In the fifteenth century, Marsilio Ficino put it as simply as possible. The mind, he said, tends to go off on its own so that it seems to have no relevance to the physical world. At the same time, the materialistic life can be so absorbing that we get caught in it and forget about spirituality. What we need, he said, is soul, in the middle, holding together mind and body, ideas and life, spirituality and the world.

–Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

Repair of the Soul

For a num­ber of years I co-facil­i­tat­ed a lead­er­ship work­shop in Jack­son Hole, Wyoming. One day wan­der­ing through that small town, one of my facil­i­ta­tor col­leagues found some t‑shirts for the three of us. On the front they were embla­zoned with the words, “Soul Repair” and “Reju­ve­na­tion of Spir­it” writ­ten in large let­ters above and below a pic­ture of crossed skis. I always appre­ci­at­ed that imagery — because sure­ly ski­ing can be a won­der­ful form of soul repair and reju­ve­na­tion. There’s almost noth­ing in my expe­ri­ence like the adren­a­lin rush of launch­ing over the edge of some­thing I would­n’t in my right mind want to walk down. The only alter­na­tive is fly­ing.

Of course, we wore the t‑shirts to do our work as facil­i­ta­tors, too. That was a dif­fer­ent kind of fly­ing. Our work embraced the con­tra­dic­tions and dilem­mas of ordi­nary peo­ple try­ing to under­stand how to live and lead in ways that tapped their deep­er, bet­ter selves. The edges they were going over were in their own lives, exter­nal­ly and inter­nal­ly. A doc­tor strug­gled with his impa­tience and alien­ation of co-work­ers. A young woman need­ed to revis­it and re-eval­u­ate how her life had changed since the death of her part­ner in a freak acci­dent. An admin­is­tra­tor assessed her short-com­ings as a leader and decid­ed she was­n’t so bad, after all. The work was all about claim­ing and reclaim­ing their lives in the after­math of some­thing that had chal­lenged them in the past or might chal­lenge them some­time soon: divorce, deser­tion, job ter­mi­na­tion, fail­ure, incar­cer­a­tion and, plen­ty often, a vague unease about loss of mean­ing. Most often, they did the work with cre­ative tenac­i­ty and came way great­ly renewed. 

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The sto­ries we heard were all about the repair of souls. All we did as facil­i­ta­tors was cre­ate a place for the work — a work shop — a space with a few tools, some “bench­es,” and the gift of time. All we did was say, “this is a good place and time to won­der, go deep­er, grow in what­ev­er ways you feel you are meant to grow toward a life you want and deserve.”

Repair of the soul is not some­thing you do once and it is over. It is pre-emi­nent­ly not a work­shop. That was just one vehi­cle. Soul repair is going on all the time because it is about find­ing the mean­ing in things — in dai­ly events and encoun­ters, chal­lenges and mis­eries. I think of a young woman I’ve been help­ing over­come the pain of her recent ter­mi­na­tion. It’s par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult for her because it’s from her first job in her field (health care) after get­ting an advanced degree. It’s just been tor­ture for her to go through the stages of grief. Some around her want her to “hur­ry up,” get over the hump, take yoga, get out there and apply for some oth­er work right away, or at least, for cry­ing out loud, cheer up.

But true repair isn’t made of such dross. It requires more of us — the sleep­less nights rework­ing events again and again, ask­ing big­ger ques­tions: Why did this hap­pen? How did it hap­pen? What am I sup­posed to get from this? What am I sup­posed to do now? How do I deal what I’ve been blind to all along? These big­ger ques­tions are the “soul search­ing” that deep­ens us.

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Often that search­ing ends less in a clear, con­scious, artic­u­la­ble answer than in a greater accep­tance of life being exact­ly as it is sup­posed to be. The para­dox of that accep­tance — sur­ren­der­ing to deep­er events and deep­er genius — is that it enables move­ment for­ward in a new way. The attempt to push ahead with­out the search, resist­ing the soul­ful, provoca­tive self-ques­tion­ing, is what caus­es pain to embed itself per­ma­nent­ly in the spir­it. Not lis­ten­ing to suf­fer­ing turns it into a back­ground par­a­site of some kind, or maybe more accu­rate­ly, a slow infec­tion that will show itself lat­er and at a par­tic­u­lar­ly inop­por­tune moment — maybe just when you think things are going real­ly well. It’s accep­tance and learn­ing that open a new door.

Our busi­ness cul­ture turns away from soul work, tries to hide it under a pati­na of opti­mism and the oxy­moron­ic con­dem­na­tion of all forms of neg­a­tiv­i­ty. Some like to hold con­tempt for any­one who has to do that inner work as if they don’t have the right stuff any­way. They real­ly don’t want to explore any­thing like fail­ure, even be ter­ri­bly curi­ous about it, let alone dis­cov­er its lessons. But oth­ers, maybe more sen­si­tive or intu­itive, more will­ing to expe­ri­ence, know in an unspo­ken way that every attempt to sim­ply seal up the walls against soul work ulti­mate­ly post­pones the inevitable. For every child locked in the base­ment there is the dis­turb­ing sound one day of foot­steps ascend­ing the dark­ened stairs.

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Just so, my advice to the young woman has been to stay with the sit­u­a­tion and not to “heal too fast” but to use these events to reclaim an impor­tant mean­ing before the oppor­tu­ni­ty is lost. She’s strug­gled, she told me, with find­ing her true voice because she’s giv­en it up to eat­ing dis­or­ders, to serv­ing oth­ers and being what they want her to be. I sense her ter­mi­na­tion could make her want to seal that voice off again, blamed and sent way before she’s had time to lis­ten to its full sto­ry and implic­it guid­ance. That’s what soul repair is, I believe, the work of find­ing a way through the dilem­mas, just as Thomas Moore sug­gests in Care of the Soul. It’s not about run­ning away, but run­ning toward the very thing that’s caus­ing the suf­fer­ing. In this sense, the young woman is find­ing out that her ser­vice to oth­ers, her care and love, is con­tin­gent first on her care and love for her­self — a self she does­n’t care for much at the moment, and maybe has not been cared for enough for an entire life. 

Why would we turn away from such work? Why would­n’t we share in it with one anoth­er? Sup­port each oth­er as any true part­ners, true col­leagues, true com­mu­ni­ty might?

How many dis­cor­dant rela­tion­ships at work are the prod­uct of peo­ple run­ning away from the prob­lem, rather than toward it and through it with each other?

How many inef­fec­tive man­agers defend them­selves instead of thought­ful­ly hold­ing up a mir­ror — to see what their soul is tru­ly made of?

How many lead­ers don’t want to know how they are col­lud­ing in the prob­lems and fail­ures they say they want to solve?

These are all prob­lems of the soul at work, and of the need­ed work of the soul. They are evi­dence of the need for repair in every one of us — so long as we first believe in the nature of our own souls and the good we might do.

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Images in this post are screen­shots from this movie.

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12 Comments

  • Lolly Daskal wrote:

    repair of the soul is remem­ber­ing your soul.

    Life is a jour­ney, every minute of every hour, we are remem­ber­ing who we are meant to be and repair­ing we are repair­ing what we need to heal. It is a cycle we will do until we cant do it anymore.

    Your post is an impor­tant reminder to us, for us, and about us.

    Thanks for shar­ing stun­ning words of your heart. 

    Lol­ly

  • Dear Lol­ly~

    As always, I so appre­ci­ate your tak­ing a moment to share. I love the notion of “remem­ber­ing,” Lol­ly, and also that there is a cycle we are meant to com­plete. These are pow­er­ful insights that mir­ror my expe­ri­ence, too.

    All the best
    Dan

  • Soul repair is going on all the time.’ 

    I whole­heart­ed­ly believe that every­thing we are going through is an invi­ta­tion for the recov­ery and dis­cov­ery of our soul. The glimpse of which we can catch in any moment that we let go of the should be’s of oth­ers that drown out the voice of our very own WHAT IS and wants to be right now.

    I also love what you wrote here:

    The work was all about claim­ing and reclaim­ing their lives in the after­math of some­thing that had chal­lenged them in the past or might chal­lenge them some­time soon: divorce, deser­tion, job ter­mi­na­tion, fail­ure, incar­cer­a­tion and, plen­ty often, a vague unease about loss of meaning.’

    Yes, this is all part of the sticky busi­ness of liv­ing this thing called life. We can find it a lit­tle eas­i­er to breathe when e no longer have to pre­tend that life isn’t messy at times. And does­n’t fit con­ve­nient­ly into some ‘ide­al’ of per­fec­tion we’ve read some­where. We want and need tools to help us along the way. Those tools are only help­ful as long as they aren’t try­ing to force us to hide or sell our own souls, but to embrace it’s true nature. 

    Your post also remind­ed me of one of the pil­lars of Tai Chi train­ing called Push­ing Hands. After the prac­ti­tion­er learns the forms and has worked solo for awhile, the next phase of train­ing is to work with a part­ner. You inten­tion­al­ly try to main­tain your own bal­ance while push­ing the oth­er off bal­ance. Push­ing each oth­ers hands is a way of learn­ing how to feel the ener­gy and move­ment in the oth­er per­son. And vice ver­sa. How­ev­er, this prac­tice is unlike a com­pet­i­tive sport in that it’s inten­tion is to expose where we are still weak. Once we have iden­ti­fied the area of weak­ness exposed with a part­ner, this is sim­ply reveal­ing the info we need to take back into our solo prac­tice. Now we know what we need to work on. 

    When I read about Push­ing Hands in Tai Chi train­ing, it struck me that this is exact­ly how our rela­tion­ships serve us in real life. They nat­u­ral­ly reveal to us where our cur­rent work lies. When we under­stand this, the less fright­ened we need to be over so-called imper­fec­tions. None of us have ARRIVED

    It’s an on-going, ever-evolv­ing, life long SOUL JOURNEY

    Thank you so much for shar­ing yet anoth­er heart felt post.

  • […] For a num­ber of years I co-facil­i­tat­ed a lead­er­ship work­shop in Jack­son Hole, Wyoming. One day wan­der­ing through that small town, one of my facil­i­ta­tor col­leagues found some t‑shirts for the three … […]

  • Mag­nif­i­cent post, Dan! Made me tru­ly think about the real impor­tance of not just mov­ing for­ward from our chal­lenges but rather take the time to under­stand and work through them.

    I also love the idea- Soul Repair! And yes it is on-going and evolving.

    Ter­ri

  • Thanks Dan.
    Years ago I was prac­tic­ing incip­i­ent spins as a stu­dent pilot. With a mix­ture of inep­ti­tude and fear I expe­ri­enced the plane going into a full spin. I did not expe­ri­ence the plane spin­ning so much as the ground swirling and rapid­ly approach­ing me. I remem­ber swear­ing in the cock­pit and sud­den­ly “woke up.” You see the only way out of a spin is to go into a spin. I had to push the con­trols towards the earth and steer into the direc­tion of the spin. Thank­ful­ly, I sur­vived. I learned that day that the way out is through. It is a les­son I know but a les­son I keep learning.
    Thanks for a reminder,
    David

  • Tom Rhodes wrote:

    Dan,
    Thank you for your won­der­ful post. A lit­tle more than 2 years ago in a 10 day peri­od I lost my Dad and was demot­ed from a posi­tion because my boss felt I “cared to much” about my people.
    My Dad had taught me the peo­ple skills that had brought me to where I was so in this time I had lost my hero and had is every word chal­lenged. My soul has been under repair since as in the next year I was fired and have faced emo­tion­al and finan­cial chal­lenges I had nev­er seen in my 60 years.
    Thanks to my fam­i­ly, peo­ple I have con­nect­ed with on Social Media and my chil­dren my beliefs and my soul are mend­ing. But you are very right it is a process that takes time. It can not be rushed.
    Thank you again for this won­der­ful post.
    Tom

  • Hi Dan
    Oh I love this arti­cle. It res­onates with so many thoughts and expe­ri­ences that come “shown up” recently. 

    Not only does most of busi­ness cul­ture turn away from soul work, it’s often bru­tal­ly dis­mis­sive of it. I use the word, a harsh one, bru­tal, decide­ly. I’ve seen and heard too much late­ly about the ways in which the rapa­cious dri­ve of so much busi­ness (and it’s not just busi­ness — it’s insti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing every­where) tries to over­ride human needs. It’s a form of PTSD that so many work­ers are expe­ri­enc­ing. And like John Wenger wrote in a recent arti­cle… a form of Stock­holm Syn­drome sets in.

    I echo what Tom Rhodes said in his com­ment about the cal­lous and ridicu­lous think­ing of a man­ag­er who tells an expe­ri­enced employ­ee “he cared too much” about his peo­ple. A CEO was recent­ly told by a new part­ner “your peo­ple like you too much, they need to fear you.” 

    When will we extri­cate our­selves from such dam­ag­ing igno­rance? And as you say so eloquently, ”
    Not lis­ten­ing to suf­fer­ing turns it into a back­ground par­a­site of some kind, or maybe more accu­rate­ly, a slow infec­tion that will show itself lat­er and at a par­tic­u­lar­ly inop­por­tune moment —

    I fear that slow infec­tion is a large part of the “dis­en­gage­ment” prob­lem we’re expe­ri­enc­ing in near­ly every work­place — globally. 

    Soul work indeed.…

    Thanks for anoth­er won­der­ful post.
    ~Louise

  • Dear Saman­tha~

    Soul work shares much with the mar­tial arts. There’s a dis­ci­pline in “going where we need to go,” as Theodore Roethke said in his well-known poem, The Wak­ing. A dis­ci­pline and a dance and a con­cen­tra­tion of reflec­tive pow­er, like light focused through a mag­ni­fy­ing glass on the mean­ing of our chal­lenges. I love the image of Push­ing Hands and how that points us in the right direction.

    Thank you, Samantha!

    Best
    Dan

  • Dear David~

    What a fab­u­lous image — steer­ing the direc­tion of the direc­tion of the spin. It reminds me of Park­er Palmer’s sto­ry of feel­ing strand­ed as he learned to rap­pel down a cliff, recount­ed in great lit­tle book, Let Your Life Speak. After min­utes of denial, being frozen, and insist­ing he did­n’t have a prob­lem, a rock climb­ing teacher watch­ing him from below shout­ed out her direc­tion to him: “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.” It is a soul­ful moment when you real­ize it’s entire­ly up to you.

    Thank you so much, David.

    All the best
    Dan

  • Dear Tom~

    I was moved by your cir­cum­stances, Tom. No pic­nic. It sounds like that process of mend­ing is lead­ing to very dif­fer­ent ground — bet­ter ground — and an under­stand­ing of your own life and its dimen­sions in a new way. May good wish­es to you and thank you so much for shar­ing your impor­tant story.

    Best to you
    Dan

  • Dear Louise~

    We assume too eas­i­ly we are part of an enlight­ened rather than prim­i­tive age. A repres­sive, fear-based mind­set all too eas­i­ly comes for­ward — uncon­test­ed. I expect from time to time to hear the odd­ball com­ments about peo­ple need­ing to fear the boss, but the real ques­tion is whether there’s any response. Has any­one spo­ken to chal­lenge this nonsense? 

    We must find a way through that dark space, as indi­vid­u­als and as com­mu­ni­ties. We have to find the burn­ing coal under the ash heap, and I believe per­son­al­ly that when we focus too much on extremes of courage or cow­ardice we defeat our­selves. Con­nect­ing is awk­ward but necessary.

    Thank you so much for your obser­va­tions and keen sup­port, Louise. You are a won­der­ful teacher.

    All the best
    Dan

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