“How you see determines what you see, and what you feel.” – Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with vision boards since the very beginning. My very first one was an assignment for the very first personal development workshop I attended. End of Day One, before we were to break for dinner, we had a few hours to make a board of what makes our heart come alive.
The second one I made was later that year with an ex-boyfriend on a retreat in Santa Cruz. It was my first beach weekend retreat since moving to California five years before. What had taken me so long?
Then I made another one that made me feel like crap, but I didn’t quite know why.
I kept up with vision boards for some reason. Maybe it was my determination to see if they would really work for me in my life. I was a total skeptic in the beginning, going through the motions like a good student, but not truly expecting anything to happen.
After several years of practice, now I know that when I approach them from a certain place within me, vision boards can invite in some real magic into my life.
I haven't yet written about the latest example of how a vision board changed my life, and since I’m leading a vision board workshop next week, this seems like a good time to really tell the story in completeness.
From Complaining to Creating
I was living in a tiny house with my boyfriend. It was his house. I moved into it. This was after I had downsized my own belongings by eighty percent. I had moved out of a commercial office space, and then moved out of my apartment after staring at the furniture for months and months, not knowing how I would detach myself from it.
There was really no space that was “mine”, although I had access to everything that was his. We made a garden. We cooked. We adventured mostly outside the house. But we felt closed in because we were surrounded by apartment buildings, a parking garage, an architectural firm, and a daycare center. Our blinds were always closed, and there was only one door to the outside. I had a tiny space in the back, about the dimensions of a single yoga mat, where I did my morning ritual, meditation and chanting. I could see a patch of the sky, and the tops of trees from the windows in there, which gave me a daily dose of spaciousness.
My enlightened self can identify the gifts of that time in my life – the gifts of being outdoors for a long hike every single weekend, the gifts of being in my garden every day in the summer, the gifts of not working so hard on my business, the gifts of discovering REI, and the gift of becoming more open to things falling apart.
But I still found myself spending most of my waking hours complaining about the space, what was missing, how it was impeding my ability to focus on my work.
I realized most of my energy and attention were being spent on what I didn’t want, and what wasn’t working. I was blaming the space for all of the things I wasn’t able to feel within myself.
One day it occurred to me that I was also free to ask, “What if I shifted my attention to what I do want?” Aha! I hadn’t done that in awhile. Complaining was my mind’s way of dealing with the situation, believing that if I complained enough, maybe something would happen differently.
It had been over a year and nothing had “happened” differently, at least with the space.
So I decided to make a vision board.
What It Looks Like versus What It Feels Like
I used google to search for images of places and views and living spaces that felt like what I wanted to experience from my own living space, but had never dared to say out loud. Knowing what I wanted to feel like is an important difference from believing I knew what things were supposed to look like. We’re so bombarded with images these days that we rarely have time to sink into our bodily sensations that come up in response to these images. I've learned that when I connect with the feeling behind images, I am often surprised that what they look like is nothing like what I imagined.
The qualities I wanted to feel were captured with the words gathering space, nourishing space, convertible space, walking space, creativity, honoring earth, peace, reflection, nature, beauty, energizing, growth, inspiration, joy.
Since I wasn’t able to see these qualities in my living space at that time, I didn’t believe they could be part of my reality ever. But I set aside those doubts for one evening, and put myself in the place of the person in my imagination – the “me” who had it all. I found pictures of nature, hiking trails in the backyard, a garden, expansive views of hillsides, trees, big windows, high ceilings, convertible spaces for creating, reflecting, gathering, eating, and seeing nature.
Then I said, What the heck, since I’m doing this exercise, why not put everything out there? The stuff I really don’t believe is possible.
So I put in a recording studio – a picture of a guy playing guitar in front of a microphone, surrounded by windows opening into views of trees and nature. Another secret desire of mine was to have my own creative space, and for my boyfriend to have his own creative space, so that we could come together in each of these spaces but were not forced to work in the same space at the same time. I put in a picture of a home yoga studio with luxurious amounts of open hardwood floor space, literally thinking, “Yeah, right. No one has that!” while feeling in my body the tingles of excitement around the idea of, “What if I did?”
I loved the resulting images, and it was enough for me to make it the wallpaper on our computer so I could dream of living there on a daily basis.
Three magic words: "Thanks, I quit."
Then I let go.
There was a sense of relief and freedom just from having created the vision board. And in my mind, everything about the images seemed impossible – there was nowhere I had ever seen in the Bay Area that would meet all these criteria, be affordable enough for us, close enough to my boyfriend’s work for a manageable commute, and so on. My naysayer mind chimed in again with its list of “no way”s.
I let go but I didn’t forget. I left the vision board on the wallpaper of our computer, and then I returned to the tasks of daily life.
Within three weeks, my boyfriend sent me a link to a property for rent in Half Moon Bay. The pictures had windows that looked similar to the images on the vision board. Interesting, I thought. I clicked back onto craigslist and saw that there were two other places in Half Moon Bay within our price range. One of them had very dark pictures, and a very simple description that wasn’t flashy. Yet it just had a feeling that intrigued me, and I wanted to check it out. We scheduled appointments at all three properties for that weekend.
The minute we turned the corner and started driving down the street, I knew this was the one. I just felt this was where we were going to live.
Then our jaws kept dropping. The beach was just steps from the front door.
There was a large room facing the ocean that is now our home music studio and house concert venue. And the front room, with two large windows peeking out to the ocean view, is now my home yoga and meditation space and painting studio!
I even have my own office, which I honestly didn’t even expect. I was prepared to let that go in exchange for the yoga and creative space. But I got it all!
We got it all.
We are both so happy and inspired in this space, as it serves our needs and creative purpose in life right now. We enjoy sharing it with the community in the form of house concerts, my new SoulBodyMind Salon series, and who knows what other forms will emerge.
I tell this story whenever anyone asks “how we found” this place, because I know from experience that the place found us.
By shifting the energy from “what’s missing” and “what’s not working” to “What do we want to create?”, we invited in our own ability to see possibilities in a whole new way.
I never imagined, even at the moment of making the vision board, that we would end up living by the ocean. I was in love with the tall trees, the mountains, the rivers. I thought we would find a little cottage up there somewhere. But my ability to imagine was only based on my prior experience, and the universe had a greater vision and infinite possibilities waiting for my ability – my vision - to discover them.
Try out the experiment of taking an area of struggle in your life, an area where you notice yourself spending a lot of time complaining about what’s wrong or missing, and try asking, “What do I want to create in this situation?”
I’d love to know what you see through these new eyes.
Join me on February 9th for a Vision Board Workshop at Prajna Yoga & Healing Arts in Belmont, CA. Do you want to have me facilitate a Vision Board Workshop for your organization or in your home? I'd love to talk about that with you. Contact me to discuss your curiosity and interest.
Photo credits: sunset, Randy Bales. All others by the author. Prints of hand-painted heart image available at my online Zazzle store.