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Creativity, Spirituality, and Making a Buck

1. Joining Heaven and Earth

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Joining Heaven and Earth

Spiritual and mystical suggest something rarefied, otherworldly, and loftily religious, opposed to an ordinary material life which is simply practical and commonplace. The whole point . . . is to show the fallacy of this opposition, to show that the spiritual is not to be separated from the material, nor the wonderful from the ordinary.

—ALAN WATTS, This Is It: And Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience

IN THIS BOOK, we’re exploring the process of creating a vision for our lives and making it happen. There are many ways to talk about manifesting our vision, but one classic form is the notion of “joining heaven and earth.”

In many Asian cultures, some European cultures, and the Shambhala teachings I studied, joining heaven and earth is presented as the responsibility of leadership in particular, and of human beings in general.

Heaven represents opening our minds, expanding our horizons, and envisioning possibilities. Earth represents being practical, grounded, and mastering all the tiny details of life. When heaven and earth are joined, or synchronized, we can experience harmony and prosperity.

If we look through the lens of heaven and earth, we can often see when and how our grand schemes go off the trail and into the weeds. Sometimes we have big visions, big plans, and all our moves are lined up and ready to go. Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, we don’t have the right circumstances, the right help, the right resources, the right amount of money, the right weather—you name it.

Our heaven, or vision, was so clear, so good, so right, but we’ve literally and figuratively run aground. We’ve crashed into earth, and suddenly our lofty dream turns into a challenging one, maybe even a nightmare. In these cases, we may temporarily connect with the heaven principle but we lose our connection with the earth.

However, sometimes we’re so efficient, so capable, so much in control of the details of our life—but something is missing. The whole enterprise starts to feel hollow and meaningless. In this case, we don’t seem to have a clear vision; there’s no big picture—we’re simply operating to get our ever-growing to-do list accomplished. But what’s it all for? What’s the meaning? In this case, we’ve conquered earth but lost heaven.

When I teach Buddhism in Japan these days (which is so frequently that some of my friends think I live there), I often stay in a hotel that on a clear day has a view of Mount Fuji. Even though the mountain is more than fifty miles away, with its snow-capped peak it seems to penetrate and sometimes even dominate the surrounding and intense imagery of a wildly urbanized Tokyo.

I like to see Mount Fuji because it reminds me of the vast and unobstructed sense of “heaven,” of the open and clear quality of the Buddha’s teachings and the reset button we can always push to allow ourselves a more spacious and open state of mind. It’s helpful to periodically connect with the heaven principle—however we can access it.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we each already have some kind of vision for our life. Maybe it’s modest: just getting by, having a little comfort—a reasonable life. From there our vision could expand to include becoming a great artist, musician, architect, meditation teacher, parent, benefactor, healer, president—you name it. In the realm of heaven, the sky is literally the limit.

This vision can involve our whole life—relationships, family, children, creative outlets, money, lifestyle, etc. Some people might say they’re just going with the flow—why do we have to be so deliberate about our process? I myself probably lean in this direction more than some.

However, if we really examine our life, I think we can say that there’s some underlying vision, whether it’s explicit or not. Even “going with the flow” can be a kind of vision statement.

When we explore the making-a-buck part of our lives, the notion of joining heaven and earth can be a very useful construct and an extremely practical approach.

Contemplating our vision can help us connect more directly with the actual journey we’re undertaking. Regarding our work life, we might think we’re clear as a bell and right on target, or we might be feeling lost, double-crossed, and forgotten—or anything in between.

As we descend from our lofty view of Mount Fuji, our vast sense of possibilities and opportunities, let’s see if we can apply this notion of heaven and earth to our own livelihood and career.

Image 2. Joining Heaven and Earth

Please take a shot at briefly and succinctly answering the following questions.

It can sometimes be helpful to allow your “first thought,” as CTR used to say, to come through spontaneously when answering these questions, and then contemplate for a while and take a second pass at answering. At the end of this entire process, your workbook will become a self-portrait—and perhaps an important tool in bringing your heaven and earth into alignment.

Livelihood Heaven Questionnaire

1. Describe your vision for your professional life. What would be your ideal job or career?

2. Define your current livelihood. What do you do at work?

3. Would you rather be doing something else? If so, what?

4. How much money do you make? How much would you like to make?

5. Write down any other thoughts or considerations you want to include.

Livelihood Earth Questionnaire

1. What skills do you need to create the career you’re visualizing?

2. Do you need more training to be fully prepared for the job you really want?

3. Do you live in the right place to do the job you really want? (For example, do you live in Kansas and want to be an oceanographer?)

4. Do you have sufficient liquid assets (cash)?

5. Do you have the right support team? Accountant? Bookkeeper, lawyer, social media wizard, administrative assistant? A good mentor(s) as you move into areas that may be less familiar to you?

6. Write down any other thoughts or considerations you want to include...

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