Thankfully, my father’s home is in a housing complex with a pool, and my daughter and I are continuously plunging into it like ducks. Of course, continuously swimming bores me, so I made up a game for myself. With a single breath, I jumped in from one side of the pool and tried to swim across lengthways before getting out at the other side. No matter how many times I tried this, however, there’s no way I could manage it. I managed to swim three-quarters of the way, but I never reached the other side. When my daughter said, “Dad, you’re going to fail again,” I set myself the goal of managing it before the end of our summer vacation. I said to myself, “You’re a lion! You’re a tiger! You can do this! Maybe your lungs will get used to it. You haven’t been exercising lately, so you’re not ready, but you will succeed.” I pumped myself up and got myself into a fervor…
Then I said to myself, “I’ll try again, but just for practice this time.” Astonishingly, I jumped into the pool and managed to climb out from the other side. I was amazed by this, and I rejoiced at my accomplishment. My daughter ran towards me and gave me a hi-five. So, what about my unfit lungs and lack of physical condition? It was all make-believe. I previously failed just because I forgot a simple—no, make that very simple—universal principle…
The modern world perpetually urges us to set goals for ourselves, and we struggle to reach these goals. We have been brought up with phrases like “If you have a goal, success will come. To reach your goal, you just need to work with all your might.” So, we work and work and wait with bated breath for the result. While chasing this goal, we never look around. We even forget the most important thing in life, the pleasure and joy of existence, because modern life imposes upon us the belief that we’re only worthy if we reach our goals. Of course, this means we should work hard and consume our resources, just like how I was unwittingly wasting my breath when swimming in the pool. Very few of us would manage to reach that goal, because most of us would waste our breath without ever seeing the victory I experienced. Yet the way was so simple…
Each time I jumped in the pool, I made the same mistake. I fixed my eyes on the other side, the point I needed to reach, but there was no way I could reach it. No matter how much I struggled, I ran out of breath. After my last jump, though, something was different. Instead of looking across the pool, I only looked at the bottom of the pool. White filter covers were arranged every few meters, and I thought, “Hey!” to myself each time I crossed one. I passed one after another. My goal was no longer to reach the other side but just to pass the next filter. I thought I couldn’t manage it in my current condition, so I just enjoyed looking at those white filters. At some point, I noticed I’d reached the other side of the pool. I climbed out with astonishment. Yes, I was at the other side of the pool, and I’d reached my goal without having to practice for my entire summer vacation.
While I’d pursued my goal during my previous attempts, I just fully enjoyed the experience that time and kept track of the white filter covers. The result then just came to me. I had a similar experience in Bhutan in the summer of 2014 while climbing up to the Tiger’s Nest Temple. During the two-mile climb, I never concerned myself with the effort and just happily climbed, taking plenty of photographs along the way. One of our friends tried his best to be the first there, and sure, he got to the peak before me, but he was exhausted and had no time to take photographs. My friend Gülnur and I, however, enjoyed such a joyful climb that it was as if the temple came to us…
The most important aspect of life is this: Life is not a process of running from one goal to another—life is the voyage by itself. Well, once I made it to the other side of the pool, did anyone give me a medal? Right now, I’m not screaming “Yeah!” because I succeeded. Instead, I just think about what an enjoyable swim it was. In hindsight, it was not so important for me to complete this objective, but the pleasure and cheer on reaching the other side was also marvelous. It was just the frosting on the cake.
In short, don’t go running after goals one after another. Walk to your heart’s content and enjoy everything fully, and then, as a matter of course, you will reach your goal instinctively.
It’s exactly like in the magnificent poem Ithaka by Konstantin Kavafis:
As you set out for Ithaka
Hope the voyage is a long one,
Full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
You’ll never find things like that on your way
As long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
As long as a rare excitement
Stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
Wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
Unless you bring them along inside your soul,
Unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
With what pleasure, what joy,
You come into harbors seen for the first time;
May you stop at Phoenician trading stations
To buy fine things,
Mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
Sensual perfume of every kind—
As many sensual perfumes as you can;
And may you visit many Egyptian cities
To gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
So you are old by the time you reach the island,
Wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
Not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
You will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.