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  • 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|

    © 2010 Brian Collinson

    1. jamenta


      May 17, 2010 at 10:10 pm -

      In France – there is a 35 hour work week, it is the law. The average French citizen enjoys 5 weeks vacation a year, payed maternity leaves, and unlimited sick leave. If a French citizen gets layed off, they receive 80% of their previous wages per month for 2 years. If they are over 50 – it is for 3 years. In France, there is socialized medicine and you pay very little out-of-pocket when you become ill. Schooling is also socialized including when you attend college – if you are qualified. If you are a family that makes $2800 or less a month, you pay little or even no taxes on your income at end of year.

      In the US now, job satisfaction levels of Americans are lower than they have ever been since being tracked (especially among the american youth). The number one cause of bankruptcy in america is
      the inability to pay medical bills. Full-time americans work 40
      hours a week, where corporations have a great deal of power in how
      those 40 hours can be allocated including forced overtime. The
      average American vacation is 2-3 weeks a year with 0 payed maternity leave, and limited accrued sick leave. Americans when they are layed off receive 4-6 months of unemployment benefits that is no where near 80% of their previous wage income. Americans can easily pay 30K to 50K a year on a college education for their sons and daughters – often borrowed by their children, a debt carried for often most of their lives.

      While the richest Americans, and American corporations have seen their tax rates drop dramatically since Ronald Reagan – the middle
      class and poor Americans pay more taxes than ever. The top 1% of
      Americans now own more wealth than 95% of all other Americans combine. This is the worst economic inequity of all advanced nations. Americans have not had a real pay raise if inflation is taken into account since 1974.

      The irony is – many many Americans voted for Ronald Reagan and George Bush. The right wing in America has been fueled by fundamentalist
      religious groups and right wing propoganda machines like FOX news and
      the very popular radio commentator Rush Limbaugh. Although Americans
      have enjoyed the privileges of a democracy they have voted away their
      power to groups who have prioritized Wallstreet, corporate power and the rich over the average working American who now are losing their homes in record numbers to Big Banks and unscrupulous lenders. Many Americans who are finding themselves destitute worked hard their entire lives, many high quality employees in the corporations they worked for.

      If you are an American now there are no simple solutions. You cannot just get up and move to France. Close to 40 million Americans our now on Foodstamps – 1 million American children are homeless and the numbers are growing. Even the old tried and true – if you just get a job and work hard you’ll be able to enjoy the American dream – is more and more a fairy tale, for 10 million Americans who have been out of work longer than any time in our history – if they are lucky to find a job, it is rarely with the benefits needed to live a decent quality of life.

      In other parts of the world – the human condition is far worse – Darfur for example.

      How much do we value a human being? Do we view a human being as a mere productive unit, whom as a corporation we attempt to work the most and give back the least for – making the most profit for ourselves? Where is meaning in the tragedy that so many now are living on this planet we are destroying – in 40 years all the fish in our ocean will be gone if we keep up our usury usage. We may not even have an atmosphere as we know it if we don’t halt the global warming we have caused – but the wealthy corporations have tried to obfuscate with their propoganda and one and only goal: profits for themselves while they devalue all other human life, human work and the planet itself.

      Where do you draw the line and say enough is enough? When human life is devalued so much – when your body and heart are obviously telling you each day that 10 to 11 hour work days without equal recompense has no value and no meaning?

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