What Does It Mean To Be A People of Vision?
There’s one quote we all need to remember this month. The author is unknown, but they’ve given us a great gift. Here it is: “What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it is supposed to be.”
It’s not the place one usually starts when it comes to the topic of vision. Most often, conversations about vision tell us to hold on tightly to our pictures of how it is supposed to be, not be suspicious of them. We’re encouraged to “stay true to your vision.” We’re told, “Without vison, the people perish.” We’re warned that without a clear vision, we’re vulnerable to whatever winds blow. And let’s be clear: all of that is true. A clear vision anchors us. It gives us direction and hope. It is, indeed, a precious thing to which we should hold fast.
But as our quote of the month makes clear, all that holding fast is also dangerous. In short, no vision is perfect. They are all flawed and limited. Every vision distorts even as it clarifies. On top of that, life changes. Some doors close, new ones open. If you stay true to the vision of what’s behind that closed door, you’ll just end up spending your life banging your head against the wall. And as Unitarian Universalists, we also know that one vision isn’t enough. As clear as our perspectives may be, we all know by now that none is complete. To see the entire view, we need everyone’s vantage point.
So clearly being a people of vision is hard work. Knowing when to stay true to your vision and when to let go is a very tricky task. Figuring out when to keep your vision front and center and when to de-center it and make room for others intimidates the best of us.
Yet, here’s the thing. If danger and hard work dominate the tone of this month, we will have done ourselves a disservice. Besides being dangerous, holding tightly to one single vision is also just no fun! We don’t just have to see things from others’ points of view; we get to see things from others’ points of view! Learning about the visions of others isn’t just a way of making up for your flawed perspective. It’s also an invitation to see the world anew! And while having to let go of precious visions and dreams is painful, it’s also exhilarating to evolve and grow.
And maybe that’s the most important vision of all this month. Not that of a stern-faced people sticking to their single vision through thick and thin. But that of a playful people exchanging visions and helping each other encounter new and larger worlds. A people who don’t just ask each other “Are you staying true to your vision?” but who also say with a smile, “What new vision is calling to you?”
Our Spiritual Exercises
Your Personal Vision Statement: Write It!
We’ve all heard of companies writing vision statements, but we rarely write one for ourselves. Use this month to fix that. Simple, clear and memorable statements of vision inspire us, help clarify our choices and motivate us to get out of bed each morning. Without them, we wander. With them, we choose and shape our own path. It’s one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves.
And here’s the great thing: it’s not really that hard to give ourselves this gift. You don’t have to make it complicated. In fact, the best personal vision statements are short and simple, even one-sentence. You can also make it less intimidating by narrowing the timeline. For instance, instead of trying to write a vision of what you will make of your entire life, just focus in on what you want to accomplish this year. For instance, you could just make the exercise a matter of answering one or both of the following questions: “How do I want to be different when this church year comes to an end?” and/or “What do I want to have done when this church year ends?”
Here’s some more support. If you want to take the single sentence approach, check out these videos:
If you want to dive in more deeply, here’s a great road map:
As you are writing your statement, run it by those close to you. Ask for their reactions. Something insightful will surely arise from those conversations.
Come to your group ready to share your one, two or twenty sentence vision statement, and what you learned from the journey of writing it.
Your Personal Vision Statement: Visualize It!
Some of us are visual learners, so instead of writing your personal vision statement, create a visual representation of it. This popular technique is called vision-boarding. Here are three great sites that explain what a vision board is and hoe to go about creating one:
Just like we suggest in exercise A, consider focusing your vision board on your vision for this year. Maybe even consider updating your group about your journey with it as the year progresses! Another idea is to include your relationship partner or the entire family. How cool it would be if all of our families took the time to create a “family vision”?!
You know your small group will want to see what you created, so be sure to bring your Vision Board to your group to accompany your story about what you learned while creating it.
Your Personal Vision Statement: Wear It!
Ok, so the idea of writing or visualizing your personal vision statement doesn’t grab you. Well then what about those personal vision statements you wear on your sleeve- well chest and/or back really. Yes, that’s right: your favorite t-shirt. Almost all of us have them: a t-shirt that makes a statement of our deepest beliefs. Implicit in each of these is a vision of the good life.
So dig out that “Vision T-Shirt” and bring it into your group, along with the story of when and why you bought it and what adventures you’ve had while wearing it.
The goal of this exercise is, of course, to take some time for deeper reflection on what it means to declare your vision to world. It’s never simple to be public with our hopes, dreams and visions. It’s also a great joy when our t-shirts enable us to connect with like-minded souls and know we are not alone. Take some time to think about how much these simple articles of clothing have meant to you. There’s a reason most of them are torn, ratty and old. We don’t want to let go of them in the hopes that their message won’t let go of us!
p.s. check out examples of some “vision t-shirts” here:
Your Vision Mentor
Our visions of the possible and the good are most often given to us, or at least greatly shaped by others. They come as gifts that are cultivated, inspired and midwifed by those we consider visionaries or mentors. So, who are your vision mentors? What poet, preacher, spiritual teacher, artist, activist or musician helps you hold on to your vision of the possible and the good?
Use this month to honor them and refresh their vision in your mind’s eye. Re-read the book they wrote. Pin up your favorite quote or picture of theirs. Memorize their poem so you can more easily keep it close. Whatever your method, find a way to keep them front and center this month, paying attention to new ways they are calling to you or propping up your hope and commitment.
Come to your group with the book, quote, poem or piece of art you’ve chosen. Share how they became your “vision mentor” and the impact they have made on your life.
Pick a Quote to Expand Your Vision
Our Recommended Resources are full of quotes about what it means to be a person of vision. There’s likely to be at least one of them that opens you to a new way of thinking about the role and call of vision in your life. So as your practice of the month, set aside some time to go through them and meditate on them until you find the one that most expands your understanding of vision. After you’ve found it, consider printing it out and carrying it with you or pinning it up so you can continue to reflect on it throughout the month. Come to your group ready to share where the journey led you.
As always, don’t treat these questions like “homework” or a list that needs to be covered in its entirety. Instead, simply pick the one question that speaks to you most and let it lead you where you need to go. The goal is to figure out what being a part of a people of vision means for you and your daily living. So, which question is calling to you?
Which one contains “your work”? Where is it trying to lead you?
- What vision has been with you since you were a child? How has it both changed and remained the same?
- Who are your vision mentors? What poet, preacher, spiritual teacher, artist, activist or musician helps you hold on to your vision of the possible and the good? What practice do you use to keep their guidance and inspiration in front of you?
- What vision do you want to pass on to your kids, grandkids or those who look to you for guidance?
- How is the season of fall a time of vision for you? How does this season of harvest and turning of leaves allow you to “see” differently?
- How might it be a gift to lean into your near-sightedness? How might vision be calling you to take a break from the long view and gratefully gaze at the treasure right in front of you?
- What might it mean to use a new form of perception to connect with the sacred? Many of us lean on our visual sight and analytical thinking to perceive and engage the holy. But how might listening or touch open an entirely new door? What about allowing your intuition to help you “see”? Or letting the muse of creative expression open up a new horizon? Many also suggest that vision is clearest when we look out with a “beginner’s mind.” What new form of “vision” is calling to you?
- You see the beauty around you, but are you taking it in?
- Wayne Dyer writes, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” What in your life needs another look? What if you started with the things you are most sure about?
- Is your vision of how your life is “supposed to be” in your way? Could clear vision require letting go of the visions to which you currently cling?
- Have you ever had a “vision?” A spiritual revelation, mystical experience or premonition? Have you shared it easily? Or kept it to yourself?
- “Once there were three bricklayers. Each one of them was asked what they were doing. The first man answered gruffly, ‘I’m laying bricks.’ The second man replied, ‘I’m putting up a wall.’ But the third man said enthusiastically and with pride, ‘I’m building a cathedral.’” Are you sure you are just laying bricks? What “brick” or “wall” is asking you to see a “cathedral” in it?
- What if you made room for one long, uninterrupted stare at a beautiful thing?
- Loren Eiseley reminds us, “It is a commonplace of all religious thought, even the most primitive, that the [person] seeking visions and insight must go apart from [their] fellows and live for a time in the wilderness.” What might “stepping apart and going into the wilderness” look like in your life?
- Rose Nguyen writes, “I sometimes get so caught up with my big dreams… that I forget to recognize all the little dreams I’ve made come true!… We can get so caught up looking at where we should be, where we aren’t, and where others are in comparison that we forget to appreciate where we’ve been and where we’ve come from.” How might looking back on how far you’ve come be a blessing to you this month?
- Is the speed and pace of your daily routine blurring your vision? Could the secret to finding clear sight be slowing down?
- What’s your question? Your question may not be listed above. As always, if the above questions don’t include what life is asking from you, spend the month listening to your days to hear it.
Recommended Resources for Personal Exploration & Reflection
The following resources are not required reading. We will not analyze these pieces in our group. Instead they are here to companion you on your journey this month, get your thinking started and open you to new ways of thinking about what it means to be part of a people of vision.
Definition & Word Roots
The act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be.
From Old French vision: presence, sight; view, look, appearance; dream, supernatural sight.
We are limited, not by our abilities, but by our vision.
The soul never thinks without a picture.
We are here to abet creation and to witness it, to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach, but we notice each other’s beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.
The most beautiful things are always hidden.
Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.
Vision looks inward and becomes duty. Vision looks outward and becomes aspiration. Vision looks upward and becomes faith.
Rabbi Stephen Wise
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
Once there were 3 bricklayers. Each one of them was asked what they were doing.
The first man answered gruffly, “I’m laying bricks.” The second man replied, “I’m putting up a wall.” But the third man said enthusiastically and with pride, “I’m building a cathedral.”
Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
Your outlook on life is a direct reflection on how much you like yourself.
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed vision. Visions don’t change, they are only refined. Plans rarely stay the same and are scrapped or adjusted as needed. Be stubborn about the vision, but flexible with your plan.
John C. Maxwell
It is a commonplace of all religious thought, even the most primitive, that the [person] seeking visions and insight must go apart from [their] fellows and live for a time in the wilderness.
All human activity can be viewed as an interplay between two contrary but equally essential factors — vision and repetitive routine… When one factor prevails at the expense of the other, the consequences are often undesirable. If we are bound to a repetitive cycle of work that deprives us of our freedom to inquire and understand things for ourselves, we soon stagnate, crippled by the chains of routine. If we are spurred to action by elevating ideals but lack the discipline to implement them, we may eventually find ourselves wallowing in idle dreams or exhausting our energies on frivolous pursuits. It is only when accustomed routines are infused by vision that they become springboards to discovery rather than deadening ruts. And it is only when inspired vision gives birth to a course of repeatable actions that we can bring our ideals down from the ethereal sphere of imagination to the somber realm of fact…
The great tragedy of speed as an answer to the complexities and responsibilities of existence is that very soon we cannot recognize anything or anyone who is not traveling at the same velocity as we are. We see only those moving in the same whirling orbit and only those moving with the same urgency. Soon we begin to suffer a form of amnesia, caused by the blurred vision of velocity itself, where those germane to our humanity are dropped from our minds one by one. We start to lose sight of any colleagues who are moving at a slower pace, and we start to lose sight of the bigger, slower cycles that underlie our work… Just as seriously, we begin to leave behind the parts of our own selves that limp a little, the vulnerabilities that actually give us color and character. We forget that our sanity is dependent on a relationship with longer, more patient cycles extending beyond the urgencies.
David Whyte, on how our vision is limited by speed
We’re always talking about how we should live in the now and “be present.” We shame ourselves for looking back at the past or into the future… It’s a beautiful thing to be mindful of the present, but don’t forget to honor yourself, your past, and how far you’ve come. Odds are, it’s further than you think… I realized that I sometimes get so caught up with my big dreams… that I forget to recognize all the little dreams I’ve made come true!… We can get so caught up looking at where we should be, where we aren’t, and where others are in comparison that we forget to appreciate where we’ve been and where we’ve come from.
If you don’t look back, the future never happens…
When you look deeply into your anger, you will see that the person you call your enemy is also suffering. As soon as you see that, the capacity of accepting and having compassion for them is there.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Our picture of ourselves has become too grand, we have lost the vision of a reality separate from ourselves.
Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good
If you sense there must be more, there is more.
Earth’s crammed with heaven.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
Roald Dahl, The Minpins.
What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it is supposed to be.
My barn having burned down I can now see the moon.
Full poem with reading found at https://onbeing.org/blog/sweet-darkness/
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you…
Turning to One Another
Full poem found here: https://101friends.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/margaret-wheatley-turning-to-one-another/
Ask: “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.
Notice what you care about.
Assume that many others share your dreams…
Full poem found at http://www.ayearofbeinghere.com/2014/10/katie-pratt-beyond-words.html
When I look into your eyes,
I see your spirit.
When I notice your feet,
I see the journey you’re taking…
Would you put down your logical way of thinking for just a moment to see the hidden spirit glowing in you…
Monet Refuses the Operation
Full poem found here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52577/monet-refuses-the-operation-56d231289e6db
Read by author here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsisj0JOO98
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
The Opening of Eyes
Full poem found at https://cslcv.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-opening-of-eyes-by-david-whyte.html
Life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.
It is the opening of eyes long closed…
There is something dying in our society, in our culture, and there’s something dying in us individually. And what is dying is the willingness to be in denial. And that is extraordinary. The willingness to be in denial is dying in a meaningful number of us, the tipping point. It’s always been happening, and when it happens in enough of us, in a short enough period of time, at the same time, then you have a tipping point, and the culture begins to shift.
Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams
Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.”
Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.
When Night Has Ended
Jewish Rabbinical Tale
A more extended version here: https://www.facebook.com/littlefreepantry/posts/1365473406860897
A rabbi asked his students, “How do we know when the night has ended, and the day has begun?”
One student replied, “When I can tell a goat from a donkey.”
“No,” answered the rabbi.
Another said, “When I can tell a palm tree from a fig.”
“No,” answered the rabbi again.
“Well, then what is the answer?” his students pressed him.
“Only when you look into the face of every man and every woman and see your brother and your sister,” said the rabbi. “Only then have you seen the light. All else is still darkness.”
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Proverbs 29:18, the King James Version
Songs and Music
I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash) –
Cover by Haeda: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUUcQ3CdGi8
Cover by Grace VanderWaal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcCp7488puc
Cover by Klapa Sinj & Iva Ajduković: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P89PlNkk0eY
Beautiful Vision (Van Morrison)
Beautiful vision, stay with me…
One Day (with No Woman No Cry mash up)
Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise
The Avett Brothers –
There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
There was a dream and one day I could see it,
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
The World Is Ours
Aloe Blacc X David Correy –
I had an epiphany one night
Looking at the endless star filled sky
The world is ours…
A Better Life
close your eyes
And create yourself a better life
Let the wind blow through your hair
Let the music take you there
And make a better life
A better life
Every time you stargaze
The whole world
Is lying at your feet…
Videos & Online
How to See the World Like Malcolm Gladwell
“There is a point in every child’s development where he begins to realize that the content of his parents’ minds is different than that in his own, says author Malcolm Gladwell. Yet adults often forget this fundamental realization, says Gladwell. “We always fall back on this notion that the rest of the world, their personalities and their minds, are set up the way ours are.” In his Big Think interview, Gladwell, the author of bestsellers “The Tipping Point,” “Outliers,” and “Blink,” talks about how this way of looking at the world has informed his career as a writer…”
A Different Perspective
What does it take to no longer see a threat?
Personality Test: What Do You See First and What It Reveals About You
It’s unclear how scientific this really is. But it’s sure fun!
Painting With a Different Kind of Sight
After losing his sight, John developed a new way to share his vision by using touch, music, and emotion to paint stunningly colorful works of art. For those who thought that painting was only for the sighted, John Bramblitt is here to prove you wrong.
A New View of the Moon (and us)
A prosecutor’s vision for a better justice system
An engineer’s vision for tiny forests everywhere
A realistic vision of world peace
A queer vision of love and marriage
Tiq Milan and Kim Katrin Milan
Danger – Seeing White, Part 11 (Challenging the vision of black-on-white violence)
Looking at the world from a different perspective
Charts and maps that will change your view on the world.
Learn more about “Darshan” (The Hindu practice of “divine sight”)
Standing in the Shadow of Hope (Committed to the struggle without a vision of hope)
Austin Channing Brown
Excerpt: I cannot hope in whiteness. I cannot hope in white people or white institutions or white America. I cannot hope in lawmakers or politicians, and I cannot hope even in pastors or ministries or mission statements. I cannot hope in misquoted wisdom from MLK, superficial ethnic heritage celebrations, or love that is aloof. I cannot hope even in myself. I am no one’s savior. The longer this list gets, the more elusive hope becomes. This is the cool place from where I demand a love that matters. In this place, I see the sun setting behind me, its light as far away as the stars, and I let the limitations of hope settle over me. I possess not the strength of hope but its weakness, its fragility, its ability to die. Because I must demand anyway. It is my birthright. It is the culmination of everything my ancestors endured, of all that my parents taught me, of the Blackness that rescued me. How dare I consider surrender simply because I want the warmth of the sun? This warmth has not been promised to me. My faith does not require it.
Coping When Your Life Vision Doesn’t Go to Plan
Excerpt: “What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it is supposed to be.” ~Unknown. I expected to get into college. I expected to have a career after a lot of hard work, and that one day I’d meet a nice man and we would get married. We would buy our first house together and start a family, picking out a crib and the baby’s “going home” outfit and organizing a drawer full of diapers. We’d have more babies and go on vacations and grow old together. Spoiler alert: Life was only that simple until the universe pulled the rug out from beneath my feet. It was an ordinary school day when my life fell apart. These sorts of things usually happen on ordinary days.
Would your life be dramatically improved if you were utterly deluded?
Full article found at https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2012/02/would-your-life-be-dramatically-improved-if-y/
“Evidence shows that people who hold pervasive positive illusions about themselves, their abilities, and their future prospects are mentally healthier, happier and better liked than people who lack such illusions…”
Visionaries: People & Ideas to Change Your Life
Jay Walljasper & Jon Spayde
On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation
Read a wonderful essay on the book here: https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/08/12/on-looking-eleven-walks-with-expert-eyes/
“Alexandra Horowitz shows us how to see the spectacle of the ordinary—to practice, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put it, “the observation of trifles.” Structured around a series of eleven walks, On Looking features experts on a diverse range of subjects, including an urban sociologist, a geologist, a physician, and a sound designer. Horowitz also walks with a child and a dog to see the world as they perceive it. What they see, how they see it, and why most of us do not see the same things reveal the startling power of human attention and… what it means to be an expert observer…”
A People’s History of the United States
Want to change your vision of US history?
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” – from the prologue.
Essay about this classic’s relevance for today: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/ralph-ellisons-invisible-man-as-a-parable-of-our-time
Documentary of the visionary designer but really about seeing the world through your own distinct eyes.
The Social Network
Field of Dreams
Baseball film starring Kevin Costner
“Families can talk about dreams. How do you know when to follow a vision that seems crazy or foolish? What thoughts go into weighing the risks of certain choices? Is there a way to know for sure whether an idea is a good one?” – Common Sense Media review
Movies and TV about Visions of the Future
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