Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mature Adults Embrace Their Wild Minds

Photo by geebee2007.
When talking with people about wellness in late adulthood, many stay focused on the body. However, wellness includes emotional, social and spiritual health as well.

Since turning 50, I have found guidance about wellness from the writings of Bill Plotkin, founder of Colorado's Animas Valley Institute.

His 2007 book Nature and the Human Soul describes 8 stages of development, drawing on Jungian archetypes and primitive cultures.

(A review copy was provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.) 

Plotkin gives more attention to older adults than many stage theorists do. Half of his stages are dedicated to adulthood. He describes two stages for elderhood, showing how late life adults play a key role in supporting healthy societies.



Published April 15, 2013
So when I received a review copy of his latest book, Wild Mind, I was delighted to learn more about how to achieve wellness through individuation.

First described by Carl Jung, individuation is the end product of human development as the primary aim of depth psychology.  Individuation is achieved by moving through layers of the psychological conflict until unification of the self is achieved.

In Wild Mind, Plotkin describes how to achieve individuation by identifying subpersonalities--or Jungian "archetypes."  Plotkin grounds these subpersonalities in the four points of the compass.

Photo by Mark Gstohl
The first half of the book describes the subpersonalities associated with each point of the compass as they function in an intrapersonal view of the self. In other words, they help us relate to ourselves.

North: The Generative Adult

South: The Wild Indigenous One

East: The Innocent/Sage

West: The Muse/Inner Beloved / Guide to Soul

Plotkin not only describes how nature inspires each of these archetypes, he includes exercises that direct readers to encounter them by interacting with nature. For example, purposeful nature walks are one way to encounter, embrace and position subpersonalities into their proper scale.

Photo by AlicePopkorn
The second half of his book describes subpersonalities associated with each point of the compass as they function in an interpersonal view of the self. In other words, they help us relate to others and the world around us.

North: Elder/Mentor

South: Wild Man/Wild Woman

East: Sacred Fool/Trickster

West: Magician/Soul Guide

Most intriguing to me were the descriptions throughout the book of the wounded subpersonalities, which also correspond to the points of the compass.  They can adopt an interpersonal or intrapersonal view.

These wounded subpersonalities include inner critics, inner flatterers, escapists, addicts, outcasts, shadow selves, codependents, tyrants, robber barons, addicts, orphans, monsters, devils and more.

Plotkin does not ask his readers to shame, hide, or kill off these dysfunctional subpersonalities. Instead, he asks us to recognize them, thank them for playing a role in surviving conflict and reorient them so that they don't thwart mental, social or spiritual health.

I was particularly moved by the description in Chapter 9, "East: Addicts and Escapists" of a reformed alcoholic who embraced her wild, drunken hag while on a wilderness journey.  She found a way to use nature to invite a "wild, exuberant, and embodied freedom of expression" into her life without resorting to the negative aspects of alcoholism.


Humans reach their physical maturity and peak somewhere between 25 and 30 years old.  However, they can still enjoy much growth and development emotionally, socially and spiritually while also managing age-related changes to the body.

Many health care professionals, administrators of skilled nursing centers and even older adults themselves often hyperfocus on the the physical side of being human.  Total wellness also depends on the care of the metaphysical side of being human.  In addition to a daily regime of good nutrition and exercise, add some soul work by examining your own wild mind.

Related:

Books about Aging

1 comment:

  1. (I think my compass has been broken for years) What caught my eye in this review was the fourth to the last para. Embracing & re-channeling bad habits that we now have that were once coping & survival techniques in our childhood is often taught in marital counseling as well. Usually these habits that served us well when we needed them are the exact habits that impede our happiness with our partners. This "baggage" I can see, while mostly not needed in a safe marital sense, if not dealt with properly can hinder us in our quest for happiness in old age as well. That thought had never crossed my mind before. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete