Parallel Journeys, Sadhu Priests and Stone Throwers
Photo: Sadhu Bridge, Delhi 1999 | Post: September 2016
Whenever we face a challenge, take on a new goal or step into uncertain territory, we undertake a parallel journey – one part being the practical journey and the other part the learning journey. Whilst both feed the other, one is invisible and often under-utilised and under-valued.
On my second day in Delhi, I met a Sadhu Priest sitting on a bridge. I took his photograph and in broken English he told me he was walking the length of India on a sacred pilgrimage. He had a small bag with him made from a white folded sheet and that was all. His practical journey was moving through and between towns and cities, finding food and finding places to rest. Parallel to this was his spiritual journey, which to me is part of the learning journey.
Put differently and applied to a goal, what we do to ‘get there’ is the practical journey and ‘who we become’ along the way is the learning journey. This is a very important principle in coaching and mentoring, and a good coach will place as much emphasis on the learning journey as the practical journey. Why? Because it’s the learning journey that grows a person’s capability and supports them to achieve more and potentially bigger goals in the future, or step-up with more confidence to meet challenge and face adversity.
After talking to the Sadhu Priest, I turned and began walking along the pavement down and off the bridge. I was now starting to make more sense of the traffic madness of the Delhi roads and feel more comfortable in a seemingly chaotic city that was hugely different to anything I’d experienced before. But then, and out of nowhere, a rock the size of a grapefruit hit me hard, squarely on the chest. A few inches higher and I suspect I’d have been out-cold and on the floor. I looked around to see where it had come from and who had thrown it, but I couldn’t figure it out. I was suddenly unnerved and my mind was wondering if this was an attempt to grab my camera. As I was to find out, this is a very real threat for someone travelling with camera gear and one that had me robbed on a train from Delhi to Varanasi a few days later.
In the same way that I switched from a comfortable mode to one of alert, to make the most of the parallel journey, we need to switch thinking mode from, ‘what will I do next?’ (practical) to, ‘what am I learning from this?’ (learning).
We can easily make more of our ‘learning journey’ and develop more from it, but we need to bring it to front-of-mind to do this.
Learning journey questions:
- What’s causing me to feel challenged by this?
- What am I holding onto that’s not useful?
- How else could I think about this, that’s more useful?
- How is this challenge growing my abilities?
- What’s more useful for me to focus on?
- What do I make more possible by achieving this?
All of these questions require self-awareness to bridge the space between the tangible (what is actually happening/the situation) and the intangible (our drivers, responses, mind set and emotions).
Applied to the Sadhu and the Stone Thrower, I can ask myself “what is it that inspired me about the Priest, and what can I learn from my response to being hit by a rock?” However I answer these questions, they go towards understanding myself better and help me measure and adjust my responses in the future, or make different decisions.
Find some unfamiliar territory, take on a new and tougher goal and seek to challenge yourself. And whilst you’re doing those things, ask yourself the learning journey questions. This way you can make the most of your own parallel journeys to learn more, achieve more and contribute more.
Images & Insights
Welcome. I’m combining images and insight to explore themes on leadership, give it a real context and illustrate how it’s expressed in many different ways in everyday life. Some posts are simply thought provokers, whilst others deep-dive with a big question and a touch of brain-science.
Camera to Coach
Prior to becoming a Leadership Specialist over a decade ago, I was a photographer. I travelled with my camera and met people living in very different worlds to our own. It taught me that there are many different faces of leadership, and it taught me to keep-it-real in the training room and place people’s own life experience at the centre of their learning.