Are We There Yet? (written 2015)
On a calendar I had one year there was a quote attributed to the Buddha: “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” Pondering this has been an interesting exercise.
We tend to get caught up in “arrival”. “Are we there yet?” isn't just a question kids ask. It's one that we ask ourselves throughout our lives. Is this the place I want to live? Is this the job I want? Is this as well off as I'll ever be? Have I been everywhere I want to go? Is this person the right partner for me? It shows up in myriad variations. All of them leading to a sense of discontent in the present.
People worry about being contented. They have trouble distinguishing between contentment and ennui or just plain laziness. Isn't it important to keep pushing, to keep stretching, to keep striving and seeking? I think the answer, in harmony with the Buddha's statement on traveling well, is both yes and no.
No, because if we continue to treat life as a means of transportation to somewhere we want to arrive, then we'll miss it. And the one destination we can count on is death. You'll get there, no doubt. It's the when and how that are in question. That's what living a mortal life guarantees. What is born will die. Those other “stops” we think are so vitally important, they aren't “stops” at all really: each becomes its own journey. It may feel like you're stuck when you're going to the same job everyday, don't have enough money to travel, or the kids are always underfoot. But while you think you're sitting still, or spinning your wheels,you are moving forward. You are traveling through the moments of your life to that final, inevitable destination. Do you really want to spend that time watching for the quickest train to the next place?
And the yes part of the answer? To travel well, we need to have harmonious intentions. Does the stretching, pushing, striving and seeking mean you are willing to get what you want in any way you can? Or does it mean you are stretching your idea of self, dissolving the boundaries that define “you”? Are you seeking to understand what motivates you and how your heart and mind work? Pushing your limits in order to stay with what is not necessarily comfortable until you understand where the discomfort comes from? Striving not to be a particular kind of person, but to know and accept all of yourself, even the aspects you would rather not see.
When I think of traveling well, I think of going deeper, not necessarily faster or further or away. Looking into yourself and the moments of your life with the focus of an archeologist. Meticulously brushing away the debris that obscures the treasure, the truth beneath. Staying put in the hot sun and through the long hours of mundane repetition. Looking with deep curiosity and respect.
Every moment traveled this way is traveled well. In this way we see what is in the way and get beneath it, we hold the beauty in our hands and treasure it. Are we there yet? This is a question without relevance in this kind of mindful living. We are here every step of the way.