Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

What the Vision Does

--by Peter Senge (Nov 30, 2009)

If your deeper intention is an inseparable part of how you are, it is not capable of attachment. 

You can seek to accomplish your intention.  You live out your intention.  It is like the wind, the life force from which your energy and determination arises, whereas your vision is a particular destination you want to reach.

So, as best I can understand, the heart of the dynamic of being truly committed and nonattached is to anchor in your deeper intention and focus your energies on realizing your vision, while at the same time knowing that the vision is, at best, a reflection of your deeper intention.

It is possible to be truly committed and not attached.  Indeed, it is essential to developing our mastery in the creative process.  For years we have expressed this basic idea as the principle.  "It's not what the vision is, it's what the vision does."  In other words, rather than obsess about realizing my vision, consider it as a force for change, a way of aligning my actions with nature's unfolding.  When you operate this way, what happens may not be exactly as you imagined it in your vision, but what happens would otherwise not have happened.  You could hold a vision of a genuine perfection in some domain and, although you might never realize that vision, you might also achieve things that would have never been achieved otherwise.  It's not what the vision is, it's what the vision does.

In this spirit, pursuing a vision is a way to live in harmony with your deeper ineffable intention.  In this sense, vision is a tool for orienting our energies and effort around who we really are.  But when we obsess about whether or not our vision is being achieved, we confused the animating force behind our being with an idea created by our mind.

--Peter Senge, from a dialogue with Charles Holmes

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Previous Reflections:

On Dec 1, 2009 Kat wrote:

I like his distinctions between intention and vision...

On Dec 1, 2009 Tiger Lily wrote:

On Dec 2, 2009 Dale Ottley wrote:

Treat everyone the way that you'd like to be treated. 

On Dec 2, 2009 Bianca wrote:

Well said, huh?

On Dec 5, 2009 elizabeth meier wrote:

II am not receiving my chicken soup for the soul anymore, any reason why I;m not . thank you Elizabeth Meier

On Dec 5, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

This was a powerful piece!

I am reminded of a monk who I asked for advice over a lunch visit. He was silent. Then, we walked up a hill and meditated. After the meditation, he looked at me, and said, "Since you asked for advice, here's what came to me." He went on give me three pieces of advice.

First, the theory of burnout. Most people cannot separate themselves from the projects (or visions), and so when the project fails, they feel it is their own failure. This is a disaster, and causes burnout. People have no energy to move ahead with life. It is vital that we never identify ourselves with our projects. We do not exist for a project/vision. The project/vision exists so we may grow and learn. Then, the real measure of success is how much we were able to fulfill our deepest intention. We may have failed in a thousand projects, but if we have grown in love and equanimity, then we have succeeded. For this separation to come about, we must grow in awareness of our deepest intentions.

Second, this awareness cannot grow by simply serving others. One has to meditate to enhance this awareness.

Third, this awareness cannot grow by simply meditating. One has to serve others to enhance this awareness.

Viral added his lovely reflection to this point - Meditation is inner service. Service is outer meditation.

Going deeper into the awareness of intention, it seems to me that the more I am aware of my intention, the stronger is my intention of being aware, as its benefits become amply clear. 

Another funny thing is, most people have good intentions. When we are aware of our own good intentions, we also start recognizing this about other people. Dinesh uncle added a caveat that this may not be the case always, and Vijay uncle added that the road to hell was paved with good intentions, but I don't see that as a contradiction. Even when people are actually harming us, there is some rationalization that it is somehow good - in other words, there is some good intention somewhere that lost its way. However, recognizing that starting good intention is absolutely critical if we wish to connect with others and find unity. This unity is not at the level of ideas - it is at the level of being, and when we start from this position, compassion automatically enters our heart, and we take the loftiest position possible when looking at any situation, where none is excluded from compassion.

To make this more concrete, in a recent conversation with a friend from Purple Country, we started arguing about whether government initiatives were better than voluntary initiatives. I am in favor of the latter, and my friend in favor of the former. As we kept discussing, my friend kept saying that if I didn't like the system in Purple Country, or in this country, I should leave. At first, I pointed out that there was no country in the world where voluntary initiatives were the norm. But when this argument kept coming up, I pointed out that this sounded like Nazi Germany, where if you didn't like the system that was thrust upon you, you'd have to leave (or worse). My friend was deeply offended, thinking I'd compared Purple Country with Nazi Germany, and was close to tears. I realized that she would surely cry if I clarified that it wasn't Purple Country, but her line of reasoning that I was commenting on. At this point, I became aware of very strong vibrations of a negative kind, and reflected on my intent (thanks to this passage!) My deepest intent was certainly not to make her cry or offend her. It was to learn from her and grow in understanding. I immediately apologized for the misplaced analogy. Funnily enough, as I made these choices, I felt a lot of compassion for her. And then, I started to get deeper insights which I acknowledged immediately.

I said, "It seems to me that in Purple Country, people are very checked in with government. Is that correct?" She nodded. I continued, "Then, it is not as though government action is relevant to social progress, but the voluntary initiative of the people that makes government action and social progress irrelevant to each other. Its the people who make it work, and you are basically arguing that if people wake up everywhere, then they will make their governments do the right thing." She nodded vigorously - this was her exact point. 

Another insight came. "When I keep arguing in favor of free enterprise, it is not as if private companies or free markets are relevant to social progress, but the voluntary initiative of the people behind these markets that can make them work for social progress. So here too, it is the people who make it work, and if they are awakened, then we will have progress of the kind that we like." She started nodding. 

I concluded, "Then, we are really not from two different spaces. We are both honoring the need of the individual's awakening. When someone has woken up enough to care and act, that intention is what unites us all. The difference lies in the specific vision." 

She agreed. What was more, something big had shifted within me. I've never had this much compassion for people who believe government can be a force for good, making the same error as those who have little compassion for people who believe that private enterprise can be a force for good. I had forgotten something that is far more fundamental - that we are united in intent. And when I respect that unity, something shifts. My attachment to my vision is broken by the power of that unity. 

This isn't about government action or private-sector action - the details were offered in gratitude. Some of these pieces can be really abstract, and sometimes people wonder about their practicality. I hope the story demonstrates the practical utility of such pieces. This is really about an inner shift, my own inner shift. It is not as if I will start supporting government action now or abandon my vision. But it is the case that now when I interact with someone in a government action program, their vision won't stand in the way of my learning (from them) and compassion.

With lots of gratitude for these lovely pieces..

On Dec 7, 2009 Bhoutik wrote:

This is a pretty deep passage.

It reminded me of a conversation I heard betweek a monk and a student:

Student: "How do I serve others?"
Monk: "What others? Serve yourself!"
Student: "How do I serve myself?"
Monk: "Take care of others."

On Dec 8, 2009 Lavanya wrote:

Very deep passage! Particularly appropriate for the problem I am facing; surprising how one comes across things that one truly needs :) Somik, thanks for your comment - really helps expand and explain the passage more clearly. I am truly grateful.

On Dec 10, 2009 alca wrote:

if you are atach with nothing or an important thing realize your it can not ruin your vision.