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Vision Boards vs. Self-Inquiry

Last updated on June 7, 2021

Eagle Nebula
Are you shooting for the stars? Or are you content with life on earth?

Goals and Surrender Are Natural Opposites

Someone recently asked me about vision boards and The Work of Byron Katie. I could tell he was trying to resolve these two practices in his mind since they seem quite contradictory.

I’ve never used a vision board, but I understand the concept. You put your desires, usually displayed with photos, on a poster board and then keep looking at it over days, weeks, and years.

The idea is that what you put your attention on grows. So if your mind is frequently looking at your goals or dreams, it may start to work in ways to bring about the fulfillment of those goals and dreams. This is a great way to move from chaotic thinking to constructive living.

Contrast That with The Work of Byron Katie

In The Work, we identify stressful thoughts, including goals and dreams that are not fulfilled. And we question those desires and turn them around to find that I don’t need to fulfill my dreams. The result is that there is often much less attachment to the things we want, and this often leaves us in a state of more contentment.

The focus with a vision board is on the future: it’s about where I want to go. The focus of The Work is on the present, how where I am is perfect.

So I understand this man’s confusion when he sees two contradictory paths in front of him. Is there any way to resolve them?

Life Is a Coexistence of Opposites

It never surprises me when life presents opposites. And I always believe there is a way for extreme opposites to exist peacefully together, complimenting each other, and enhancing each other. Let’s see if there is a way to reconcile these two.

I can only refer to my own experience. While I haven’t done a vision board per se, my mind does the equivalent of a vision board internally. I have my desires, my hopes, my aspirations. I may not cut out pictures of them and put them on a board, but I hold those images in my mind and I keep referring back to them many times over years.

And my experience is that this kind of frequent referral to an image does cause it to blossom into maturity and to yield fruit. For example, when I first thought of creating Inquiry Circle, my ongoing practice group for The Work, I wanted it to be an online group where people could do The Work on an ongoing basis, not just come for a retreat for a few days.

That vision first came to me back around 2012, and I have held that vision steadily throughout all of these years. As I have, Inquiry Circle has continued to grow and improve and evolve to the place where it is today. And I see more in that image that has not yet come to be.

The Result of Holding an Image Is That It Develops

This is fun. It’s like growing a tree. I have a seed, and I keep watering it, and it grows. Watching it grow and mature can be a lifetime of fulfillment.

But it depends on how you hold it. The very same vision of an Inquiry Circle group could be very stressful for me if I’m attached to having it happen quickly, or in exactly the same way that I first envisioned it.

What started as a natural idea born of utility and goodness can become a source of stress if I am impatient in any way.

This Is Where The Work Comes In

Stress always tells me that I’m believing something that is not 100% true for me. So when I feel stress, even about a dream or a really good thing, I question it.

For example, I would love to have a few hundred people in Inquiry Circle. Currently, we have about 50. I see the advantages of this, allowing us to have more opportunities to do The Work together with a larger group.

This is a good vision. But if I get attached to it, or impatient with the natural process of evolution, then it becomes stressful. So when I do The Work, I find the stressful thought, “I want there to be more participants.”

When I question this thought, I find how stressful it is to believe it, and how much lighter I would feel if I were not believing it. And I find the turnaround, “I want there to be fewer participants” very interesting. Yes, I do remember the intimacy of when the group was very small.

And then the next turnaround, “I want there to be 50 participants.” My heart opens as I contemplate it. That’s exactly how many we are. So with this turnaround, I feel the fulfillment of being right where I need to be. And I can find so many more examples of why this is perfect right now.

But Does That Mean I Give up on my Vision?

No, of course not. I still see how having a few hundred participants would be wonderful, but after I do The Work on “I want there to be more participants,” my grip on that vision lightens. I see the vision just in passing. I’m aware of that possibility and am always willing to consider ideas that might support its fulfillment, but there’s no stickiness.

I know that 50 members are perfect for now. I’m open to it growing, but I’m not impatient for it. I trust that life will develop things perfectly. And if for some reason things change and I am called in another direction completely, I’m open. I can drop the vision freely and move to where I feel called to next.

This is freedom. It is the coexistence of having a vision with knowing that there is nowhere I need to get to. When these two opposites meet, there is peace, even while busily working towards a goal.

For this reason, I love to do The Work on my goals. This frees me from the stress of needing to fulfill them urgently because I can find fulfillment at every step of their evolution. When I do The Work, I often find myself doing the same actions as before but in a much more free and peaceful way.

Join Us For The Work 101

Join me for nine weeks of diving into The Work of Byron Katie as we uncover many nuances to this beautiful process of self-inquiry. Registration for The Work 101.

Have a great week,

“A material thing is a symbol of your thinking. It’s a metaphor. We don’t have to give up our things. They come or go; we have no control over that. We may think we do, but in reality we don’t. Whoever started teaching that we need to let go of things, to detach from them, was a little confused. We notice that if we lose everything we’re much freer, so we think that it’s better to live impoverished. And then we notice that we’re not free anymore. Everything changes. But when we work with our thinking, then to have great wealth is the same as to have nothing. That’s the only freedom.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change the World

Further reading: Adding Some Grace to my Workflow

About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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