"It is as if consciousness rests upon a self-sustaining and imagining substrate -- an inner place or deeper person or ongoing presence -- that is simply there even when all our subjectivity, ego, and consciousness go into eclipse."

"....soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences...."

–-- James Hillman

Soul-Making

Soul can be a dif­fi­cult word when it is asso­ci­at­ed with a work­place. Work and busi­ness are the domain of mea­sure­ment and man­age­ment, of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, log­ic, struc­ture, sys­tems, strate­gies and align­ments. Often these are things that have lit­tle obvi­ous con­nec­tion to the deep­er sto­ries of the peo­ple with­in the sys­tems. Those hid­den sto­ries may con­tain sub­jec­tive truths and emo­tion­al real­i­ties, but often such soul­ful intan­gi­bles are regard­ed as mere dis­trac­tions, just so much sun­light glint­ing off the sur­face of a mov­ing riv­er. Even busi­ness­es enlight­ened to their role and con­tri­bu­tion in cre­at­ing a bet­ter world may find nam­ing and valu­ing the true soul of the place elu­sive. It turns out you can’t just rely on a noble cause or pri­vate pas­sion or be right­eous about your work­place, no mat­ter what the work is. Soul can­not be known so eas­i­ly. It may always be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than you think it is.

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We can say that the soul of a busi­ness has to do with its real cul­ture. Not the intend­ed one past­ed on the walls as a mis­sion or vision or val­ues state­ment, but the way events and the his­to­ry of a place have shaped “what it real­ly means to work here.” There may be a kind of nar­ra­tive qual­i­ty to it, or the lack of the nar­ra­tive that could or should be there. We may know the place by the kind of hole that is felt there, maybe expe­ri­enc­ing what peo­ple believe once filled that hole in the past. The soul may be about the good in the place, the real care for employ­ees and cus­tomers, even as it is also laced with an evi­dent dark­ness, the ugli­ness of a top man­ag­er found to be steal­ing from the firm. The soul may be found in the spo­ken words, the last moti­vat­ing speech of the CEO, replete with per­son­al grat­i­tude, but also the vast unspo­ken lan­guage that defines a dif­fer­ent voice, one that beats peo­ple up every day on the shop floor. The point is that you have to be care­ful say­ing you think you know the soul of a work­place because there are always lay­ers. About the time you’ve decid­ed that a place is “soul-less” or “soul-killing,” for instance, you may over­hear a con­ver­sa­tion in the cor­ri­dor that con­tains a deep­er spark of human feel­ing and know­ing. Maybe it’s in the laugh­ter when some­one pulls a joke in the ele­va­tor. Maybe it’s in the momen­tary awk­ward­ness when the joke’s not all that fun­ny. Any­way, maybe soul is just what you can’t help but love about a place, even when it hurts.

It is said that the shaman works by enter­ing the spir­it world, a sep­a­rate real­i­ty. So, too, poten­tial­ly do we all as we open the door every morn­ing and pass through secu­ri­ty. You may laugh at that com­par­i­son, but I hope you will also see the grain of truth. We all poten­tial­ly share in the pas­sage to heal the places where we work as much as we work on heal­ing our­selves. And it may be, indeed, a very sep­a­rate reality.

It’s good to remem­ber that beyond the soul of any work­place are indi­vid­ual souls, yours and mine. It is up to us, after all, to see with our own eyes, to dis­cern for our­selves where good is and where it is not. Orga­ni­za­tions have their part to play in our own soul-mak­ing work, but they are not us. It seems true to me wher­ev­er we work, whether in a fac­to­ry or a store, a fast food restau­rant or a down­town sky­scraper or sing alone in the street with a one-string gui­tar, what­ev­er we do, tak­en seri­ous­ly, tests how will­ing we are to take two jour­neys: one out of our­selves and anoth­er going in. 

For our soul-mak­ing, cor­po­rate or indi­vid­ual, is as instinc­tu­al and pow­er­ful and as nat­ur­al as fish return­ing from the sea, clear­ing away the stones in the sandy shoals in order to cre­ate yet anoth­er gen­er­a­tion. Have you seen them, hold­ing a place in the river’s fine, cold cur­rent for the larg­er task? It is just what it is, clear­ly vis­i­ble below the sur­face reflec­tions, both instinc­tu­al and intimate.

They ful­fill a cycle just as we do, pass­ing on part of them­selves before they, too, are gone. Soul is more like that.

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5 Comments

  • Soulful…as always. : )

    Soul Mak­ing… Soul Shaking.… 

    Per­haps it’s only the title or befit­ting of any fam­i­ly, orga­ni­za­tion, or coun­try, how­ev­er, I’m remind­ed of the fol­low­ing song by Sean Hayes called Soul Shak­er. It was inspired by a 25 year old activist from San Fran­cis­co who was fatal­ly shot dur­ing a rob­bery while in New Orleans. Although the cir­cum­stances aren’t ‘ideal’…the song is. I love it and want­ed to pass it along. 

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbqf5W1nUS8&w=560&h=315%5D

    Thanks for shar­ing your heart and mind my friend! xo

  • Dear Saman­tha~

    Apolo­gies for my late reply! The song by Sean Hayes is beau­ti­ful, and should be play­ing the back­ground as peo­ple read the post. 

    The image in the post is about 10 years old and was tak­en in a back­street in New Orleans, so there’s that syn­chronic­i­ty, too.

    Thank you, my friend!

    ~Dan

  • Well there ya go! It was meant to be! 

    Had no idea your image was shot in New Orleans! 

    🙂

  • sandy taylor wrote:

    Dear Dan,

    For me Soul is deep con­nec­tion to my purpose. 

    I found a quote to share but I could not find the name of the author. ” Unless we can hear each oth­er singing and cry­ing, unless we can com­fort each oth­er’s fail­ures and cheer each oth­er’s vic­to­ries, we are miss­ing out on the best that life has to offer. The only real action takes place on the bridge between people.”

    Hope you too are expe­ri­enc­ing joy! Work­ing on the next bridge.

    sandy

  • Dear Sandy

    Thank you so much for stop­ping by!

    What a won­der­ful quo­ta­tion to share — so mean­ing­ful in this con­text (and with his­tor­i­cal res­o­nance). But even more beau­ti­ful because it also seems to sum up a piece of your soul, too, and the great­ness I know is in you. Thank you so much, my friend!

    All the best
    Dan

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