I arrived early for class one balmy August morning. My instructor was already sitting on his front porch in his favorite chair, enjoying the mid-morning energy. After we bid our greetings, he arose from his chair and said, "Follow me. I want to show you something..."
He led me to a small Japanese maple tree where we stopped and stood for a moment. Drawing a slow, long breath, he finally said, "Look at this tree and tell me what you see."
After years of trying to second-guess the answer to these kinds of questions, I've settled on simply saying what I see and then wait to discover where the conversation goes from there. So I replied, "I see a small tree".
His response began with his classic wry smile. I knew something good was coming.
Trees will grow
according to their environment. We can intervene with vision to shape
their growth. We can prune or use wire or other props to encourage a
particular growth pattern. You must first have a vision of how you want the
tree to look before you consider which methods to apply. You must also know how the tree will respond to various methods over time. You must also know the time horizon of your vision. Do you understand? Pruning and supporting are two methods and may seem
contradictory but they are not contradictory when applied at a specific time and at a
He continued talking about the various branches, pointing out where he had pruned and why and how this pruning supported his vision of the tree's growth. He also pointed out heavy copper wire, which I had not even noticed, which he said was there to gently train those branches to grow in a particular direction. As he went on and on, my mind drifted off, pondering, "Do you understand?" I was pulled back to the moment when he said, "Let's go back and sit down."
"So," he began, "Do you have any questions?"
"I'm getting stuck on the, "Do you understand?" I mean, yeah, the metaphor seems obvious but I think that I probably don't have the same idea that you want to convey."
Too many people practice without a
vision of where they want their practice to go. They may start with
curiosity and get hooked into a practice and then get strung along pursuing
whatever is presented to them. Suddenly years have passed...
"Yeah, this is pretty much how it works", I interrupted.
You see, if there's no vision or purpose, then you wind up
making decisions based on "it just seemed to be the logical next step". Following "the logical next step" could take you on a very interesting journey. But this is not vision. Having a vision of where you want your practice to grow will help you
avoid the trap of "the logical next step". You can approach practice with a near-sighted "do this now" or with longer range vision.
"So, then, what's the difference between vision and purpose? You always ask, "What's your purpose?"
Vision is based in kinesthetic feeling. Purpose is based on concepts and words. When you apply vision with purpose then you get functional! Look at the masters. See the vision they were seeing.
I recalled one of the Wujifa slogans, "Follow not in the footsteps of the masters. Seek out and discover what it is they sought."
As others arrived for class, I sat quietly pondering this unique teaching. A couple months have now passed since that summer day and whenever I see that little tree, I can see the twisted, windswept tree of his vision. Even now, seeing a twisted, windswept tree, I am gently and subtly reminded, "What's your vision for how you want your practice to grow?"