The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America

The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America

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by David Whyte

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Only a poet could produce such a provocative analysis of today's widespread disenchantment with business — or such a daring prescription for using the classics of poetry to revitalize the soul of corporate America.  See more details below


Only a poet could produce such a provocative analysis of today's widespread disenchantment with business — or such a daring prescription for using the classics of poetry to revitalize the soul of corporate America.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Heart Aroused is truly extraordinary. It brings a poet's ever-deepening imagination to the world of business and work. It steadies us, gives us grounding, and offers profound images for locating our work deep in the soul. The very style of the book presents a new dimension of language and reflection, with a contemplative tempo, that could help us radically and fruitfully reimagine the workplace."
-Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and Soul Mates

"David Whyte's images resonate to the core. As a poet who has taken his work into the corporate world, he pioneers a vision that is at once practical and illuminating."
-Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst and author of Leaving My Father's House

"With this insightful book, David Whyte offers people in corporate life an opportunity to reach into the forgotten and ignored creative life… and literally water their souls with it. The result is a… book that can truly heal."
-Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., author of Women Who Run with the Wolves

Product Details

Many Rivers Press
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Read an Excerpt

But what is soul, and what is meant by the preservation of the soul? By definition, soul evades the cage of definition. It is the indefinable essence of a person's spirit and being. It can never be touched and yet the merest hint of its absence causes immediate distress. In a work situation, its lack can be sensed intuitively, though a person may, at the same moment, be powerless to know what has caused the loss. It may be the transfer of a well-loved colleague to another department, a change of rooms to a less appealing office, or, more seriously, the inner intuitions of a path not taken. Though the Oxford English Dictionary's lofty attempt at soul is the principle of life in man or animals, depth-psychologist James Hillman describes it in far more eloquent terms in his provocative book of selected writings, A Blue Fire:

To understand soul we cannot turn to science for a description. Its meaning is best given by its context...words long associated with the soul amplify it further: mind, spirit, heart, life, warmth, humanness, personality, individuality, intentionality, essence, innermost purpose, emotion, quality, virtue, morality, sin, wisdom, death, God. A soul is said to be "troubled," "old," "disembodied," "immortal," "lost," "innocent," "inspired." Eyes are said to be "soulless" by showing no mercy. The soul has been imaged as...given by God and thus divine, as conscience, as a multiplicity and as a unity in diversity, as a harmony, as a fluid, as fire, as dynamic energy, and so on...the search for the soul leads always into the "depths."

Entering the "depths" and entering a corporate workplace are rarely seen in the samelight. Looking over the vast amount of management literature, very few authors are willing to take the soul seriously in the workplace. The soul's needs in the workplace have long been ignored, partly because the path the soul takes to fulfill its destiny seems troublesomely unique to each person and refuses to be quantified in a way that satisfies our need to plan everything in advance.

The Heart Aroused will look at the link between soul and creativity, success and failure, efficiency and malaise at work, but it sets as its benchmark not the fiscal success of the work or the corporation (though this certainly can be good for the soul), but the journey and experience of the human spirit and its repressed but unflagging desire to find a home in the world. It is written not only to meet the ancient human longing for meaning in work, but also in celebration of the natural human irreverence for work's authoritarian, all-encompassing dominance of our present existence.

Preservation of the soul means the preservation at work of humanity and sanity (with all the well-loved insanities that human sanity requires). Preservation of the soul means the palpable presence of some sacred otherness in our labors, whatever language we may use for that otherness: God, the universe, destiny, life, or love. Preservation of the soul means allowing for fiery initiations that our surface personalities, calculating for a brilliant career, would rather do without.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko says:

Sorrow happens, hardship happens, the hell with it, who never knew the price of happiness, will not be happy
(Trans. Peter Levi)

Preservation of the soul means giving up our wish, in the scheduled workplace, for immunity from the unscheduled meeting with sorrow and hardship. It means learning the price of happiness. Preservation of the soul means refusing to relinquish the body and its sensual appreciation of texture, color, multiplicity, pain, and joy. Above all, preserving the soul means preserving a desire to live a life a man or woman can truly call their own.

For consultants and management gurus, the soul is a slippery customer. On the one hand it may be dismissed completely. Many trainers and consultants maintain that the soul belongs at home or in church. But with little understanding of the essential link between the soul life and the creative gifts of their employees, hardheaded businesses listening so carefully to their hardheaded consultants may go the way of the incredibly hardheaded dinosaurs. For all their emphasis on the bottom line, they are adrift from the very engine at the center of a person's creative application to work, they cultivate a workforce unable to respond with personal artistry to the confusion of global market change.

On the other hand, many progressive management gurus ask that the person's soul life be included fully in their work but imagine that the vast, hidden Dionysian underworld of the soul erupting into everyday work life can only be positive. The darker side of human energy is very often sanitized and explained away as the product of bad work environments. Change the environment, they say, and all good things will fall into place, but this displays an untested middle class faith in the innate goodness of humanity that is only partially true, one doomed to fail when faced with the terrifying necessity of the soul to break, if necessary, every taboo, and wend its vital way onward, irrespective of family, corporation, deadline, or career.

This book does not offer easy answers as to the way that home life and work life, career and creativity, soul life and seniority, can be brought together. What it does do is chart a veritable San Andreas Fault in the modern American psyche: the personality's wish to have power over experience, to control all events and consequences, and the soul's wish to have power through experience, no matter what that may be. It offers the poet's perspective on the way men and women throughout history have lived triumphantly or tragically through both their daily work and their life's work. For the personality, bankruptcy or failure may be a disaster, for the soul it may be grist for its strangely joyful mill and a condition it has been secretly engineering for years.

I use poetry to chart this difficult fault line in the human psyche not because the fault line is vague and woolly, but because, like human nature, it is dramatic and multidimensional, yet strangely precise. No language matches good poetry in its precision about the human drama. "My heart rouses," says William Carlos Williams (generously giving me, by way of Dana Gioia's article, the title of this book) "thinking to bring you news of something that concerns you and concerns many men."

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Meet the Author

DAVID WHYTE grew up among the hills and valleys of Yorkshire, England. He is one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of corporate development, educating workers of many American and international companies about how to foster qualities of courage and engagement in their careers. In addition to four volumes of poetry, he has published an audiocassette lecture series and an album of poetry and music. His latest book is Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as Pilgrimage of Identity. He lives with his family in the Pacific Northwest.

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