A Field Guide to the Human Psyche
By Bill Plotkin
New World Library Copyright © 2013 Bill Plotkin
All rights reserved.
The Nature-Based Map of the Human Psyche
To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness. Human beings came out of that wholeness.
— Gary Snyder
Wisdom traditions from around the world — including those from which Western cultures emerged — have looked to nature's seven directions for a model of wholeness: north, south, east, west, up, down, and center. These seven directions support us in fathoming the wholeness of ... well, anything that came out of the original wholeness called "nature" or "wilderness," the wholeness that human beings came out of, as poet Gary Snyder reminds us. My approach to constructing a comprehensive, nature-based map of the human psyche begins with the foundational, three-dimensional pattern of the seven directions. Here's how I've mapped the psyche onto nature's framework:
The Horizontal Plane
The Self. In the four cardinal directions are the four facets of our innate human potential — the four sets of resources that make up our horizontal psychological wholeness. Together, these four facets constitute what I call the Self. As we'll see in later chapters, they also reflect the qualities of the natural world we observe in the four directions and, not coincidentally, the characteristics of the four seasons and the four times of day: dawn, noon, dusk, and midnight.
Subpersonalities. Because each aspect of wholeness also has its immature form, we also find in the cardinal directions the four categories of our fragmented or wounded parts — which I call subpersonalities, and sometimes just subs for short — again echoing the qualities of the four directions, seasons, and times of day.
The Vertical Axis
Spirit. In the upward direction is the dimension of the human psyche that identifies with Spirit (a.k.a. God, Mystery, or the nondual). The upward direction is also known as the upperworld, the heavens, or the vast reaches of the cosmos.
Soul. Reaching down into depths, we find the human Soul, our unique and deepest individual identity. The downward direction is also known as the underworld, Hades, or the fruitful darkness.
The ego. In the center, at the intersection of the horizontal and the vertical, is the Ego. Its "home" or "natural habitat" is the everyday world or middleworld of family, social, economic, educational, political, and ecological life.
In our three-dimensional wholeness, each one of us is nature in human form, nature in its wholeness of the four cardinal directions, the four seasons, and the four times of day, and also of the upperworld, underworld, and middleworld.
Soul, Spirit, Self, and Ego. "Why all the capitalized words?" you might ask. Simply to remind you, throughout this book, that I'm using these common words to refer to aspects of psyche defined in specific and not necessarily common ways.
Here, then, are my definitions of these and other key components of the Nature-Based Map of the Human Psyche:
Soul. The Soul is a person's unique purpose or identity, a mythopoetic identity, something much deeper than personality or social-vocational role, an identity revealed and expressed through symbol and metaphor, image and dream, archetype and myth. Some other ways to say this: Soul is the particular ecological niche, or place, a person was born to occupy but may or may not ever discover or consciously embody. Or, in a more poetic vein, Soul is "the largest conversation you're capable of having with the world," it's "your own truth / at the center of the image / you were born with," it's the "shape / [that] waits in the seed / of you to grow / and spread / its branches / against a future sky," or it's "your individual puzzle piece in the Great Mystery." For example, the Soul of Irish poet William Butler Yeats can be articulated by way of a poem he wrote (and an experience he had) in his late twenties, as the niche of one who "pluck[s] the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun." Ecophilosopher, Buddhist, and Earth elder Joanna Macy, at age thirty-seven, experienced a life-transforming inner image of a stone bridge that spanned "between the thought-worlds of East and West, connecting the insights of the Buddha Dharma with the modern Western mind." She knew in that moment that her destiny was, in part, to be one of the stones in that bridge — "just one, that was enough." And it might be said that cultural historian Thomas Berry was ensouled as someone who "preserves and enhances [wild-ness] in the natural cycles of its transformation" and who perceives, articulates, and advocates the "dream of the Earth."
Spirit. Spirit (or God, Mystery, or the nondual) is the universal consciousness, intelligence, psyche, or vast imagination that animates the cosmos and everything in it — including us — and in which the psyche of each person participates. When consciously attuned to Spirit, we experience a profound connectedness with all things — the "oneness" of Spirit. The manner in which Spirit manifests itself or unfolds has been called, to cite just three examples, evolution's trajectory, the Tao (the way of life), or the Universe story.
Self. The Self is an integral whole, a bundle of innate resources every human has in common, a totality that holds all the original capacities of our core humanness. The Self incorporates the four facets of our horizontal human wholeness, which exist at birth but only as possibilities that, like the Soul, we may or may not learn to access, actualize, and embody. These four facets can be described in terms of archetypes, universal patterns of human behavior and character found in all cultures and in myths, dreams, art, and literature. The Self contains all the resources we need to meaningfully contribute to our more-than-human (which means not-merely-human) world in order to live a mature, fulfilling, creative human life, to effectively manifest our Soul's desires, and to align ourselves with Spirit's unfolding. In this book, I use Self and horizontal human wholeness interchangeably.
Subpersonalities. The subpersonalities are the wounded and sometimes hidden fragments of our human psyches — such as our "inner" Victim, Rebel, Critic, Tyrant, or Addict — each of which attempts to protect us from further injury. These are constellations of feelings, images, and behaviors that operate more or less independently from one another and often independently of our conscious selves (Egos). Subpersonalities form in childhood, with the enduring purpose of protecting us from physical, psychological, and social harm. Often they succeed. Often they also create additional troubles or mischief for us and others. Our subpersonalities are the source or instigators of what Western psychology understands to be our psychological symptoms and illnesses.
I borrowed the term subpersonalities from the approach to psychology known as psychosynthesis, developed by Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli in the early 1900s. Other traditions and schools of Western psychology have referred to intrapsychic fragments of this sort as complexes (Freudian and Jungian analysis), parts (Gestalt psychology), internal objects (object relations theory), ego states (transactional analysis), or selves (Hal and Sidra Stone's Voice Dialogue or Psychology of Selves; and Richard Schwartz's Internal Family Systems Therapy). Each subpersonality functions by way of an interrelated set of ideas, emotions, memories, impulses, and behavioral patterns.
Ego. The Ego is the locus, or seat, of conscious self- awareness within the human psyche, the "I." (I also use another term, the three-dimensional Ego, or 3-D Ego, to refer to an Ego blessed with some degree of conscious communion and integration with Self, Soul, and Spirit.) By personality I mean the characteristic patterns of behavior the Ego engages in.
How the Ego Operates
When awake, we (our Egos) can, in principle, be conscious through the frame of reference of any of the other four aspects of the psyche — namely, the Self, Soul, Spirit, or subpersonalities. This is to say that we can be conscious as, and act from the perspective of, any one of these four aspects of the psyche. But the subpersonalities are the "default position" for our Egos. Unless and until we cultivate conscious relationships with Self, Soul, and Spirit (and in that way function, at least at times, as 3-D Egos), we experience and behave by way of our psyche's fragmented or wounded parts — from the perspective, for example, of our Conformist, Escapist, or Victim. With a healthy, mature 3-D Ego, we are fully anchored in the fourfold Self, and we more often than not experience ourselves as being in service to Soul and, consequently, to Spirit, too. As 3-D Egos, we can also at times experience ourselves as Soul or as Spirit.
Self and subpersonalities are not entities or little people inside people. A better way to think of them is as different versions of ourselves that we experience and enact at different times. Here's a slogan to help remember this: "Self and subpersonalities don't do anything; people do." People often act by way of or by means of or through their subs, for example, and sometimes they're conscious that they're doing this and sometimes not. But subpersonalities don't act in the world independently of the person of whose psyche they are a component. A given sub is simply one version of the person in action. Same goes for the four facets of the Self.
Our subpersonalities generally function autonomously from other versions of ourselves, which is to say that, when our Ego is identified with a subpersonality, we tend to be undeterred by the perspectives we hold at other times. When identified with a sub, we might be completely unaware of the existence of some or all of our other versions (the four facets of Self as well as our other subpersonalities). In contrast, when our Ego operates by way of the Self, we are aware — or at least potentially aware — of our subs as well as the facets of the Self.
The Map And The Territory
Something essential to note before continuing: The map is not the territory! In this book I'm offering a way to understand our human psyches, but the reality is always more complex and nuanced than any map can convey. May we always be astounded and humbled by the mystery of our human selves and our animate world.
The Self is what we'll explore in the first half of this book. Even though you may find it less familiar than the subpersonalities (because of what Western psychology and culture emphasize as well as what they neglect), the Self is where we'll begin, because it's the foundation of individual well-being, spiritual development, healthy relationships, and mature cultures. It's also the dimension of our psyches through which we're able to heal the wounds protected by and embodied within our subpersonalities. We must cultivate the resources of the Self before we can truly heal.
Although the Self is a single dimension of the psyche, an integral whole, it has four facets. Here's an initial introduction to these four facets:
North: The Nurturing Generative Adult. This facet is empathic, compassionate, courageous, competent, knowledgeable, productive, and able to provide genuine loving care and service to both ourselves and others. Through the North facet of the Self, we contribute our best and most creative parenting, leading, teaching, directing, producing, and healing. The Nurturing Generative Adult is resonant with archetypes such as Leader, benevolent King or Queen, mature or spiritual Warrior, Mother, and Father.
South: The Wild Indigenous One. Emotive, erotic-sexual, sensuous, instinctive, and playful, this facet is fully at home in the human body and in the more-than-human world. The South facet of the Self is every bit as wild and natural as any animal, flower, or river and experiences a kinship with all species and habitats. The Wild Indigenous One is resonant with archetypes such as Pan, Artemis/Diana (Lady of the Beasts), and Green Man (Wild Man).
East: The Innocent/Sage. Innocent, wise, clear-minded, light-hearted, wily, and extroverted, the East facet of the Self is fully at home with the big picture, light, enlightenment, laughter, paradox, eternity, and the mysteries of the Divine and the upperworld. The Innocent/Sage wants to lead us up to the realm of pure consciousness beyond distinctions and striving. In addition to the Innocent and the Sage, this facet is resonant with archetypes such as the Fool, Trickster, Priest, Priestess, and Guide to Spirit.
West: The Muse-Beloved. Imaginative, erotic-romantic, idealistic, visionary, adventurous, darkness savoring (shadow loving), meaning attuned, and introverted, this facet of the Self revels in night, dreams, destiny, death, and the mysteries and qualities of the underworld. The Muse-Beloved wants to lead us down to Soul and wants us to be continuously dying to our old ways while giving birth to the never-before-seen. In addition to the Muse and the Beloved, this facet is resonant with archetypes such as Anima/ Animus, Magician, Wanderer, Hermit, Psychopomp, and Guide to Soul.
* * *
As you read about the Self in these pages, you'll likely recognize each of its four facets as existing in (or as) at least one of your friends or family members, in certain public persons or celebrities, and in characters from myths, dreams, art, and literature. You might not at first recognize all four facets in yourself, but they're all there; the "hidden" ones await their discovery by you (the Ego). By locating all four facets of the Self on a single map, we can explore their relationships with one another and with the Ego, subpersonalities, Soul, and Spirit.
In the following chapters, we'll also explore why each facet of the Self is associated with its corresponding cardinal direction or, more precisely, with the qualities of the natural world we experience when we face that direction, and also why it's associated with the related season and time of day. In other words, we'll see how the seasons, the times of day, and the four cardinal directions of the natural world constitute the design pattern enabling us to grasp the nature of the Self.
While the Self exhibits these four facets, it's best understood as a single, integral dimension of the psyche, not merely a collection of four voices. This is why I prefer to say that the Self has facets — as opposed to components.
In addition to having the attributes identified above, the Self, as a whole (a "gestalt"), is creative, intelligent, inquisitive, utterly at home on Earth, confident, and joyous. When we (our Egos) function by way of the Self, we instinctively recognize and honor our relationships with other people and all living creatures, things, and habitats — the Self, consequently, is ecocen- tric. We cooperate with others (including by way of mutually beneficial competition). We protect and enhance all of life.
Whatever we desire to do, we do it most effectively, aesthetically, imaginatively, fairly, and joyfully through the consciousness and resources of the Self.
And yet, one inevitable and heartrending feature of being human is that we do not live every moment from or as the Self, no matter how mature, gifted, or lucky we may be. Regrettably, we don't always participate in life grounded in our innate human wholeness. All too often we're in a fragmented or wounded state — physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually. Sometimes we find ourselves feeling unaccountably frightened, for example, or angry with nearly everyone, or unworthy, incapable, on a control trip, confused, subservient, or disconnected. The less healthy our families, communities, societies, and ecosystems, the more wounded and fragmented we tend to be individually. These wounded or fragmented aspects of our psyches are our subpersonalities, the subject of the second half of this book.
In Western and Westernized cultures (now widely understood to be not only adolescent but also pathological and growing increasingly so), most people seem to function more often by way of their subpersonalities than by way of their Selves. Western conversations often sound like two or more subpersonalities comparing notes about life from their wounded or fragmented perspectives. Subpersonality-identified Egos seem to be the most common protagonists in contemporary relationships, politics, news, arts, and entertainment, and the subject matter of most advice columns and pop psychologies. See if you agree as you read the following descriptions.
Subpersonalities might be immature and wounded, but they're doing their best to help us. All four categories of subpersonalities, as we'll see, are attempting to keep us safe (physically, psychologically, socially, and economically) by using the unripe strategies available to them. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Wild Mind by Bill Plotkin. Copyright © 2013 Bill Plotkin. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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