On ancient nautical maps, beyond the edge of the known world, mapmakers would write “thar be dragons.” It seems to be human nature to first project fear into uncharted realms before considering expanding the map. 

Even when some individuals begin to push the boundaries, the collective culture often pushes back. When Copernicus and Galileo dared suggest that the world was round, they were ridiculed and severely punished by the powers that be.

We each hold our own map of reality – our certainties about how things work. This map is necessary. It allows us to move through our days without having to relearn every single thing. It’s also exponentially smaller than the whole of reality – and often quite wrong. While Columbus believed that the world was round and set out to prove it, he still thought he’d found the East Indies, not a new continent, because that’s what his map told him he would find. We filter everything through our own very limited map and tend to disregard anything that doesn’t match up.

The ego-self is the keeper of the current map of reality. And let’s not bash the ego as something we need to get rid of. The ego-self is indispensible; it is what allows us to get things done and to maintain order in our lives. Doing those things is easier with a fixed map, and so the ego has a vested interest in not letting the map change. When your map and my map disagree, the ego-self declares your map “wrong” and my map “right.” It is the ego-self who ridicules and punishes when the status quo is challenged. It is the ego-self who sees dragons in the dark unknown.

The essential-self is the bridge to larger possibilities. It is the part of you that remains connected to deeper realities and truths that lie beyond individual perception. When your map and my map disagree, the essential-self looks for new possibilities and deeper connections. It creates synergy where there were differences and pushes for growth and transformation. The essential-self is not only willing to expand the map, but even to completely redesign it – to recognize when a 2-dimensional flat map will no longer do because a 3-dimensional globe comes closer to depicting what’s true.
The constant tension between the essential-self and the ego-self is what drives the course of our personal and collective evolution. The essential-self, recognizing the map is too small, pushes forward. The ego-self, fearing dragons, pushes back. As more and more new territory is revealed, a new map emerges and the ego-self is now able to comfortably navigate a much wider territory.

We seem to be living in a time when our collective sense of “how things are” has become painfully dysfunctional. We are recognizing, I think, that the map is too small. Our essential-selves are pushing for a quantum leap – a change on the scale of flat map to spherical globe. Our ego-selves can’t quite wrap their heads around that, so they do what they do: hold tight to the status quo, polarize right and wrong, ridicule and punish the pioneers of new thinking, and project dragons into every dark corner.

It is only temporary ignorance and fear. The new map is emerging. I can’t quite see it yet, but my essential-self can. Beyond the dragons, thar be light!
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