Stephan Joppich

The goal of action is contemplation

published7 months ago
3 min read

This newsletter is a fortnightly meditation on living a more intentional, fulfilled life.
Every edition includes exclusive updates, intriguing ideas, and meaningful content recommendations.

Today: The ultimate goal of action and how to gain new insights

Hey there!

I'm on the road again, visiting parts of Europe I've always wanted to see but never got around to. Currently I'm in Copenhagen. Next, I'll work my way up to Sweden, and then Norway before returning to Germany.

Originally, I wanted to write more during this trip. But pretty soon, I noticed I can't have the best of both worlds. What's the point of seeing marvelous cities if I spend half of the time sitting in front of my laptop? And so, I'm only doing the essentials: freelance work, a weekly blog post, and, of course, this newsletter.

That's why today's idea is all about taking a step back, pausing, and acting with purpose.

Idea: The goal of action is contemplation

I. Novelty is a tool for self-discovery

One of the most astounding parts of travel is the insane amount of inputs and impressions you experience daily. New people, new foods, new sights, new architecture, new cultures, new habits, new everything.

In this sense, it's much easier to reinvent yourself while traveling. Every city is a fresh start, an invitation to be a new version of yourself. Every building you see, every person you meet -- these things are templates to discover who you are, who you want to become, and what you want out of life.

But there's a caveat.

All this business, all this action doesn't magically light up the metaphorical light bulb inside your head. You need a counterweight. And that's contemplation.

Novelty and exploration are only useful when you pair them with moments of stillness and solitude. It's a yin-yang relationship -- just like you can only listen when you stop talking.

II. Action is meaningless without contemplation

In the past two weeks, I walked through the majestic, bustling streets of Paris. Then I headed to Belgium, where I had the best fries and waffles of my entire life. I also talked to dozens of strangers, learned about people's life journeys, and caught up with old friends.

And these things are cool. But taken by themselves, they taught me nothing.

Instead, the good moments and insights only came when I penned down my thoughts into my journal late at night. When I woke at sunrise and went for a run. Or in moments like the one I'm experiencing right now: I'm sitting in the hostel's bar, black coffee is steaming next to me, the shutters are rustling in the soft Scandinavian summer wind.

It's not the hustle and bustle of a trip (or any other endeavor) that gives you the aha-moments. Rather it's the aftershock of contemplation. Life-changing insights don't happen through doing. They erupt when reflecting on doing.

Put simply, the goal of action is contemplation.

Now, let's take this one step further: What if action and contemplation are actually the same thing?

III. You're already there

On my trip, I've met a lot of people who told me they travel to "find themselves." And honestly, I can relate. These people believe in a concept that used to dictate my own life: conditional happiness. It's the idea that once you get somewhere, once you do or attain something, then -- and only then -- you'll be happy.

But, of course, once you get "there," you'll want to get somewhere else. And so, the only way to short-circuit this fallacy is realizing that you don't need to go anywhere. You're already there.

Action and contemplation merge when you stop acting frantically to attain something and instead, act for the sheer sake of acting. It reminds me of a poignant quote from Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist:

"'I'm alive,' he said to the boy, as they ate a bunch of dates one night, with no fires and no moon. 'When Iā€™m eating, that's all I think about. If I'm on the march, I just concentrate on marching. If I have to fight, it will be just as good a day to die as any other.'"

With this in mind, the journey becomes the destination. "There" becomes "here." Action becomes contemplation. And contemplation becomes action.

So, don't find yourself. Find presence instead.

Content: Zen Bones

I discovered parts of this idea when listening to a mind-bending speech by Alan Watts. He attributes the quote, "The goal of action is contemplation" to Aristotle, but unfortunately, I couldn't find the original source.

However, it does make sense because Aristotle deemed contemplation as an end to reaching Eudaimonia (happiness or fulfillment).

Anyway, here's the speech. You'll also find it wherever you can listen to podcasts. If you prefer reading, you can check out the transcript here.

Something to think about

Another quote I love on this topic by Blaise Pascal:

"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

He said that in 1670, but the message is more relevant today than ever. We're always busy doing something that we forget to pause, to be present, to contemplate.

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Until next time,



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