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Ithica
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The Journey to Ithaca

ithaca

Many of us are on quests, either real or representative. Since my quest is real, I like the metaphor of journeying.

Going on a journey involves unexpected surprises, challenges, setbacks, and rewards. And I tend to think that any good journey is as much about the process as the destination.

Kind of like how the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy put it, almost exactly one-hundred years ago:

***

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

-Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

***

There are a lot of things we could say about Ithaca. The journey—the road to Ithaca, which represents the final stop. The Cyclops—people who distract you—are ultimately more powerful in your mind than in their physical presence. To arrive in Ithaca is the ultimate goal, but don’t hurry the journey. Pray that the road is long.

This week the journey takes me back to West Africa again. Today I’m in Burkina Faso, waiting to head over to Mali in a few days. The road is long and the journey goes on and on… for which I’m grateful.

And how about you over there—how is your journey coming along?

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Image: Rupert

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38 Comments

  • The great thing about “the journey” is that it never ends, it just changes directions. At the same time, it’s so easy to forget about. I like to take moments to appreciate the process, the journey, the story we each get to be a part of.

  • Joel says:

    “Pray that the road is long”

    I love that. The journey is as important (usually more so) than the actual destination. We can get so caught up in wherever we’re going that sometimes we forget that.

  • Darrell says:

    This is a really good thought, and especially as Americans we need to be reminded of this sometimes. I am learning that along this journey for me I am meeting people I never expected to meet and doing things I never expected to do. My life is forever being altered because of these unexpected changes in my circumstances. I have to be aware to see these things and not look past them with an intense focus on the end goal.

    Thanks for all you do. Thanks for this thought.

  • I love these metaphors because they speak truth to everything we do. The road is as important as the destination because of what we learn along the way. In fact getting lost along the way is equally rewarding because it can lead us to new destinations!

  • Devin says:

    My journey is going surprisingly well. although I never actually get to where I plan to go. I think just the sincere attempt opens myself up to possibility, which always keeps things interesting. Enjoy Mali.

  • Awesome, as usual Chris. I find that the journey provides so much joy when I let it unfold naturally and without excessive planning/structure. I recently returned from an incredible trip out to New Mexico and Colorado and the uncertainty of what was going to happen and where I would go added to the energy of the experience. Some of the best moments were things I discovered along the way that I didn’t plan for, or perhaps subconsciously manifested. I like the idea of the journey being an ongoing pursuit. I’m doing a series of blog posts about my recent experience with the idea that the journey is never complete. There’s something liberating about that thought.

    Hope all is well in West Africa. Safe travels…

  • Matt says:

    What a great way to start my day. It’s great to be reminded that while the end goal is important, it is the journey toward that goal and the process of obtaining that goal that is really the most important part. The experiences and lessons learned along the path are what life is all about. When I look back on some of my own journeys I find that it is not the end goal or accomplishment that I remember the most; it is the actual experience of the journey itself.

  • Lindsey says:

    I love this poem. My favorite teacher, ever, had it on the wall of his classroom. It was the preface to my thesis and the reading at my wedding. Thank you for giving me reason to read it again today.

  • Gina Rafkind says:

    Love that poem Chris! And that picture is gorgeous.
    Thanks for sharing. I’m in a transition and my business is transforming and I am practicing in enjoying the journey, even when sometimes I just don’t know where I’m headed or will end up.
    So thanks, this was perfect timing for me to read.

  • I had to do a double take–what Chris is in Ithaca!!!! Love the poem and the sentiments, but a little disappointed to find out you were indeed not in my hometown 😉

  • Raam Dev says:

    Wow, that was fantastic! Such an awesome poem.

    I like to think of my Ithaca as that moment before I die where I look at back at my life with a feeling of contentment… where I confidently say to myself that I was happy for everything I had done, everyone I had met, and all the people whose lives I helped change along the way. That’s my Ithaca. The journey between this moment and Ithaca is pure opportunity, pure potential, pure life.

  • Thank you so much for sharing that Chris. It is one of my favorite poems. I graduated from Cornell (in Ithaca) and so it has always had a “double entendre” for me..the farther out we go from college, the more wisdom we gain and the more we proceed on life’s journey. When we return to Ithaca, if we return to Ithaca, neither it nor we will ever be the same. May your travels be safe, all that you had hoped and more!

  • “Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
    Without her you would have never set out on the road.”

    I work with a lot of clients who are anxious to know their soul purpose so they can “graduate from Earth School.” One day it occurred to me that our Earth ride is the vacation. Where do we leave when we go on vacation? Home. And where do we return? Home. So the “purpose” of the vacation is never the destination. It’s the journey that counts and the giving, the receiving, the experiences along the way.

    Thanks for a beautiful post Chris.

  • sheila says:

    The poem is gorgeous, makes me wish that I had an Ithaca to journey toward. I’m still stuck in limbo-land, no jobs to be had where I’m living and not enough resources to start a business of my own (assuming I’d even know what to do).

    I would like to be where you’re at — not necessarily the world travel that you do (I’d find that a drag), but in having some big goal to strive for.

  • Chea says:

    Thank you, Chris. You are an inspiration! And “journey” is one of my favorite words, too. ;D My journey took a bit of a u-turn the other day and not in a terribly great way, but it IS providing a new road, tho’ a tad bumpy. Yes, for a moment the Cyclops was pretty scary, but then I realized it was me! Your post is very timely and a much appreciated reminder to stay on track. Very glad to have found you in cyber-landia!

  • Powerful.

    Thank you Chris for sharing this beautiful poem and insight.

    Safe and fun travels.

  • Auren says:

    Thanks for this. When on a rough path (going where few have gone before but you know it is right) – you need reminders to not look too far ahead at the end goal. If you are building something great – (or potentially great) – enjoy the building.

    Great mindset for today.

  • Rob Wilson says:

    What superb timing, Chris. We’re gonna borrow this for our own online journaling of visiting 50 national parks in 217 days in a Sprinter Interstate. We began this journey April 28 in many ways thanks to you, your adventures, and your writing. You encouraged us to swing for the fences with our big idea – and being empty nesters and without employment for 2 years, we’re having a blast on the road. We’re at Park #20, Yosemite, exploring, discovering, learning. The journey is what it’s about. We’ll be quite lost when it ends in early December. Gotta have a new journey set up by then!!

  • Okay, freakin’ me out here. I came to post just the line

    “pray that the road is long”

    and not only did someone else already quote it (not surprising) that someone else is also named Joel.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that this is my new mantra: pray that the road is long.

  • Briana says:

    Right now I am traveling off of my savings so yes, I do pray the journey is long. My goal from the beginning has been to keep exploring for at least two years, but I hope the journey continues even longer! Five months down, many many more to go.

  • Love Homer! Enjoy your journey sweet friend! Beautiful photo.

    Our journey is feeling divine today as we have met the most wonderful friends here in Barcelona. They cooked us paella the other night, took us to a gorgeous winery today and we are about to have dinner together again tonight. But we will soon be off to explore Provence, Paris and more of France.

    One of our greatest joys on our world travels are the people we meet. Since we come to Barcelona a few times a year, we will see these friends often and have fun telling each other our about our travel adventures while our kids play together.

  • Erica Jurus says:

    Great poem – my feelings exactly! Thanks for posting.

  • jean says:

    I discovered this poem a year or so ago and was so moved by it that i kept it near by bedside for almost a year; a few months ago when it was time to place an ad in my eldest son’s (high school) senior year book it was this poem that said all that i could ever say and want for him….but it was too long for the space i could afford, so I used a bob dylan and obama quote instead….but this poem speaks to me in ways that are …well, unspeakable ..the poem tastes, smells and feels like …..youth, that promise of what lies ahead and the moments in between; i was so happy to see it being shared today

  • Robineli says:

    “The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops, the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter, if you do not carry them within your soul, if your soul does not set them up before you.”

    I’m discovering, the hard way, that we can manifest the Cyclops and angry Poseidon by thinking about them. Even little things – flat tires, bike stolen – have manifested, despite the physical measures to prevent them. Worrying about safety only brings more insecurity. Strange how that works.

  • Joan Campion says:

    Wow! I never thought I’d find Cavafy in my inbox. And such a great poem, too.
    I can’t help being amazed, though, that not one of the comments has mentioned Cavafy’s own inspiration–Homer, and Homer’s character Odysseus.

  • Katie Tallo says:

    “Pray that the road is long. That the summer mornings are many, when, with such pleasure, with such joy, you will enter ports seen for the first time”. This is great inspiration on this hot summer day. It speaks to ease and joy and newness. Now that’s a journey worth taking. Happy travels, Chris.

  • Del says:

    The journey is going well now that I “set out” on it. It is amazing what happens when you actually put your life into action. Hope you’re enjoying Burkina Faso & Mali.

  • tom says:

    I’m off to the United States for the first time in August. I’ll be flying to LA, spending a week there, then flying on to Wisconsin. From there I’ll be Route 66ing it back to LA. I haven’t worked out how to get the car back to Wisconsin yet, but after that I’m flying out to Costa Rica to work for a bit. So a long road ahead of me.

  • beeandmundy says:

    A wonderful blog. The journey, not the arrival matters – as Leonard Woolf said in his eponymous autobiography. Thanks for this inspiring message.

  • heather says:

    Being from Ithaca (New York), this really stuck out for me and made me happy. After a terrible break up, I’m packing up my apartment in Baltimore, moving everything back to Ithaca, and then starting a road trip across the country. I’ll return to Ithaca when my trip is over… whenever that may be. I’m looking forward to the journey.

  • Andrea says:

    What a lovely reminder to enjoy the journey … so often we are in a rush to get there, do this, and finish that. We forget the point: to savor the here and now. The journey will end soon enough. Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem!

  • Maarten says:

    great poem and beautiful metaphor Chris! It also reminded me of sailing into the port of Ithaca (the greek island itself)literally. Having heard all the stories growing up, it was a very magical experience to visit the physical place I had heard about so many times. It not only deepened my experience of the island and the journey to it (not from Turkey, but only from an airport a few islands away, but still) but also of the epos itself. There’s just no substitute for going there! thanks for making me relive the memory, Chris!

  • Lach says:

    Goosebumps.

  • Sandy Mejia says:

    Totally loved it!!!

    Ithaca- as a goal
    Ithaca – as a place
    Ithaca – as a dream
    Ithaca – as the place where we all will open our eyes once we have closed in this world.

    Just enjoy the journey 🙂

  • Marina says:

    Hi,
    I just started following your blog in my google reader and I was scrolling through the older posts and saw this one…and it hit me because my father who passed away 4 years ago (and was a poet himself) love this poem. We read it at his deathbed and it was read again at his funeral…He truly lived his life that way and its something I aspire to…
    Thank you for the inspiration,
    Marina

  • James says:

    This is a great poem which I think forces us all to just push through with our owm journey. It’s true that we always overestimate the risks while underestimating our own abilities.

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