Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Balancing Vision and Routine

--by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Jun 14, 2011)

All human activity can be viewed as an interplay between two contrary but equally essential factors -- vision and repetitive routine. Vision is the creative element in activity, whose presence ensures that over and above the settled conditions pressing down upon us from the past we still enjoy a margin of openness to the future, a freedom to discern more meaningful ends and to discover more efficient ways to achieve them. Repetitive routine, in contrast, provides the conservative element in activity. It is the principle that accounts for the persistence of the past in the present, and it enables the successful achievements of the present to be preserved intact and faithfully transmitted to the future. [...]

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. It took a flash of genius for Michelangelo to behold the figure of David invisible in a shapeless block of stone; but it required years of prior training, and countless blows with hammer and chisel, to work the miracle that would leave us a masterpiece of art. [...]

Though the emphasis may alternate from phase to phase, ultimate success in the development of the path always hinges upon balancing vision with routine in such a way that each can make its maximal contribution. However, because our minds are keyed to fix upon the new and distinctive, in our practice we are prone to place a one-sided emphasis on vision at the expense of repetitive routine. Thus we are elated by expectations concerning the stages of the path far beyond our reach, while at the same time we tend to neglect the lower stages -- dull and drab, but far more urgent and immediate -- lying just beneath our feet.
--Bhikkhu Bodhi

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Previous Reflections:

On Jun 10, 2011 Conrad wrote:

My first impression about balancing vision and routine is to  notice what is going on in  and around you. Meditation helps me do this.  Then notice everything one does can be a meditation if one is mindful.  Desiring to balance may be excessive and, as with all desire, can lead to suffering and lack of peace. My second impression about balancing vision and routine is; if I knew I would say it.  I'm also reminded of Lao Tzu's idea that the way that can be said is not the way. 

I haven't yet experienced it but I'm inclined to notice that experiencing the dull and the drab while peacefully and joyfully accepting it, is what enlightenment and nirvana are.  Samsara and nirvana are one. Paradoxically, balancing everything seems to be a way to that peaceful and joyful acceptance. Please give yourself permission to make mistakes regarding this balancing and as Sheldon Kopp said: "Learn to forgive yourself again, and again, and again.  You have my gratitude for giving me the opportunity to respond to this wonderful statement.

On Jun 10, 2011 Travis Eneix wrote:

Awesome!  I really appreciated the reminder that when we let one of these endeavors overshadow the other we create dysfuntion in life.  Spend too much time in daily routine and you lose all creativity and life becomes gray.  Spend all your time dreaming of what could be and you abandon the maintenance of your life.

I find it helpful to have these two aspect reinforce each other.  I can use my golas for the future to inform my current acctions, and make a routine action of re-visiting my goals.

Thanks for the fantastic piece!

~ Travis

On Jun 10, 2011 PK wrote:

 This passage resonates with me at multiple levels. The idea of vision to be balanced by execution is a critical message for entrepreneur in me. The idea of Rajasik energy driving us towards one side of the pendulum and Tamasik to the other while the satvik wisdom being in the middle is the image that I think of because it connects the Buddhist thought with Hindu thought. Above all, I am exploring where my vision has taken me and where my routine has not caught up -- because that has been the zone of disappointment in my life. Wherever vision has not caught up with routine is the zone of frustration or boredom.

When i work professionally, I find that helping executives to think of both sides -- vision and execution is not easy. Some people don't connect and value one part of the equation or the other. If they don't have somebody else who is complimentary and is willing to stand up for their point of view, the organization suffers.

It is amazing that wisdom of the ancients has so many implications in 21st century but not many people make the connection!

On Jun 11, 2011 xiaoshan wrote:

The true insight is this one, "[O]ur minds are keyed to fix upon the new and distinctive".

On Jun 12, 2011 leah wrote:

 As I reflected on this week's reading, it inspired this drawing:

On Jun 12, 2011 Tristan wrote:

I'll try take this advice about routine to heart.

On Jun 13, 2011 Ricky wrote:

My vision has over the years changed and morphed with each role I have played.  My vision has always been to help others, but the way the vision has played out has been from daughter to new wife to new mother to coach to landscape designer to teacher and so on.  In these different roles there have been opportunities to express the vision, and at the same time stressors on the amount of time and effort to be able to do so.  The intensity of the routines to make this happen have also changed.  But until the past two years, never did the routine include taking time for myself to be still enough to be my best.  So, always the vision, but never the 100% presence to understand I am enough and can trust I am on the path of purpose.  This has changed with my current focus as teacher and wife and mom.

Currently we are in the period of time where students are graduating or moving through the grades or stages of education.  There is a mixed message about success, and many students are disheartened and defeated by it's narrow definition.  Aspire to the standard of excellence we have outlined for you, and you will be successful...fall short, and you are doomed.  Earn lots of scholarship money and reflect appropriately back to your educational institution, and you will receive accolades.  Be a doctor, lawyer, CEO, physicist, (and so on) and you will have access to the most important careers-the ones that count.  Many students are equally amazing in the vision they have for themselves, without such a narrow focus of success.  They have learned how to reach fruition of these goals by allowing their lives to unfold in the presence of being kind, helpful, and empathetic humans to others around them.  With patience, persistence, and support from others who remind them how precious they are, just as they are, they are able to move forward on their own terms and survive all the competition and economic forecast.  They find the niche, the purpose, by becoming still and listening.  This is not to say the students who measure up to the standards of success from society's standpoint don't also find their niches.  The tyranny of expectations and the suffering caused by competition tend to reduce creativity and contentment where we are right now at this moment.  The universe is definitively large enough to handle all that we dream of for ourselves and others.

It is thrilling to spend time with students who have looked with clarity at the marble stone that is their life and see with chiseled focus their lives take form while remembering how their purpose is for the higher good in this life.  Each one is a significant and overwhelming masterpiece. 

On Jun 15, 2011 Pedaling for Peace wrote:

This basically sums up the beauty and purpose of riding a bicycle=)

On Jun 17, 2011 Akanksha wrote:

Comes at an apt time in my life, as I struggle to keep up with the routine, the maintenance, while still searching for a lost vision. One is needed for smooth flow of the other. Like always, synchronicity has brought this piece to me. :)

On Jun 18, 2011 Blackbird wrote:

Prepare to Detach

Preparation is key. This is true. Preparation opens doors when opportunity knocks. For me, detachment is key. It has been staring me in the face but I couldn’t let go and clung on tightly. I kept everything and everyone as close as possible with my hands outstretched and grasping. Time and time again I made myself vulnerable, needy and insecure. My biggest lesson has been to detach and to learn to really let go. It has taken many years. The road has been strewn with stones, rocks and boulders. I stumbled, crawled and climbed over each one.

When I found mindfulness, sobriety, awareness, learnt the art of letting go, relaxing and not taking things personally the stones, rocks and boulders began to disappear. I have now become confident and secure in myself. I am now at ease with others and myself. Now, the landscape has changed and has become more pleasant to walk through. I am more prepared and better equipped to keep walking this road. I now pay attention and enjoy the journey. I know the destination will come.

On Aug 13, 2011 Ummed Nahata wrote:

Wow Bhikhu. Very well written about seemingly opposites. I have to add one more thing that, people more inclined with vision ( creative thinking) and who find it difficult to alternate with routine, should partner with people who are strong on routine. I did it in my life and whenever I could my projects succeeded. I love to keep playing with new ideas, quite valid, but left to myself those ideas would not have taken shape and flourished. So, as soon as I get idea, I liik for right implementor or in commercial terms CEO and COO and idea start taking shape and start flourishing.

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