The Journey Together

It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The good life is a process, not a state of being.
It is a direction, not a destination.
- Carl Rogers

If you don’t have the qualities of stability, peace, and freedom inside of you, then no matter what you do, you cannot help the world. It is not about “doing” something; it is about “being” something - being peace, being hope, being solid. Every action will come out of that, because peace, stability, and freedom always seek a way to express themselves in action. That is the spiritual dimension of our reality.
- Thich Nhat Hanh


American culture seems perpetually obsessed with the destination. We thrive upon the voracious frenzy for the presumed prize at the end of our efforts. Emerson suggests a different orientation.

A recent experience within Chrysalis accentuated a paradigm shift in my perception of what matters most in a collaborative community, aligning more closely with Emerson’s insight. The path chosen in that Chrysalis experience reflected my earlier observations in the Quaker tradition that were radically distinct from the approach I had followed for decades as a trial attorney. 

In the trial lawyer worldview, it's all about the result: the destination. Did you win the trial? Did you settle the case successfully? Did the opposing party capitulate to your demands? The lawyer, the client and the other participants seem to care only about the harvest and not the cultivation. The entire adversarial system operates on the premise that a sometimes distasteful process of total combat leads to the correct result – justice. The same orientation often prevails in American business, politics and sports. There is an unyielding emphasis upon the “bottom line,” success, achievement, winning, and the ends justifying the means. 

My encounter with Quakerism radically altered my perspective.

At the age of 40, I decided to migrate spiritually from my lifelong religious home, the Episcopal Church. After some searching, I ended up at the Quaker Meeting in Richmond, which has no minister and thus relies upon the congregation to conduct all aspects church operations. I joined a committee of eight devoted to one aspect of the Meeting’s affairs.

The Quaker decision-making methodology came as an immediate shock to my established protocol that accentuated outcome above all else. No decision can be made in the Quaker setting until a consensus or a “spirit of the group” arises. The group must do whatever it takes to attain that degree of unity. To me, this required endless discussions - or “threshing” as they called it - of even the most minute elements of a community issue. I was completely triggered and reactive to this process that seemed exhausting, interminable and grossly inefficient. How were we ever going to be able to decide or accomplish anything? Why were we wasting time on an issue when six of the eight committee members clearly agreed upon the path forward? 

After months of wallowing in my own reactivity and impatience at the meetings, however, a powerful insight arose. Certainly, these Quakers wanted to get things done and effectively operate their Meeting, but that was not where they invested their primary attention. They treated committee gatherings as a spiritual exercise just as sacred as Sunday worship. They cared more about the process of decisions than the result. The quality of the relationships and the attendant interactions prevailed over efficiency and the “right” outcome. They listened deeply to each other. They sincerely honored the disparate perspectives of committee members. They sought to leave ego and pride outside the door. Discussions seemed more honest, authentic, and vulnerable. I typically departed the meetings feeling heard and experiencing an embodied sense of intimate fellowship.

This experience was an epiphany for me. It illuminated a completely different paradigm from my outcome–oriented professional emphasis. It awakened in me the importance of the present moment, existing relationships, fairness, compassion and the emphasis upon “what matters most” in the midst of my endeavors.

This dynamic recently manifested in a beautiful way at Chrysalis. The Board and Staff were considering a new initiative that would have a profound impact on the organization. A decisive majority of decision-makers were emphatically in support of the initiative and sought immediate implementation. They had compelling and persuasive reasons for their enthusiasm. Yet a handful of the group felt the decision process had been rushed and that other options should be considered. Exploration of these options would take time and effort, and potentially threatened the majority plan.

Rather than move immediately to the result sought by the majority, leadership decided to engage in a collaborative effort respecting the concerns of the minority group. This took time and was not universally accepted by the majority group. However, by the end of the process two months later, consensus emerged as the Chrysalis Board voted unanimously in favor of the original initiative. The minority group felt they had been heard and their views considered, and their observations about the initiative and the process were a valued part of the conversation.

What was instructive for me were the feelings that lingered after this process. The path chosen may have been less efficient, less decisive, and may have agitated certain members of the majority, but in the end, there was a felt sense of mutual respect, compassion, fairness, and kinship. The group needed to move forward and did so, but there was a recognition that the nature of the process and the enduring relationships of the participants were worthy of time, attention, and respect. The deliberations were strengthened by the disparate perspectives of all the members. This, to me, was a sacred endeavor.

A collaborative process of this nature requires patience and a more mindful approach than the typical American process, focused on productivity and outcome. It requires setting an intention to bring compassion, respect and kindness into each moment of deliberation or preparation. It repeatedly calls up the question: What is of ultimate concern in this moment with these colleagues engaged in this mutual endeavor? It aspires to the union of the finite and the infinite, the divine and the ordinary. It seeks to bring the sacred into our mundane affairs - perhaps a more weighty, lasting, and meaningful aspiration than our usual focus upon worldly ambitions.

Aubrey Ford has been a practicing trial lawyer for forty years, and retains occasional obligations as father of grown-up sons, Aubrey and Billy. In January, he commences a two-year mindfulness meditation teacher certification program with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. He serves as President of the Board at THE INNERWORK CENTER.

Elizabeth Smartt