I’m sitting on a flight from Paris to New York, trying to pass eight long hours, and getting bored. The airplane does not have an in-flight entertainment system, and my Kindle book-reader ran out of battery, so I resort to reading anything I can lay my eyes on. First I read the duty-free catalog (twice), then the airline’s travel magazine, and to my embarrassment I even read the safety card. Eventually I empty my pockets, pull out my boarding pass, and stare at it. On its back there is some fine-print titled “advice to international passengers on carrier liability”, and it starts with the following words:

Passengers on a journey involving an ultimate destination

It sounds like an inspirational message you would see inside a fortune cookie, not on the back of a boarding pass. The text then goes on to describe international treaties and the rights of passengers in transit, but the words “ultimate destination” get me thinking.  Is there ever an ultimate destination?

Many wisdom traditions advocate the focus on journey instead of destination – taking intentional action but not being attached to its outcome. The Bhagavad Gita [1], one of the most prominent Hindu scriptures, speaks of it explicitly, saying:

“You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions’ fruits. Act for the action’s sake”.

A similar advice is provided in the Tao Te Ching [2], Lao Tzu’s book of “the way”, where

“…the Master takes action

by letting things take their course.

He remains as calm at the end as at the beginning.

He has nothing, thus has nothing to lose…”

In the Buddha’s teachings, the source of all human suffering is the desire to have predictable, expected outcomes to the actions we take [3], to have well-identified destinations. Four years ago, I rode from New York to California on a quest to finding inner peace. I spent five weeks on the road riding in contemplation and meeting with different experts, scientists, and authors. I started out with specific plans in mind, but it was only when I let go and let the road carry me to new places that I started to experience what the road truly had to offer. Towards the end of my ride when I was in Southern California, I met with Deepak Chopra, and discussed this with him. His view, was that flexibility is the source of inner strength and inner peace:

“I’ve never used the word strength in my vocabulary. I used the word flexibility (in consciousness). In fact, I have a favorite saying that comes from the Yoga Vasistha, “Infinite flexibility is the secret of immortality.” It’s, in a way, an evolutionary principle that you adapt. It’s not the strong who survive but the ones who adapt. An oak tree is very strong but with the first storm, it may crack, whereas a little thin vine that is flexible will survive the same storm. So, I think more in terms of flexibility. Flexibility is an attitude more than anything else. It means that I don’t need to always be rigidly attached to anything: a situation, a relationship, a point of view, or an outcome. If you are flexible, the challenge is gone.”

The notion of an ultimate destination is an illusion. It blinds one from seeing that new destinations unfold along the way, and it kills flexibility. It’s important to set goals. The process of planning your desired destinations helps you gain clarity and unveil your dreams. But dump your plans as soon as you hit the road, and let the road take you to new destinations that are not on your on your itinerary. You may discover that your ultimate destination pales in comparison to them.

[1] Stephen Mitchell (2000). Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation. Author Harmony ISBN 9780609605509 http://www.amazon.com/Bhagavad-Gita-A-New-Translation/dp/0609810340

[2] Mitchell, Stephen (1988). Tao Te Ching. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061142666 http://www.amazon.com/Tao-Te-Ching-Laozi/dp/0060812451

[4] Four Noble Truths http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Noble_Truths

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