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Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  431 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Crossing the Unknown Sea is about reuniting the imagination with our day to day lives. It shows how poetry and practicality, far from being mutually exclusive, reinforce each other to give every aspect of our lives meaning and direction. For anyone who wants to deepen their connection to their life’s workor find out what their life’s work isthis book can help navigate th ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 2nd 2002 by Riverhead Books (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

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I got perhaps one third of the way into this book and then took it back to the library -- because I knew I needed my own copy so I could write in the margins and underline Whyte's beautiful, insightful sentences.

I've been struggling with work for my entire adult life, and now, at age 45, I've been worried that I'll never find the place where vocation and income intersect. Whyte puts my personal fears in their larger context of the deep relationship of work to the rest of our lives, as well as th
This is not a book one can read in a sitting. Plan on reading and re-reading many times if you are serious about revisiting just why you are doing the work you are currently doing. Also plan on having a pen/pencil with you for underlining.

Here's one of my favorite quotes about endless work tasks:

"When doing is followed immediately by doing, it can seem impossible or indulgent to celebrate any accomplishment. One set of good figures can be replaced by another on the company ledgers and the botto
Jul 17, 2014 Elizabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommend to all the corporate and even just work world poets I know. I am on page 6 and feel like I'm flying, deep in poetry and prose and thinking of my whole life as a continuum.
I really enjoyed the life stories Whyte shared in this book. It allowed the reader to understand more of his background and his belief systems while taking the reader on their own journey of self-discovery.

"Joel made a further crucial distinction: He did not have to overcome his fears, he simply had to know what he was afraid of."

"Our work is a measure not only of our own lives but of all those who came before us and created the world we inherit. I hope they did not labor, starve, bear innumera
This book is the sane response to things like "The Law of Attraction." David Whyte says that the larger forces of nature don't give a damn about your career agenda. It is our responsibility to put ourselves up to the edge of what's not controlled by us and allow that interaction, not our propped-up self esteem, to form our identities.
A worthy read for anyone contemplating work and their inner selves. The refreshing thing is, this book manages to reinvigorate the word "work" to be viewed as the necessary, inevitable, beautiful way in which human beings might participate in the world. In their world. Whyte uses powerful imagery and engaging stories to prompt the reader to ask themselves to remember their passions and the lost horizons they may have once been heading towards, or secretly longed for since childhood. Though Whyte ...more
Rebecca N. McKinnon
Non-spoiler summary in one sentence: What makes work wonderful and how do we capture that elusive wonderment in our day-to-day lives?

Initial thoughts: I got this book years ago after finishing (and loving) a book of Whyte's poetry. I had high hopes for it, having started it shortly after college graduation when I felt in desperate need of advice about work.

Genre(s) IMHO: Nonfiction, self help, poetry, literary, philosophy

Writing style: Poetic while also 'on the nose' of the topic at hand, which
i find myself using my Goodreads Reviews as a holding place for the great quotes from the books I read. Crossing the Unknown Sea is so full of goodness, i may find myself typing in the lot of it.

" human beings, we are the one part of creation that can refuse to be itself." (p. 7)

"Any life, and any life's work, is a hidden journey, a secret code, deciphered in fits and starts. The details only given truth by the whole, and the whole dependent on the detail." (p. 8)

"To have even the lead notio
Without the timelessness of the hours, celebration, rhythm and anticipation disappear from our work life; we lose the sense of music in our lives. As if a symphony, with all its rests, attenuated beats, and rhythms, suddenly had all silence between the notes removed, leaving the notes undifferentiated, crushed and bruised, each sound pressed into the next. Without silence work is not music, but a mechanical hum, like an old refrigerator, the white background noise corroding our attempts at a rea ...more
Kristin Dickert
Like his other writings, the simple beauty of words in this book snuck up on me and took my breath away. I couldn't help myself in underlining phrases, sentences, passages, whole paragraphs, half pages...and scribbling on the back cover too. Having heard David Whyte speak a couple times before, having included a poem of his at my wedding ceremony, and having purchased several of his poetry books and his audio-series...I knew what I was getting into when I started reading this book. Still, this b ...more
This book sat on my shelf for years. I tried reading it several times, but although I love David Whyte's poetry, I just couldn't get into this book. Turns out it is one of those books that needed to be read at the right time in my life. When I was ready, I read it and loved it. I so admire the way he created a career for himself - one that didn't exist for anyone else (still doesn't as far as I know) but was perfect for him. This book inspires me to stretch, take risks, trust my instincts.
I wasn’t planning on writing a review for this book but I’ve discovered after finishing it that I can’t stay silent about it.

Poet David Whyte has written a deep and dynamic call to find meaning in our work, whatever that work might be, so we can turn it and ourselves into something larger than life. Good work means being visible, he says; such simple words but so true. To become visible so that we can give our own particular hidden gifts to the world, where they and we belong.

To be honest, it wi
Carolyn Francis
David Whyte is described as a "corporate poet", which fascinates me. Hats off to anyone who has figured out how to entice the corporate sector into funding their poetry! I struggled to know what to make of this book. At times it descends into superficial self-help territory, but at other times it reads like a classic spirituality text, drawing on the poetry and literature of the Western canon (and some Eastern poets) rather than any traditional sacred text. My own grounding in Christian theology ...more
I'm still reading this book but I felt like I wanted to comment on what pages of it I've read thus far.This book is amazing;It has me thinking deeply about myself and the choices in life I've made and how they reflect to where I am today.David Whyte is an inspiring author and if this man doesn't make you think and reflect...well you're just not alive.He touches on some very important points of our "inner self" and I just love the way he writes.I had his cd's and they were so deep and right on po ...more
Not necessarily groundbreaking, but there are some wonderful ideas about work and life related rather succinctly and poetically. That it's all a balance of not only providing for one's family, but also playing one's part in the machines of business -- and neither of these mean handing over your soul. Whyte stresses the importance of creating something meaningful out of your work life. He's big on putting everything you are into your work, being the work -- which makes sense for someone in my lin ...more
Sally Williams
Upon the completion of his time as a naturalist in the Galapagos Whyte returned home and began to write. His training was in science but he didn't write as a scientist. He began writing as a poet. "The world isn't there for us to analyze it, the world is there for itself_ and for us to be in conversation with it." As I read and re-read parts of this book I love the caring and stillness that takes hold and stays in my mood when reading is over. I like that there's an edgy no-nonscence "don't f..k ...more
Lizzie Jones
The man write poetry like it's prose and writes prose like it's poetry. He essentially lived like a pirate for a while, studied as a marine biologist, and now quotes classical literature like it's no biggie. He's a genius. The book has a great balance of poetry and practicality and Whyte talks about how to develop a deep connection to our work (meaning careers) by connecting it to our life's work (meaning our purpose). You can't read this in one sitting because one paragraph will supply thoughts ...more
Jan 04, 2013 CAC rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: great
What a wonderful and surprising book! David Whyte is a Welsh poet by morning and a corporate consultant by afternoon (and probably a dram-drinking dirge singer by night). His charge: bring poetry (read: spirit, authenticity and bravery) into the workplace. The book is sort of a self-help/poetry/career/life guide. Seems odd, right--like some bizarre new genre such as a self-help, musical Western horror movie. But it totally works. I must have underlined and dog-earned every fifth page. Highly rec ...more
I should have read this book while I was setting off on my career - crossing my own "unknown sea." Instead I found it in retirement, but enjoyed every minute of it. It's beautifully written and so full of wisdom that you must mark passages as you read it -- you will come back to them later! There's so much more to life than work and yet work is such an important part of who we are and how we are engaged in our world - or at least it can be if we're conscious. This book will help.
Josephine Ensign
Read this book yesterday in one sitting. It's not really a self-help psycho-babble book (thankfully), but is full of powerful personal stories (and poems) of his own journey towards more satisfying work. Having been to one of his readings/talks in person at Seattle U last year and sitting--mesmerized--in the front row, probably added his real voice to my own reading of this book. Is one of those books that has 'come to me' at an important cross-roads of my own life.
I liked the book. But I also struggled with how useful it was to me personally. I thought he made good arguments - and the story of his own life and the metaphors he used in it were rich. I thought that it was a little more shallow than I expected considering the breadth of his life and experience. The Rilke poem that he has in it was worth the whole book to me. And he does raise good life issues that are serious and worth consideration. I’m glad I read it.
There was one section of this book--around pages 80 - 125 that spoke volumes to me. There are so many little stickers on the pages it's crazy!
Interesting, because it started off really slow for me--I almost didn't keep going--and the end was slow too.
The author is a poet, and it showed in his writing style--very flowery, and for me, hard to read.
I'm giving it the 4 stars, though, for the 40 or so pages that were written just for me.
Jeremy Fyke
A terrific book that artfully discusses our journey toward meaningful work by using the metaphor of sailing in the open sea. I love this metaphor and use it all the time in my classes to help my students understand how one's journey through a life's work (vocation, calling)requires an ongoing open conversation with the winds that blow us in myriad directions. In the fashion of The Heart Aroused, Whyte integrates poetry to apply it to work.
This book really made me approach work differently. I read it while applying for my first "real" job. I got a lot of inspiration from the author and his thoughts about work as a pilgrimage of identity. The idea of trying to live into the work you want to be doing. I would recommend this book to anyone who's changing jobs or wants to feel good about the work they choose to do.
I have read, re-read, re-read, re-read! This book helped me jump off the cliff of a life I knew wasn't mine, into the bumpy, rough, frightening space of pursuing my deepest dreams. And that space has been the very, very best space I've ever found. Because I have also begun to learn to fly, to soar, and to discover the deepest, truest part of me. I am more able to know others as well.
Nov 04, 2010 Cindy rated it 4 of 5 stars
I am enjoying this book immensely. The author uses his vast knowledge of literature and poetry to weigh in on the process of finding one's career and renewing one's career choices. He brings in myth and symbol as well. His dominant motif of the pilgrimage works quite well in guiding the reader through the steps of defining and redefining one's "calling".

Another excellent book by poet David Whyte, also about the journey to find creativity in work. He is certainly a model for this being at one point the poet Laureate for Boeing. He uses the sea as a metaphor for the average work life and like in The Heart Aroused this is an inspiring book to read or to give to a friend in transition.
Get ready for some allegory people, 'cause it’s time to set sail on the sea of life! It is going to be work. A pilgrimage of work and identity. Ok, casting aside the sarcasm, I have to admit that this is a pretty damn good book. The metaphor can be a little thick, but the message is hearty and the storytelling excellent.
This book is simply great. My only caveat is that you need to let this book find you. You'll know when it is the time to read it. If you start, and it instantly doesn't grab you. Don't force it. Put it down! And try again later - you will get pulled in immediately if you are meant to read this book at that point in time.
I hoped his book would give me some insight or motivation for work, and even though I only read about 1/4 of it, it did. It also made me think a lot (too much) about work which is why I stopped. It inspires self-reflection, though, and is written in kind of a poetic style so I might come back to it at some point.
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Poet David Whyte grew up with a strong, imaginative influence from his Irish mother among the hills and valleys of his father’s Yorkshire. He now makes his home in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

The author of seven books of poetry and three books of prose, David Whyte holds a degree in Marine Zoology and has traveled extensively, including living and working as a naturalist guide in th
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“Desire demands only a constant attention to the unknown gravitational field which surrounds us and from which we can recharge ourselves every moment, as if breathing from the atmosphere of possibility itself. A life’s work is not a series of stepping-stones onto which we calmly place our feet, but more like an ocean crossing where there is no path, only a heading, a direction, which, of itself, is in conversation with the elements.” 11 likes
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