By Betty Bland
Originally printed in the JULY-AUGUST 2005 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Bland, Betty. "One for the Road." Quest 93.4 (JULY-AUGUST 2005):124-125
Some time ago during a speaking tour I had to take a limo from Los Angeles to Long Beach, California. Being unfamiliar with the territory, I could give only the street address of my destination and leave the rest up to the driver, who exhibited all of the most exciting traits of his high-spirited, risk-taking fellow taxi drivers in other major cities around the world. Since he did not know the targeted destination, he decided to look up the street index and search his map while he was careening in and out of the heavy traffic on the infamous southern California freeways. For all the attention he seemed to be paying to the road in front of him, he might as well have pasted the index and map over the windshield of the car. After what seemed an eternity and a few prayers in the back seat, we finally did arrive safely—shaken, but none the worse for the wear.
Reflecting on the experience later, I realized that many of us live life in just this way. There are many resources that can be used as roadmaps for life. Some may use religious texts, some schools of psychology, or others the teachings of a guru. All may sound intriguing or erudite, or even have the ring of truth, and so we are drawn to studying and discussing them endlessly. For many Theosophists this kind of mental exploration can be exhilarating and captivating. We feel that we are just one tiny step away from knowing the secrets of life.
Scientific discoveries that confirm some of our pet theories excite us and draw us further into our theoretical explorations. Without a doubt I must affirm, as H. P. Blavatsky so often did, that science is a powerful ally in our earnest search for truth. At the empirical gross physical level, it can confirm many ideas about our universe. From those ideas we can draw implications for the meaning and purpose of life, but those ideas have no substance unless they are acted upon.
Lacking a map in unfamiliar territory we might wander aimlessly through wrong turns and dead-ends. We have a hard time finding pleasure in the trip because of our pent-up anxiety. Gradually we develop a map in our mind that serves as our guide and we reach a certain level of comfort in following the known routes. At this point, not wanting to risk a return to our former state of confusion, we may be resistant to change. We may even refuse to consider others' advice or new maps.
Maps are important and necessary. When we finally look at a detailed map it can be a real eye-opener. We may have been going the long way around, or taking the stoplight-ridden route when there was a far simpler way to go. And there may be a lovely park to traverse rather than a busy street. Maps are wonderful tools. They can give us an overview of an area as well as pinpoint details. But they are not the territory itself.
In our spiritual lives, an encounter with a source of spiritual guidebooks such as our Theosophical literature can be an exciting discovery. All of a sudden we can gain a higher view and clearer idea of detours and pitfalls. Many of us have experienced that heightened intensity of study in the early years of our Theosophical or metaphysical pursuits. A new world of understanding arises. The territory of life is far different from what we had first thought; the scheme grander and more meaningful. We discover a holistic approach that integrates all aspects of religion, philosophy, science, and the arts.
In the excitement we can become so caught up in the map that we forget it is not the territory. We become like the driver who has the map pasted across the windshield, and forget to watch the traffic, landmarks, and road signs. Self-absorption in studies becomes counterproductive, blocking the very clarity, understanding, and direction we are seeking.
As H. P. Blavatsky admonishes all Theosophists in The Key to Theosophy:
No working member should set too great value on his personal progress or proficiency in Theosophic studies; but must be prepared rather to do as much altruistic work as lies in his power. He should not leave the whole of the heavy burden and responsibility of the Theosophical movement on the shoulders of the few devoted workers. Each member ought to feel it his duty to take what share he can in the common work, and help it by every means in his power.
Periodically we have to remove our noses from our books and our minds from endless titillating theories in order to put our knowledge into practice, or we will never unfold our spiritual natures. Our studies provide the map, but they have to be balanced by service and meditation. Meditation is the actual vehicle that will carry us into the unfoldment of our spiritual potential, and service is the essential fuel. Both are supported by the maps found in our studies, and both require actual commitment.
Remember fellow pilgrim, when you are studying those books, that they may well be helpful maps for understanding and navigating the territory, but the trip involves engagement on the path. If our study is to be useful, every new understanding should help us discern the real from the unreal, the more important from the less important, and make us better prepared to travel. Each small step that we take on this journey is a giant leap for humankind. So let us take that first step—and the next—and the next—that begin and continue the journey of the rest of our lives.