Medium 9781576751114

Bringing Your Soul to Work

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EMPLOYEES TODAY are actively searching for more meaning in the workplace, for work that resonates with their being. How does one dare yearn for something more, when so many workplaces seem aligned solely with financial survival and profit making? How do we get work done amidst the demands and tugs on our soul?
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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11 Chapters

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1 The Inner Wilderness of Soul

ePub

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. 1

—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!10

 

2 Windows to the Soul

ePub

19

No one really knows what the soul is, but tremble forth it does and, just as mysteriously, shudders away again.1

—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.20

 

3 Soul As a Chorus of Inner Voices

ePub

How queer to have so many selves.

How bewildering.

—VIRGINIA WOOLF

IN THE 1920s, English fiction writer Virginia Woolf made a major contribution toward understanding the structure of the personality through her technique of character development. Moving beyond dialogue between people, Woolf brought forward the dialogue within oneself as a way to reveal the inner complexity of a character. Through stream of consciousness, the reader could listen in on the protagonist’s interior dialogue. Thus the story shifts to an inner drama, played out among the character’s multiplicity of selves. Woolf’s appeal, no doubt, stemmed from her readers’ recognition of these different aspects within themselves—if not quite the same, similar in their complexity and juxtapositioning. At the time, the popular view of the personality was that of a single, dominant self—an individual who by will could control himself or herself. Woolf and others introduced the idea of many selves, whose voices sometimes harmonize and other times conflict.42

 

4 Shadows of the Soul

ePub

55

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.1

—CARL JUNG

HISTORICALLY, ARTISTS of all types have tended to use movement from darkness to light as symbolic of growth, associating light with the divine. Light represents heaven, knowledge, good, that which is to be sought. The Great Canon, composed by St. Andrew of Crete around 700 C.E., celebrates the coming of Christ in the world as symbolized in the appearance of light in the morning and is still sung in monasteries at the break of day. Eighteenth-century artist William Blake chose light and dark figures to represent the struggle between good and evil, with lost innocence portrayed, in one painting, as a child figure reaching toward the sun. An exception to the association of growth with light may have been the Middle Ages, when the events of those times forced people to acknowledge that life is mysterious, that there is much that is unknown, unexplainable. Thus the darkness was valued as an aspect of greatness in the divine—that God was mysterious. But for the most part, light has historically symbolized the ideal.56

 

5 Playing with Wild Cards

ePub

71

When we begin working on our own souls, we discover that we are not self-made. Our identity depends on Another. We cannot make ourselves… but fortunately a wild card has been announced.1

—ALAN JONES

IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO recover the lost pieces of ourselves in isolation. It takes bumping into a lot of difficult situations and people to find out who we really are, and for this the workplace setting is ideal. Consider the surprise at the impact of another person on our lives. This wild-card “other” might take the form of a mentor, whose loyalty is unquestionable and whose insights have solidified our own sense of competence, or of an irritating coworker, whose only perceived value may seem to be in teaching us patience. The wild-card other may be encountered in the form of a stranger on the street who ignites our emotions, or a stranger within our own home—the spouse or child whose behavior or outlook seems painfully alien. Whether experienced as positive or negative, an encounter with this other often leads to insight and growth.72

 

6 Shadow Sightings and Everyday Practice

ePub

93

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.1

—R. D. LAING

There is much in everyday life, if we pause to notice, that points toward the shadow. While we’ve focused primarily on the hidden aspects of shadow, some are quite open and available for our viewing. Take, for example, the way we drive our cars on crowded, busy streets. Rattling off a slew of obscenities in a moment of frustration from behind the wheel is not only permissible, but might even be seen as an indicator of strength. Although one does hear of these kinds of outbursts occasionally in the work environment, they are not generally acceptable. If someone’s project is cut off by another project, the anger is usually played out more subtly, masked by a number of social conventions. But in the car, we let it rip. Other expressions of shadow acceptable in specific social circles include such things as fraternity hazing, the bachelor party, or excessive amounts of work being assigned to a younger associate.94

 

7 Finding Purpose in Work

ePub

113

A PHILOSOPHY PROFESSOR announced a pop quiz consisting of one essay question. He wrote the question on the board: “Why?” The students wrote furiously for an hour and took their break. When they returned, the professor opened with the news that no one had passed the quiz. “The answer is, ‘Why not?’” Students reacted with a mixture of anger and curiosity, ranging from feeling tricked to “Of course!” In the ensuing discussion, however, they wrestled with issues of meaning and purpose in their lives. Why, for instance, do we get up in the morning? Why not? Why were they there in class, studying? What did they hope to do with their lives? Each question only led to more questions, until the professor noted that the elusiveness of the questions seemed to fuel the students’ energy.

The question of purpose is not a trick question, yet it does drop us right into the question of “Why?” When purpose is clearly understood, our natural response is “Of course!”—just as we might respond upon hearing the professor’s answer of “Why not?” Oh yes, it’s simple, and we link our efforts with that sense of purpose without much further consternation. But when purpose is not clearly understood, finding it is somehow not so simple. In today’s work environment, the search for purpose is further complicated by the chaotic pace of change, often leaving us in a state of perpetual disorientation.114

 

8 Role As an Expression of Soul

ePub

137

Something we were withholding made us weak, Until we found it was ourselves.

—ROBERT FROST

THE NEATLY CARVED-OUT roles of the modern era have disappeared. Traditional hierarchical relationships are confounded by matrix, team-based, and even virtual organization designs. Gone are the cut-and-dry performance reviews, clearly written job descriptions, and even private office space. Mergers, spin-offs, and frequent restructuring mean constantly shifting positions and roles. Reporting relationships are less direct, often remote, and performance management systems are increasingly complex. Job descriptions can’t capture all of what we do, ongoing responsibilities compete with project-based initiatives, and process changes require constant adaptation to the work itself. Not only are we confused about our own roles, but the shifting roles of our colleagues leave us unsure of where to go for support and collaboration. It’s no wonder that, in the attempt to hold on to our sanity, we learn to withhold parts of ourselves. And then that weakens us, because we are split, and parts of ourselves are not present.138

 

9 Practices for Being Effective in Role

ePub

153

AMOTHER GOES IN to wake up her son. “Johnny, get up, it’s time to go to school.” Johnny moans, “But I don’t want to go to school. The kids hate me, I don’t get along with the teachers, and the food is bad. Give me one good reason why I should go to school.” Johnny’s mother says, “I’ll give you two. First, you’re forty years old. Second, you’re the principal.”

The humor of the punch line points to how difficult role can be. While stepping into role is a challenge in its own right, being effective in role on an ongoing basis presents a different set of issues. Showing up with our full range of selves, for instance, is a practice that takes discipline. We chuckle at Johnny’s wanting to hide under the sheets, because we recognize that longing, to just be “free of all these responsibilities.” Other practices essential for being effective in role, the focus of this chapter, include retrieving the pieces of ourselves that get lost along the way, resisting the forces that would pull us away from our role, learning to work with ambiguity, and stepping back to discern what’s going on.154

 

10 The Emotional Tapestry of Group Life

ePub

171

IN THE PAINTING La Danse by Henri Matisse, a circle of people with joined hands dance in a ring. We cannot see their faces, yet we do not need to. Something familiar in the image reaches into our core, reminding us of what it means to be part of a circle, to be joined with others—to belong. It is as if the painting expresses a fulfilled longing—to belong in such a way that leaves us free, happy, dancing. This may contradict reality, where “belonging” can come at a cost to our individuality that rarely makes us want to dance. In our lives, we often struggle with what it means to participate meaningfully in work groups, family, or social circles. In our hearts, however, we long to join freely with others, without constraint.

The longing to belong is part of our nature. As social creatures, we know who we are by our interactions with others—by how others see us, by how we are similar and different, and by how we influence and are influenced by others. Our experience in groups, beginning with our families and extending into each new group we encounter, shapes and textures who we are. Though soul is an idea often associated with our uniqueness, group life is the crucible in which our character gains uniqueness and depth. How we work with others—our ability to act in common cause, as well as our frustrations in doing so—tells us about this interactive aspect of our soul.172

 

11 The Threads of Connection

ePub

193

It is amazing how time and again, one of the most consoling factors in experience is that each experience has a sure structure; this is never obvious to us while we are going through something. But when we look back, we will be able to pick out the path that offered itself. Experience always knows its way. And we can afford to trust our souls much more than we realize. The soul is always wiser than the mind, even though we are dependent on the mind to read the soul for us.1

—JOHN O’DONOHUE

Love… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…. Love never fails.

—I CORINTHIANS 13

OUR EXPLORATION OF SOUL began through the window of reflection on experience—of our own experience. There, we began the journey of ownership, opening to what our experience has taught us, appreciating how it has shaped us, and folding it into our life story. “Experience always knows its way,” O’Donohue writes. Much of this book has been about learning to trust our own experience—learning to see beyond the rational and concrete, and using the mind and physical images to translate for us what our souls already know.194

 

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