychic mapping challenges us because it reminds us that the knowledge that we’ve traced out about our own lives, applies to the lives of others as well; if what is true of me, derived from ‘Hamlet,’ then surely it will be true of others as well, and this means that I can approach them in ways that are compassionate, wisdom-bearing, and provide guidance for us both as we move toward greater health and prosperity. In psychic mapping, I always see the promise of myself as a teacher.

If you would like to present a psychic map that you’ve written on a work of literature, I invite you to do so in the comments below; you can also present any principles of wisdom that occur to you in glancing over my psychic map on ‘Hamlet,’ as we can of course ‘get’ different things from one of these maps than the author. In fact, this ‘subjectivity’ of our yield is one of the greatest evidences that we are performing our psychic mapping ‘correctly:’ we are drawing out what the map means for us, in our own bodies and lives, and this is paradoxically what enables us to tap into the deeper wisdom that encompasses and speaks to us all.

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