What is More Important: The Means or the End?

steps leading to water, life journey, the path, deep living, living deeply, the new pursuitComing off the comment thread of the Frivolous Fifty post, I’ve been having some good discussions with a few people that has me thinking about what matters most: the end result of what we’re working towards or the means by which we get there?

It also has me wondering about you — the readers of The New Pursuit. Why have you chosen to spend time with my writing? What are you pursuing? Who and what are you like?

I think people are reading TNP for different reasons; because they identify with one or more of the three elements of the human existence (Life, Nature, Being) about whose intersections I am exploring.

While it is one of the pathways to living deeply (for me, at least), this is not a blog dedicated exclusively to minimalism or simple living. It is not a hard-core naturalist blog. Nor is TNP focused solely on ways of reaching some sort of enlightened state.

TNP is chronicling and sharing my journey to answer my One Burning Question:

How is the human existence and experience transformed to one of balance, harmony and sustainability for the long-term viability of the entire eco-sphere?

Put another way: I want to explore how we (myself included) transform our relationship with the planet and all that calls it Home (the ‘eco-sphere’). For it is in transforming this relationship — I believe — that holds the key to sustaining all Life for the long-haul.

It is part practical and part spiritual; part doing and part being.

When I go outside and allow myself to just BE with Nature, something happens. I sense an energy; I am in awe of all the Magnificence of Life around me. It makes me think about how I fit into it; how everything I do could have an impact — whether positive or negative — on it. How I have a deep responsibility to care and nurture it for future generations.

It makes me want to un-complicate my life to be more in tune with the natural rhythm of this planet. It makes me want to seek beauty and harmony in all that I do — from the seemingly mundane tasks of my 9-5 job to the awesome (and really hard sometimes!) responsibility of raising my children to be catalysts in a world fraught with challenge and opportunity.

So, I go back to my original question of what matters most: The end result of what we’re working towards or the means by which we get there?

I think it depends on what you are seeking — and the person.

If you are seeking personal happiness do you need to adopt a minimalist or simple lifestyle to get there? Do you need to eliminate all sorts of material and immaterial things to ‘free’ yourself enough to be happy? Do you need to be mindful of every moment of every day? Or is happiness as simple as resolving yourself to be that way regardless of how much baggage you’re carrying?

If you are seeking to be One with Nature, do you need to do all those things first? Do you need to be a uber-vegan-composting-hemp-wearing-bike-riding-solar-cooking-commune-living-no-waste-making-forest-worshiping guru? Or is it as simple as a decision to change your perspective and sense of being?

In my case, I think it’s a little of both approaches. Part doing and part being. This may be different for others.

Are these realms of happiness and oneness only available to the single or childless urban dwellers out there? Does the suburban family have equal stake in the hope of attaining these things? Do you need to be a backpack hauling nomad? Or does a house, a couple of cars, and an hour-long commute to work preclude you from taking this journey?

Clearly, I fall into the latter group there in terms of my life situation. That being said, I believe what The New Pursuit is all about has applicability to everyone, regardless of your family, housing or work state.

Why? Because we are all human. Because when you strip us down to our humble nakedness we are more alike than different. The simple desires for happiness, for connection with others, for some sort of Oneness with something greater than us are universal — whether we admit it or not.

Our humanness also qualifies us for equal responsibility to be caretakers of the source that makes all our lives possible — the Earth. Our compassion should extend to the natural world around us and all that lives, breathes and calls it home.  To hold the Diversity of Life sacred and see to its perpetual well-being.

And with that, I turn to you and ask: What is more important in your own life? The journey or the goal? Do we all have equal access to this regardless of our life’s situation?

Be well,
Bill

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Comments
14 Responses to “What is More Important: The Means or the End?”
  1. Ali Dark says:

    I vote for unity of the means and the end – the differences between them is really illusionary… without getting too metaphysical (never very productive).

    The means create the end, but the means are in the moment while the end isn’t. The end is the goal, but it’s a figment, and not really real except in our desires, hopes and imagination. Actually we don’t and can’ t know what the end is, so as it doesn’t actually exist, we have to say the means are where it’s at.

  2. Ali Dark says:

    Another thing that struck me about your question on transformation and note that it’s part spiritual and part practical…

    And the means to and end question is very relevant. Thing are really interconnected and it’s remarkable how the simple, integral and kind life, which is vegan, also creates physical heaven on earth through natural abundance.

    You could say that kindness and simplicity are the means, and that sustainability is the end, but only because we’re in an opposite situation right now. I think good comes with good and bad with bad, so again, we should always be focussing on the means and asking ourselves if we’re creating the right future today

  3. Bill Gerlach says:

    Ali // As always, I appreciate the time and thought you put into your comments! So good for diving deeper into things.

    I think you’re right when you say that the “means are in the moment” and that is what we can have the most control over.

    To use the analogy of an actual physical journey: Your destination is your goal or vision (e.g., for yourself, the world, others, etc.). Your map and tools you take with you are akin to the tools you might help you achieve your goal/vision (e.g., veganism, meditation, minimalism, green living, home schooling, etc.). The reality of the terrain, weather and other situational predicaments, and how you react to them represent the in-the-moment means by which we move forward or retreat.

    In all of this, I do believe it is part doing and part being. So often we get caught up in a bunch of to-do lists, thinking that as we check stuff off, we get closer to X. Sometimes, I think we can gain ground just by how we BE. That’s why I often think about how different the world might be if more (Western) people spent as much time developing their minds as they did their bodies. Not that we should cast off healthy and physical well-being, but often we leave our minds out of the equation. We should strive for balancing these.

    And thanks for your expanded commentary through your recent post, No Such Thing as an End. Be well.

  4. Chris says:

    Great post! And I would have to agree with Ali 100%, there is no way to know what the end really is so I would have to say the journey is the most important. The goal is nothing more than an idea we work towards. I believe even if we could reach “the end”, our goal, there is no way it could be as significant as the journey it took to arrive, and we would end up with another goal in mind. However the goal is what keeps me going!

  5. Majeeda says:

    The journey is more important as I agree that is what we have in the present – the journey ‘is’ life! However, I think the end goal has it’s own importance too in that it can direct how we spend our life.

    Btw, in Islam it’s said that people are the caretakers of the earth as well, and that we have a responsibility to it and the creatures who inhabit it. We aren’t doing a very good job of it that’s for sure. :(

    You know one thing I love about blogs is that you can connect with others who are on a journey that is similar to you in some way – you connect on some level and follow with them, learn from them. Because on blogs I see all the time people are learning, forming ideas, trying things out and growing. It’s actually really inspiring.

    When I was planning mine I read somewhere that I should have a very strict ”idea” or ”plan” for what it’s message would be. Eventually I realised that would be impossible. I’m a normal, multi-layered person – I can’t define myself (or my blog/writing) to one, two or even three topics and stick to that. It’s impossible. I think many blogs are journey and that ok with me. I hope I haven’t strayed too far from topic.

  6. Kathy P. says:

    “How is the human existence and experience transformed to one of balance, harmony and sustainability for the long-term viability of the entire eco-sphere?”

    There can be no single answer to this. The journey will be an individual one for each of us, as we’re all unique. We will each approach it in different ways, especially in the beginning – but as we move closer to our goals I think we identify more fellow travelers. We move toward convergence, if you will.

    That said, do we really ever arrive? Or do we simply continue to endlessly refine our goals and fine-tune our lives to align with our values?

    Another question that’s on my mind: how do we help others wake up to the realities of our (collective human ‘our’) situation? It can be kind of scary! Sleep-walking is safer but it’s destroying our only home. Sigh.

  7. Bill Gerlach says:

    Majeeda // I agree 100% with your assessment about the power of blogs to connect, share, and help each other move forward — on whatever journey we are on. I have an over-arching theme to TNP, but like you find that seizing the power of self-expression that the blogging platform provides leads me to write about a variety of things. To that end, there are probably many more things that I will find myself sharing in the coming months.

    The point you raise about Islam and being caretakers of the earth is well-taken. In my observations, I am seeing more and more of “organized” religion and “non-organized” spiritualism reconnecting with the idea of protecting the Creation that surrounds us. From where I sit, I think that is a great example of not worrying about the means (how or why we want to take care of the planet) but instead, focusing on the end (actually taking steps to do it).

    Thanks as always for the comment and sharing! Be well.

  8. Bill Gerlach says:

    Kathy // You’re last point — how do we help others ‘wake up’ to our collective situation — is one of the things I think about most in my journey. The reality is: There are 6 billion humans give or take. We need a some sort of critical mass to ‘awaken’ to our situation before the tide can be turned. The online medium does wonders for spreading ideas, know-how and inspiration — but it will never reach everyone. (That’s the realist in me talking.) It’s then that it is up to all of us to take what we might know or have insight on and bring it off-line: Through modeling it in our everyday life; by talking to others about it (not in a preach-y way); by teaching our children; organizing events in our communities; even running for political office. To some extent we might need to embrace offline media to help too. Writing opinion pieces for our local newspapers or similia — anything to help spread the message.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it! Be well.

  9. Sandra Lee says:

    Hi Bill,

    The journey is the end. The journey is the goal.

    You ask such wonderful and provocative questions. I read your blog because you go beyond the superficial level to explore deeper meaning and the interdependence and interconnections.

    Cheere!

  10. Amanda says:

    Lovely. I find I’m the most happy when I’m relishing in the moment. The here and now, which is not looking towards a goal. So I pick the journey as most important. Not to say that working towards a goal isn’t important. But embracing where you are at that moment is what I consider to be happiness. And yes, there are certain moments where this is impossible to enjoy or embrace. Also certain life situations where this philosophy wouldn’t work, and to them I would go with the goal as the most important.

    Thanks for the post, and I love reading your blog!

  11. Bill Gerlach says:

    Thanks, Sandra. I appreciate your kind words. It’s humbling to know that others find value in what you do. :)

    We are all on this journey together and I’m glad we can share it. Be well.

  12. Bill Gerlach says:

    Thanks, Amanda. I agree, the moment is where it’s at. Not always easy to be/stay there, but you can always reconnect with it.

    The more I chew on the question, the more I believe that your goal(s), while important, just help to tee up the journey, where all your living must take place. I often wonder that even if I attain my goals, will I care in light of all the awesomeness of the journey that got me there. I’ll probably have a new set of goals to come in right behind it! :)

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