The Heart Aroused

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The Heart Arounsed ia a surreal book best read with a second glass of wine in one hand to keep your eyes gently unfocused on the leaps between haute literature and corporate life that the author, David Whyte makes, and a highlighter in the other for the parts that resonate like a tuba. Whyte is an English poet and an Associate Professor at Oxford.

Each chapter draws parallels between a work of literature like Beowulf and for example power and vulnerability in the Workplace. It’s best if you’ve read these literary works recently. However, Whyte gives a fair synopsis of the salient plot points so if you haven’t, you won’t be lost.

Regardless, the head spins a bit when you read that first the monster Grendel’s mother is your own hearts desires for your life that you’ve been shoving down and may be afraid of and second that the hounds baying in chase to the shore are the corporate demands to give up your life and desires for it and third, you are the deer and Beowulf panting on the shore edge after a long chase, trying to decide, “Should I let the dogs kill me or dive in to escape the dogs and let Grendel’s mom do it?”

This unfolds in a much more elegant manner in the hands of Whyte. Bringing it into focus is what requires the second glass of wine. Unfocusing is like using peripheral vision to catch movement to your left and right. Once you glimpse the flash of water stirred by a slippery fish you know where to look.

Here are some of my favorite passages and quotes from the book, all elegantly written. They are places where I saw the splash of understanding on the surface of the water and looked more closely:

  • Certain parts of us have been dispatched to the dungeons in order to get ahead. (195)
  • Sometimes we have so disowned our bodies in the cerebral machines of the corporate world that a phrase like “Walk back into the body” may not compute. I am in my body, we say, where else is there to be? But the question must then be Which body? The body we use like a machine to get everything done, or the body Blake described as “the chief outlet of the soul in our age?” (129)
  • If mouse is all we have, then a first courageous step might be to say mouse is what we have to work with. (119)
  • I think we all live with the hope that we can put off our creative imperatives until a later time and not be any the worse for it. But refusing to give room to the fire, our bodies fill with an acrid smoke, as if we had covered the flame and starved it of oxygen. The interior of the body becomes numbed and choked with particulate matter. The toxic components of the smoke are resentment, blame, complaint, self-justification, and martyrdom. (89)
  • If we can see the path ahead laid out for us, there is a good chance it is not our path; it is probably someone else’s we have substituted for our own. Our own path must be deciphered every step of the way. (87)
  • What would it be like to take a professional approach to the longings of our soul for fulfillment in the world? (69)

Read this book for a challenge.

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