Someone I know from some years back recognizes me on the street, and wants me to give feedback on a project she is working on (possibly for a university class.) She shows me a map of everything in the universe, organized according to alchemical symbols and processes. Nigredo, albedo and rubedo are there, with lines going from one to another, and so are innumerable other processes. Among all of these are listed galaxies, planets, molecules, many different spiritual traditions and so on. I am speechless for a while as I try to process it, and also try to find a kind way to say that the mapping attempt is far too simplistic.
Although it was a noble and brave attempt at mapping everything, it was far too simplistic. First, the different alchemical processes cannot be thought of as one necessarily leading to another… for instance, calcinato (fire, heat) is a part of any phase of the overall process, not just happening once as the map indicated. And also, the different parts of the universe do not correspond to just one area of the map… Buddhism is not rubedo and Christianity is not albedo.
Of course, I am the one who made that map. It is far too simplistic in relative terms, and needs more work and to continue to develop and mature. And if I take it as anything else than a relative truth, with limited and only functional value (at best) then that too is far too simplistic. What stays with me after this dream is the necessity to put in more work in the mapping process, if I am to engage in it in the first place.
The person in the dream is someone I know from real life from some years back. I admire her as a person and see her as very intelligent, receptive, open hearted and mature, but also as someone seeing this from the outside, as an academical exercise and an intellectual game. And that too represents me. I am the one who places myself outside of it, and get caught up in the enjoyment of moving symbols around making them fit together on paper, without doing the work of having the map conform to the terrain more closely.
The map sometimes becomes primary and the terrain secondary, rather than the other way around.
The dream invites me to see how I am doing this in daily life. And as many insights into what is going on, it is sobering and humbling… and liberating as well, liberating from a too simplistic and false view.
I also see that this it not only applies here and now, but probably always will apply as well… Any map can always be more closely aligned with and in service of the terrain, placing the terrain as primary and the map as secondary. And any map is always only a relative truth, with all its reversals also containing grains of truth. There is always the temptation to make the map primary and the terrain secondary, and to make the map into an absolute truth, even in subtle ways.