Quotes: A Life at Work

Moore, T. (2009). A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do (Reprint edition). New York: Harmony.

Alchemy offers a model for finding your life work. It teaches that the search is not just about the product but also the process. xv

Alchemy terms

  • prima materia – raw stuff p xiiv

  • opus – the entire process p xiv

  • aqua permanens – eternal waves p xv

  • soror mystica – mystical sister p xv

  • separatio – sepatation p 35

  • nigredo – blackening p 47

  • solutio – in solution / dissolving p 63

  • rubedo – reddening p 140

  • purificato -purify p 154

In alchemy one of the first important developments is the opus is a process called separatio. The alchemist puts a significant amount of stuff into a vessel and watches closely as the elements separate out. This is a crucial stage, for progress in the opus is possible only if separation takes place effectively. p 35

C.G. Jung once wrote that creativity is an instinct, not an optional gift granted to a lucky few. If you don’t find a way to be creative in life, that instinct goes repressed and frustrated. You feel its loss as a deflation, the spirit leaking out of your sense of self. You feel empty, disengaged, and unfulfilled. p 2

Today we may not fully appreciate the workplace as a laboratory where matters of soul and worked out. p3

“Disgruntled” workers notoriously aim their aggression at the people around them; the same is true in a more subtle way in families. p 6

Many people are suffering from the soullessness of their work. p9

The point is not merely to succeed but to become a deeper, more complex, more mature person through your struggle. You allow the alchemy of your challenging journey to etch itself into your character, making you into a rich personality. Then whatever work you fo will have the quality of your experience and your capacity to be ripened by it. p10

The ancient art of alchemy shows a way: Pay attention to your deep and complex interior life, become more sensitive about your relationships, consider your past thoughtfully, and use your imagination at its full power. p 11

This is a story about calling and obedience to the call. But let’s remember that at root obedience means “listening.” To find your way you have to pay close attention to the signs about when to change your job, when to get unstuck and reenter the flow of life, and when to retire to a life of healing and teaching. p 13

The word vocation comes from the Latin word vox, voice. A vocation is a call. p 13

The question is not so much does the world give us a direction, but are we able to read the world for its information? p 13

The signs that tell you to make a move, stay where you are, or change something about your situation come in many forms. p. 15

The two are inseparable: the work that we do and the opus of the soul p. 20

If flexibility is the primary virtue as you pursue your callings, then a philosophy of the polycentric life–the idea that you can be more than one thing–is a close second. p.22

Here is my starting point in looking for a life work: Step out of the frenzied pursuit of the right job, look around at the whole of your life, and connect with the source of your vitality. p28

Tradition connect the soul to the breath, both literal and metaphorical. You have a soul if you are breathing and show some signs of life. But you also need to breathe in a less literal way taking life in and breathing it out: winning and losing, being happy and being sad, beginning a project and ending it, entering relationships and leaving them. This is the bittersweet rhythm of an engaged life, and it is a sign that you have a soul. p31

The soul is your depth, like the rich earth nourishing a flower. p 36

Spirit is the upper region of experience and includes your worldview, ethical sensitivities, ideas about life and death, religious beliefs and understandings, and intellectual development. p 37

Spirit and soul are two dynamics moving in different directions: One reaches in the past for inspiration, the other moves steadily into the future. p 37

Feeling of belonging, connection, history, and involvement may seem secondary to the person designing a managing the job, but these soul qualities have everything to do with good and fulfilling work. They may appear to be second in importance to productivity and efficiency, and yet they have an impact on the success of the work being done. Tardiness, absenteeism, and sloppy work are often due to the absence of soul in the workplace. p 42 

Soul and spirit are like siblings or lovers to vivify and inspire the quest for a life work. Together, they offer depth and transcendence, memory and hope, intimacy and universality. p 45

What you do with your past is more important than what it threatens to do to you. You have to see what is valuable in it, shape it to your own hopes and principles, and not get overwhelmed with its negative elements. p 54

The past is not a problem to be solved. It’s your mystery, the complicated tale of who you are and how you came to this point in your life. p 55

One of the richest insights in alchemy is that idea they have “stuff” to work with. You don’t have to go into a blank future empty-handed; you can sort through the positive and negative elements of your past. p 57

Chaos is pure possibility, with no clear goals and directions to get in the way. p 61

A contemporary way to do what the alchemists did–place all the stuff, good and bad, in a glass vessel–is to find a container, a vessel of some sort, the will hold your chaos. Therapy is such a vessel. But there are many others. A friendship, a family, a community, a church, a club, a conversation, a diary, a dinner, a walk with someone–these can all serve as vessels for the stuff that plagues you desperately look for your life work. Within all these containers is one of the most effective vessels: your stories. p 61-62

One of my primary tasks as a therapist is to help people tell their stories, for storytelling is an art, in both the aesthetic sense and the alchemical sense. You tell a story well by giving it a shape and dynamics, but you also tell a story so that your heart is moved by it, and your thoughts go deeper and your emotions emerge. p 65

People are often not in the habit of seeing through to deeper layers in the stories they tell or hear.  They take in the details and then want to consider some action. But the first telling of a story may be just a sketch. p 66

Bad decisions usually stem from dealing with the failure to see the full expanse of life in front of us. Our habits of interpretation are like blinders. p 70

You can be overwhelmed by the negativity of the failure and still have the imagination to see opportunity. A person of imagination is not undone by the overwhelming weight of facts and feeling. p71

The imagination is similar to a muscle in the body: It works more effectively, especially against the odds, when it has been practiced, exercised, and honed. Throughout life, even when no work crisis is looming, you can use your imagination habitually, seeing possibilities with the fact suggest otherwise. p 72 

The work inspire means “to breath into” and brings us back to the idea that to be alive in body and soul means to breathe in and out. p74

Like mythology and religious teaching stories, fairy tales reveal some of the patterns that offer challenges to human beings as they try to make a success of their lives. p 80

To feel something strongly is not the same thing as to feel it deeply. You may be so angry that you can hardly stay on the job, but you ay be ignorant of the base of that anger. p 88 

The deep source of the creative spirit is difficult to express in our world because we have difficulty appreciating the positive qualities of our dark emotions. p 91

There is always a shadow side to work–money, sexuality, insensitivity, a need to dominate. When a person acknowledges these qualities, they are less destructive than if thy are hidden, and the darken and deepen the face we show the world. p 92

Public art can help people see the role of art in society and its place as part of a life work. p 93

A soulful life is one of thoughtfulness, care, and engaement–you are present in everything you do, not just going through the motions. p 103

Sports are highly symbolic and usually ritualistic. p 106

Sports are games of life. In our games we live out symbolically the challenges, defeats, and success that are part of the bigger play of life, and therefore sports are important at a deep level. p 107

Business and sports can be a useful combination. P 107

Jung referred to this figure of the psyche or spirit in a person as the puer aeternus, the Eternal Youth. Ant man or woman might be dominated, at lease for a while, by an excess of spirit–too much wind in their sails, too much glory in their eyes. p 110

For the ancient Greeks a daimon is an unnamed urge that pushes you in a certain direction. p121

 To live by the dictates of your daimon requires a willingness to ease up on your rationality and your desire to control your life. p 124

The trouble with intuitions that seem to tell you to back off is that they are difficult to distinguish from fear and simple hesitation. p 124

It (daimon) wants you to go one way, while you are trying to make a life of a different kind, But out of this struggle comes a creative life. p 129

Accordingly, the Greeks conceived of education as paedeia, the development of mind, body, soul, and spirit into personal and social arĂȘte. ArĂȘte is often translated as “excellence,” but it implies bravery, wit, and personal power. A person with arĂȘte is not just an outstandingly accomplished and learned person, but rather someone with special powers that rise above the human. ArĂȘte implies a demonic way of life, where a person derives strength, mental keenness, and imagination from a source beyond his rational mind.  p 134

We have two challenges: to find work for what we love and love for what we do. p 142

If you don’t love your work, consider dealing with your emotions in every aspect of your life.  p146 

Today people tend to adopt a pragmatic attitude and may automatically think of manner as superficial, but a conscious attempt to practice civility, maybe even to a greater degree than seems natural, can help the work environment and lead to a deeper kind of love. p 146

Community is not a group of people or an organization. Community is an outlook on life in which you define yourself in relation to the world around you rather than only in connection with yourself. it is the opposite of narcissism. It is what develops as your narcissism advances from self-love to love of the other. p 151

For thousands of years people have talked about anima mundi, or the world soul, which is the tangible depth and vitality of the world that we live in.  Jung once said that the soul in not in you, you are in the soul. p 152

When you achieve the sophisticated innocents that comes from self-analysis, you are free to feel positive emotions once again. p 155 

You may understand how in society we are all interconnected, and that sense of world community inspires you to improve the level of ethical behavior around the world. p 161

A major resource for spiritual life is nature, and business could plan carefully so that the workplace has a positive connection yo nature. 

The mystery of love, the mystery of the universe, the mystery of marriage and children, the mysterious life of animals, the mysteries of death–all of these give human life its infinite depth. p 169A life work is like a peacock’s tail: it has many facets. p 175