Good Reading : June 2008
40 goodreading ı JUNE 2008 word of mouth mind body spirit Everything about books www.goodreadingmagazine.com ONLINE a map for life Bill Plotkin, PhD, author of Nature and the Human Soul: A road map to discovering our place in the world, takes a deep look into the ecological crisis and our material way of life, and provides a guide for not only finding our place in nature, but also discovering our unique soul purpose. He spoke to ROSAMUND BURTON. One of the observations often made about contemporary Western society is that despite our phenomenal materialistic wealth, many people are psychologically bereft and deeply unhappy. Bill Plotkin believes that there are eight stages of development for a person to pass through – two each in childhood, adolescence, adulthood and elderhood.The majority of Westerners, he says, due to the emphasis on individualism in our societies and the developmental deficit most people have suffered, are stuck in the adolescent stage of life. In the first stage of life, parents need to ensure a child develops both culturally and in a nature-oriented way, Bill explains.The cultural task is helping the child develop a conscious self – an ego which is intact and socially viable.The nature-orientated task is helping the child to stay present. ‘If we put too much emphasis on a very young child to learn too much, to obey too many rules, or shape their personality too much, then this takes the child out of the present moment and actually undermines their capacity to be present,’ he says. In middle childhood the child learns to shape a personality which works in the culture, Bill Plotkin continues, but also discovers the enchantment of the natural world, which includes their body, emotions, imagination and dreams. ‘If the child doesn’t develop their wonder about the natural world and their sense of being at home in the world, then they will for ever have at their core, a very deep sense of psychospiritual homelessness.’ The task of early adolescence is to create ‘an authentic and socially acceptable personality’, but if there have been deficits in the first two stages of life, it can be incredibly difficult for teenagers to achieve this. In our society there is a great emphasis on conformity and social acceptability. ‘So many aspects of our consumer society would collapse if there weren’t so many conformists,’ Bill says. According to a recent Gallup poll in the US, 77 per cent of Americans hate their jobs. Many people are undergoing training they don’t enjoy, to get hired for jobs they don’t like, to make money to buy things which are not fulfilling.These people, according to Bill, are stuck in the adolescent phase. For people who do manage to develop an authentic and socially acceptable personality the next stage is called the cocoon, in which a person discovers their soul purpose.This may be how someone brings up their children, their role in a small community, or it could be a contribution they make at a national or global level. Bill Plotkin has a background in psychology and psychotherapy, and for the last 30 years has been taking people on a contemporary version of the Native American vision quest. He is founder of the Animas Valley Institute in Colorado and all his programs are conducted in remote locations and wilderness areas. One aspect of all the courses is a four-day fast in nature. Bill found that after people returned from the four days, their stories fell into certain categories, depending on their psychological development, and over the last 25 years he had developed his ideas on these findings into this 500-page book. Bill is 57 years old and says he is currently in the sixth stage of development, which is late adulthood. Adulthood involves bringing one’s unique gift into the world to erve the greater community. The next stage is lderhood, which he claims he is in no hurry to make the transition to, because he feels he has so much more of his work to do. The task of early elderhood, the stage Bill calls Master of the Grove of Elders, is to care for the ul of the more than human community – the eater earth community. ‘The Master begins to ask how well the human community is maintaining a healthy and integral presence with the larger earth community.These are really big questions to be asking. It takes a true elder to ask those and act on them, and to help the human community to regulate itself and organise itself in such a way that it does not harm the environment which sustains everything.’ With this book, Bill Plotkin is providing a way for people to discover their place in the world and care for the environment. He gives guidance as to what the different stages of a person’s life are and also advises the reader on how to overcome any deficits in development that they might have from childhood and adolescence. Nature and the Human Soul is a very exciting and valuable illustration of how we can move from an egocentric to an ecocentric way of living, which not only connects us with our natural environment, but also provides immense personal fulfilment. Nature and the Human Soul: A road map to discovering our place in the world is published by Finch Publishing, rrp $29.95.