Pathfinding and Day-Mapping
This image relates to a very practical and grounded way to navigate your pathway through a chaotic world. I have a very poor natural sense of direction, and yet I was able to use ordinary map and compass skills to navigate myself, and a small group, through a maze of canyons with no marked paths (Escalante Canyon, Utah). The method is fairly simple, but profound in its proven effectiveness. You have a topographical map which you can orient to the visible landscape. You know that the map is not the territory, some features have changed, and some things may have been mapped wrong, but most things will correspond. You know the overall direction you want to go, and you use your compass to locate a near landmark that is along your line of travel. You walk to the near landmark, reorient briefly, and pick a new landmark. This is called “point-to-point-navigation.”
Pathfinding through life can be like finding your way through a maze of canyons. It is crucial to know the overall direction you want to go. If you don’t already know that overall direction, you need to consult your global intuition. The mind and the ego are indispensable psychic functions, but they will not cut it here. If you use them to determine overall direction, you will likely find yourself in some sort of mental ping pong game — What about this? But what about that? But what if this happens? But what if that doesn’t happen? You can’t think your way through to the overall direction, you need to recognize it from the soul level. One way to contact this recognition is to go to a quiet, solitary space and ask yourself: What will I remember well on my deathbed? Your honest answers to this core question will usually reveal your True Will and the life mission you came here to accomplish.
Once you have located your overall direction, the mind/ego alliance is able to serve an invaluable role, employing pathfinding technique. An especially propitious time for pathfinding is at the start of the day. A natural unit of time lies before you, and you have a goal: to make the best use of your time, consistent with your overall direction, between awakening and bedtime. You locate navigational landmarks in space/time to efficiently orient yourself. A mundane example would be a doctor’s appointment. Maintaining your health is consistent with your overall direction, so this is an important navigational landmark, a point in space and time you know you have to hit. There may be a number of other such points to be recognized as your map of the day takes form.
As you prepare your day map, it is crucial that you mark off significant space/time for work on your big dream, something that you have identified as crucial to your life path. A good rule of thumb is that a big dream is going to require a minimum of two hours work per day. The work on your big dream is important, but may not be urgent (in a superficial temporal sense), like hitting the doctor appointment at a very specific time, or answering a ringing phone. Without a good day map it is all too easy to focus on the superficially urgent, small stuff and neglect the important, non-urgent work. This common tendency is sometimes called, “majoring in the minors.”
When you draw up your day map, it is crucial to gauge time as accurately as possible. My tendency, and it is a very common tendency, is to put down how long I think something should take, as compared to how long it usually takes (about twice or three times as long as I think it should). Add some extra buffer time so that you don’t create tremendous stress by rushing or falling behind. If what you need to do is too much to allow for buffer time, then it is time to triage your projects and activities — What can you afford to let go? What can you absolutely not let go? What might fall in some middle category? It is better to accomplish some important things really well, plus a modest amount of mechanical chores, than to be in a frantic rush all day trying to accomplish everything you think you should be able to do (usually based on what a superhero could do after twelve cups of coffee). Mark out your day map with majors and a modest number of minors.
Your state of mind as you draw up the map is essential. It is crucial that the map-drawing exercise does not become an ego attempt to tightly prestructure the future. You must have a deep recognition that the map is not the territory, that the landscape of the day will likely have unseen and unpredictable features, and you allow as much room for them as possible. You recognize that drawing the map is a strategic activity you engage with in the moment, but future developments may cause you to have to redraw the map, and often without a moment’s notice. This is one of the reasons why I like the early morning alone at my desk as my space/time zone of the day for the majors, the high-level creative work. This is the time of day least interfered with by unpredictable minor urgencies. I have just stepped out of the dreamtime, and most of the community is still in it, so the field of human consciousness is less mundane. Early morning is my “peak time,” the time of the day when I am capable of my best focus, and I want to align my majors with peak time, my minors with the off-peak time. I am using myself as an example, not a model. The necessities and variations of your life may require different strategies.
So most days I start with a few hours of focused creative work, and when I reach a natural stopping point, I have the whole rest of the day ahead of me to deal with the urgent minors, a couple of non-urgent minors, and whatever other majors can be fit in. By anchoring my day, right at the start, with a few hours of high-value work, I greatly elevate my morale with real accomplishment, and I am therefore much better able to withstand the often bruising engagement with mundane and mechanically resistant minors. In the morning, after I finish my creative work, I draw up a day map that attempts to put other goals for the day (major and minor) in some sort of efficient order. For example, it is usually much more efficient to group similar sorts of tasks together. There are a few annoying paperwork tasks I’ve been neglecting, so I group them together, because once I’ve made the titanic effort to get myself into dealing-with-annoying-paperwork mode, I might as well knock off three such tasks instead of just one.
Don’t draw up a day map with the relentless efficiency of the commander of a Nazi Panzer division. Don’t make the day into a death march. Find space for some relaxation, for nurture of the body, for key relationships, some space for all your psychic functions and subpersonalities to breathe. It is crucial, for example, to have the cooperation of your inner child — a core subpersonality — and that won’t happen if your day map is drawn up from the grim perspective of cramming in as many minors as you can possibly imagine accomplishing. For example, I have found for myself that by the last two to three hours of the day, I’ve run out of steam for mechanical minors. I am approaching the dreamtime, my active energy is subsiding, I need to unwind and my imagination wants to come out unencumbered by mundane focus. The end of the day is a great time for me to engage in passive, imaginatively stimulating activity — watching a worthwhile movie is about perfect for this time of day. For some it might be reading a novel, or talking to a friend. I have a slightly loose time marker for when I want to go to sleep. If I can get to sleep before 9:30 pm I will often be able to get up by 4am without an alarm, but if I stay up past 11pm I will probably need 7-8 hours of sleep. There are cycles with sleep and dreaming, and every hour of sleep before midnight may be worth two after. If I catch the right cycle, I can get in my REM sleep earlier, and have a higher percentage of REM sleep. Since REM sleep tends to happen at the end of the sleep cycle, usually in the early hours of the morning, it is particularly exhausting to stay up late and then wake up to an early alarm that truncates REM sleep.
Often we find ourselves faced with a classic problem — our body is a more conservative organism than our psyche. What is good for the body is like what is good for a cat or dog — a consistent, predictable routine. Eating and sleeping at the same time every day is great for the body, but it can be oppressive to the creative spirit. There needs to be a careful negotiation and choice. Sometimes the spontaneous social or creative opportunity is worth staying up all night. More often, at this phase of my life, the best creative opportunity for me is to go to sleep early and have that early morning creative session. If I break that rhythm, it can sometimes take me a few days to get it back.
Once you have prepared your day map, taking all these things into consideration, you start moving toward your navigational points. It is most efficient to have your map and some sort of list-making device within hands reach throughout the day. To-do items and future time markers should be immediately noted or listed so that you don’t fatigue and worry yourself by trying to retain them in memory.
Finally, be path-oriented, not goal-oriented. Don’t demoralize yourself by continually checking for progress on your long-term goals. Focus on the part of the path you are on at this moment; you’ve engaged point-to-point navigation, so traveling to the next point is where the rubber meets the road. If you feel off kilter, stop and reorient yourself by asking yourself the question, What’s the best use of my time right now? The answer could be a nap, time off for contemplation, hammering away at minors, work on a neglected major, etc. If the answer or answers aren’t what you are currently doing, take a few moments to reconfigure your day map.
Pathfinding means orienting yourself toward your big dreams, and making day maps that navigate carefully through majors and minors. Dealing with the chaos of life means journeying as best you can between awakening and bedtime.
For more on your relationship to time see:
For more on setting the overall direction see:
For a philosophy of dealing with mechanically resistant minors see: Mechanical Resistance Matrix