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


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.

In this peerless book, Whyte shows how the language of prophecy, poetry, and enlightenment gives voice to the most creative--yet hidden--desires. He shows that the best way to respond to the current call for creativity in organizational life is to overcome...

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

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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.

In this peerless book, Whyte shows how the language of prophecy, poetry, and enlightenment gives voice to the most creative--yet hidden--desires. He shows that the best way to respond to the current call for creativity in organizational life is to overcome habitual fear and reticence and bring full, passionate, creative human soils, with all their urgencies and unnamed longings, right inside the office. On-line promos (http: /

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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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781932887112
  • Publisher: Many Rivers Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2005
  • Format: CD

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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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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Table of Contents

1 The Path Begins: Inviting the Soul to Work 1
2 Beowulf: Power and Vulnerability in the Workplace 31
3 Fire in the Earth: Toward a Grounded Creativity 73
4 Fire in the Voice: Speaking Out at Work 117
5 Fionn and the Salmon of Knowledge: Innocence and Experience in Corporate America 145
6 Taking the Homeward Road: The Soul at Midlife 179
7 Coleridge and Complexity: Facing What Is Sweet and What Is Terrible 211
8 The Soul of the World: Toward an Ecological Imagination 275
Bibliography 299
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Reading Group Guide

1. I wrote The Heart Aroused hoping it would be read in two ways. First, as a good story about the difficulties and dramas of preserving the soul at work--in short, a page-turner; second, as a book that could be studied, contemplated, and discussed with others. I wanted the book to be both a private, almost secret journey mapping unspoken contours of the human heart and a public document stirring us to conversations that might help us to reimagine ourselves more fully in the workplace. To that end, in the spirit of a user's guide for the paperback edition, I have put forward the following assertions and questions as points of discussion and self-questioning for each chapter.

THE PATH BEGINS: Inviting the Soul to Work Understanding our work and destiny in life does not mean figuring out a preordained path for ourselves, but understanding the essential aspects of our own nature that we make room for and then celebrate and elaborate in useful work. Q. What is my heart's desire in life? What are some of the particularities of the way I like to live? What are the essential qualities that give me a sense of belonging? How can work be a good servant to my essential nature instead of a taskmaster? The word destiny is generally used in the context of the great figures of history: Joan of Arc, Madam Curie, Winston Churchill. Q. What would it take to start using the word destiny in the context of my own life and daily work? How do I grant magnificence to my own journey? How do I see the constraints, responsibilities, and weights on my life as gateways rather than barriers to the life I want for myself? We spend far more time in the workplace than we do with our families, in our places ofworship, or out in the natural world. If we are not asking questions of our work that are germane to our personal destiny, we are attempting to live out our lives in the 10 or 15 percent of the waking time left to us. Most of that time is in recovery mode. Q. How do I bring into my work the questions about my own destiny that enliven, embolden, and perhaps even scare me a little? What questions do I need to ask secretly and alone and what questions need support and conversation?

Beowulf: Power and Vulnerability in the Workplace Our notions of what is professional behavior and what is not almost always inhibit a full appraisal of the underground currents running through our work and our organizations. Q. What is my own equivalent of Grendel's mother? What clues or hints do I have as to what I find difficult to confront about myself? What are the things I find difficult to face about my own relationship to my work? What conversational waters must I enter that seem dark and fearful to me? What conversations are unspoken taboos in my organization? What is Grendel's mother for my organization? Q. Who are the people in the workplace with whom I can discuss matters of the heart? If I do not have a confidant in my workplace, where do I have the conversations that matter?

Fire in the Earth: Toward a Grounded Creativity Creativity involves a vital and often fiery participation in life that does not meld easily with our wishes for control and safety. Q. How often do I refuse the first steps toward my creativity because I am not sure who will emerge at the other end? What are my favorite ways of sabotaging myself? What does "fire" feel like in my own life? When I think of my own creativity in full flow, what days or hours of my life do I remember? If I could imagine my own creativity at full flow, how do I imagine or anticipate it would show itself? Having read the story of the Chinese potter at the end of the chapter, what is the work that would bake me to perfection? What is the part of myself that I have been holding back?

FIRE IN THE VOICE: Speaking Out At Work The voice is a powerful arbiter of our inner life, our power relationships with others, and a touchstone of faith in the life we wish to lead. Q. What are the essential qualities conveyed by my voice? Is my voice strong enough to represent the inner core of my aspirations to the outer world? What are my mouse sounds? What are my lion sounds? Having read the story beginning this chapter, what story could I tell from my own life to illustrate a time I said Ten instead of Zero? How could I practice leading my voice out into my world and my workplace more fully? How well do I say No to the things for which I do not have a Yes? When in my own life did No blossom into Yes?

FIONN AND THE SALMON OF KNOWLEDGE: Innocence and Experience in Corporate America Experience is not gained by erasing our sense of innocence. Our innocence in effect is our willingness to see the world, not as a problem to be solved, but as a profound mystery to be lived and experienced. Q. How much of my day is spent trying to solve the problem and problems of life? How much of my day is spent attempting to live out the mystery of my existence? How much alone time do I give myself for this exploration? How much of my time with others (children, spouse, friends, colleagues) am I truly present? The soul's journey begins when it understands the true nature of its aloneness, when it understands that it has, in effect, been orphaned. Q. Taking this image of the orphan as a catalyst for my own thoughts, what would I want to claim as my true inheritance? By whom would I like to be raised? What is my lineage? Who are the people, writers, teachers, artists--alive or dead--who have both emboldened and steadied me? What names would I shout out if confronted by Call Mac Cona, so as to be recognized and not slain? Our abilities in the world of strategy and control are meant to be a good servant to, not the master of, the soul's desires. Fionn's instincts took him to the clearing where the hard work of-catching the Salmon of Knowledge had already been completed. Q. What does this story mean to me? How do I distinguish between passivity and following my heart's desires into the clearing? Do my strategic abilities serve me well or am I continually serving them? Do I believe I can have the life I want if only I can figure it out or be clever enough? What does it mean to love doing something? How much do I think I am stealing time when I am tending to the things I love? How willing am I to place the people, places, and things I love first, not only in my home life, but in my work life too? How well have I preserved my innocence?

TAKING THE HOMEWARD ROAD: The Soul at Midlife We take the road of midlife not as the beginning of disengagement and retirement but as a newer and more profound path to meaningful work, the work of belonging in a deeper way to those people and things we have taken so long to learn to love. Q. If I am anticipating midlife but have not yet arrived there, what are the images I have of myself around fifty? How do I want to feel in my body? What do I want to have achieved? Who do I want to have become? If I have reached midlife, what image do I carry of myself? How do I feel in my body? What do I feel I have achieved? Who have I become? If in your mind it was possible to take a year's sabbatical from work to reassess your life, what would you do and where would you go? What questions would you like to answer for yourself? What are my images of retirement? Do I see myself suddenly stepping over a threshold where I will no longer want to work in the same way? The age requirement for retirement is arbitrary and certainly not tailored to the individual. What other measures will I use to help determine my own destiny when I reach the thresholds normally associated with retirement? What does Solomon's wisdom mean to me in my own life? What does each line of his advice mean for me? Don't leave the old road for a new one! Don't meddle in other people's affairs! Save your anger for the following day!

COLERIDGE AND COMPLEXITY: Facing What Is Sweet and What Is Terrible The new science of complexity echoes the wisdom long passed down in the poetic tradition. The way to build a poem, a life, or a lifelike and useful system is to fold meaning into the simplest elements and allow complexity to emerge from their natural self-generation . Q. If I were asked to state the basic principles of my life in the simplest and clearest way possible, how would I articulate them? How much resemblance does my daily work life bear toward these principles? How well does my organization embody the things I deem most important? How do I remember these simple elements on a daily basis; what disciplines do I have for remembering them? How much quiet time do I make for myself in order to remember? Remembering my own life means having faith in the imagination--the images that literally emerge inside myself in order to make sense of the often complex images that surround me. Q. How much time do I spend imagining? What does it mean to have faith in my own images? What is one abiding image inside me in which I could choose to have faith? When chaos reigns around me, how do I react? What instinctual internal images could make a difference to my response? How do I work with others without forming a flock?

The Soul of the World: Toward an Ecological Imagination The first step toward preserving the soul in our individual lives is to admit that the world has a soul also, and is somehow participating with us in our work and destiny. Q. How much attention do I pay to the world around me? How self-preoccupied am I? Do I let anything in from the outside at all? How self-preoccupied is my organization? How do I see other people in my organization--are they just a moving backdrop to my own drama or do I really take time to see they have lives and destinies of their own? How much time do I spend in the natural world or in environments outside the world of work that help me put my own struggles in perspective? The mythologist Joseph Campbell said "You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don't know what you owe anybody or what they owe you--but a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be..." Q. What is that place, that room, that certain time of the day in my own life?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2003

    Other Critics miss the point

    To discuss David's book in singular terms relating to business life is to miss the point entirely. This book is not about just our work life, it is about our whole life. I have both the audio and the paperback. I refer to it frequently, not as a phrase of the day inspiration as if in recovery, but as a opening to a part of life that is denied by what we do everyday. And we don't just do it in our work, we do it in our relationships and our involvements. David did a marvelous job (no pun intended) identifying what we refuse to acknowledge about our soul life. We spend so much time defending ourselves in all of those things in life that absorb all of our time; our job, our marriage, our religion. David correctly shows that our soul life goes on regardless of what we do. We just need to recognize it and integrate it. What a beautiful gift!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2001

    Creative Business Writing at Its Best

    Whyte is an outstanding poet. The book realistically addresses the self-limiting corporate culture on creativity. His insight into human nature-fear, emotional freedom, self esteem, desire to create, etc. is exceptionally well told through poetic stories. The book is an inspirational work, especially to readers that have spent many years in corporate America fighting the battle within themselves. It's a must read for senior management and leaders.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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