“What you find in nature is what works. It wouldn’t be there if it didn’t. Boundless wisdom awaits.” –Bill Plotkin PhD
In his book Nature and the Human Soul Bill Plotkin writes a groundbreaking blueprint about authentic human development that he calls the Eight Soul-centric/Eco-centric Stages of Human Development. Part psychology, part philosophy, the book is an amazing treatise on the human condition, revealing the healthiest path toward authentic elder-hood and genuine wisdom. Through an eco-centric lens, as opposed to the egocentric one of mass culture, Plotkin reveals an elegant way to individuate the ego and self-actualize the soul through eight amazing stages of life. Here are the eight Soul-centric/Eco-centric Stages of Human Development.
1) The Innocent in the Nest
This is the stage of early childhood, the stage of innocence. At this stage we don’t have human language. Everything is innocent. Our domain is the nest. We look, listen, feel, and smell everything for the first time. We’re not able to label anything, like “ahhhh, this smells like pine.” Our grip on our verbal mind is precarious. We have no name for things. We’re not even thinking that the “branch” grows out of the “tree trunk.” The tree just is. We just are.
There are only images, scents, sounds, feelings, and movements in and around us. Luminous presence is paramount. Feeling is primary; thinking is secondary. Our life is all about the senses and the body. We take it all in. No judgments, but lots of deep curiosity. We’re taking the first steps on an adventure through the endlessly fascinating, sensuous world of nature. We are Innocence personified. We are Spirit. We are unquestionably in relation with everything at this stage, and everything is waiting for us to question it. Our ego is a pinpoint in its development, but it is developing. We are being born into a creature that has the capacity to wonder.
2) The Explorer in the Garden
This is the stage of middle childhood, the stage of wonder. At this stage we are developing ways to engage with nature and culture. Our domain is the garden, the immediate environment. We explore, mimic, and imagine new ways of connecting with humans, other-than-humans, and things. Language is an amazing new tool that we play around with. Bio-mimicry is another. We’re having a blast naming things in relation to our cultural paradigm. Play is paramount.
Wonder is primary, exploration is secondary. Our life is all about discovering family through culture, and nature through the amazing biodiversity of the ecosystem. We are learning how to name and label things through a still deep curiosity. We are becoming more and more creative. We build things, like forts. We climb trees. We talk to squirrels and fall in love with each moment. We are becoming a unique individual in a world that seems never ending. Our ego is an egg, or a seed, incubating, forming, and planting roots. We are becoming a creature that has the capacity to become autonomous.
3) The Thespian at the Oasis
This is the stage of early adolescence, the stage of creative fire. At this stage we are concerned with securing an authentic social self. Our domain is the oasis, the greater environment and the extent of our society. Exploration is still very important but the center of gravity has shifted to social concerns and how best to fit into our peer groups. Puberty is an amazing force that is transforming us in powerful ways. The budding ego is paramount. Peer pressure is primary, sexuality is secondary.
Our life is all about fitting in and discovering our place within society. We seek confirmation through the societal paradigm, and our curiosity has shifted almost completely toward sexuality. We are becoming more authentic, and we are beginning to recognize the authenticity of others: people, animals, things. We recognize boundaries: our own, and others. Our ego is in full bloom. The egg has cracked. We are becoming a creature that has the capacity to leave home: to move on, to wander.
-It’s worth noting that the majority of people in Western societies have not gone beyond this stage. And so true adulthood, or psychological maturity, has become an uncommon achievement, and genuine elder-hood nearly nonexistent.
4) The Wanderer in the Cocoon
This is the stage of late adolescence, the stage of mystery and darkness. At this stage we are concerned with understanding the Great Mystery. Our domain is the cocoon: a mystical and mythical transformation place within the unconscious realm. We are beginning to explore ways of letting go, of saying goodbye; while at the same time exploring new ways of identifying and defining our world. Mystery itself is fast becoming an essential guide. We are learning how to open up to serendipity. We are becoming more sensitive to coincidence.
Exploration is paramount. Hearing “the call of the wild” is primary; heeding the call is secondary. Our life is all about honoring obstacles and letting go of attachments. We seek, courageously, to be completely consumed by the underworld, as our center of gravity expands beyond any of our preconceived notions. We are learning how to stretch comfort zones, break mental paradigms, and pass through existential thresholds. Our ego is fully formed, ready to emerge from the cocoon. We are becoming a creature that has the capacity for soul initiation.
5) The Soul Apprentice at the Wellspring
This is the stage of early adulthood, the stage of visionary action. At this stage our concern is learning about the history of our culture. Our domain is the wellspring, the perennial fountainhead of cultural depths. We are creating the foundation for what will become our vocation. Our initiation into soul is an awesome inspiration to us. We are learning how to tap into ancient knowledge and stand on the shoulders of giants.
We also learn more about the magnanimous interconnectedness of cosmos & nature. Awareness is paramount. Inspiration is primary, understanding is secondary. Our life is all about emerging into a full-fledged soul-centric being. We seek to build platforms and secure foundations for launching off points. We are learning how to hear a language older than words. Our ego has wings and is ready to fly. We are becoming a creature with the capacity for cultural creation.
6) The Artisan in the Wild Orchard
This is the stage of late adulthood, the stage of cultural renaissance. At this stage we are concerned with manifesting a genuine system for the delivery of our soul work. Our domain is the wild orchard, a robust environment of ripened fruit. We have discovered our unique vocation. Our induction into the circle of artistry is a cultural boon, but we are diligent in our cultivation of soul. We are learning how our soulwork is also artwork, and how to deliver it as a gift to the world. Art is paramount. Benevolence is primary, teaching is secondary.
Our life is all about planting the seeds of our knowledge and communicating deeply with others: human, and other-than-human. We seek to cultivate the philosophy of soul-centrism and eco-centrism by imparting its wisdom onto others. We can now hear nature speaking a language older than words. Our ego is in full flight. We are becoming a creature with the capacity for mastery.
7) The Master in the Grove of Elders
This is the stage of early elderhood, the stage of wholeness. At this stage we are concerned with the world as a whole, as a vibrating interconnected web of life. Our domain is a grove, a place that is linked to the entire ecosystem. We have planted our seeds and now we get to watch them grow. We have been crowned with the mantle of mastery and now we see with “over-eyes” how the energy of psyche/culture is joined and linked forever with the energy of nature/world. Wisdom is paramount.
Vigilance is primary, observance is secondary. Our life is all about caring for the soul of the human and more-than-human community. We seek nothing more than to tend to the web of life with a humor of the most high. We can now both hear and speak, fluently, a language older than words. Our ego flies above all, tending to the way it all fits together. We are becoming a creature with the capacity to surrender to the cosmos.
8) The Sage in the Mountain Cave
This is the stage of late elderhood, the stage of grace. At this stage we are concerned with tending to the universe as a whole. Our domain is a mountain cave, a place up high where the cosmic structure of the universe is displayed in all its glory. We have surrendered to grace. We are humbled by our wisdom, and honored to have lived a life of soul-centric/eco-centric relevance.
Gratitude is paramount. Numinosity is primary, luminance is secondary. Our life is all about being one with cosmos and spirit. We seek nothing more than to let go, to give way. We have become a language older than words. Our ego is at rest, nesting in an infinite nest. We are becoming a creature with the capacity for rebirth, but first, death.