Work and the Heart
An article from the Globe and Mail of 12 May 2010 , “Working regular overtime linked to increased heart attack risk” raises some very serious questions about the way that we’re living now:
The article cites a study published in the European Heart Journal, which finds that employees who regularly put in 11- to 12-hour days have an almost 60 per cent greater risk of having a heart attack than those who put in a standard 7 to 8 hours daily. The scary thing, of course, is that, in our world, that group who are putting in the 11 to 12 hour days is very large. As the article suggests, “the overtime hours were not, in and of themselves, causing heart problems, but rather that they likely reflect the stress being felt by those who work long days”. So, to be literal-minded, stress and endless days are making people sick at heart.
What is it about work and the heart? There is true symbolism here, that comes right out of the midst of flesh and blood. For events in the body are very often symbols or metaphors of what is going on in the psyche. Psyche will reflect in the stomach, or in the neck and back what psyche has to bear, or finds unbearable. Psyche and soma (Greek for body) are a unity, and they reflect each other.
At the risk of sounding childish or naive, this whole area begs our consideration because it draws attention to a huge very personal, very human question: what is our heart’s desire?
Down through the millenia, the symbolism of the human heart has represented that dimension of the human being that interacts with life through feeling. The psychic reality is that the feeling dimension of life cannot be ignorred. The overall question of what we want, really want, from our lives is not going to leave us alone, not really going to go away, even if it gets repressed. Endless work and/or the complete blurring of the distinction between work and home leaves the heart in a desert wasteland.
We have to come to terms with the true depth of our yearning. The only way to do that is to trust that our deepest yearnings are not meaningless.
How can we possibly find a way to make a living and keep our health? Only by giving the heart what it needs. What does your heart need? Can we dare to even ask that question? Do we dare to hope for it anymore, or has that hope gotten submerged or lost in the midst of cascading demands and obligations?
Stay with your heart. Trust that it knows what you need. Strive to find the ways to get closer to the things that matter to you, and to be less and less driven by urgencies and agendas that have nothing to do with your own real life. As the Book of Proverbs, that compendium of age-old human wisdom in the Hebrew Bible has it:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness — and your journey to your heart.
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst
PHOTO CREDIT: © Vladimirdreams|Dreamstime.com
© 2010 Brian Collinson