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Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche

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Our human psyches possess astonishing resources that wait within us, but we might not even know they exist until we discover how to access them and cultivate their powers, their untapped potentials and depths. Wild Mind identifies these resources — which Bill Plotkin calls the four facets of the Self, or the four dimensions of our innate human wholeness — and also the four sets of fragmented or wounded subpersonalities that form during childhood. Rather than proposing ways to eliminate our subpersonalities (which is not possible) or to beat them into submission, Plotkin describes how to cultivate the four facets of the Self and discover the gifts of our subpersonalities. The key to reclaiming our original wholeness is not merely to suppress psychological symptoms, recover from addictions and trauma, or manage stress but rather to fully embody our multifaceted wild minds, commit ourselves to the largest, soul-infused story we’re capable of living, and serve the greater Earth community.

320 pages, Paperback

First published April 8, 2013

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About the author

Bill Plotkin

8 books73 followers
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

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 34 reviews
Profile Image for Nick.
Author 3 books9 followers
April 11, 2013
I loved Soulcraft - an inspiring and spiritual book which I often dip back into. But in keeping with the sequel, whose name and content I've since forgotten, this new book feels more academic and laden with an intricate system of categorising experience which seems to me to detract from an appreciation of the present moment, rather than enhancing it.
Profile Image for Erica Rhinehart.
15 reviews1 follower
August 18, 2014
Bill Plotkin is a master cartographer of the human psyche. His maps have the potential to guide one into the long forgotten magic of being fully human in an animate world. This book is a profound gift to the human community.
Profile Image for Rani Goel.
1 review
February 11, 2014
Highly recommend to anyone with a psyche and an interest in understanding the human mind, spirit, and ego. Helps a person understand our own behavior and why people act "out of character" sometimes. If you're into "shadow work" you will likely dig it.
Profile Image for Adam Johnson.
75 reviews2 followers
September 12, 2019
An incredibly insightful book, bringing Jungian psychotherapy an even richer layer of eco-depth. Plotkin works with a quadrant model (North - South, East - West), and describes the depths to be brought from each to become a 3D human. A fully whole person. He also talks of the subs, those sub-personalities in each quandrant that form for various reasons, but typically to keep the childhood Self safe.

I loved it. Perhaps not everyone's cup of tea, but I'll keep returning to it for insights into this wonderful thing we call life.
Profile Image for Erica Jones.
33 reviews11 followers
August 5, 2016
Highly recommended for those pursuing self-development, or studying the therapeutic possibilities of ecopsychology. To fully grasp the concepts, I think one must engage the practices and try it out for oneself.

"It's time to take an ecological and holistic look at the human psyche, to make a fresh start with Western psychology. ...Conventional Western psychology has focused on pathology rather than possibility and participation, and renders it incomplete...and in many ways obsolete. ...What if most actual pathologies are primarily symptoms of underdeveloped psychological resources--inborn capacities of the Self that await cultivation within everyone?" (pp. 2-4)

Having used Plotkin's nature-based map of the psyche to great effect over a period of five years preceding the publication of this book, I found it an interesting read. Well-written, with a logical sequencing and helpful examples to illustrate the concepts, Wild Mind makes a positive contribution to the study and practice of ecopsychology. Whether or not one agrees with every detail of the map and how it is presented, I believe Plotkin has rendered a very useful account of the archetypal dynamics at work in psyche and to a practical rather than merely theoretical end. Especially valuable are the practices for contacting and becoming familiar with various parts of one's psyche, variations of which I have also used for myself and can recommend to others.

Following my initial experiential introduction to the map during one of Plotkin's "Soulcraft Intensives," my usage of the map and practices has been largely self-directed--indicative of its practicability--though I have helpfully subjected myself to a number of Animas Valley Institute (AVI) programs along the way. "Subjected" because of the inherent challenge of psychospiritual growth, a process which invariably involves the experience of death and loss and grief, if one is seriously pursuing the mystery of Soul rather than going through some motions without truly surrendering to one's not-knowing about self/Self, life, the universe and everything. (A very healthy pursuit, to be sure. Refer concept of the "Shadow," mentioned below)

As Plotkin has emphasized in all the experiences (and ordeals) I have undergone in AVI programs, it is essential to be able to deeply appreciate all the survival mechanisms which have ensured our survival up to the present moment's challenge of transforming and embodying greater wholeness and skillfulness in relating, being and doing. If one is unable to feel a genuine measure of gratitude to one's addict, wounded child, shadow self or inner critic (to use a few examples)--and hold equally the fact of the difficulty or damage those parts have caused/been caused by--then that should be taken as a sure sign that there is still more to be learned about that part of oneself; it still has gifts and insights to offer before it can be integrated. (Which is not to say "gotten rid of." More like “to be in right relationship with.") Compassion, love, curiosity and humility are key qualities along the path of Self-discovery.

I very much appreciate how Plotkin situates his psychology within cultural considerations and with a critical eye, though I think this map may require various translations for different cultural groups, as the book reads as if written mainly for a middle-class and perhaps so-aspiring audience. One of the pitfalls of cultural critique is that it forces one to assert a particular (and always partial) perspective, exposing the limitations and difficulty (impossibility) of awareness of all of the different experiences of various groups within any given society. Intersectionality [1] additionally aggravates any attempts at hard and fast distinctions concerning how any individual or even group might impact or be impacted by a social institution, which is why an archetypal eye [2] offers a great gift of insight into the possibilities for human authenticity and belonging.

Therefore I hope it is understood that the author isn't seeking to critique the response of oppressed people to their oppression (particularly in the sections concerning Victims and Rebels in "South: Wounded Children"), but is rather seeking to critique the socioeconomic systems and cultural pathology which contribute in large part to that response. I think that Plotkin is trying to point to a way for all people to access greater psychospiritual health and vitality, which they need for their own well-being as much as the greater world needs their wholeness for its rejuvenation. There is hope for people to be able to self-assess and assess-in-community and discover their own resources of wholeness, belonging and regeneration in the midst of the disintegration and uncertainty of the 21st century--a disintegration maddeningly visible primarily only to those who've dared to look into quite a few Shadowy places.

And to that end, in this volume you'll find a nuanced rendering of the concept of the "Shadow" and its potentials and pitfalls, as well as various techniques for discovering elements of it--should you be ready for such a risky endeavor.

"The Shadow is not what we know about ourselves and don't like (or like but keep hidden) but rather what we don't know about ourselves and, if accused of it, would adamantly and sincerely deny." (pp. 19 - 20)

"The Shadow is whatever the Ego isn't. The Shadow is what's true about who you really are, but you haven't a clue about it. The Shadow is the buried rage in a man who never met anyone he didn't love. It's the ax murderer in [the example of] Harriet's dreams. It's the misogynist who might be secretly loitering within the psyche of a feminist. ...The Shadow is what you fail to notice about yourself." (p. 209)

"Given that the Shadow is what you don't know about yourself and what you would, if confronted, steadfastly and honestly deny, how on Earth can you ever learn anything about it? How do you track down something you can't see and have every (unconscious) reason not to notice?" (p. 215)

The section on "Shadow and Shadow Selves" contains various ways to approach Shadow discovery as well as useful examples from the author's own life, though heed the warning in an endnote: "Shadow work, as I say, is generally the most risky, simply because we have no idea what we're dealing with until it's in our face." (p. 282n8)

Don't pass up the endnotes, they are often well worth the page shuffling.

[1] Intersectionality (theory) refers to the multiple identities individuals have across social, economic, political and other realms, and challenges us to understand that individuals can experience oppressions and privileges within the same system. For example, a woman can experience discrimination because of her gender (e.g., less access to credit than males) but experience privilege due to her complexion (e.g., better access to job opportunities than people of color).

[2] The term "archetypal eye" is how the depth psychologist James Hillman referred to a cultivated capacity to see through the concrete literalisms which characterize our modern understanding of life to the deeper mythic realities hidden underneath.
Profile Image for Jacqueline Boss.
Author 6 books10 followers
October 18, 2021
Highlighted passages:

It is the responsibility of all capable individuals to help make their culture whole and vital. -6

Western conversations often sound like two or more subpersonalities comparing notes about life from their wounded or fragmented perspectives. -18

Mature, psychologically healthy people can consciously choose... which version or versions of themselves they operate as. But someone with limited psychological development... might have no capacity to chose. -24

Quote from Thomas Berry: "Whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycles of its transformation is good; whatever opposes this meadow or negates it is not good. My life orientation is that simple."

When another person is a significant danger to us- despite our attempts to love- our Nurturing Adult will lead us away from the encounter if possible and if doing so is for the highest good. -38

In the non-rare human communities in which most adults are psychologically mature... community life is founded on... a gifting economy. ... everybody in a healthy community freely gives away to others. And there's no waste. Every "by-product" is a resources for somebody or something else. -40

The 3-D Ego: that neutral pivot of consciousness cognizant of its rainbow range of possible manifestations... -44

Feeling is in fact a foreign faculty in immature men mired in macho and military misconceptions of manhood. -67

Beyond the threshold, observe three cross-cultural taboos: do not eat, do not speak with other humans, and do not enter human-made shelters. -70

We find ourselves faced with unavoidable and seemingly fated tasks and trials- supremely challenging adventures, perhaps impossible but nonetheless necessary ones - and we recognize that how well we engage with these quandaries will determine whether or how fully we'll realize our destiny in this lifetime. -73

You want, that is, to know what to move toward without having to first (or ever) rationally analyze your situation. -73

...the Sage... inspires us to let go of the lesser things in our lives and to ask ourselves to consider more deeply what is of true and lasting value. -80

The Sacred Fool shows up in your own human psyche, too. He can appear anytime in your life when, against all odds, you suddenly lighten up about matters you had been treating so solemnly. -85

The Trickster, too, exists within you. ...helping you lighten up in the midst of the oh-so-serious business of work, love, and spiritual development. -85

In the mainstream Western world, the senses are dulled by disinterest, disuse, and stultifying cultural activities that take places indoors and in denatured outdoor environments with a woeful constriction in the diversity of things that can be seen, heard, touched, smelled, and tasted. -88

...a human being in vibrant contact with her wholeness would be a poor candidate for the social roles of consumer, worker bee, or soldier... -89

...unless we approach the dangerous opportunity of Soul embodiment with freshness and conscious presence to each moment, we'll never succeed. The task of living as an initiated adult is always a unique undertaking. We can't manage it by following another's path or by trying to figure it out. -94

Spiritual teachers say the one who embarks on the path of enlightenment will not be the one who survives it. -95

We live in a culture that understands too many things too precisely and in too small a way, rendering our lives and our world too predicable and controllable, too sterile. We would be much healthier if we could regularly imagine the impossible, be open to surprise and unexpected discovery, and change course, turning on a dime, especially when something alluring crosses our path. -103

A bit of Rumi quote:
I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.
Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
What a bargain! Let's buy it.

If we are feminine at the core of our psyche, our Inner Beloved is said to be masculine, whether we are a man or a woman. And, we'll be strongly attracted to people who are masculine at their core. And vice versa. -107

In outer romance, we learn to love- and be loved by- not our other half but someone who is truly other. And in such a relationship, we also discover where we are wounded, where we are not yet whole, and where we have unfinished emotional business to attend to. When we get stuck in our attempts to love another, this often exposes our failure to have fully embraced and integrated our true other half, our Inner Beloved. -108

These conformist roles are mind numbing, soul violating, heartbreaking, people harming, and world wasting. -113

...bringing with you a question that you want to offer the Muse as a gift. (Perhaps: What in my current life seems like an obstacle but, if I surrender to it, could in fact hold the key to transformation?...) -115

West Walks
Ideally, undertake these walks in late afternoons or early evenings (the West time of day) and especially in autumn. Wander in wild or semiwild terrain... -116

He doesn't want to be alone or to have to risk his security by embarking on the adventure of authentic self-discovery. -136

As you identify and gradually retire your childhood survival strategies, you'll recognize and feel how much you've lost or postponed- relationships, creative expression, personal fulfillment, inspired service- as a consequence of those strategies employed so many years beyond their need. -145

Why in God's name would you want to walk into that fire? ... Because you know that on the other side of that fire a terrible and ecstasy-igniting secret awaits you. -150

At his depths, the Rebel feels something like this: I don't have a clue who I really am, but I'm not going to act or be anything like them- those corrupt sellouts with privilege, conventional power, or money. I'm going to be whatever they're not. And in spades. -162

In their [Navajo people] masterful weavings, they incorporate a deliberate irregularity, an errant line or color that looks like an unintended flaw but is actually a purposeful deviation called a "spirit line," the place where Mystery might enter. -178

Blisshead... New Age Flake, believes, for example, that if we would simply think positively enough, we would all be fabulously wealthy, healthy and happy. Someone abducted by her inner Blisshead might believe such "secrets"... -185

...shallow versions of spiritual practice. For the Spiritual Materialist, the primary (but usually unrecognized) benefit of meditation, prayer, or yoga is the evasion of everyday difficulties and of the dark realms of the West quadrant of the psyche. -189

Daniel Goleman describes forbidden parts of ourselves in a corner of our psyches as "writing in the form of a "knot"

As Rumi notes, "Everybody's scandalous flaw is mine" If you see scandalous flaws (or prodigious virtuosity0 in others, those are great places to investigate [for your shadow self]. -213
2 reviews3 followers
January 28, 2019
Insightful, spot on

I actually attended a Wild Mind retreat in which we read all of and used many exercises in the book. The personality inventory presented was so comprehensive and the illustrations of the nature of the inner-workings and relationships between the various “subs”was so insightful. I discovered profound connections amongst different aspects of my personality, as well as fears, triggers and strengths I had never fully realized or understood.
Most importantly, the insights provide actual tools to deal with problems and grow into a much more whole, healthy and joyous being. This is good stuff, not silly or fluffy.
Author 1 book2 followers
January 30, 2015
As with his other books, I absolutely loved this investigation of the human psyche by Bill Plotkin. An excellent companion to his book Nature and the Human Soul; in this one, he analyzes the four aspects of the Self, and the subpersonalities that we develop in childhood to protect our immature selves. He advocates a process of recognizing and embracing those subpersonalities in order to overcome them, rather than rejecting or reprimanding them. This book will definitely be added to my list of Bill Plotkin books that I recommend to just about everyone I know....
Profile Image for Karl.
45 reviews5 followers
April 23, 2019
A unique trip into animalism and shamanic take on personality. The clear descriptions of subpersonalities protecting you into adulthood from childhood fears and societal constructs mirror plenty of people you meet, even yourself. It is quite verbose and repetetive in theory, yet the short stories provide one with the means to retire your limiting selves with gratitude to let you thrive fully. My south and west are strong, yet now I will expand my east and north consciously. I'd read more of his wild take on humans in nature, if he had more at the library.
47 reviews
May 28, 2015
I read this book with a group. The book and the process was very helpful to me. I don't think I could have gotten through the book and certainly would not have gotten so much out of it if I had tried to read it on my own. I am now starting to read it again and finding that I understand it so much better. It is am important book for me.
Profile Image for Stephen Monroe Monroe.
Author 1 book1 follower
July 5, 2017
While I don't agree with all of Mr. Plotkin's names for the various "people" in our psyche, and while the book was repetitive at times, I think he had some great ideas for how to get beyond ourselves and stretch our comfort zones to experience more of the magic that life has to offer. Definitely worth a read.
Profile Image for Rayne Dowell.
Author 4 books11 followers
January 17, 2019
This was an interesting read. We're taught to expect to go through three major transitions in our lives, from child to adolescent, from adolescent to adult and from adult to senior. It's gratifying to read that there are many more transitions we can expect to embrace along the way.
Profile Image for Andjelka Jankovic.
174 reviews7 followers
June 8, 2023
I owe a lot of my second-wave awakening to Bill Plotkin who urged me to leave ‘my summer house’ and enter the Cocoon of my wanderer phase. His writing hits you somewhere deep and acute, as the truth always does. The fourfold Self is a lifetime achievement worthy for us all to pursue.
Profile Image for Heather Durham.
Author 2 books12 followers
August 22, 2023
I appreciated this creative approach to mapping the human psyche, drawing on Jungian archetypes and regularly mirroring Internal Family Systems (IFS) theories. Whereas I didn't mind the heavily academic nature that some readers resisted—I'm a heavy reader of academic psychology and neuroscience books— nor did I resist the "woo woo," spiritual, or other esoteric elements that some other readers disliked, I think what mainly turned me off was the dogmatic, almost authoritarian pronouncements of these ideas as unquestioned reality. Many of the ideas did make sense and seem like they could be helpful in deepening self-knowledge and potential for healing, others did not fit my personal cosmology, but in general, any theory or belief system presented as "this is the way it is" and "this is the way we all are" tends to turn me off, makes me less receptive to even considering it.
4 reviews
February 27, 2021
If you are interested in a guide book for learning how to really work with, heal and transform yourself, this is it! I use the material in this book for working with myself and with my clients. Learning to discern the many parts of us, what our wholeness looks, feels and sounds like and how to heal our fragments from our wholeness is our human journey. This book will help you get started on the discovery of the beauty that is you.
Profile Image for Ray Lo.
124 reviews1 follower
August 1, 2021
I bought this book because it has an insane high GR rating... and I dunno why it has such a high rating. It also popped up as a 'to read' when you are high sensitive (HSP) Although the introduction is very appealing, the outlie of the book is some pseudo science approach to psychology; moreover, I compare it to gymbros and broscience. North, east west up & down... really in the 21st century? It never has any scientifical back-up or references.

I gave up reading.
Profile Image for James.
1,498 reviews108 followers
August 23, 2017
Drawing on Jungian Archetypes, Plotkin maps the human psyche, parts of the self to grow into (Nurturing Generative Adult, Wild Indigenious One, Sage/Trickster, the Beloved/guide to the soul) and ways that an under-developed part of the psyche manifests itself in life. Interesting stuff here, sounds a little out there but I think a lot of it could be helpful.
Profile Image for Clivemichael.
2,127 reviews3 followers
February 25, 2019
Somewhat pedantic and long winded. I enjoyed Chapter 9 West: The Shadow and Shadow Selves.
"The purpose of the Shadow is to protect us from enacting personal characteristics that, if expressed, might land us in big trouble with others or ourselves."
and one way to identify Shadow- "The way you would complete this sentence: “The one thing absolutely not true about me is …”
August 20, 2022
Excellent in substance and beautifully written. Soulcraft is the best place to start, but I would recommend Wild Mind as the second step, and Journey of Soul Initiation next. Be sure to pair this with wanders, actually doing the practices he suggests. You will be surprised what embodiment awakens within your soul.
Profile Image for Dams.
4 reviews
April 3, 2021
Personally I didn’t really like this book. The author talks about things that doesn’t feel real to me and it feels very academic so it was kind of boring. However, I really liked the way he mapped the human mind.
Profile Image for Lisa.
71 reviews
May 20, 2021
All my life experiences and perspectives reflected back to me in a lovely, soulful framework. Grateful for this book!
Profile Image for Abdo Habbani.
6 reviews1 follower
December 27, 2021
Reshaped my understanding of healing. Highly recomended if you are looking for a real map to guide you through the journey of cultivating your human wholeness.
Profile Image for Jessi.
215 reviews1 follower
July 23, 2023
An excellent framework for exploring our full selves in relation with both our physical and social environments. I’ll be going back through this one often I think.
Profile Image for Archyz.
33 reviews1 follower
June 26, 2023
Maybe I did not fully grasp what the author tried to tell with this book. At times seemed like a good synthesis of the author's ideas with Jungian psychology, at times it felt a bit naïve and too much of a filler. It's not a bad book, but I did not resonate with it.
37 reviews1 follower
November 7, 2019
A thoughtful and useful map to the human psyche. The writing is excellent, and the ideas well-developed. His explanation of the sub-personalities I found particularly interesting.
Profile Image for Karen.
879 reviews124 followers
May 25, 2013
I jumped at the chance to receive a review copy of Wild Mind, having already read Nature and the Human Soul by the same author. In Wild Mind, Plotkin draws on Jungian archetypal theory / depth psychology to describe the process of individuation -- the ultimate aim of mature, integrated people. He makes a unique contribution by using the four points of the compass to describe a variety of subperonalities that people's psyches might adopt in an effort to manage conflicts and achieve their aims for emotional, social and spiritual goals.

Some of these subpersonalities are in the service of intrapersonal aims (or how we see ourselves); others are in the service of interersonal aims (or how others see us). Some are whole, grounded and healthy; others are wounded and throw us into dysfunctional behaviors such as addiction, exploitation of others, escapist behaviors, etc.

Plotkin offers a series of exercises designed to put people in touch with mother nature at each of the points of the compass. By acknowledging our connection to the great web of nature, people can find a healthier expression of their psychological needs and achieve individuation.

For a more elaborate review, see this post on my blog:

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