Goal & Process: The Rock

Rogers ProcessA man was sleeping at night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and God appeared. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might.

This the man did, day after day. For many years he worked hard from dawn to dusk, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his strength. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, Satan decided to instill thoughts into the man’s mind such as: “You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t moved. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it!” Thus giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure, these thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man even more.

One day the man decided to open his heart to God:
“Lord, I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even moved that rock by half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

To this God responded compassionately:
“My friend, when I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now you come to me, with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are muscled, your back is stronger, your hands are hardened from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and firm. Through constant struggle you have grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to push and to exercise your faith and trust in my wisdom. This you have done.
I, my friend, will now move the rock.”

Perhaps the first thing you might think reading this story would be something like: What if God doesn’t move the rock in the end? What if the man keeps pushing the rock up to the end of his life?

Carl Rogers is seen as one of the most important psychotherapists who promoted the idea that we should focus on the process and not on our objectives. His ideas are widely used today in psychology, and a well-trained psychologist will probably try to focus you on the process of becoming stronger rather then on achieving your goal. It depends a great deal on your vision of your own existence. What would happen if you actually manage to move the rock? You will be satisfied for a day or two, you will celebrate, then move on to another, perhaps different kind of rock. Why? Because what really motivates you is the process, the main direction in your life, not the achievement of a goal.

Viktor Frankl is perhaps one of the most important psychotherapists who wrote about man’s quest for meaning. In fact, the challenge is to find your meaning, your purposes in life. He explains that you’re not actually finding meaning, but you decide to have a meaning. The man in the story decided that his meaning (sense) was to experience life, so he accepted God’s challenge. Alongside this process of experiencing life, he established a goal: to move the rock. It doesn’t really matter if the rock gets finally moved or not, since the process of pushing it is carried out.

In the light of the above paragraphs, we need to redefine the concept of success: we are successful when we do whatever we can in a given situation. If we did everything we could possibly do, just like the man with the rock, we’re winners. We were focused on the process, therefore we won. It doesn’t matter the result.

This definition of success comes into conflict with 2 visions.

The first one is the business world competing viewpoint: the world is divided into winners and losers, and the evaluation is done by objective facts: you did that or you failed to do that. The target was met or not. Period. In this case, you buy some dynamite and blow out the rock. OK, but what if the rock is the inability of your partner to love you? The rock is metaphorical: there are things in this world that you simply can’t do. A professional target is something rather small-sized, it’s about using your abilities to get things done. Just imagine that you are living the last day of your life and you’ll notice how everything gets resized and re-prioritized. You’ll perhaps see that one big rock was that fact that your lifetime is limited. And you were too caught up in the small professional games and failed to notice the whole.

The second conflicting vision comes from Eric Berne: a winner is someone who gets things done regardless the means used to do that. In other words, if you move the rock you’re a winner, if not, you’re a loser. You need some more info about Transactional Analysis to understand my statement… perhaps I’ll explain in a future article. The idea is that, as long as you’re trapped in a script, you see the world in a winner/loser framework. Once you get out of your inner scenario, your concern is not really winning, but freedom from your script. Funny thing is that the man with the rock seems to be a winner: he somehow made God move his rock, so he actually won. It doesn’t matter if it is you who does it or someone else does it for you; if you get that thing done, you’re a winner. This is the dazzling transactional logic.

In the end I will highlight another perspective of the story, a psychodynamic one (Positive Psychotherapy). There seem to be 3 characters in the story: God, Satan and the man. In fact, the entire story happens inside each of us. The voice of God is the voice of our Faith – the faith that life has a meaning, and the faith that we’re doing the right thing for us, for our experience, for our life. The voice of Satan is the voice of Doubt – what if this is all bullshit? what if everything is a chaos? And so on. We are in between. Sometimes we listen to our Faith, sometimes we listen to our Doubts. For some of us, God never comes to move the rock. This is one of the main aspects of our human existence, one of the main psychological conflicts. And we must choose what voice to listen; we have the freewill.


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