“Nature and the Human Soul” by Bill Plotkin
At one of the first Open Masters events, I had the pleasure to meet with Martin Cadee, an educational innovator and nature quest guide. After sharing his story and hearing about my interest in Buddhism and social entrepreneurship, he recommended that I read works by Bill Plotkin, a depth psychologist, author and founder of the Animas Institute. Martin noted that Plotkin weaves together a number of the concepts that I am studying: deep ecology, social activism, and interconnectedness.
I picked up Nature and the Human Soul a few days later. Though very detailed and heavy on in-depth examples, I worked my way through it over a few months. For those looking for a quick overview, check out his article in Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness (2008). In the interest of documenting my reflection, I thought I would share a few of Plotkin’s key points:
- Failures in human development are at the foundation of many, if not all, of our world’s devastating problems. To face and solve the problems facing the world, we need to co-create a more mature human society. This relies on more mature human individuals. – We tend to view maturity as a combination of hard work, age and increasing levels of responsibility. Plotkin believes that maturity should be viewed in terms of transpersonal experience and discovering one’s soul. He contends that few individuals achieve true adulthood, or psychological maturity, leading to short-term thinking, destructive behavior and ultimately unfulfilled lives. Everything starts with you as an individual being more introspective and present – knowing one’s self and relationships. By creating this space, you can envision alternatives and start the process of “turning the wheel.”
- Few individuals are able to achieve maturity due to ego-based lifestyles, industrialization, environmental destruction, and the diminishing prevalence of mature elders. – Humans have become far removed from the balance and interconnectedness of nature. Instead of recognizing, supporting and embracing nature in the initial stages of personal development, we tend to suppress or ignore it. This leads to a life that is out of sync with our environment and, therefore, our soul. As such, most individuals are stuck in an adolescent mindset. Those seeking a path often struggle to find “soulcentric” elders or mentors to act as guides.
- Each human being has a unique and mystical relationship to the wild world (nature). The conscious discovery and cultivation of that relationship is at the core of true adulthood. – As illustrated in the figure below in Phase 4, this personal development/discovery process comes to a peak in late adolescence with a soul initiation experience and ceremony. The initiation requires significant pre-work, as well as a guide to lead one through the soul initiation process and ceremony. Once an individual has discovered their sacred calling, he/she has completed personal development and starts to focus on completing his/her soul work to positively impact the world.
- The Wheel of Life describes the journey of an individual to full adult maturity in an ideal community. – The Wheel is eco-centric and takes into account both key natural and cultural (human) development phases. The wheel incorporates wisdom from many indigenous, Western and Eastern religions and philosophies. The wheel is symbolic of wholeness, transition, and nature’s various patterns and cycles.
- Each phase of development has both a task and a gift to others. – This recognizes and celebrates the positive role that all individuals play in society, as well as acknowledges the push/pull between different forces in one’s life.
Reading Nature and the Human Soul was in itself a powerful experience, forcing me to reflect honestly on my upbringing, relationships and psychological development. While I do not intend to sign up for one of Plotkin’s Animas Quests at this point, this work certainly shifted my perspective on how individuals and society interact to create mutual reinforcing systems for positive change. While this includes individual practice and reflection, it places a mystical, soul-rooted emphasis on working toward a higher good. His focus on natural systems and the importance of experiencing nature resonates with me, as I attempt to synthesize my various passions and beliefs into fulfilling lifework.