The story so far……
I woke up on the morning of January 1st this year and this word popped into my head “storymapping”. I thought “what’s that?” The word came from a lot of thinking I’ve done about how we experience the world.
My basic premise is this……
We live in a real physical world – an objective shared three dimensional space – but we can only experience it subjectively. There’s no way for me to know how any other person experiences, say, the colour red, or the smell of coffee. But before I even get into thinking about relationships and how we communicate with others and understand each other, let me stay with the single person experiencing the world.
Let me start by saying that the phenomena of the real physical world impact on my sensory equipment. I can’t directly experience the phenomena of light or sound, but light waves or sound waves can impact on my eyes or ears and they translate these signals into electrical phenomena sent to my brain where they are somehow turned into what I “perceive” as red, or yellow, or hissing, or screaming, or whatever. I use my brain to make sense of this information, to interpret it so that I can react or not react to it. This is how I interact with the world. It’s how I find food, drink, shelter, how I connect to other people, cope with the weather…..everything.
Tools of perception and understanding
To make sense of the signals and stimuli I use a couple of really clever tools – maps and stories.
I make maps in my mind of the objective physical world. Maps contain information organised spatially and temporarily. Maps represent the shared space of physical reality. Maps, as the NLP practitioners say, are not the territory. They say that because we tend to get confused and think that the way we perceive things IS the way things are but it is isn’t, it’s only how we perceive things to be and that perception is not static. It is malleable. We can work with it, alter it, become actively involved in creating it. We can change the way we see things, change our focus, change what we give prominence to, change the feelings we have in association with certain perceptions. So maps are a useful way for making sense of the world and for acting in the world.
If I want to eat I need a map of locations for food and I need to orientate myself on that map to see where I am and figure out how to go get food. We use all kinds of maps all the time. In fact, we perceive everything through these maps. It’s almost as if they are filters between the external reality and internal subjective experience. This is all pretty much an unconscious process. We don’t need to think about our maps or make any big deal about it, but we CAN make them more conscious.
Maps help us to organise the mass of information that bombards us continuously – sights, sounds, smells and so on – and they do this by helping us to selectively notice some elements more than others.
The maps we use are created by ourselves but often on the templates, or bases of given maps. If we live life fairly unconsciously, by that I mean without a high level of awareness (a zombie way), then we are probably negotiating the world on through a largely given set of maps. We do still make every map our own however by factoring in our past experiences, preferences, qualities and so on.
This is an interesting question. It means that there is a creative component to every map we use, but we live on some kind of spectrum of passive/active or receptive/creative (zombie/hero) kinds. If we increase our awareness then we have an opportunity to increase the extent to which we can actively create the maps we use to perceive the world. In other words, we can change the way we perceive the world instead of just accepting how its been either given to us by others or how we’ve created a view of the world for ourselves from past experiences.
The second amazing tool we use is storytelling.
Stories are our way of making sense of our experience. We tell ourselves and others stories that help us to know what something means, to help us explain to ourselves and to others what we are experiencing. In fact, we even use stories to create a sense of self – this is who I am, this is how I came to be here, this is where I am going. Stories are the way I convey my subjective inner reality to another, or try to understand the subjective inner reality of another. They are also the way I work to achieve a better understanding of shared space, of external physical reality. I do this by seeing how my understanding fits with another’s understanding.
So what if we consciously combine map-making/map-reading with storytelling and create “storymapping”? Starting with our physical reality, the space and time in which we live, collecting information from our experiences as we move through that space, and marking this information on maps in a way that we note what that information means to us, how we make sense of it, in other words, by telling the stories of our experience and tagging them onto the map of the physical space we have travelled through over that period of time.
Well, I thought, I’ll try this out with my daily morning walk to the train station on my way to work. I actually did it by printing out a map of Stirling from google but since then I’ve discovered that google maps now lets you easily tag a map and add text – just the tools I needed! Here’s my example.
I think we could make all sorts of storymaps. Here are some I’m thinking of exploring so far -
The idea is that different maps can help us to understand different aspects of ourselves. We use multiple maps in our minds all the time. We can make these physical maps as an exercise in self-awareness, self-understanding so we can give ourselves an opportunity to more actively shape our lives the way we want to.
Here are some of the possible maps I’ve come up with so far.
Map of relationships
You need to choose the scales of maps for this exercise and to focus on a particular period. The period could be the present time, or you could chart it in real time by recording relationships over a defined period – day, week, month.
I suggest using different colours of pencil for each type of relationship – relatives, work colleagues, friends/social contacts, (for me also – patients and students)
What I mean by type of relationship is what’s the main nature of the current interactions you have with this person? Sometimes a person may be on your map largely as a work colleague, other times they might be largely there as a friend.
Who to put on the map? It’s always up to you but I suggest just the people you feel you are actively interacting with – in other words, not all your cousins and aunts and uncles but only the relatives who are “active” in your experience over the period under consideration.
Geotag them – by this I mean place a tag or flag or spot or something representing them on the map where they are when you interact with them. Each geotag needs a number which we’ll use later.
There are a number of other complexities you can add to this map – size of tag relating to importance to you of this person, or size of tag relating to the amount of time you are spending in interaction with this person…..whatever you think might be useful
The reference numbers of each geotag will be expanded with text around the map which is where you’ll write the stories which describe these interactions or what they mean to you or how they affected you.
Three colours – blue for where you buy the food, yellow for where it is prepared, red for where it is consumed.
Start with the red – where you eat – add the yellow if you eat where the food was prepared and add the blue if this is also where the food was purchased – so all three colours together represent eating out somewhere. If you’re not eating out draw lines from the red spot to where the food was prepared and also where it was bought (where the yellow and blue spots will be) – over a period of time this will show you your pattern of food gathering and consumption. Each red spot should be geotagged and referenced to a short story describing the situation of the meal and what it meant to you
Record for a period of time (say a day) the sensations you notice. This will obviously not be ALL the possible sensations, just record the ones that strike you, the ones you feel are “notable”. Sensations are visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory or kinesthetic. Note these as they occur to you using one of the following capture methods -
the video function of your cameraphone – making audio notes as you describe the sensation
the video function of a digital camera
write them on 3×5 index cards
write them into a pocket diary
Once you get to the end of the period of the exercise place the sensations on the relevant map geotagging them with index numbers to the storied descriptions/explanations.
As with the Sensory map but focussing instead on the feelings you notice
As with the Sensory map but focussing instead on whatever catches your attention.
As with the Sensory map but noting what you are doing over the period
What do you think? Any of these ideas appeal to you? If you do make any geostorymaps, please put the links into the comments to this post.
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