“Ithaka” and my learning journey

Reflecting on 40 years of teaching which have led me from Paris to Sydney, San Francisco, Mumbai, Beirut, Damascus, and other harbors, I am often brought back to the beautiful metaphor of Ithaka; a poem by Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy, based on Homer’s story of Odysseus sailing home again. No matter the challenges encountered along the way, something beyond duality kept him going. Homer’s journey lasted 10 years, but this poem has carried me through 40 years of my teaching journey – and continues to accompany and provide a welcome perspective to my every step.

Ithaka

As you set out for Ithaka
Hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Lestrygonians and Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon do not be afraid of them:
You’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.

Lestrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon, you won’t encounter them,
unless you bring them along, inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up, in front of you.

Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
With what gratitude, what joy,
you come into harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn again from those who know.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
So that you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her, you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
You will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Constantine Cavafy

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