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Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World Paperback – December 28, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In his magnum opus more than 25 years in the making, psychologist, eco-therapist, and wilderness guide Plotkin (Soulcraft) brings forth a new model for the whole of human life and spirituality in our world in dire ecological need, spoiled by patho-adolescent society. Beginning fittingly with elder eco-sage Thomas Berry, Plotkin calls us to a fresh circular conception of individual and collective evolutionary life genuinely reconnected to the wild of nature. Using the indigenous template of the four compass directions, his eight stages on the wheel of spiritual development are the Innocent, Explorer, Thespian, Wanderer, Soul Apprentice, Artisan, Master and Sage. The Wheel is a deep-structure portrait of nature-and-soul-oriented cultures, a portrait that encompasses child-raising practices, core values, stages of growth, rites of passage, community organization, and relationship to the greater Earth community, he writes. Leaning heavily on psychology, Plotkin also draws upon a heavenly host of the rich sources that inform a lifetime including poetry, global cultures and much more. Graceful prose is counterbalanced with diagrams and clear chapter structure. Plotkin offers an essential, weighty book for our perilous times. (Jan.)
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"With Nature and the Human Soul, Bill Plotkin once again works miracles. This vital book provides a road map to help us remember how to be human - which means how to be a human being in relationship to the natural world, to our home. We owe Bill Plotkin a deep debt of gratitude for this important work."--- Derrick Jensen, author of A Language Older Than Words and coauthor of As the World Burns --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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I am giving it 5 stars for one reason only: the opening chapters seem totally inspired, totally real, and unforgettable. That's when he writes about the journey of the soul into darkness. I resonated with every word.
'There is a great longing within each of us...'
By Stephen Muires, MDiv in Swedenborgian theology
Ordained: Part I Denmark (Volume 1)
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.
(From the author of A Glimpse of Another World and Living Deliberately)
Plotkin, a wilderness survival teacher, has done more deep thinking (and reading) out in the wild than Thoreau. And he has come up with a map for our possible growth into true humanity that's more more comprehensive than Freud or Jung was able to envision.
He opens with a brief, scathing sketch of modern "civilization" as an acute case of arrested development, a rootless, aimless culture that churns out 50-year-old adolescents instead of the master teachers, mentors and elders we desperately need.
But that's his only discouraging word.
In the rest of the book, he takes us stage by stage around a developmental wheel that brings together virtually all we know about ourselves, from psychology and anthropology to the oral traditions of our oldest cultures. By the end, and at every stage along the way, we see how we -- as individuals, and in our families and communities -- can set about the complex, arduous but beautiful work of becoming fully human, living as wise stewards and sharers of life.
If you read no other book this century, read this one.