We are sold this idea that life is a journey and we like to think of it that way. Saying life is a journey feels enlightened, and less like we are racing towards an ideal lifestyle. It feels a bit comfortably hippy. However, is it possible that we are wasting our precious time working towards a destination?
The life journey we speak of often involves being children, starting school, going to work, retiring. At each stage, we are working towards a destination; taking the journey. We go to school to get good grades for our future and for further education. Then we go to college/university to work towards our careers. We have our careers to work towards owning a house or having a family, or becoming wealthier, and therefore having more freedom. Maybe we are working towards a good retirement fund. What happens along the way is often seen as the journey.
Is life actually a journey?
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘It’s the journey that counts, not the destination’, but if our existence does not have a destination, then where is the journey? The universe does not have a destination, it simply exists. Maybe that’s what it’s all about?
Alan Watts, a British philosopher, explained this by using music as an example. Music differs from travel – when you travel you are trying to get somewhere. He said “One doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best composers would be those who played fastest”. The same goes with dancing; we don’t dance with the end destination in mind, we just dance around the room and enjoy it.
Existence is playful, just like music and dancing. However, our system works against this. We are always working towards the next thing. When you get there – you get that job, you get the good retirement – you likely don’t feel all that different. This means we miss the point of being. We miss the moments, the beauty, the playfulness because we are busy trying to make our mark. However, our mark is being made the entire time that we exist. The point of a song is not the end, but every note in between.
If we focused on enjoying the moments in between our destination points, we would likely be much happier than constantly chasing the new. This isn’t to say that ambition isn’t important. We can have very ambitious ideas and work towards our goals. The point is the one that we hear so often, especially from older people; the regret of not focusing on what is truly important. It’s the little things that count. The relationships we have, the joy we find in the every day, how we affect others. That’s truly leaving a mark on this world.
What about our current selves?
If we follow the system of working towards our future selves, and forget about our current selves, we are on a journey that we don’t necessarily need. The happiest people are the ones that are content with their lot right now, despite having ambitions to improve and change their futures. An example of this is weight loss, and how people believe they will be happier once they lose weight, or that they can only buy nice clothes when they lose weight. How many people do you think waste their limited time thinking like this for years?
It’s important to keep the present in mind as it is all we have. The past is exactly that and we don’t know if we have tomorrow, let alone the ‘future’. We are cheating ourselves if we only see what is ahead. There is no celebration at the end of life – You made it! – there is only the ending of this life. What if we are supposed to be singing and dancing to the music instead? The beauty of life is that it’s like live music. You can’t rewind and play again, you just keep moving to wherever it takes you.
This is not a call for everyone to quit their jobs and go and live off the land. It’s just a thought that’s been playing on my mind since listening to Alan Watts recently and I thought it was worth a gentle reminder that we get one go at this. We don’t need to reach a goal to enjoy it, we can work towards them, singing and dancing and enjoying each moment along the way. Life is not so much a journey, but a song.