Wise Words – Three Keys to a Rich Spiritual Journey from Ken Kesey

Uncertainty, belonging and hope on the spiritual journey.

“Since we don’t know where we’re going, we have to stick together in case someone gets there.”

Ken Kesey


This quote from the original merry prankster is more than a quip.  It calls out important signposts on the spiritual journey.  The quote is funny because of the illogical twist of ending up in a place we didn’t know about.  But underneath its whimsy, this short sentence points to three psychological structures we all struggle with.

First, there is the admission that we don’t know where we’re going.  In a world where we are taught that foresight, knowledge and competence are required for success, this is a bit unnerving.  In one sense, this statement induces anxiety because it admits that the deepest parts of what we’re seeking may be unknowable and that we have little control in the process.  Why, then, we might ask, are we investing so much of ourselves in the endeavor? 

But in another sense, the admission is freeing.  Kesey states the truth out loud, relieving us of the burden of having to know.  It’s a false premise that we need to craft a specific goal statement before we start.  We feel the urge to grow, a yearning to move in the direction of truth, and we pick a direction.  We’ll fill out the contours as we go, learning along the way.  If we drop our false bravado, we remember that the place we’re going, by it’s nature, is not definable.

Second, we are told that we have to stick together.  If we are on a fool’s errand, let’s at least proceed in the foolish company of those who share our yearning.  Admitting our uncertainty to each other allows us to relax.  The uncertainty of each is joined by all.  We share a vulnerability as well as a vision and that sharing forms a bond that fills our need for belonging.

Kesey knows that the camaraderie of belonging bolsters our spirits.  It gives us the energy to continue when the isolation of walking alone might have us abandon the search.  The consolations of friendship provide a salve that lets us bear many wounds. 

Third, we are sticking together because we hold a longing that we will get there.  We don’t yet fully know what the “there” is, but we believe we’ll recognize it when we arrive.  We anticipate that truth will be revealed by the act of stumbling upon it and that our discovery will lead to something more than we could have articulated when we started. 

This is an understated expression of hope, a faith that “there” can be found.  Our uncertainty and our belonging are vested in a belief that our yearning is justified, that the search is vague or veiled but not in vain.

All of us struggle with these three psychological dynamics:  a craving for certainty, a need for belonging and a desire for hope.  Kesey tackles all three in a concise package with a punch line to boot. 

Reflect for a moment on what we lose in those moments when we hold rigidly to our certainties, avoid companionship, or retreat from hope to the imagined protection of cynicism.  Kesey invites us to take a psychological stance that is be open, curious, vulnerable, hopeful, and centered in relationship.  How much more do we gain by following his advice?

How do you engage each of these aspects in your own journey?

  • What do you feel you know for certain and where do you “not know where you’re going?”
  • Where is your tribe, those with whom you “have to stick together?”
  • What is the shape and texture of the final arrival you are hoping for?

I’d love to know your thoughts.  Leave a comment in the box below. 

Photo by Nancy Hoyt Belcher, Alamy Stock Photo

4 Replies to “Wise Words – Three Keys to a Rich Spiritual Journey from Ken Kesey”

  1. I love this quote and the ideas you have attached to it. It is very timely. I am working on a new book about community. Truly, this is a time we all need to stick together!

  2. Thank you so much, Steve.

    I enjoyed the reminder that I actually enjoy reminding myself (and others) that the one sure thing is we don’t know what we don’t know until we know it.

    Indeed, this is one reason why I warm to the first Edgewalker Skill (Dr Judi Neal) – Sensing the Future, explained in my words as considering feedforward as we bring intuition into play alongside the tangiable, such as feedback, facts, figures, research, et al.

    I also enjoyed the stretch of your vocabulary, Steve, peppered with words not used so often – like camararderie.

    I love this word, so fitting at the centre and the edge of community.

    I often use it – and notice a ‘felt shift’ in the room when I do. Especially when I coin something like ‘corporate camaraderie’ when collaboration is the topic. Who doesn’t like to like collaboration and community….but who really lives them….?

    @MarkSchaefer – do feel free to reach out for any exploration around community. I have / am ‘talking’ #communityeconomics #communitycapital, and more.

    1. Susan, it is wonderful to hear from you and I am glad you liked the post. Yes, ease in the middle of uncertainty is a key skill to acquire. And I know you and Judi in the Edgewalker world are keen to sensing the future.

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