Recently I have been wandering. Wandering geographically as well into the depths of my own mind, soul and heart. School, a place I used to love and thrive in, became a prison whose purpose it seemed was keep me from wandering. Everything I knew myself to be; a good student, confident and socially adept and involved, a leader in in world of extracurriculars, seemed in question suddenly. I found myself wanting to retreat, isolating myself and wishing I could escape all the obligations and responsibilities of academia and society. And I hated feeling this way. I beat up on myself, trying to make myself go out and stay engaged, and yet the more I tried the more I knew I did not want to be there.
Asking my parents if I could take time off from college was one of the hardest things I have ever done. When I finally mustered the courage to ask they were receptive (thank god!) but getting there was a long, hard path of facing many of my demons and fears. My fear of being that college dropout, of not finishing what I started (I only have 1 more semester and then I will have my degree! How could I stop now?), of disappointing my parents, of disappointing myself! But something inside of me was screaming with an urgency, an urgency that I did not quite understand, telling me I needed to be free to wander.
Now, it is October of my year off. My classmates have resumed classes, I will not graduate a semester early in December, but the world has not fallen apart. In fact, I feel a huge weight lifted off me, and I feel myself expanding and growing in profound ways as I am allowed to explore my own depths at y own pace. And, I think I will go back and finish my degree, but I know that for now I made the right decision to take a year off. And in a society where “soul searching” is not always recognized as a valuable and legitimate thing to be doing with ones time, I am incredibly grateful that my family and community was and is able to support me in my decision
Although at this point I do not feel a need for outside validation of my decision, a recent book I have picked up has helped me understand my own need to wander and put things in perspective. The book is called Nature and the Human Soul and is written by Bill Plotkin. In this book, Plotkin, who is a a depth psychologist and wilderness guide, proposes a development model for healthy human development. Reading about his model, which is a circular model of development that is eco and soulcentric, I feel like my own trials and tribulations, as well as my own gut feelings about what is healthy and what I need has been fully validated. Reading his book has given me insight and understanding to why nature, both our own and the that of the earth, is so important for healthy human development. And it has also helped me understand some of the causes for much of the destruction and dysfunction I see around me. Plotkin skillfully explains the egocentric society that dominates today, where the primary objective is socioeconomic gain for the individual while also illustrating a viable alternative for moving towards an eco-soulcentric society where each individual manifests their own unique purpose in the world and acts from a place of deep connection to the whole world or cosmos. What a beautiful and in many ways simple idea! That a mature person would be acting not for the benefit of just the individual but for the whole world! And yet it seems this is not what most so called adults in our world are doing.
But I think things are shifting. Lately it seems that everywhere I go people are talking of and doing their part in The Great Turning, although they may not call it that. To my knowledge, Joanna Macy was the first to coin this phrase, but it is now being used by many across the globe. To me, the work that Plotkin is doing does much to address the third stage of the great turning; a global shift in consciousness. Without this shift actions to slow or call attention to the damage we are doing, such as the occupy wall street movement (which I fully support), or even education and analysis of the causes of this destruction will only take us so far in healing our planet, and therefore our people. We need to also look inward and do our own inner work.
This is what the 4th stage in Plotkin’s developmental work, the wanderer in the cocoon, is all about. This stage is also what Plotkin sees as the transition stage to becoming a true, mature adult.
Here is one passage from Bill Plotkin’s book describing the quest of the wanderer:
“The Wanderer (of any chronological age) seeks to discover her ultimate place in life. Not just any place will do… It’s got to be her place, one that is in keeping with her vital core. It’s a place defined not by the deeds she performs but by the qualities of soul she embodies; not by her physical, social, or economic achievements but by the true character she manifests; neither by her capacity to conform to the masses, nor by her ability to creatively rebel against the mainstream, but by the unique way she performs her giveaway for her community. Her ultimate place is identified not by any social forms or roles but, rather by the symbols, stories, and archetypes unearthed from the deep structure of her psyche and by the way the world invites her to belong to it.” (pg. 251-252, Nature and the Human Soul)
I am blessed to feel that I have reached this stage. As I read this book I know that my family and community has allowed me to fully experience not only this stage, but the three stages before largely from an eco-soulcentric place and I am grateful for that as well.
I have not completed reading this book and I may write another entry when I have, but as of now I feel quite strongly that for anyone feeling lost and confused in this world, or questioning the way things are, whether they are young or old I would highly recommend Nature and the Human Soul. And for parents or anyone working with children or youth or even in just any position of guidance and mentorship, perhaps even to adults, this is, in my opinion, one of the most important books you could read. I am certainly glad I am reading it for myself and long before I have my own children. It will definitely shape how I choose to raise them.