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Searching and Reclaiming the Soul in a Virtual World of Work

22 September 2020

Yvonne read The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte and recalled the search for soul in her own working life.

Tags: balance, covid-19, david whyte, music, poetry, yvonne read

Seeking inspiration, I selected The Heart Aroused from the Allison Partners Reading List when the pandemic was young. Since then, things have changed. Maintaining calm amid the reality of a global health crisis has itself become a nearly fulltime occupation. The pre-pandemic community has become a mostly masked sea of eyes; muffled words translate indistinctly what we want so much to say. A simple handshake, once a natural reflex, has been replaced with a head nod, or perhaps a little bow of recognition. In these strange times, Whyte’s treatise on keeping one’s soul alive and accessible in the work-a-day world has offered a much-needed focus away from the ever-present distractions across the globe.

Whyte fittingly shared, “Soul has to do with the way a human being belongs to their world, their work, or their human community.” The Heart Aroused looks at the link between soul and belonging, creativity and failure, success and stasis, and efficiency and malaise at work. Although work looks different these days, I feel fortunate to have the option to “distance in place” and continue to work. Even though physically apart from my coworkers, weekly virtual “team huddles” keep me connected in this six-month-long new normal.

In the midst of this, I’m thankful for a book where I can lose and at the same time find myself. The Heart Aroused is not an easy read and, by its literary style, required me to step away and take breaks at times to digest its depth. During these breaks, I have found myself poring over texts with authors referenced by Whyte throughout his book and rereading autographed poetry books from younger poets. This reverie re-introduced me to another time, another place, another me.

In an attempt to escape the ever-present news reports, I have found myself preferring to listen to music, sometimes even moved to dance alone and take up space with the free motion of arms and body, moving my feet, feeling a fleeting but refreshing release. Lately, songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific—a musical production from my high school days—have come to me in full lyrics: “Happy talk, keep talkin’ happy talk / Talk about things you’d like to do / You got to have a dream / If you don’t have a dream / How you gonna have a dream come true?” Then Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” sets off a much-needed handclapping, foot-dancing, spontaneous bit of joy!

These brief dance breaks were enough to restore a sense of purpose and resume work with more focus. In Whyte’s Preface to the Revised Edition of The Heart Aroused, he stated “A life of our own, from which we can give to others and to our organizations in an unresentful and ultimately generous way, after all, must be one of the great tasks of work, of art, of literature—to live and work each according to the way we are individually made for this awkward and beautiful world.”

Allison Partners’ prodigious library has become a source to occupy my mind, allow creativity to flourish, and to keep me sane. The Heart Aroused has provided mental and emotional room to revisit the soul, the reading of which has been an escape as well, though it is not what I would call a light read. The Heart Aroused was a timely choice in relation to COVID-19, a kind of quarantine-reassessment of life and work, an opportunity to find and welcome balance—and soul—in kind.


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