Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche

Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche

by Bill Plotkin
     
 

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Since 1980, depth psychologist Bill Plotkin has been guiding women and men into the wilderness—the redrock canyons and snow-crested mountains of the American West—but also into the wilds of the soul. He calls this work soulcraft.

There’s a great longing in all people to uncover the secrets and mysteries of our individual lives, to find the

Overview

Since 1980, depth psychologist Bill Plotkin has been guiding women and men into the wilderness—the redrock canyons and snow-crested mountains of the American West—but also into the wilds of the soul. He calls this work soulcraft.

There’s a great longing in all people to uncover the secrets and mysteries of our individual lives, to find the unique gift we were born to bring to our communities, and to experience our full membership in the more-than-human world. This journey to soul is a descent into layers of the self much deeper than personality, a journey meant for each one of us, not just for the heroes and heroines of mythology.

A modern handbook for the journey, Soulcraft is not an imitation of indigenous ways, but a contemporary nature-based approach born from wilderness experience, the traditions of Western culture, and the cross-cultural heritage of all humanity. Filled with stories, poems, and guidelines, Soulcraft introduces over 40 practices that facilitate the descent to soul, including dreamwork, wilderness vision fasts, talking across the species boundaries, council, self-designed ceremony, nature-based shadow work, and the arts of romance, being lost, and storytelling.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Here is an abundantly wise and carefully crafted survival guide for the wild soul currently dozing (or dying) at the heart of your civilized life. Plotkin has wandered again and again into the nourishing darkness, and has returned with this earthly bundle of insights and images — talismanic tools for awakening to the outrageous depths both within us and all around us. He has bound them into a book that is immensely practical, alive with ritual intelligence, thick with useful tools from a host of courageous comrades."
David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous

"As we enter a future where humans and the natural world are more intimate with each other, we will surely be powerfully influenced by this new guide into the mysteries of nature and psyche. In Soulcraft, Bill Plotkin gives us an authentic masterwork. In the substance of what he has written, in the clarity of his presentation, and in the historical urgency of the subject, he has guided us far into the new world that is opening up before us. We will not soon again receive a work of this significance."
— from the foreword by Thomas Berry, author of The Dream of the Earth and The Great Work

"The fundamental worldview of industrial society is that Earth is like a gravel pit or a lumberyard — just a resource for human use. We live disconnected from the evolving earth community, but our deepest allurement is a rich, intimate participation in nature and the ongoing adventure of the Universe. In this stunningly original and inspiring guide book, Bill Plotkin shows us how to reconnect with the sacred powers of life, of nature, of soul, and the ways that each one of us can reinvent ourselves and discover our unique way to flower forth."
Brian Swimme, cosmologist and author of The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, The Universe is a Green Dragon, and coauthor with Thomas Berry of The Universe Story

Library Journal
Plotkin, a psychologist and wilderness guide, is the founder of the Animas Valley Institute (Durango, CO), one of the nation's oldest and largest organizations that leads nature-based "soul-discovery programs." Here he posits that many people today are suffering from "soul loss," or being out of touch with their true selves, as a direct result of our fast-paced society and alienation from the natural environment. This "soul loss" can manifest as addictions, depression, anxiety, and hyperactive consumerism. Plotkin believes that we can reclaim a more fulfilling and creative existence by embarking on a psychological journey based on his experiences leading contemporary wilderness rites. He incorporates many of his exercises and knowledge from those excursions into this book. Sprinkled throughout are poems chosen to illuminate the path of discovery, as well as many anecdotes from people who have participated in Plotkin's retreats over the years. Many books deal with exploring and repairing spiritual wounds, but this book shines in its focus on nature as a tool to heal. Recommended for New Age and spirituality collections where interest merits.-Mimi Davis, Broward Cty. Lib. Dist., Fort Lauderdale, FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781577314226
Publisher:
New World Library
Publication date:
08/28/2003
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
328,835
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Soulcraft

Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche


By Bill Plotkin

New World Library

Copyright © 2003 Bill Plotkin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57731-422-6



CHAPTER 1

CARRYING WHAT IS HIDDEN AS A GIFT TO OTHERS


... To be human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others....

— David Whyte


There's so much more to who you are than you know right now. You are, indeed, something mysterious and someone magnificent. You hold within you — secreted for safekeeping in your heart — a great gift for this world. Although you might sometimes feel like a cog in a huge machine, that you don't really matter in the great scheme of things, the truth is that you are fully eligible for a meaningful life, a mystical life, a life of the greatest fulfillment and service. To enter that life, you do not need to join a tribal culture or renounce your religious values. You do not necessarily need to quit your job, sell or give away your home, or learn to eat only vegetables. You do, however, need to undertake a journey as joyous and gratifying as it is long and difficult. You will perhaps have to make sacrifices of the greatest sort along the way, but you will not be able to determine what they might be before you start. Nonetheless, to put things in proper perspective, please remember that at no point will you be asked to sacrifice any social roles, material objects, or self-images that you won't lose anyway at the time of your final breath. Something at your core prays you won't reach that moment without having courageously embarked, years earlier, upon the mystical journey of the soul.

* * *

There is a great longing within each of us.

We long to discover the secrets and mysteries of our individual lives, to find our unique way of belonging to this world, to recover the never-before-seen treasure we were born to bring to our communities. To carry this treasure to others is half of our spiritual longing. The other half is to experience our oneness with the universe, with all of creation. While embracing and integrating both halves of the spiritual, Soulcraft focuses on the first: our yearning for individual personal meaning and a way to contribute to life, a yearning that pulls us toward the heart of the world — down, that is, into wild nature and into the dark earth of our deepest desires.

Alongside our greatest longing lives an equally great terror of finding the very thing we seek. Somehow we know that doing so will irreversibly shake up our lives, our sense of security, change our relationship to everything we hold as familiar and dear. But we also suspect that saying no to our deepest desires will mean self-imprisonment in a life too small. And a far-off voice within insists that the never-before-seen treasure is well worth any sacrifices and difficulty in recovering it.

And so we search. We go to psychotherapists to heal our emotional wounds. To physicians and other health care providers to heal our bodies. To clergy to heal our souls. All of them help — sometimes and somewhat. But the implicit and usually unconscious bargain we make with ourselves is that, yes, we want to be healed, we want to be made whole, we're willing to go some distance, but we're not willing to question the fundamental assumptions upon which our way of life has been built, both personally and societally. We ignore the still, small voice. We're not willing to risk losing what we have. We just want more.

And so our deepest longing is never fulfilled. Most often, it is never even meaningfully addressed.

The nature-based people native to all continents know that to uncover the secrets of our souls, we must journey into the unknown, deep into the darkness of our selves and farther into an outer world of many dangers and uncertainties. They understand that no one would casually or gleefully choose such a thing. Indeed, most people would not begin without considerable social and cultural pressure in addition to the great intrapsychic drive to wholeness. And although the journey is a spiritual one, it is not a transcendental movement upward toward the light and an ecstatic union with all of creation. It is a journey downward into the dark mysteries of the individual soul. This is a journey on which, as the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke put it, we are asked to trust not our lightness but our heaviness:

    How surely gravity's law,
    strong as an ocean current,
    takes hold of even the smallest thing
    and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

    Each thing —
    each stone, blossom, child —
    is held in place.

    Only we, in our arrogance,
    push out beyond what we each belong to
    for some empty freedom.

    If we surrendered
    to earth's intelligence
    we could rise up rooted, like trees.

    Instead we entangle ourselves
    in knots of our own making
    and struggle, lonely and confused.

    So, like children, we begin again
    to learn from the things,
    because they are in God's heart;
    they have never left him.

    This is what the things can teach us:
    to fall,
    patiently to trust our heaviness.
    Even a bird has to do that
    before he can fly.

* * *

People have felt the downward pull to soul since the beginning of time.

In the mythologies of the world, we find innumerable stories of the hero's or heroine's descent to the underworld. The Greeks told the tale of Orpheus, the fabulously skilled musician who traveled to Hades to find and revive his dead bride, Eurydice. He succeeds at the rescue but then, as he leads her back to the daylight world, loses her again (and this time forever) when he disobeys the gods by turning around to make sure she is still there.

Persephone, the daughter of the fertility goddess, Demeter, is abducted by Hades, the lord of the dark underworld, to be his bride. Eventually, Zeus sends Hermes to rescue Persephone (with only partial success: she must spend one-third of each year below).

The Anglo-Saxon Norsemen told the story of the hero-warrior Beowulf, who descends into a dreadful swamp to do battle with the monster of all monsters, Grendel's mother. Beowulf slays the beast but returns as part monster himself.

From the ancient Sumerian world comes the myth of the goddess of heaven, Inanna, who descends to the netherworld to confront her dark sister, the goddess Ereshkigal, who kills Inanna and hangs her corpse on a peg. Two mourners are sent to Ereshkigal by Enki, the god of waters and wisdom, and secure Inanna's release, but Inanna must send a substitute to take her place in the netherworld.

The Nubian people of Saharan Africa recount the story of a young woman who, because of her beauty, is spurned by the other women of the village. In her despair, she descends to the bottom of a river, a very dangerous place, where she encounters a repulsive old woman covered with horrible sores who asks the young woman to lick her wounds. She does and is thereby saved from the monster of the depths. She returns to the village with great gifts.

Such myths and stories are found in countless cultures. They imply we each must undertake the journey of descent if we are to heal ourselves at the deepest levels and reach a full and authentic adulthood, that there are powerful and dangerous beings in the underworld who are not particularly friendly or attractive, and that we are forever changed by the experience. In contemporary Western cultures, we live as if the spiritual descent is no longer necessary; we live without realizing that the journey is meant for each one of us, not just for the heroes and heroines of mythology.

In his classic text The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the great mytholo-gist Joseph Campbell identified in rich detail the universal patterns and themes underlying the journey of descent as found throughout world mythology. These patterns and themes reveal what we can expect on our own underworld journeys.

The hero or heroine of mythology represents you and me, the everyday self (the I, or ego). If and when you embark upon the underworld adventure, it begins the same way it does in myth — by leaving home. You leave your commonplace world and roles and your familiar way of understanding yourself. Soon (at the threshold of the underworld, the kingdom of the dark) you encounter a demon — a shadowy element of your own unconscious — that guards the passage. This is the first test. There are two ways you can continue at this point. If you defeat the demon or conciliate it (perhaps by making an offering or using a charm), you enter the underworld "alive" (with some ordinary awareness remaining). If you are slain or dismembered, on the other hand, you descend in "death" (stripped of all normal awareness). But you descend either way, and that's what's most important.

You then journey through what Campbell called "a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces." This is precisely how the underworld feels — although exotic and uncanny, the beings you encounter there seem to know you because, after all, they embody the previously denied aspects of your larger self.

Your underworld encounters help you in two ways. Some of them further undermine or defeat your former understanding of self and world, while other encounters provide you with helpers or magical aid, supporting your more soul-rooted way of being. At the climax of the journey — it's actually a nadir on an underworld excursion — you undergo a supreme ordeal that puts a decisive end to your old self-image (ego death) and leads to your reward, the recovery of your core soul knowledge.

This recovery may be experienced in a variety of ways: union between your conscious self and soul, perhaps embodied in a sacred marriage or sexual union with a god or goddess; soul knowledge confirmed by a divine being; an experience of self as a carrier of sacred powers; or the discovery of a treasure or boon.

Returning to the middleworld, you are now more consciously aligned with your soul's purpose. Your world is thereby restored both inwardly and outwardly — inwardly in that your image of the world and your place in it has become whole again but in an utterly new and expanded way, and outwardly in that you return with a sacred task to perform in your community, a gift that contributes to the healing and wholing of the world.

The gift you carry for others is not an attempt to save the world but to fully belong to it. It's not possible to save the world by trying to save it. You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place. Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift — your true self — is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And it is all the world needs.

* * *

We can create contemporary methods to facilitate the underworld journey.

For thousands of years, we have been living in a culture that "protects" us from the hardships and dangers of the descent, a world in which everything is more or less predictable and where most people emulate those getting the greatest socioeconomic rewards. It is a world from which the true elders have largely disappeared, the elders who once possessed intimate knowledge of soul and who waited for us at the underworld threshold to guide us across.

Yet knowledge of the mystical journey remains available. In addition to world mythology, it can be found in the shamanic traditions of nature-based peoples, in the esoteric branches of the great world religions, in the few remaining mystery schools, in the verses of the soul poets, and in modern depth psychology. Most importantly, this knowledge is always and everywhere found within the souls of each of us and in the remaining wild places of the world.

But once we've identified the universal patterns of descent — as articulated by Campbell and others and as found in nature and our own souls — how do we activate those patterns in contemporary Western life?

This question has been at the heart of my work as a psychologist, wilderness guide, and ally to the underworld journey. Soulcraft makes the bridge from the recognition of archetypal patterns to the actual experience of the descent. It provides practices and pathways to initiate and deepen the journey. Some of these methods are modern adaptations from the cultural wisdom of the ages, and others are what my colleagues and I discovered by simply rolling up our sleeves, along with our participants, and diving into the mysteries.

With the support of nature and an underworld guide, our souls can show us how to re-create a relationship with mystery. We have only to learn how to look and then take our next step upon the journey.

Each of the soulcraft practices presented in these pages is designed to be used hand-in-hand with the others. The introspective practices complement and animate the outer, nature-oriented approaches, and each method deepens and extends the results from every other.

But Soulcraft provides more than a grab bag of tools and practices. It encourages a way of life that emphasizes meaning and mystery, celebrates the depths and magnificence of our individuality, and helps reintroduce to Western civilization that other, downward-bearing half of the spiritual journey.

Such an integrated approach to soul discovery and embodiment is what nature-based people have always possessed. Imitating native people of any land or tradition, however, is unnecessary and can be disrespectful to them and to ourselves and, ultimately, of limited value for people who are not born or adopted members of those cultures. It is time for us in the Western world to create our own contemporary and practical path to soul, generated in part by our intimate relationship to land and place.

* * *

The most effective paths to soul are nature-based.

Nature — the outer nature we call "the wild" — has always been the essential element and the primary setting of the journey to soul. The soul, after all, is our inner wilderness, the intrapsychic terrain we know the least and that holds our individual mysteries. When we truly enter the outer wild — fully opened to its enigmatic and feral powers — the soul responds with its own cries and cravings. These passions might frighten us at first because they threaten to upset the carefully assembled applecart of our conventional lives. Perhaps this is why many people regard their souls in much the same way they view deserts, jungles, oceans, wild mountains, and dark forests — as dangerous and forbidding places.

Our society is forever erecting barriers between its citizens and the inner/outer wilderness. On the outer side, we have our air- conditioned houses and automobiles, gated communities and indoor malls, fences and animal control officers, dams and virtual realities. On the inner side, we're offered prescribed "mood enhancers," alcohol, and street drugs; consumerism and dozens of other soul- numbing addictions; fundamentalisms, transcendentalisms, and other escapisms; rigid belief systems as to what is "good" and what is "bad"; and teachings that God or some other paternal figure will watch over us and protect our delicate lives.

But when we escape beyond these artificial barriers, we discover something astonishing: nature and soul not only depend on each other but long for each other and are, in the end, of the same substance, like twins or trees sharing the same roots. The individual soul is the core of our human nature, the reason for which we were born, the essence of our specific life purpose, and ours alone. Yet our true nature is at first a mystery to our everyday mind. To recover our inmost secrets, we must venture into the inner/outer wilderness, where we shall find our essential nature waiting for us.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin. Copyright © 2003 Bill Plotkin. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Thomas Berry
As we enter a future where humans and the natural world are more intimate with each other, we will surely be powerfully influenced by this new guide into the mysteries of nature and psyche. In Soulcraft, Bill Plotkin gives us an authentic masterwork. In the substance of what he has written, in the clarity of his presentation, and in the historical urgency of the subject, he has guided us far into the new world that is opening up before us. We will not soon again receive a work of this significance.
(Author of The Dream of the Earth)
David Abram
Here is an abundantly wise and carefully crafted survival guide for the wild soul currently dozing (or dying) at the heart of your civilized life.
(Author of The Spell of the Sensuous)
Brian Swimme
The fundamental worldview of industrial society is that Earth is like a gravel pit or a lumberyard ‹ just a resource for human use. We live disconnected from the evolving earth community, but our deepest allurement is a rich, intimate participation in nature and the ongoing adventure of the Universe. In this stunningly original and inspiring guide book, Bill Plotkin shows us how to reconnect with the sacred powers of life, of nature, of soul, and the ways that each one of us can reinvent ourselves and discover our unique way to flower forth.
Cosmologist and author of The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos

Meet the Author

Bill Plotkin, PhD, founder of Animas Valley Institute, describes himself as a “psychologist gone wild.” A cultural visionary, author, and guide to the entwined mysteries of wilderness and psyche, he’s been blazing new trails for decades. His ecocentric re-visioning of psychology invites us into a conscious and embodied relationship with soul and with the more-than-human world. His other books are Wild Mind and Nature and the Human Soul. He lives in southwestern Colorado.

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