Bringing Your Soul to Work addresses these troubling questions in a way that provides a pathway for readers who want to bridge the gap between their spiritual and work lives. It honors readers' unique experiences and challenges them to think differently, aligning their actions with their hearts.
Engaging, inspiring, and poetic, yet grounded in real life, this book is written by consultants who see the contradictions of the workplace firsthand. Using case examples, personal stories, inspirational quotes, visual images, reflective questions, and specific applications, it shows readers how to use their own experience to grapple with the gritty realities of the workplace. Throughout the book, readers are invited to consider the book's concepts in relation to their own unique situations and, in the case of the applications, to record their responses in writing. They then learn to construct meaning from their own experience, drawing on imagination and practice, as well as the specific circumstances of their work lives.
Addressing what many feel but cannot say out loud, Bringing Your Soul to Work links ideas about soul to the realities of work in a unique way. For all those looking to increase their effectiveness at work and bring more feeling, imagination, and heart into their efforts with others, it will serve as a guide for creating something new and lasting.
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About the Author
Alan Briskin is author of The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace, winner of the 1997 Body Mind Spirit Award of Excellence. The book has been recognized as one of the first to address the role of the human spirit and soul in reconciling the contradictions and polarities many feel in today’s workplace. Highly regarded for his commentary on the changing nature of the workplace and work, his articles and observations appear often in the print media. He has spoken throughout the United States and in South Africa on the subject of soul and work and has been a featured guest on National Public Radio.
Read an Excerpt
BRINGING Your SOUL TO WORKAn Everyday Practice
By Cheryl Peppers Alan Briskin
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Cheryl Peppers and Alan Briskin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Inner Wilderness of Soul
The journey is difficult, immense, at times impossible, yet that will not deter some of us from attempting it.... I can at best report only from my own wilderness. The important thing is that each man possess such a wilderness and that he consider what marvels are to be observed there. —LOREN EISELEY
Our lives are marked with a series of events, encounters, and turning points that in one way or another stamp our outlook on life and move us in this direction or that. Ultimately, our responses to those events shape us into who we are today. If we can view these circumstances of our lives as aspects of our very own story, our unique pathway through life, then we can make the journey more conscious, and we can open to it. As Loren Eiseley has suggested, the only vantage point for the journey is "from my own wilderness." If we imagine our own inner wilderness as a base camp, this book is about the exploration of that personal wilderness and going out into the wilderness of our work lives. It's about beholding the wonders and dangers, bringing the journey into consciousness. Perhaps we shall also discover something about soul!
If you are unsure of what this word soul means and yet find yourself strangely drawn to it—especially with regard to using it in the same sentence as workplace—you are not alone. There are about as many meanings for the word soul as there are people taking up the question. Rather than that being a deterrent, it actually serves a useful purpose: Without the complications of a technical, rational understanding, the word soul can be a metaphor that feeds directly into our longings for meaning and purpose. In this way, it serves as something of a projection screen from which we can each envision our own particular meaning.
WHAT MEANING does soul have for you? How would you describe it?
WHAT IS currently stirring in your life that draws your attention to a book such as this?
How We Describe Soul
There is a lot of talk these days about soul and spirit, with many different concepts thrown around rather loosely. Teasing out some of the historical meanings behind the words can help us get grounded for the journey ahead. The meaning and context of the words themselves have crossed over into each other in different ways, at different times, and in different cultures. Our interest is not so much in distinguishing the use of one word from another historically as it is to clarify how we are using the word soul in this book. Accordingly, the following table highlights distinguishable themes for how the word soul has been used in the past, suggesting how, in this book, we might draw upon these meanings.
Notable themes of soul relevant to our work here include the journey into the shadowy nature of our inner world, vitality and renewal, the union of opposites, and elements of transcendence. Though they span several thousand years, these themes remain current. In a time of emphasis upon external impressions, it is appropriate to go inward; in a time of lost authenticity at work, to seek renewal; in a time of linear, absolute thinking, to consider the relationship of opposites; and in a time of constrictions from all of the above, to open to the transcendent.
A popular response to the increasing turbulence at work is to turn to spiritual answers. Though attending to the spiritual has value, it can also have limitations. It may be used to avoid the tough issues at work, or become a new form of rhetoric, or be confused with religious observance, or even pit groups against each other. Sometimes, it seems, a common thread in the popular movement is to take the focus away from actual work—to take time out for poetry, for walks in nature, for opening to the heart's calling regarding "real work," or for praying or meditating with others at work. When the subject is more directly related to work itself, it frequently manifests in the form of achieving one's highest potential, attaining power and wealth, managing stress, and even developing "emotional intelligence." One gets the feeling that to be spiritual at work requires either being away from work entirely (ironic) or doing a significant amount of additional work (equally ironic). The question remains, dangling for us to figure out for ourselves, of how to bridge the painful distance between our spiritual lives and our work lives.
There is a valid place for a spirituality that emphasizes time apart from the ordinary routines of work, including time for rest, reflection, rejuvenation. Certainly the idea of a "Sabbath rest" makes intuitive sense. In the face of today's work demands, a case could be made for spirituality as a complete flight from work and not merely as a Sabbath rest. Such a stance reflects the seeming impossibility of actually bridging the two worlds; we are left instead with having to choose between them. Unfortunately, this dilemma is all too real for many people today, quite possibly for you personally. Yet it is here, in this dilemma, that we are most vulnerable to a form of spirituality that is a disservice—when focus on the spiritual leads to a flight away from the more difficult realities requiring our attention. How does one embrace the spiritual without simply fleeing from the challenges and difficulties that mark our lives?
Spirit can suggest our highest potential, a place described by the Dalai Lama as a land of high, white peaks. But spirit needs to be joined with the fertile fields and hidden valleys of our own experience. Soul, as a concept distinct from spirit, draws on imagination, passion and reflection to remind us that life is a constant tension among opposite pulls. To approach the soul means to go deeper, on an odyssey of self-discovery that connects us to the world and our duties in life. Soul introduces us to mystery, it leads us to our own darkness, and it reveals new possibilities. In soul, we find the threads that weave together those fundamental questions of life: Where have I been? Where am I going? What truly matters? What do I want?
Soul beckons us straight into the swampy muck where our inner life and our work life intersect. This space is often marked with uncertainty and is sometimes dark, absent of the light clarity brings. Yet soul is the space in which the most fertile materials are found, the space which offers the possibility for renewal and vitality. It is in delving directly into the gritty realities of contradiction and uncertainty at work that one is able to bring spirituality into work life. The swamp is a provocative metaphor. Henry David Thoreau wrote, "When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most interminable, and to the citizen, most dismal swamp. I enter the swamp as a sacred place—a sanctum sanctorum. There is the strength, the marrow of nature."
Learning to hold the material and spiritual worlds together in creative tension is an act of courage and a form of love. Embedded in the idea of soul, therefore, is the sacredness of connecting the complexity of our own inner world with the complexity of the outer world. We grapple at the boundary, the overlap between self and other, the permeable line between what is inside and what is out there in the world. This can be especially difficult in the context of modern work life, with the polarization that has developed between the material and the spiritual, and with the constant shifting of boundaries around our work groups. To approach soul in organizational life is to become mindful of the web of relationships, beginning within and connecting into larger and larger circles of participation.
Checking Our Pulse
Is there a part of you that wants to take a kind of Sabbath rest from the issues in the workplace? Why?
Is there a part of you that wants to flee entirely from a focus on work and turn your attention toward spiritual development or other matters?
Is there a part of you that is willing to go into the muck, that fertile and creative space that can also be uncomfortable?
The Journey Ahead
This book is about the journey inward and the search for outward, meaningful connection in our work. Inevitably what we find affects us, so that the journey shifts, changes focus, beckons us to new directions. It is not linear. Though surprises can be frightening as well as enlightening, they are often the channels through which we catch glimpses of our deepest wilderness. The challenges of the workplace today provide many opportunities for making the journey real in our lives.
The journey is about ownership—of our inner world and the ways in which our inner world links outward. In those links, the spiritual and material coexist: Ownership makes possible the coming together of our spiritual lives and our work lives.
In the next chapters of this book, we will be gathering tools for the journey—initiating ourselves into the practice of seeing in new ways and exploring the many aspects of our multiplicity of selves. We do this by learning to approach the soul indirectly, while cultivating the skill of inward awareness. And we do it with an eye toward work—both how we understand ourselves in the context of work challenges and how we might bring more of our inner richness to bear on them.
There is not as much wilderness out there as I wish there were. There is more inside than you think. —DAVID BROWER
Chapter TwoWindows to the Soul
No one really knows what the soul is, but tremble forth it does and, just as mysteriously, shudders away again. —PHIL COUSINEAU
How does one approach the soul? Located in that transitional space between matter and spirit, between a concrete experience and its deeper meaning, soul can hardly be approached directly. Nor can we grasp soul in its entirety. Even if we could, the nature of soul is fluid, taking new form as our experiences change and our insights deepen. How, then, shall we attempt this journey into the soul, and how can we begin to understand soul in our work experience?
In this chapter, we explore techniques for peering into the soul indirectly, each technique offering a unique vantage point. It is much like peering through the windows of a house into its various rooms. Each picture contributes toward an image of the whole interior of the house, but the person looking in knows that there are still areas not seen—the basement, the bathrooms, the closets, perhaps an inner library. The entirety of the house remains a mystery, yet one is able to have a fairly realistic perspective by stepping up to the house one window at a time.
But soul is more than just an inner world. It is a realm in which the interior of the individual and the outer world overlap. In this sense, we can think of the house as a metaphor for the soul, a place where we live in both a private and an interactive sense.
This chapter introduces three of the many "windows" to the soul—the windows of our experience, of metaphor, and of fantasy. In each section, we will examine ways to take up the journey in the context of our work lives.
The Window of Our Experience
Mark was excited to join a large, prestigious consulting firm at the senior manager level, with the understanding that in two years he would be eligible for partnership. The partner who "found" him and hired him, Robert, had promised to personally groom him by making sure he got into the visible projects and high-level client meetings. Confident, smart, and energetic, Mark saw himself as having an opportunity to prove his savvy and instinct for tough business situations.
Soon after joining the firm, Mark was given the lead on a project with major visibility. This would be just the proving ground that Mark needed. The first few weeks of the project went well, and just as Robert had promised, Mark was given free and frequent access to the senior leadership of the chemical conglomerate client.
Several weeks into the project, Mark discovered a problem in their approach to the profit viability of a planned acquisition. Mark immediately spoke about the matter with Robert, who listened with concern and agreed to set up a meeting as soon as possible with the chief operating officer. The next day, Mark asked Robert about the meeting, and Robert stalled, suggesting that they may need more time to think about it internally on the consulting team. When nothing happened, Mark asked again and began to find Robert more and more resistant about setting up the meeting. Finally, Robert admitted that he thought it best that he, Robert, meet with the COO, lead partner to lead client, and that they had in fact arranged to have dinner that evening. Mark was not invited.
Disappointed but recognizing the sensitivity of the matter and still being new to the firm, Mark decided that there was little for him to do at the moment to challenge the situation. Over time, however, Mark found that he was regularly left out of the critical meetings and that approaching Robert about it seemed to create more difficulty. Finally, Mark learned from a trusted colleague that Robert had a reputation for promising senior managers access to client leaders, but then merely using them until it was no longer convenient to his own power base.
Mark was devastated. As he struggled to make sense of the situation, he found one illusion after another dropping away, until he was left with a darker view of the firm and also of himself. He realized that he had idealized Robert as the person who would personally mentor him through an important part of his career, but instead this experience left him feeling isolated and alone. He also had idealized his image of himself, in particular being strong and in control. Rather than the tough, savvy, forward-looking business manager he had imagined himself to be, he now also saw a person vulnerable to deception and capable of being used. Shaken by this new view of himself, Mark struggled to stay focused on the work.
With time and reflection, Mark continued to discover aspects of his own personality that were previously hidden: His self-confidence, he now understood, had elements of arrogance. Where previously he had imagined being needed for his intelligence and assertiveness, he now saw this as his own need to be important. More than simply being seduced by Robert's promises, he had been seduced by his own need to be special. Even his desire to do excellent work was related to his need for approval.
Rather than dwelling on these insights as utterly damning, Mark began to see them as a missing link in his own development. It was as if he'd found the other half of himself. At first awkward and unsettling, these new insights began to offer a different kind of self-confidence, one that was more realistic, grounded, and balanced. Released from his idealizations, he was freed to express his strengths in more effective ways and to feel less vulnerable to the seductions inherent in work life. Looking back, he came to appreciate disillusionment as his teacher: It pointed out his idealizations, took him through a period of disorientation, and led him to a less inflated but more solid view of himself and the firm. Clearly, the initially devastating situation had become a key catalyst in Mark's professional development.
The story of Mark* is a story each of us has experienced personally, to some extent. It is the story of coming up against disappointment and a loss of confidence that shakes us deeply. The journey of the soul often begins with the experience of being lost. We see the world and ourselves in new ways and suffer through a period of disorientation as we integrate the lessons learned. The poet Mary Oliver wrote that we see the world, for the second time, the way it really is. Her words suggest the importance of reflection on experience as a means of stripping away pretense and being freed from attitudes that distort our ability to engage life as it really is. Although rarely comfortable at the time, emotions such as disappointment and insecurity act as teachers, freeing us to reorder our world, both internally and externally.
Excerpted from BRINGING Your SOUL TO WORK by Cheryl Peppers Alan Briskin Copyright © 2000 by Cheryl Peppers and Alan Briskin. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsPreface
Introduction: The Collective Cry for Something More
1 The Inner Wilderness of Soul
Section 1: Mapping the Territory
2 Windows to the Soul
3 Soul As a Chorus of Inner Voices
4 Shadows of the Soul
5 Playing with Wild Cards
6 Shadow Sightings and Everyday Practice
Section 2: The Expedition
7 Finding Purpose in Work
8 Role As an Expression of Soul
9 Practices for Being Effective in Role
10 The Emotional Tapestry of Group Life
11 The Threads of Connection
About the Authors