Sunday, June 29, 2014

Journey Matters

I am a great believer of setting goals and providing a well-defined execution plan in support of the same. In fact, often times, I do help my clients in setting their business goals and also propagate the importance of doing so across their employee communities. I believe that well-formed goals give us a sense of purpose and direction and also release productive energy in initiating actions aimed at achieving those goals. 

However, there are equal numbers of times I have wondered whether the tightly defined goals by themselves energize our actions or is there something else (actually additional) that goes with it. Although I have tried to find an answer myself, I can’t claim that I have fully got one—but today I am certainly closer to it after going through multiple reflections.

I want to narrate a live experience that I went through a few years ago.

In one of the pre - monsoon months, many years ago, we went somewhere on the outskirts of Mumbai-- removed from all the hustle bustle of the metro. It was a Yoga camp for a five day period. As is the case with any other camp, there were several individual and group activities aimed at accelerating self-awareness and interpersonal awareness. Thankfully, there were no sermons at all and every experience created there was left at an experience level itself. This meant that the participants were left to draw their own learning lessons out of what they were going through.

One Morning, our teacher asked us to wear walking shoes and pack some basic gear to protect against the Sun. It was around 7.30 a.m., when we left the camp site, with our teacher leading the group. The group consisted of all sorts of folks-- from young bachelors to fairly aged couples. We were allowed to walk at a very comfortable pace and in no particular order. We did that for about 10 minutes, at which point, our teacher asked us to stop walking and gather together to form a circle. 

We did not know what the exercise was, where we were headed etc.--and probably that was the idea! 

We formed the circle as instructed and the teacher stood right at the center of it. She asked us to take a look around and generally make note of what was in sight-close, mid and far. The place where we were standing was a part of a fairly vast plane, except, in one direction there was a hill which was fairly high. 

After we did what was told to us, the next instruction followed. 

Now we were asked to make a straight line by standing in pairs. Those who had joined the camp as couples were paired together and the singles were paired with other singles.

Now that the line was neatly formed, the teacher told us that momentarily we shall start walking. 

Hearing that, we were about to start walking, when the teacher got several blindfolds out of her bag and started putting them on some people. We soon realized that there was a method that was being followed in choosing such people. The apparent weaker link in each couple was being blindfolded! So each couple now had one blind folded person. We were then told to hold the hands of our partners and simply start walking behind the teacher, who was heading towards the hill. She strictly instructed us that no talking between the partners was permitted. 

The real journey then commenced. Weather was still pretty pleasant and we were not hindered by the strong sun. Those who could see were not yet figuring out where this journey was actually going to land, as we kept inching towards the hill.

We continued at a comfortable rhythm and kept walking for almost 90 minutes. 

At the end of 90 minutes, we had reached the top of the hill! 

Those who were blindfolded still did not have a clue as to where they had reached.

At that stage, the teacher asked them to take the folds away and slowly open their eyes. And when they actually did, the decibel levels on the hilltop dramatically shot-up! And what did it convey? It was mixed bag of jubilation, pure happiness and a tremendous sense of astonishment (almost bordering on disbelief!), that they could climb such a height without any stress and that too blindfolded.
No exaggeration, I had a 70 year heavily arthritic patient standing next to me, who had just taken his blinds off and this is what he had to say, “Wow!!! What a breathtaking panoramic view! I would not have agreed to climb up this hill, which was almost looking insurmountable from the ground. Even if the offer came with heavy incentives! I still don’t believe I made it and now I am wondering will I be able to make my way back to the camp.” And that is where the teacher interjected. She said to him, “What you thought impossible is already behind you.What remains is a cake-walk!” And that was enough for him. He made it back to the camp site without tears! 

I have been fortunate to witness many such incredibly enjoyable (and successful too!) journeys taken by people. And this is where my multiple reflections tell me that goals are important and they provide a definite sense of direction. But sometimes they can actually clip the wings of your unfettered and untapped potential. Sometimes they can even deter you from taking uncharted paths. And certainly they don’t give you an opportunity to bask in happiness of reaching a pleasant surprise at the end of the journey!

Therefore my take: As in case of everything else in life, there is no silver bullet to happiness. One has to choose what works for himself/herself. To me, what becomes material is the quality of the journey. 

What you really enjoy is the journey and where you reach is the goal.

But that’s my experience.

See what works for you.


Dilip Kulkarni said...

Dear Abhay,

Excellent experiential exposition for a trusted, dependable, willing partner's role who has equal interest in taking you to the destination, come what may. Sometimes, we as relatives or friends become defensive in suggesting our dear ones to " avoid " doing or taking up something. But someone who encourages with a " maih hun naa " can make things happen. I too have personal experience about this.

What matters when someone doesn't lead you, open or blindfolded, is also one's intense desire or motivation to reach to a known or desired destination. I have seen an old relative of mine who cannot and was not medically permitted to climb, actually climb steep 500 odd steps to reach a temple on the top. Nothing happened to her after that, other than happiness to herself and awe to others.

Abhay, keep posting such wonderful thoughts and lead me to light.


Dilip Kulkarni

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Dear Dilip..Thanks a ton for such a spirited and insightful response..Cheers

RG said...

Hi, Abhay!

Interesting take on the possible limiting role of goals, useful especially for those who are compulsive goal-setters.


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks RG

Ranjit Jatar said...

Just saw this v interesting and different post Abhay.

First time someone has questioned --are Goals necessary to achieve and seek happiness?

Or perhaps are they always necessary?

Here is my take on this --

I think basically when we visualise something as a target for achievement, we end up making some of them our goals. And then we "go for it".

I guess thats a rather universal truth.

Often what impacts the happiness levels is the enjoyment one has when that goal gets accomplished.

In the example you gave, when the people who were blindfolded opened their eyes and saw a beautiful scenery at the top of the hill, they shouted with joy. Thats because they moved from darkness to a beautiful scenery instantly. Those who were walking with their eyes open did not shout so loudly with joy, because the scenery slowly crept onto them.

Its like we all like various types of cuisines these days. But we do end up eating at least some Indian food of our cultural heritage ( Maharashtrian, Punjabi , etc) daily.

But what happens when you say visit Europe for a week and perhaps not get indian food? When one lands back, the same Indian food appears even more delicious. So the decibel level of happiness also depends on the extent of deprivation.

But Goal setting ( and not a compulsive obsession with it where flexibility gets lost) to my mind is something that should be taught at an early age since aspiration and goal setting are critical in todays times for finding happiness.