Climbing Mountains: A Pluralistic Counselling Consideration of the Journey versus the Destination
I had an interesting philosophical debate with a client. He said to me that he didn’t feel he could be happy in himself until he had achieved something. I first asked him how he measured achievement. Did he mean academic/ professional achievement or personal? He answered the former. I asked whether he felt once he had achieved something, if the next thing would then become the goal and at which point, he could rest and look at what he had achieved and be content.
The metaphor we worked with was one of climbing a mountain. I didn’t tell the client this story but the transference for me briefly brought me to a mountain in India at 18 years old. I got the (wild) notion when I was staying in Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayan foothills to climb a mountain or two in the Dhauladhar range. I was reminded of India by a counsellor friend who posted photos from their time there. It was more than 16 years ago that I was there.
Dhauladhar from Mcleod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh, India
I thought about the mountains in India and the sheer solitude of the climb, how the goal (the peak) was a multi-day affair and how I was not built well for that. On the slow plod, I thought about the goal constantly, what an achievement it would be to get to the top.
I did eventually reach the peak but when I think back the part that sticks with me is a moment, alone, at a clearing. A dog had been following us up, I took a (now grainy) photo of the dog and I sat by the side to catch my breath and took in the view.
My sitting spot, and my canine friend, my moment of contentedness
The moment of distracted transference lasted only a few seconds but it did make me think of what the client was saying. I asked the client if he stops to look at the scenery on his way up the mountain? We talked for a while about the concept of the mountain and of achievements as each mountain we climb. To him, I think he was climbing one big mountain that he would never reach the top of, never turning to see the scenery or traversing other peaks of achievement on the way.
It’s a matter for debate but I think I look at each small achievement as important as the big one, each milestone is a small peak of its own on our way to whatever our collective mountain range looks like. Take a degree for instance, we climb a series of peaks to get that certificate in the end. Each essay, each module, each placement milestone is a peak when we’re a student travelling forward and up the next mountain towards the overall goal of graduation. People can get bogged down sometimes by the mountain range itself, when the climb is just a series of steps put together.
A well-known concept in the business world and one that translates well to a pluralistic counselling world is “Microproductivity”. It is essentially the art of breaking down those unmanageable mountain ranges of goals into smaller tasks (much as I describe above). How do you eat an elephant, the old joke goes “one bite at a time” (blog.trello.com).
Another point to consider is, are professional achievements really worth the same as personal ones, and what do we give up when we seek to win the professional game? Emily Esfahani Smith (QZ.com) suggests that it’s great to have goals and ambitions but if we focus on only that, have we really succeeded? If we try and fail but live along the way perhaps “we can embrace a different definition of success, one rooted in generativity—in doing the quiet work of maintaining our “stores” in our own little corners of the world, and making sure that someone will mind them after we’re gone”.
It’s an important thought as well though, and bringing the pluralistic thinking into the task management and achievement seeking is important. Do we take the time to look at the scenery when we climb our own personal mountains? Do we spend any time as we seek to achieve our goals, be they in work or education or life, actually enjoying the journey to the top of our mountain? Do we take the time to enjoy life as we seek to conquer our mountain ranges?
Matt Williams explores the concept of the journey versus the destination. He doesn't reach a conclusion, which is quite apt. He coincidentally does go on a fascinating journey. He proposes that “we may never truly understand the journey until we’ve taken it”. He covers many subjects on his journey and the quest for the holy grail is my favourite. He describes Parsivals journey for the grail and the most important fact of the poem that it doesn’t finish, Parsival gets directions to the grail and the poem ends.
The question is, is the journey more important than the destination? I don’t have the answer to that but I wonder if taking the time to acknowledge the journey is just as important as climbing the mountains.
Like Parsival, I am merely on my own quest for the grail, at the top of my own mountain range, I’m just taking my time to enjoy the view.
Harmony Counselling and Psychotherapy
18 year old me, in India circa 2005
https://blog.trello.com/microproductivity-break-tasks-into-smaller-steps (Accessed 04/03/21)
Resources to help you take in the view