Have you ever heard of the Apollo space programme of the 1960s? Of course you have, and what exciting times they were. The Apollo programme was created for one reason only: to send a man to the surface of the moon and to return him safely to earth. It is a welcome testament to changing times that in those days there were only ‘hims’ when it came to spaceflight, while by now, thanks to the Space Shuttle, we’ve had many outstanding women astronauts too.
Whether it’s Neil Armstrong bouncing around on the moon or Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reaching the summit of Mount Everest for the first time, they each prepared for a journey, took the journey, and finally reached their goal. The goal is often touted as the be-all and end-all of any major mission, when that shouldn’t be the case.
What about the time before the final moment of glory?
To be honest, much more thought needs to be given to the preparatory stage, and especially the journey to the summit of achievement that deserves our greatest accolade, not just those final moments when the summit is reached.
Think of the athletes who will compete at the upcoming Winter Olympics. Every one of them is going there to compete fiercely and to win medals. But the years of long, arduous training that precede the final performances that take them to victory must surely be more relevant than the actual feats of winning themselves?
Those years of toil and tears were the real victory, for without the hundreds of little details and techniques that have to be mastered, there would be no victory. And inevitably, when the excitement of the race is over, questions no doubt sometimes arise:
“Is that it? Is that all there is? I spent years training just for this and it was finished in just a few intense minutes. Apart from my brief moment of glory, I’m still the same person. What’s changed?”
During the time of greatest effort in perfecting one’s skills, the overriding goal was to accomplish the final task, to reach the end. And then the end came and it wasn’t quite as one had expected. There was an initial euphoria and sense of relief at the accomplishment, but not long after, on the bus back home after the farewells and the long flight home, a sort of post natal depression set in. Was it really worth all the time and effort? Were those years of sacrifice worth just a measly bronze medal?
Don’t Confuse Things
Are we confusing the goal with the effort needed to reach it? Yes, we often confuse the destination with the journey getting there, those intense years of training and sacrifice when it would have been so easy to give up and choose an easier life.
By emphasising the destination to the almost complete exclusion of the journey that’s so crucial to our success, we’re missing a fundamental point: the journey is often, indeed most of the time, more important than the destination itself. Success may appear to us as an illusion, but we know, sometimes painfully, that the journey was far from illusory.
We’ve all had small goals we want to reach, whether it was a better job, a financial windfall, a better house, etc. But when those goals were reached, were we really happy with the outcome? More than likely the feeling of satisfaction was welcome to begin with, but it dissipated with time, and before we knew it, what we had yearned for previously became what we expected life to give us. On each occasion, the destination was a glimmer of light in the distance, but once reached, it was quickly forgotten.
An intense focus on the destination, while almost completely ignoring the process that allows us to reach our destination, causes us to diminish the value of the journey and its capacity for bringing about real and long lasting beneficial change to ourselves and our attitudes. There is the potential for great value in any journey, if only we are prepared to learn from the lessons that directly flow from it.
What do we find at the destination that we can’t find at any point during the journey, or for that matter even at the starting point?
Thinking of the winter Olympics again, we may win and bask a moment in our years-in-the- making achievement, holding the medal up high, but by the next day our ski tracks will be gone, and as far as nature is concerned, we were never there.
Given that the euphoria of victory is so transient, surely there’s room for other moments of transient euphoria with every passing day on the journey to the win? The finale is only a small part of a piece of music, the epilogue only a fraction of a book, the destination only a step on the path to the destination.
The First Step
An old Chinese proverb begins: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Every journey begins with that first step, and every step on the path can be considered as important as the first one, provided it is taken as deliberately and seriously.
It’s easy to stop when the destination is all we’re striving for and the goal seems impossibly far away. The journey begins, progresses and ends with every step we take, and the journey is nothing short of a long series of small triumphs, each one as important as the rest, each one linearly leading to the next. We never really fail, but we do from time to time stop trying. And we stop trying when we have nothing to strive for but a distant goal, barely seen.
Preoccupation with the end causes us to overlook the excitement, the challenge, the satisfaction and importance of each step, each question, each minor discovery.
It is the thrill of possibility that spurs us on, an excitement fed by the power and momentum of the journey itself. We can’t get on with it until we don’t keep going. Once started, we must see the journey through to its completion.
Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold once wrote, “The longest journey is the journey inwards of he who has chosen his destiny, who has started upon his quest for the source of his being.”
The journey, any journey, any project, is a journey toward the realisation of self; and such a journey is strewn with pitfalls, obstacles and resistance. The search for self-worth and self-understanding is painful but necessary, part of the process of becoming a whole, integrated person.
Every project, every process, every striving is a step inward, a plunge into the depths of individual personality, a thread woven into the fabric of the human being. When a journey ends, we will have learnt a bit more about our possibilities and limitations, our abilities and inabilities. And we are eager to press ahead, to know more, to start again, to begin the next worthwhile journey.
The late Peter Boardman, an outstanding British mountaineer, wrote in his book, The Shining Mountain:
“Today’s frontiers are not of promised lands, of uncrossed passes and mysterious valleys beyond. Only the mountaineers’ inner self remains uncharted.”
The journey is an attempt to scale the spirit of a mountaineer, to ascend the summit of inner knowledge; and it can be a lonely trip. People are often insensitive and intolerant of those who pursue the road apart from the crowd, who travel a path that veers from the common thoroughfare.
The question they often ask is: “Where can that path possibly lead? It seems to go nowhere.” But that is their perception, and it is limited by a lack of sufficient understanding, a myopic view of another’s destination. Every journey has by default a destination, and every step takes us a bit closer to the end. Once underway, the goal is to press on, and at all times hold the vision of the destination in mind. But don’t do so at the expense of the steps in-between.
The Path of Life
Like the protagonist in Herman Hesse’s mystical novel, The Journey to the East, we all eventually come to realise that the main journey we take in life, is never ending. In fact it is our very life itself.
The journey is a process of becoming, not a single assault on a single goal or mountain. Though the journey never really ends, it sometimes brings us back to the place where we began, with a new appreciation or a deeper understanding, causing us to, as T S Elliot put it “…know the place for the first time.”
You never conquer a mountain, you never conquer your Inner Self; you seek it afresh every day, every step along the way.
Tomorrow there will be another goal, another challenge, another journey. The next one may be harder, take a bit longer, be less accessible. But the true seeker knows the goal will eventually be reached, and knows intimately the road leading to it. Every destination is the starting point for another journey. Every chapter completed means a new chapter or a new book must begin. We can’t be content with the destination alone. We can’t rest forever on the results of that one big project.
None of this is to say that goals and destinations are unimportant. The summit is one of the reasons for climbing the mountain. It provides us with another view, another perspective. If our intention is not the absolute top, we will not progress very far along the way. The destination is the culmination of the adventure, the pinnacle of triumph, the final, and sometimes most difficult, step along the way.
We need not feel a sense of emptiness, disappointment or disillusionment when the present project or journey has ended, not if we’ve worked hard along the way and learned the lessons of the journey.
The destination can be sweet, the accomplishment pure, and the mountaineering spirit challenged if we understand the purpose of the journey and the value to us of the destination.
It is a part of the reward for coming this far.
We can climb the mountain and peer over the ridge with a sense of satisfaction. We can take time to reflect and determine the course of the next chapter, for the triumph of reaching the destination is but the prelude to another.
Adaptation of “JOURNEY AND DESTINATION” by Johan Arnesson from the Rosicrucian Heritage September 2019