Addressing the pervasive longing for meaning and fulfillment in this time of crisis, Nature and the Human Soul introduces a visionary ecopsychology of human development that reveals how fully and creatively we can mature when soul and wild nature guide us. Depth psychologist and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin presents a model for a human life span rooted in the cycles and qualities of the natural world, a blueprint for individual development that ultimately yields a strategy for cultural transformation.
With evocative language and personal stories, including those of elders Thomas Berry and Joanna Macy, this book defines eight stages of human life - Innocent, Explorer, Thespian, Wanderer, Soul Apprentice, Artisan, Master, and Sage - and describes the challenges and benefits of each. Plotkin offers a way of progressing from our current ego centric, aggressively competitive, consumer society to an eco centric, soul-based one that is sustainable, cooperative, and compassionate. At once a primer on human development and a manifesto for change, Nature and the Human Soul fashions a template for a more mature, fulfilling, and purposeful life - and a better world.
Bill Plotkin, Ph.D., is a depth psychologist, wilderness guide, and agent of cultural evolution. As founder of southwest Colorado's Animas Valley Institute, he has, since 1980, guided thousands of women and men through nature-based initiatory passages, including a contemporary, Western adaptation of the pan-cultural vision fast. He's also been a research psychologist (studying nonordinary states of consciousness), professor of psychology, rock musician, and whitewater river guide. In 1979, on a solo winter ascent of an Adirondack mountain, Bill experienced a "call to spiritual adventure," leading him to abandon academia in search of his true calling. Bill is the author of Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (an experiential guidebook), Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World (a nature-based stage model of human development), and Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche (an ecocentric map of the psyche -- for healing, growing whole, and cultural transformation). His doctorate in psychology is from the University of Colorado at Boulder. To learn more about Bill Plotkin and Animas Valley Institute, visit http://www.animas.org
As we move through life, we learn and grow. At each step along the way our perspective changes and what really important to us shifts. We've all experienced these transformations, first in childhood, then as an adolescent, and finally as an adult. Perhaps, what we don't realize is that we continue this growth throughout our entire life.
Nature and the Human Soul looks at the eight stages of maturation of the human being: Early Childhood, Middle Childhood, Early Adolescence, Late Adolescence, Early Adulthood, Late Adulthood, Early Elderhood, and Late Elderhood. Although it may seem like these phases could represent age grades, they do not. Since these aspects are about of the maturation of the whole being, the rate of change does not always directly relate to the chronological age. Plenty of people find themselves stuck at a particular point in the cycle and just never seem to move.
Nature and the Human Soul is one of those books that every parent, every adult should read. Once we become adults, begin our careers, and start raising a family, the majority of us rarely think about personal growth. Indeed, in our society, we seem to have forgotten the value of Late Adulthood, Early Elderhood, and Late Elderhood.
When I was a young parent beginning to raise our young children, I was always told, "there's no instruction manual on how to raise a child." This book is it. And what makes it so great ... is that is not necessarily even the intent. It is a powerful book about how we can each live a "soul-centric" life - and how we can help others around us do the same.
Nature and the Human Soul discuss the stages of development of humans viewed from the perspective of eco-soulcentric society. The author tries to present how someone can move from an egocentric standpoint to a soulcentric one, or how to bring up a child to become soulcentric. He uses his studies of the subject, and experiences of people he knows, as well as incorporating from the different eastern aboriginal cultures. The author presents his developmental wheel in the hopes of cultivating wholeness and community in a world that seems to be moving away from that. In my opinion the author failed miserably.
I have five major problems with this book, and to me they are fundamental ones. The first is that the author is presenting a belief system disguised as a developmental wheel. The second is that he is drawing on Eastern cultures to form this belief system. The third is that he seems quite removed from the real world and talking mostly about a Utopia. The fourth is that he is assuming that everyone has a soul gift or soul destiny that has to be reached for them to be mature and that the Universe would not exist if there were no humans to acknowledge the Universe’s existence. The fifth is that contrary to how he started out the book he ended it by saying that the root cause of all the earth’s problems are the industrial world and the scientific method.
The author did have a lot of good ideas, unfortunately as soon as he gave one he negated its effect with all the drivel he said after it. I was looking at this book for implementation with druidry or Celtic spirituality. Unfortunately for me I found nothing there that would help. As I read the book, I asked myself where on his developmental wheel did I fall, in the end I had to come to the conclusion that I was no where, I do not agree with the original theories that gave birth to this wheel, and so I can not see myself anywhere in it.
I've just finished reading this for the second time, and have gotten even more out of it than the first go-round. There are very few books that I put on my "try to read once a year" shelf and this is one of them. While there are several small aspects of the author's theories I don't agree with, overall, I think Bill Plotkin has crafted a true masterpiece, as he shares his idea of the stages of living an ecocentric (or soulcentric) life. And when he uses that term, he is not just meaning living in an environmentally-conscious way. He is speaking to the large-scale importance of nature in early childhood development and how imperative it is to raise healthy, whole human beings who truly know themselves and their soul's path and gifts for the world. And the great news is that we can heal ourselves (and each other!) of childhood wounds at any point in our lives, even on our deathbeds. All this being said, the author could have really used an editor. This book weighs in at 518 pages and there are many repetitive parts. I read in the acknowledgments that the author was having an intimate relationship with his editor, so that explains the lack of editing! It's hard to force an author to cut parts of his book, when you're sleeping with him, in my opinion. But if you are not intimidated by length, pick this one up, take your time with it and help transform our world.
this book is a BRILLIANT blueprint for creating a sustainable human culture... in a time of global crisis, id say its an essential read. its not hokey, far-fetched or "utopic w/o a solution" (as i struggled with in say, "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn) rather, its visionary capacity is complemented by practicality and as such, it is an amazing resource for parents, educators, psychologists, researchers, artists, visionaries and well... any human, really! it is clearly an integration of many many years of learning from a breadth of teachers and authentic experiences.. a book this valuable does not come around very often in my opinion and i can not recommend it highly enough.
Amazing book! Such a simple but powerful model for healthy pre- and I believe post-consumerism society and individual development. How does the human life look like when grounded in an understanding of the human soul and deep connection with nature? Bill Plotkin has the amazing capacity to weave together the feminine and the masculine, combining his appreciation for myth, symbol, ritual and the unknown with an eagle-eye high level structured perspective. I needed to read this - I think everyone needs it right now. Highly recommended!
This is an unfortunate collection of ideas, some of value and others not as meritorious. The author sets out to provide a model of human development that produces soul centered individuals (as opposed to his judgement of our ego centric culture). The model is presented as a wheel of development, although that is just the scaffolding of a belief system. And while it contains some interesting ideas, many of the arguments in support of these ideas contain internal conflict and dissonance with his own system.
There is much idealism and judgement of the human organism as being necessary for the existence of the universe. While that is an entertaining position, it contain much hubris about our role in the world. This reads far more like a psychology dissertation than a book on developing and cultivating an eco-conscious pivot. Disappointing and quite a time investment to get to his main point that our industrialized society is the root of all ills.
This book will grow in stature and influence as Western culture catches up to its vision. As Mr. Plotkin so eloquently affirms throughout, we have erased the lines that define our stages of growth as individuals, losing the rites of passage that help us move forward towards maturity. This book restores that vision and is thus a huge service to all of humanity. This book should be used more as a reference than as pleasant reading because reading it cover to cover is quite a challenge. It will describe you, your weaknesses and aspirations in vivid detail, so be ready to do some intense soul searching. I have highlighted more brilliant quotes in this book than in nearly any other book (74) I have ever read, as it truly reflects ancient and modern wisdom.
Here are a few:
"Microbiologists tell us that our genetic coding is 98.6 percent identical to that of chimpanzees and that the other 1.4 percent mostly dictates the duration (that is, the slowness) of our juvenile development (neoteny). In other words, a major part of what differentiates us humans from other primates is the relatively long, pre-adult phase of our individual development." This is so powerful because it legitimizes being an adolescent instead of making it just a rough spot to get through. This blew my mind: "Rather than a sign of psychological regression or biological error, modern adolescence might be evidence of an evolutionary trajectory, a momentous advantage we have not yet understood or benefited from. Longer juvenility allows for, but does not compel, fuller maturation."
“We now in large measure determine the earth process that once determined us. In a more integral way we could say that the earth that controlled itself directly in the former period now to an extensive degree controls itself through us.”
"I believe that most people would agree that we will not create a healthier society by affording women the equal right to be as pathologically egocentric as a large proportion of men have been for millennia, to acquire the equal opportunity to excel in the patho-adolescent, class-dividing world of prestige, position, and wealth, academic and corporate ladder-climbing, and power broking."
"In effect, as Thomas Berry says, there would not be a universe. If the human is the only self-aware creature that exists, then we can say, as Thomas does, that the human allows the universe to exist. This is indeed a privilege. And it is why it's tempting to say that the ability to appreciate the universe as a universe might be the ultimate collective place of the human, the soul of humanity."
This book is all the more impressive because justifies and provides examples from his personal experience for every major statement. In other words, this is not some theory that the author cooked up, rather it comes from years of leading nature retreats and documenting these experiences all the while adapting them to make them more effective and meaningful. This is how the earth comes to be central to his world view.
I would like to see Mr. Plotkin apply these same growth stages of humanity as a whole. He does state that we are currently in an adolescent stage as a whole, but doesn't continue the analogy as the book moves forward. This will compliment his work and give it the transcendence it deserves because, as he states throughout the book, you can't separate individual growth from your greater surroundings, and these surroundings are not limited to your immediate community. Rather, our context needs to all of humanity so that we can see this double process of transformation happen from the individual and collective perspectives.
I'm more than halfway through a year-long study of this book. I find it incredibly thought provoking even in places where I disagree with the conclusions (which are relatively rare).
He is talking from a hetero-normative perspective and needs some serious systems breaking to really get down to business in some ways. But he's thinking about the interaction between nature and human development is pretty sound in my experience of raising children and being in community. Kids need nature and exploring how nature effects development is both worthwhile in it's own right and supportive of changing cultural.
It is very academic and there are places where it would help me if he outed his own biases. But in the framework of the communities that he's drawing on, it's very good, if dense. It's been great to have a support system of people reading this book together and exploring these ideas with, this work really needs to be talked about, explored and expanded.
This book feels like an opening to a subject, not the definitive, end all be all work. From that perspective it's groundbreaking and really exciting!
This book appeared at the pivot point in my life. I had made a comfortable, pleasant existence and when I was ready to finally have a real life, Bill Plotkin's words were right there reminding me that I wasn't alone, nor was I crazy for feeling like the modern world required significant maladaptation. It was also filled with innovative psychological models which led me to finding a new way, an authentic me buried deep inside my persona.
Visionary and founder of the Animas Valley Institute, Bill Plotkin offers us a new model of human development that reveals how fully we can grow and mature when our souls are intertwined with wild nature. Following his masterwork Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, he weaves together ecopsychology, ancient mythology, the teachings of indigenous cultures and humanity’s deepest bonds to the cycles of the natural world. What impressed me most about Nature and the Human Soul is Plotkin’s premise that for the last two hundred years the separation from nature created by Industrial Civilization has suppressed true adulthood, or psychological maturity. Have you noticed that genuine (wise) elders are few and far between these days? The common perception has been that maturity is achieved with hard work and practical responsibilities. But Plotkin claims that nature (including our own deeper nature, our souls) has always provided the best template for maturation. He says that true adulthood is rooted in a mystic relationship to the wild, experienced as a sacred calling that is then embodied in soul-infused work and mature responsibilities. Our everyday lives have drifted a long way from our species’ original intimacy with nature and from our own individual natures.
With great insight Plotkin gives us the tools to address this imbalance with “The Wheel of Life”, an eight-stage model of human development that is both ecocentric and soulcentric. It is a nature-based model that honours the deeply imaginative potentials of the human psyche. This model shows us how we can be “rooted in a childhood of innocence and wonder; sprout into an adolescence of creative fire and mystery-probing adventures; blossom into an authentic adulthood of cultural artistry and visionary leadership; and finally ripen into a seed-scattering elderhood of wisdom and grace.’ True elders live from an authentic place of soul-destiny, and are engaged in the holistic tending of the “more than-human world”.
The story the Wheel tells is very different from the one that most contemporary people live. Because humanity is largely alienated from the natural world that evolved us and sustains us, many people are alienated from their essential individuality and soul. Plotkin advises us to connect with the places where we live to deepen our relationship to nature and soul. Taking this path of personal transformation can contribute to a shift in human consciousness and even enable our survival as a species. The publication of Nature and the Human Soul may well signal that humanity is ready to learn a better way. It should be read by everyone, especially those who teach our children, guide our communities and envision a healthier world.
I couldn't get a seat on the train, so I sat on the floor in the space at the end of the carriage and started to read this book. Seldom has a journey passed so quickly! Not only does Plotkin write in a very personable voice; he offers in 'Nature and the Human Soul' a manual for living that reminds us of the importance of rites of passage, and the presence of true wise elders, and the balance between human culture and nature.
His 'Development Wheel' suggests that we all have eight life stages of maturation to pass through (although I'm not sure whether they're always as clearcut as he sometimes seems to suggest). Living an eco-centred life (as humans did for many hundres of thousands of years), we'd all end up becoming wise elders. However, in the 'developed' ego-centric world, not many of us make it past stage three, leaving us with a society highly populated by adolescents in all but age, to the great detriment of the whole living world.
However he encourages readers back on to an ecocentric path, showing how they can address the work left undone from earlier stages.
It would be greatly healing in these times of global chaos if his model was accessible as a guide to all parents, and all children of parents. Sadly, though, I don't think it's going to be as widely read as it deserves, due to its size. Plotkin has done a wonderfully thorough job in laying out his excellent ideas, but the complexity of the model and his many personal illustrations are likely to put some readers off.
I would like to see a more slender version to sit alongide this great tome, condensing Plotkin's invaluable teachings and making them accessible to many more readers. In fact, somneone could even design a Development Wheel app...
Amazing manual for the human experience. He leverages the Native American four-directions and then layers detail that only one of the world's most esteemed eco-psychologists, nature guides and depth philosophers can do. I will be re-reading this a number of times throughout my journey. I'm especially grateful for his declaration of soul-centric parenting (as opposed to the obedience training and entitlement training currently underfoot in the US). He chose a number of luminaries to light this work, but my favorites were David Whyte, Joanna Macy, and Thomas Berry. The first 10 pages of chapter 2 are the most succinct expression of humanity's condition (within the broader cosmological and ecological context). My only fault is that I'm uncertain which of his 8-stages of development I'm in. I'm fairly certain I'm in 5, Apprentice at the Wellspring, but I also feel like I'm in stage 4 (Wanderer in the Coccoon) and 6 and 7 too. I got scared towards then end, because it seemed like I was close to completion of the human experience, and of course I don't want this to be true. I like it here. Were this my book, I probably would have emphasized less of a linear progression and more of an honoring of these 8 stages at all points in life. But on the whole, a rock solid effort. I put this book up there with Wilber's "Theory of Everything", Murphy's "Future of the Body" as the top 3 contemporary non-fiction efforts aimed at holistically expressing the human experience.
I’m sort of a sucker for books like this: ones that conceptualize and organize broad themes, especially themes based on psychological study and archetypal representation. Much of what the author said resonated with me. On the negative side, it did feel a little judgmental at times. I know that wasn’t the authors intent, as each section ends with a statement about this stage of development being “the best stage of all.” Even so, it was clear that the “higher” stages were considered better, and perhaps they were. Still, if you’re someone who labels yourself as being in stage 2 or 3, I can see this book feeling like a bit of a slap in the face. That being said, there was much food for thought here—a good book for contemplative reflection or group discussion. All in all, I did appreciate the new lens this book provided.
Still amazed at how Plotkin's wisdom nails it in defining where I am at on my journey through this egocentric culture, attempting to live from a soulcentric frame...so affirming and inspiring. I'm through Chapter 9 ("The Artisan in the Wild Orchard") and in wonder over the resonances between his words and my life. Highly, highly recommended for anyone struggling through the insanity of western culture and trying to make meaning and sense of it all while also trying to make a difference.
This is a phenomenal book! Bill explains the ideal developmental stages and compares them to how most of Western culture has gotten stuck along the way. While reading this book I realized many things I missed out on through my childhood years. But it's not just the development of children, but the development through out an individual's entire life. I recommend this for anyone that's looking for a way to find their way in life.
Truly one of the most worldview altering books I have ever read. This is in the top 5, maybe top 3, most life transforming books for me. I worked on it for about a year on and off but I hope to reference this book for the rest of my life. This book is very deeply true, and I love Plotkin’s authenticity and audacity in teaching his model for human maturity and development. It’s a beautiful work. Thanks Bill.
Great book with a ton of information, but too much to take in all at once. Plotkin likes to write and explain. Great reference for my mentorship work with boys, but I got it at the library and ran out of time.
I unfortunately got this with three other "thick" books that had been on hold forever at the exact same time... I didn't end up finishing three of them.
still reading...sporadically. this has been a more tough book to read. it reads more like a text book than anything. not that I am not enjoying the subject matter, but it is more difficult than most...
A few years ago, I read Jenny Wade's book Changes of Mind: A Holonomic Theory of the Evolution of Consciousness . It left an indelible impression on me by unmasking the reasons for different kinds of human behaviour that had up to that point been incomprehensible to me. I was also intrigued by the bold span of her model of consciousness - from before birth to after death. Despite everything that I had gained from it, however, the book left me feeling uneasy. It was especially in the later, transcendent stages of the model that I couldn't shake the feeling that something important was missing. Not that the model was mistaken, but that it had failed to engage the core questions of human life despite accurately portraying the development of consciousness. Yet, for all my misgivings, I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was that was missing.
Bill Plotkin's first book ( Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche ) revealed the answer. A whole dimension of spirituality - that pertaining to soul - was absent. Without it, human life seemed empty to me, as if one were trying to move on from it without first living it. Plotkin then proceeded to explore soul-based spirituality, leaving the challenge of integrating it with spirit-based spirituality that is commonly found in world religions to another book.
Nature and the Human Soul is that book. It is the only book that I know of that examines how one can both heed the unique call of one's soul and honour the bonds that one shares with the rest of creation. Not only that, but it also considers the much-maligned ego and shows just how valuable it can be when placed in the service of forces larger than itself. Forging a working relationship between these three realms of spiritual growth - ego, soul and spirit - is perhaps the author's greatest accomplishment in this book. It creates a template for living that is pertinent to every stage of human life, and that approaches each one with sincere admiration of what it is instead of marginalising it with impatient anticipation of what it might someday become.
Relying on nature and soul for guidance, which is the foundational premise of Plotkin's template, is also messier than what can be found in many other books on personal development. There are no hard and fast rules to follow. Instead, one is called upon to cultivate a personal relationship with these realms and interpret their subtle and often enigmatic messages through one's feelings. It is a challenging process riddled with pitfalls that takes a lifetime to navigate successfully. In fact, Plotkin doesn't shy away from divulging the dark side of human maturation, but takes an honest look at the doubt, trauma and sense of loss that frequently accompany it. He sheds light on the courage and determination that it takes to live authentically and why so many people shirk from it, as unfulfilling as the alternatives may be.
The consequence of heeding the soul's call is to discover and occupy one's place in the world. It is to know intuitively that one is not an orphan in need of acceptance, but an inseparable part of the web of life. It is to nurture that web with soul-infused service, honing one's talents so that one's very life becomes a work of art. And it is to relinquish one's ownership of this masterpiece upon its completion, and surrender to spirit to conclude the life well lived.
The splendour of Plotkin's vision is enhanced by comparison with human life as it frequently unfolds within the confines of modern society. All too often, it highlights what we have come to accept as normal to reveal it as pathological. The thorough comparison leaves no doubt that our society hasn't grown up. This renders it unable to satisfy the few of its members who have, and makes it a danger to everyone - to other societies, to the biosphere, and therefore even to itself.
The comparison illustrates the power of Plotkin's template as a diagnostic tool - it doesn't need symptoms of dysfunction to reveal that one's life has gone off track. Its goal is not to help people adjust to the society in which they live, but to satisfy their innate longing for meaning and purpose as it manifests in the particular life stage in which they live. This focus on nature and soul makes the template essentially independent of culture, and so applicable to them all. It can at once serve as the foundational stone for a truly adult society should we choose to create one, and light the way for the transition from the adolescent society in which we live now. It is an impossible dream that Plotkin and others write about, but, as he says, the only dreams worth their salt at this stage of Earthly affairs are the impossible ones.
A monumental work, rooted in the Jungian tradition of depth psychology, and deeply satisfying to read and ponder, Nature and the Human Soul is surely a magnum opus. In its breadth and specificity, its skillful wedding of the author's and others' lived experiences with poetry, breathtakingly beautiful detailed descriptions of the natural world, and insightful metaphors and analogies, it charts a path forward for humanity as a whole and for the individual reader, while also offering a pointed critique of Western civilization, of how we've gone wrong and how wrong we've gone.
This was a long slow read for me, primarily because I needed to linger over the pages, savoring every line. Poetry infuses the book ... Rilke, T.S. Eliot, David Whyte, Wordsworth, and others ... and the writings of Jung, Hillman, Hollis, Joanna Macy, and Thomas Berry are woven throughout. As a teacher, now retired but still identifying as a teacher, Plotkin's tender treatment of the education of young children and adolescents was especially meaningful to me. If only our schools (and parents) fostered this kind of education, we'd be a much healthier and happier society.
But the true genius of the book lies in the author's creation of a framework to define and guide the stages of a healthy life cycle and, by way of contrast, the more common life cycle most of us in the U.S. and other "developed" nations experience. In fact at the end of each chapter describing one of the eight life stages on the eco-centric "Wheel of Life" is a section that contrasts the more common ego-centric version. If you want to understand the reasons for our current social and cultural malaise, our angry, violent, consumerist society heading toward civil war and environmental disaster, look no further than Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. And in the process, you just might deepen your understanding of your own life, of your tasks fulfilled and left to finish, of your unique gifts to the world, and of the future that opens before you.
“In industrial growth society we have for centuries minimized, suppressed, or entirely ignored the nature task in the first three stages of human development, infancy through early adolescence. This results in an adolescence so out of sync with nature that most people never mature further. Arrested personal growth serves industrial “growth.” By suppressing the nature dimension of human development (through educational systems, social values, advertising, nature-eclipsing vocations and pastimes, city and suburb design, denatured medical and psychological practices, and other means), industrial growth society engenders an immature citizenry unable to imagine a life beyond consumerism and soul-suppressing jobs.”
Excerpt From: Bill Plotkin. “Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World.” iBooks.
This book is amazing. I am so grateful to have read it. So rich in its own subject, how to grow into a healthy human from birth to death, and it pointed me to so many other wonderful books and authors. This book has opened me up and changed me for the better.
Gifted to me by a very dear friend since it's a book he's used to understand his own journey. I hope to eventually read at least the first few chapters and the one that I think applies to me now, Late Adulthood.