Is it the Journey or the Destination?

One of the wonderful things about good therapy is that it helps you see the forest through the trees. I find that people generally have difficulty because they focus on the facts of a particular situation so much more than on their feelings about that situation. It seems to me that it is so much easier to argue, debate, and analyze the factual elements around an area of concern than it is to stop and figure out how you feel and what you need to do about how you feel.
I listen to clients talk about the specific focus they have, because they need to talk about it. I am concerned about the facts they identify and I need to hear the story. But one of the messages I consistently give my students at the University who are learning to be therapists is: “You cannot get lost in the story!” I tell them they have to hear the story and be able to reference the facts, but they cannot get absorbed in the drama of the story. Nor, can they get lost in the problem solving aspect of the story. Instead, they must look for the patterns in the lives of their clients. If they can see and reflect the patterns, then it is possible that the client will come to understand why these events and problems continue to reoccur in their lives. They will come to understand what the pay-off for them is in allowing these things to recycle periodically, and decide if and what they want to do about it.
Many of my students over the last twenty-six years have found themselves in a clinical training program at the University because of three reasons: One, they are pretty good at problem solving, especially at responding to situations which are in crisis. Two, they find that complete strangers come to them and begin to tell them things that are incredibly private and personal. And three, they have “issues” in their own lives that they are trying to understand and solve by getting an education in this area. I tend to say the same things to my students that I say to my clients. Do not get lost in the elements of story. If you find yourself arguing about the facts of a case or situation, then, you have already lost the battle.
Why would I say this? Why do I believe that a focus on facts is almost always unhelpful? Don’t facts matter? Doesn’t it matter who said or did what when you are trying to understand someone and the story of their life and relationships? The answer, as I see it, is that facts DO matter. They just don’t matter so much. They represent the building blocks of a structure. We must work with them, rearrange them, and use them to help us see the “building” in which our clients live. The question is more aptly, why is this structure not working correctly? Instead they lose focus on debating which is better for the floor, pine or oak or should we use granite or marble in the bath? I think that so many people live their lives problem solving each individual question about the construction or rehabbing of their “building” that they never step back and look at the structure as a whole entity.
Sometimes this happens because they have never been trained to look at the pattern. They do not know how to or that they can, ask what do I want? Where do I want to live? The idea of knowing what they want and setting their lives up so that they can obtain and enjoy it is not something they are ever trained to notice or pursue directly. Instead, they are given goals by their parents, schools, and bosses. Be good, be successful, be the best, make straight A’s, win the election, master the goal, focus on attaining the GOAL, reach the DESTINATION! If you do these things you will do well and make us proud.
So what do we win when we attain that goal? Did we enjoy the journey? Do we live in a structure that we enjoy and that we can afford? Did our investment return a satisfactory profit? Again, the tendency is to answer the question, look at the facts, and solve the problem. I think we should also look at the overall pattern, not at the individual components of the pattern. I want to know what makes me happy in this life, what gives joy and enthusiasm to my life, what helps me feel proud and satisfied and that I matter. I want to know that I am doing with my life what I want. I want to make a contribution, I want to fill my life with people that love me and that I love, I want to do no harm to others. I want to have adventures and learn and grow. I want to embrace and taste all the flavors of the smorgasbord of life, and when I have finished, I do NOT want to say, “If only I had.”
In order to establish this pattern in my life, I need to go against the conditioning of my youth. I was probably trained the same way my clients and students were trained. I was taught to look at the facts, master the goal and strive to measure up to an external marker of achievement, success, and relevance. Instead, I need to learn to listen to the universe, find and feel my balance, and do what feels right for me. There is a risk that if I attempt to do this, I will find a hedonistic and narcissistic path. It is possible that I may follow if for a while, but it will not last, because if I continue to “listen” to the universe I will “hear” that I am out of balance and will move to act in ways that will restore the balance. Life is truly about harmony. We are not trained to listen to the music but instead to focus on and play the individual notes. We have to do both. In the same way, we have to listen to the story but not get lost in the details. We have to see the pattern and hear the harmony.
When we do, then we will have a structure that shelters us, warms us, and makes us balanced and happy. We will not be perfectly happy, we will not get all that we want, and we will make mistakes and fall out of balance at times. But if we learn to listen to our real inner voice and not our inner critical parent, we will return to balance and live in harmony more of the time.
I believe this is important more than we recognize. If I may paraphrase a Garth Brooks song, “It is not the dates on your tombstone (the facts that are known), what matters, it is the dash in between.” It is how you take the journey, not the destination you seek or reach. Happy trails!

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One Response to Is it the Journey or the Destination?

  1. I have been just examining your site it is very well written!

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