Monday, February 6, 2017

I Meet My Shadow in the Deepening Shade: Poetry in the Workplace

In The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, David Whyte writes, "If there is one common experience... it would be... feeling lost... in the difficulty of a situation or in our very arrogance or nervousness over a problem." Whyte was encouraged as a resource to business by Peter Block -- trainer, organization consultant, and author of Flawless Consulting and The Empowered Manager -- who believes the powerful images available in poetry can be liberating in the workplace.

Having been a lover and author of poetry most of my life, I was delighted when a client gave me tickets to one of Whyte's workshops. One of the poems Whyte recited (and cites in his book) is a teaching tale in the Native American tradition by David Wagoner. It was thrilling to hear in Whyte's resounding and dramatic voice this response to the question, "What do I do when I am lost in the forest?" (shown in part below):
Stand still, the trees ahead
and bushes beside you
are not lost...
No two trees are the same to Raven,
no two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a branch does
is lost on you, then
you are surely lost.
Stand still, the forest
knows where you are.
You must let it find you.
Observing Whyte's impact on others in the group also gave me the courage to use poetry with my business clients. Coaching is somewhat like therapy in the quality and confidentiality of the relationship, but it's not therapy in that we focus on personal and interpersonal effectiveness. Some interesting shifts can take place by uncovering the symbolic aspects of people's (and organizations') growth potential. Making significant change isn't easy, and we all dig in our heels when the going gets tough. I happen to think of resistance to change as a normal and usually healthy response, and consider it my job as a coach to help clients move beyond their own so-called resistance. 

In Enneagram terms this means helping people go beyond the behavioral manifestations of their habitual patterns in ways that shake the underpinnings. While my practices are fairly eclectic, I'm fundamentally Jungian in this respect: I believe it's impossible to access repressed and unconscious material through intellectual understanding alone. I'm sure each of you has experienced, as I have, the difficult journey from the first ah-ha to experiencing significant and long-lasting change in ourselves. Resources buried in each of us, however, show up symbolically -- if only we know how to look for them -- in metaphors such as poetry, or dreams, projections, and other artistic expressions.

Thus, when I see untapped potential in my clients, I use anything I can that might take them to that symbolic level -- through stories, humor, poetry, or even symbolic gifts (for example, to a CEO criticized by her team for not giving enough praise, and also a life-long sailor, I gave a ship in a bottle). In this article, I'd like to show how powerful poetry can be to "arouse our hearts." I'll start with excerpts from poems I've used with all nine styles, then I'll go into more detail with a few cases. Remember that none of the drives of one style are alien to the remaining eight, so as you read through the following quotes, let that part of you respond as you receive the images. I won't interpret at this point because each of you might find something unique:

For style Ones, who struggle with the passion of anger, imagine what might be evoked by Stanley Kunitz's poem, "The Portrait":
My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself...
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand...
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
Or (quirky but effective), from "Bullfrogs" by David Allan Evans:
sipping a Schlitz
we cut off the legs...
quiet-bulging eyes nudging along
the moss's edge, looking up at us,
asking for their legs.
*    *    *    *     *    *
Working with style Two issues -- which include ambivalent feelings about caring for others -- what does Pablo Neruda's "Sumario" (translation by Alastair Reid) arouse in you?
I am pleased at having taken on
so many obligations in my life
most curious elements accumulated:
gentle ghosts which undid me...
my insistent need to be always watchful,
my impulse to be only myself...
(--my life was always
singing its way between joy and obligation).
Or from Walt Whitman's "A noiseless patient spider," which captures the Two's sometimes overwhelming relationship needs:
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
*    *    *    *     *    *
A.E. Housman's "To an Athlete Dying Young" addresses style Three's passion of vanity very directly, beginning with:
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place,
And later:
. . . round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead.
*    *    *    *     *    *
Style Fours, of course, seem naturally drawn to poetry, and many poems reflect their mournful, romantic quality. I particularly like e.e. cummings' "Sonnets--Unrealities, III":
it is at moments after i have dreamed
of the rare entertainment of your eyes,
when (being fool to fancy) i have deemed
with your peculiar mouth my heart made wise...
one pierced moment whiter than the rest
--turning from the tremendous lie of sleep
i watch the roses of the day grow deep
A theme that may be less obvious for Enneagram Fours is their sense of being on the outside, looking in. Look for this in Robert Frost's "Mending Wall:"
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast...
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again...
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors...
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors?"
*    *    *    *     *    *
Naomi Replansky's "Housing Shortage" captures style Five's reductionism and desire for personal space as she moves from:
I tried to live small.
I took a narrow bed.
I held my elbows to my sides.
to:
Given inches, I take yards,
Taking yards, dream of miles,
And a landscape, unbounded
And vast in abandon.
On a lighter note, I've found amused reactions from style Fives to W.H. Auden's "I Have No Gun, But I Can Spit":
Some thirty inches from my nose
The frontier of my Person goes. . .
Beware of rudely crossing it.

 
*    *    *    *     *    *
As with all Enneagram styles, there are many directions one could take with style Six (and I'll go into more detail below about the poem I used with a particular client). I recommend Theodore Roethke's "In a Dark Time," a powerful poem for all of us. For example:
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade,
But I especially appreciate such Six-ish images as:
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall...
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
William Stafford captures the transformation of style Six through courage in "With Kit, Age Seven, At the Beach":
Waves leapfrogged and came
straight out of the storm.
What should our gaze mean?
Kit waited for me to decide...

"How far could you swim, Daddy,
in such a storm?"
"As far as was needed," I said,
and as I talked, I swam.
*    *    *    *     *    *
Most of us would recognize the style Seven in Philip Davey's lovely poem, "Prisms (Althea)":
It was a rainbow impossibly
beautiful, straddling the town
with one foot poised lightly on the sea.
You might be surprised, however, to see what happens when an Enneagram Seven hears the beginning of Stevie Smith's poem, "Not Waving But Drowning":
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
*    *    *    *     *    *
Sharon Thomson's "Pigeons" is a more subtle poem for style Eights than might first appear:
when I was a girl
a sultry sunday
about 3pm in mid-august
was the best time to hunt pigeons...
I aimed straight for the eyeball.
I'm somewhat partial to this Enneagram style, and perhaps they sense that. We're told their transformation is found in the quality of innocence, reflected so well in Theodore Roethke's "The Meadow Mouse:"
In a shoe box stuffed in an old nylon stocking
Sleeps the baby mouse I found in the meadow
Where he trembled and shook beneath a stick
Till I caught him up by the tail and brought him in
Cradled in my hand.
. . . Do I imagine he no longer trembles when I come close to him?

. . . I think of the nestling fallen into the deep grass
The turtle gasping in the dusty rubble of the highway
The paralytic stunned in the tub and the water rising
All things innocent, hapless, forsaken.
*    *    *    *     *    *
As style Nine I am perhaps a bit tough on myself, but I like Roger Woddis' "Down With Fanatics!" because it depicts our passive-aggressive quality:
I'd like to tie them to a board
And let them taste the cat,
While giving praise, oh thank the Lord,
That I am not like that.
Wordsworth is a wonderful poet for evoking Nine issues, as in "A slumber did my spirit seal" (the title says it all) or from "Composed upon Westminster Bridge":
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
However, one poem that speaks so eloquently of what's possible for Enneagram Nines is Denise Levertov's "Variation on a Theme by Rilke":
A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me--a sky, air, light:
a being. . .
. . . The day's blow
rang out, metallic--or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it new: I can.
*    *    *    *     *    *
Poetic images are powerful in and of themselves. Imagine, then, the effect within a particular personality style. Such was the case with Richard P., a style Six who was particularly interested in the Enneagram because he desperately wanted to understand the intensity of his emotional response to perceived slights. He suffered from what I call the "Patrick Henry" syndrome (and often see in this Enneagram style): a strong desire to "speak up for what is right" even if it meant shooting himself in the foot. But he'd agonize for days on end before acting. For example, Richard felt he should have been included in a planning conference one of his co-workers had conducted without informing him. This person, according to Richard, was "running his own show, as usual, without any concern for the importance of others' participation!" He did eventually talk to his colleague, who was actually quite responsive; but prior to the meeting Richard said he spent the entire weekend "eating myself up inside."

Richard and I worked on many issues. Here I'll note only what was unique to the use of poetry. He always insisted he'd had no need to rebel against his wonderful parents (he almost idolized them for being so caring and supportive), yet he felt there must be some basis in his background for his self-doubt and emotional stresses. At one of our sessions I read to him Nina Bogin's "Initiation, II," which includes the lines:
I. . . entered
the house as calm and ephemeral
as my own certainty:
this is my house, my key,
my hand with its new lines.
I am as old as I will ever be.
As I finished the last lines, Richard sat stunned as his eyes welled up with tears. When he was able to speak he said, "My parents have always treated me like a child--they still do. I never realized before how much I want to prove to them I'm a man." 


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