Monday, January 11, 2010

After-Vision: The Power of Reaching into the Gap

Vision was the easy part. Maybe you starved yourself in a desert, leaped into the abyss or abandoned a cozy security palace to see it, but the vision of what you were made for is just the curtain parting. Instead of beholding a stage filled with characters and plot lines, what do you see? Nothing. Vision isn't a filling up. It's a tearing away, an emptying out. It's not the full blown story dancing in the rear view mirror. It's seeing through the old tales to the fresh, spacious, roadless road ahead. Vision's momentum propels us forward, but not through a pre-carved slot. Vision presses us onto a field of possibilities. Cultivating the potential fruits requires that we reach into unknowable soil and work with unseen forces.

When vision brings us face to faceless face with the unknown, the usual response is to run. We sprint away by burying ourselves in someone else's noble cause, distracting ourselves with all manner of important things, or by crawling under the covers and assuming the fetal position. Yet, whatever direction we race, the nagging, undefined purpose of our vision is waiting with its silent call.

At some point all excuses have been exhausted, or we're too exhausted to run anymore. Our vision seizes us again and we accept its call. What's the first step we wonder. This is our sacred mission and we don't want to blow it by making the wrong move. So we stall a little longer mediating, journaling, talking to our best friend, communing with the trees and maybe howling at the moon.

Finally, we get real and start. We pick up the pen, put down the keyboard, tap on the telephone or gather the tribe. Each move, any move, comes down to this: we start digging right where we are. After all the preparation, we are where we always are: Here, Now. Finally, the energy of the vision flow through our bones. It feels good, really good. Mind and body, soul and earth enter the pleasure of engaging life.

Soon the work produces initial results. Surprise! The image on the page, the words on the screen, the response to the phone call probably aren't precisely what you envisioned. At this point, I've found that it's helpful to notice the gap between my expectations and my outcomes. I can either get frustrated or shut down. Or, I can man-up, reach into that gap and discover hidden powers and knowledge I didn't know were there. Somehow, from that lightless space comes the strength and insight I need to take the next. If I get ahead of myself and attempt the see the distant design within the gap, I come up empty-handed. Step by step the potential of the vision unfolds. To stay true to the vision, every step of the way seems to involve reaching into the unknown. Following this process, I notice what is actually unfolding rather than what I thought would develop. Whenever I try to control the vision, it kicks me in the butt and leaves me with nowhere to turn and nothing to do. All that's left is to stare into the gap and reach into the unknown.

There's an architectural embodiment of this experience at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral is the last stop on the 600 mile Camino thousands of pilgrims walk each year across Spain. Inside the portal of the basilica stands the marble pillar of St. James. Flanking the base of the pillar are two mythic beings with gapping mouths. Pilgrims approach the pillar and slide the fingers of one hand into the five indentations at the marble roots of the Tree of Jesse. These indentations have been worn into the stone by countless others who have repeated this ritual for nearly 1,000 years. After reaching the touchstone of their journey, each pilgrim kneels. She touches her forehead to the base of the pillar and stretches her arms into the mouths of the mythic beings. It's an energy-filled moment, reaching the end of the long trail and stretching her body into the dark void. After pausing in that humble position for a moment, the pilgrim rises to her feet, turns and walks out the door. The vision she thought would be completed by arriving at this place silently whispers: we've come so far, more has been revealed than you ever dreamed possible... and together, we will bring forth many more treasures from the depths of the soul.


  1. Anthony, thank you for sharing this post. It's like an arrow. Living the vision is the hardest part, we say in wilderness rites work - fasting out in the wilds is easy (once you've done it!): coming back into the world with its clamour and constant motion is the real challenge. A vision is not real until it is enacted, until it is incarnate. Your description of the first steps towards that incarnation, the becoming-flesh-from-vision, should be posted to everyone beginning an endeavour guided by soul. I may borrow it to give to wilderness returnees, in fact :)

    If I can share the last lines of a poem I wrote shortly after returning from my own first wilderness fast:

    Because out there in the silence,
    While your house was burning down,
    That was the agreement,
    That was the accord,
    To bring back the Gold from Heaven’s gate,
    And wear it in the World.

    Thank you again, Anthony - your words sing.

  2. Dear Tony,
    What a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing these essential truths. I have cast myself, willingly into this void, this space of vulnerability, of being open despite fears. I am also in the clammoring world Coyopa describes above. It is far too easy to allow the distractions to derail our sincerest intentions. As I reach into the void and allow life's unfolding through my life, I hold the hummingbird in my heart. Stillness in flight.
    much appreciation, Lisa

  3. Anthony,

    This is more beautifully written poetic spiritual prose.

    I love the way you describe the spiritual/creative process - reaching in the gap for the unknown, but not grasping any further, or "it kicks me in the butt." Oh, so true.

    You illustrate and illuminate the mysteries of creation & vision, and how me must trust the process to progress.

    The connection to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is inspired. The images I get of those (probably millions) of pilgrims for "nearly a 1,000 years" is awe-inspiring.

    Simply beautiful!!

  4. The power of the journey, the pains of labor after the sweet gestation or are we to learn a different way of giving birth with joy and awareness? Every step along the way taking us closer where we belong int he conscious embodiment of this vision is profound. I feel it all over my being.
    Thank you for giving voice to our visions. Beautiful!

  5. You bring clarity to what are frequently muddied waters in our age. This speaks lucidly to an unfolding creative process that is very familiar to me. An articulate description of a dynamic that is continually cycling through my work as well.Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Thank you all for your heartfelt, poetic and wise comments. I'm honored and moved to hear about each of your creative journeys. As we travel seemingly separate roads, we move deeper into the collective soul that nurtures and calls us all. I'm blessed to be travel with such wonderful companions. Thanks.

  7. Hej Tony,

    What a great piece. It felt like you were writing about me and the fact that I finally had to courage to pick up my needle and take my leap of faith with the vision that always has been living with me.

    Thank you.

  8. Someone left another comment that somehow was deleted. Apologies. If you like, please repost. Thanks for engaging the dialogue.

  9. you are so right: vision is the easy part, like landing a kid in the candy store with a pocket full of birthday money. then, as you write (cause you are obviously writing about me now, aren't you?!), i lollygag around, eventually trying to follow action plans i've carefully crafted, steps that will lead me right to the doorstep of what my vision looks like. but it never does. just leads me around and around and around. but ah - when i stop with the meticulous (and distracting) planning, when i just reach into that dark, muddly unknown - well, shoot: it's flat-out scary and it's also flat-out fun.

  10. you brought back the magic of that first pilgrimage...thank you!