Book Review: A Life at Work

Posted on December 9, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , |

Life at Work book cover.I first learned of Thomas Moore (not Sir Thomas More the saint who lived during 15th and 16th century England) several years ago from a therapist friend. I “discovered” him again while looking for books to help with my work-life transition, post layoff. According to his website, Thomas Moore has written 16 books on deepening spirituality and cultivating soul in every aspect of life. He has been a monk, a musician, a university professor, and a psychotherapist, and today he lectures widely on holistic medicine, spirituality, psychotherapy, and the arts. His book A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do was first published in audio format in October 2007, hardcover followed early the next year.

When my friend initially recommended Moore, I bought his book Care of the Soul, but found it much to “dense” to easily absorb. I only read the first one or two chapters before it went to the “someday” reading pile and eventually found its way into my bookcase for long term storage. Similarly, I found his writing in A Life at Work to be difficult to penetrate. Still, with the motivation of wanting to know how to discover the work I was born to do, I persisted. I actually read the book cover-to-cover twice before feeling partly comfortable discussing its content!

The persistence paid off. Maybe it’s his background as a monk or even his decision to leave a religious life to live in the bigger world, Moore’s book provides insight into life at work through understanding one’s relationship to your spirit and soul. He provides an introduction to several useful terms in conducting spirit- and soul-work and provides insight into love and community. He suggests by understanding these things, what you were born to do will emerge… if you are quiet and pay attention. Moore strives for a life of duality and an opus of the soul. The book uses an analogy with alchemy throughout, identifying different stages of the search for one’s opus with the colors of black, red and yellow as they might be described in an alchemist’s notebook.

Fundamentally, it’s important to understand Moore’s concepts of spirit and soul. In his writing, spirit is something within us that looks forward, lives in the future and dreams big. It is the vision that lives within us and pushes us to be all we can be and do all we can do. The soul, by contrast, has roots in the past, keeps us grounded in our own history, learns from our experience and is our quiet connection to meaning. It is our soul that not only defines our deepest desires… it is our barometer for knowing when are fulfilling our life’s purpose.

Moore uses story telling as a means to accessing the messages of the soul. He recommends telling stories of our past over and over to as many people who will listen. It is the retelling that brings depth to our stories and this depth is the key to unlocking the treasures of our past. He values the listener who will simply hold space and listen quietly, but he also says we can analyze our own stories by paying attention to our own resistance. If there is a part of a story we skim over because it is “not relevant” or “not important,” he urges us to pay attention and tell it anyway. Often, says Moore, there is gold in that resistance.

He also advocates for dream journaling. He discusses the value of listening to our dreams holistically. He says avoiding analyzing too deeply and pay attention to the symbolism contained within. Those symbols hold clues to purpose and meaning.

Moore uses the Greek concepts of the daimon and duende to speak to an inner urge to do what is right and the ability to put your life on the line without the approval of polite society respectively. Daimon and duende push us from within to discover our true self. (This was part I had trouble unpacking, perhaps the links provided in this paragraph will do a better job than me for describing their importance. Looks like a third reading is in order.)

A lengthy discussion of three kinds of love – eros (sexuality, creation and pleasure), agape (compassion for one’s neighbor) and philia (friendship) led to a marvelous discussion of the importance of community. Moore describes community as a frame of reference where you define yourself in relation to those around you. It is the opposite of narcissism. It is a growth from self-love to love of the other. To pursue this growth, Moore suggests enlarging your sense of self — as opposed to attempting to going outside the self. The soul, he says, extends beyond the self into the community and the natural world.

Summing up, I found the book difficult to read but worth the struggle. I suspect I’ll read it a few more times. It is almost poetic in its composition. (Which may contribute to its complexity.) The modicum of success I achieved in these initial readings in fact have inspired me to go back to another attempt of Care of the Soul.

The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do

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One Response to “Book Review: A Life at Work”

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Thank you John for reviewing this book. I, too, have read it a few times. A blog dedicated to Moore’s work is at barque.blogspot.com. It connects with a free forum and I’m sure the members would appreciate your insights. Please visit and consider joining.


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