I read a great Greek poem by Cifi Cavafy titled “Ithaka,” and in it were reminded that it is the voyage and the adventures on the way that count, not the arrival itself.
Old Cervantes said the same thing.
This seems to be a most difficult truth to understand. This is not to say that a person’s goal in life is unimportant. On the contrary, it’s vital. For without a goal, a distant destination, we would not be on the trip at all. Instead we’d run around in circles, endlessly following the shoreline round and round our tiny island. Every person needs a great and distant goal toward which to strive. But in traveling toward it, he should try to keep in mind that the fabled land he seeks has shores much like the one he left behind – that its purpose is not so much a resting place but, rather, the reason for the trip.
Where a person goes is not nearly as important as how he gets there. That a house is built is not all that important. It is the manner in which it is built that makes it great, average, or poor. That we live is not nearly as important as the manner in which we live.
I think that it’s misunderstanding this often keeps people in a state of unhappiness and anxiety. They forget to enjoy the trip. They forget what they’re really looking for, or what they should be looking for: the discovery of themselves. This is the island toward which everyone should journey. It’s a difficult journey, beset, like the travels of Ulysses, with many dangers and hardships. But it gives real meaning to life, and there are many rich rewards to be found along the way – all kinds of serendipitous benefits.
It means asking the questions that are hard to answer: Where am I going? Why am I going there? What do I really want, and why do I want it? Am I making the best possible us of myself as a person? Am I gradually realizing my potential? Am I discovering my best talents and abilities and using them to their fullest? Am I living fully extended in my one chance at life on earth? Am I really living? Who am I?
These are the questions everyone must ask himself and answer. As Emerson said, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”
Whatever you’re looking for must first be found within you, whether it be peace, happiness, riches, or great accomplishments. Everything we do outwardly is only an expression of what we are inwardly. To ask for anything else is as absurd as looking for apples on an oak tree.
So the person who knows what he wants, knows what he must become, and so he then fixes his attention on the preparation and development of himself. And as he grows toward the ideal he holds in his mind, he finds interest, zest, and joy on the journey.
He looks forward to tomorrow, but he also enjoys today, for it is the tomorrow he looked forward to yesterday. He knows that if he cannot find meaning and value in his present, it will very likely be missing in his future. Today is the future of five years ago. Are you enjoying it as much as you thought you would? Have you progressed to the point you wanted then to reach?
These are the questions that make us think.