You are here. We read this phrase on fire exit and shopping mall maps. Getting lost inside a building is no problem, since this type of map points out your exact location and shows you where to go. The map is more relevant to its reader compared to urban maps. Urban maps may be accurate, but details of streets and buildings do not help much unless you find your spot on the map. Many people now use GPS (Global Positioning System) in smartphones and cars, and they are valuable devices that function like the fantastic Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map. YOu can always find exactly where you are now in real time. The you-are-here map is simply a non-digital version of GPS. You do not see yourself moving, but at least you can see where you are.
Some self-help books today explore ideas of fulfillment on creating personal life maps and by embarking on a personal journey. They commonly emphasize a sense of personal direction. Using metaphors of the True North and inner compass, any person can now navigate one’s dreams, motivations and intentions. Metaphorical maps, on the other hand, refer to possibility-without-borders, boundless regions of one’s inner geography. It is about traversing oneself as the very continent of adventure. It says you are here, telling that this here is you.
The compass was invented to find the Earth’s magnetic poles which can be found in the North and South cardinal directions. But long before it was invented, I presume that ancient people, particularly from diverse indigenous traditions, used – and still use East, as well as West, as a no-brainer guide. Hence, the word orientation. (Latin: orientem, East). Our ancestors face the East as the source of light, the sun rising in the morning. It begins their day and it brings them the awareness of life. This metaphor is so fitting to orient our soul in navigating its inner landscapes.
It is about traversing oneself as the very continent of adventure. It says you are here, telling that this here is you.
We say we are “disoriented” when we feel lost and unable to begin. In society’s larger picture, we lose our touch in orienting ourselves because we have so much preoccupations that often stunt our growth. We might have put something to eat on the table, yet our inner spirit hungers for real meaning. We might have become so busy at work, yet so bored by the routines that loop in our lives. Even if we have the so-called “direction in life”, we have ironically lost our underlying essential direction. We have the map and the compass, yet we do not really know where we exactly are.
Today, midlife and quarter-life crises are familiar terms. These issues have certain age groups, but definitely not just an age issue. It has a lot to do with the sense of direction, the direction of the soul. Where am I going? is a triggering question (next to Who am I? and Why am I here?). It reveals us being lost, disoriented and nowhere to go. We ask our direction from this point, of where we can find personal meanings that lay our path ahead. To tread the path outside our comfort zones is a scary attempt to journey the unknown.
So how do we orient ourselves? Silangan is the Filipino word for “East”. Within this word is silang, the root of pagsilang, which means “birth”. Its root meanings and significant symbols say a lot. To orient ourselves is to find the source where our inner sun rises. It conceives this invigorating light of inspiration and nourishment for the life that is within us and surrounds us. It calls us to give birth to it through our willingness to face this direction where all our potentialities are born. As we map and navigate our lives, we can see where the light radiates. And that light is us.
After a long and complicated but exciting adventure in the deserts of Middle East, Paulo Coehlo‘s archetypal protagonist, the boy named Santiago, finished his adventure by finding his destination right where he came from. He brought valuable lessons from his journey, especially from the eponymous character, the Alchemist. No wonder this book has touched so many hearts, for it tells so much about our own little and big journeys. We sketch our life maps, use our compass, orient ourselves and start our adventure not as a point A to a dead-end point B, in its most common linear fashion. There are many possible points to go and there will be surprising milestones. But eventually we would always come full circle, finding where we exactly stand in this expanse of our lives, and realize that we are truly our own journeys and destinations.