January 18 is National Winnie the Pooh Day. A. A. Milne’s beloved hero has been a staple of many childhoods since it was written a hundred years ago, but its significance needn’t be relegated only to the young. Much of Pooh resonates spiritually with grownups as well as kids, by showing us the beauty of focusing on the journey rather than the end destination–the process, rather than the product.
Benjamin Hoff, the author of “The Tao of Pooh”, encourages us to consider the excitement of a child’s Christmas morning before and after the presents are opened: “The goal reached becomes Not So Much Fun. That doesn’t mean that the goals we have don’t count. They do, mostly because they cause us to go through the process, and it’s the process that makes us wise, happy, or whatever. But it’s really the process that’s important.”
In most stories set in the Hundred Acre Wood, there is no overarching or compelling plot, nothing that has to be done; on the contrary, often the goals that the characters set out to accomplish never come to pass, like Pooh and Piglet’s attempts to trap a Heffalump and Woozle, or the friends looking for the North Pole but never quite finding it.
But not achieving his goals doesn’t faze Pooh: when Pooh spends time trying to find a Woozle and ends up realizing that he isn’t going to be successful in tracking down a Woozle at all, he straightens and says, “Anyhow, it is nearly Luncheon Time.’ And he promptly traipses on home, happy and content.
It often is practical for us adults to focus on the end result of our goals–after all, bills have to be paid, groceries have to be bought, we must leave the house at a certain time to get to work. But such a mindset leads to a harried rushing around, constantly ruled by the clock.
In the Pooh world, such people are called Bisy Backsons–a person who is always on the move, must be doing something, and can’t settle down. Rabbit is the epitome of a Bisy Backson in the Hundred Acre Wood.
To focus on the journey, rather than the destination, is a more spiritual (rather than practical) thing: yes, we can measure our goals and tick off our accomplishments, but our journey is often more intangible.
Childhood is beautiful in part because it is a rare time when we humans are allowed to slow down, and that is part of what makes the story of Pooh so resonant with children and so nostalgic for adults.
In the Hundred Acre Wood, the characters go on unhurried walks, create adventures at their leisure and go to each other’s houses when they feel like it, not on a specific timetable. The most popular game is Pooh-sticks, which involves dropping sticks off the side of a bridge and seeing whose stick comes out on the other side first. Even the river in the Hundred Acre Wood recognizes the importance of enjoying life without haste and frazzle: “It said to itself, ‘There is no hurry. We shall get there someday.’ We can see the resemblance of many lazy childhood summers in these stories.
But this unhurried spontaneity is so difficult for us adults. Watch a child struggle to put on a pair of shoes when a parent is trying to get them out the door, and you can see how difficult it is for the nearby adult to not offer help or to just take the shoes and put them on the child, regardless if the child actually wanted help.
Watching a child take five minutes to complete a task that would take an adult five seconds can be categorically challenging, but we adults are so focused on the end product that we forget the joy and value of the process to the child and the triumphs of success that result from being allowed to take their time.
One of Pooh’s famous quotes is: “Well,’ said Pooh, ‘what I like best,’ and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
Hoff asks, “What could we call that moment before we begin to eat the honey? Some would call it anticipation, but we think it’s more than that. We would call it awareness. It’s when we become happy and realize it, if only for an instant. By Enjoying the Process, we can stretch that awareness out so that it’s no longer only a moment but covers the whole thing. Then we can have a lot of fun. When we take the time to enjoy our surroundings and appreciate being alive, we find that we have no time to be Bisy Backsons anymore. But that’s all right, because being Bisy Backsons is a tremendous waste of time.”
Perhaps there’s a time and a place to be a Bisy Backson–as adults, we do need to have jobs and keep doctor appointments and run errands. But Winnie the Pooh reminds us of the value of slowing down; of enjoying the process rather than always rushing to the end goal; of embracing and creating a space for stillness and peace, for ourselves and our children.
In honor of Winnie the Pooh day, find moments in your family’s life where you can focus on the process, rather than the product. Leave extra time in the morning to get out the door; block out an evening where you and your child have nothing on your schedule; let yourself spend a Saturday out in nature, collecting pebbles and dropping sticks off a bridge till you traipse home for a smackerel of honey.
Disclosure: Chelsea Devona graduated 2023 with her M. A. in Children’s Literature from EMU; A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh was a focal point of several of her research studies. This article is adapted from one of those works.