Cultivating a Healthy and Meaningful Relationship between Ego & Soul

In a culture that itself is working through its own confusion about what healthy growth and maturation through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and elderhood is, we often struggle between knowing what is good healthy fear and what is too much or not enough fear, what is healthy risk and what is too much or not enough risk, what is eustress (healthy stress) and what is distress.

And therefore, we also struggle in seeing and understanding these tensions in others, which influences our ability to mentor/support/advise them well. And it influences our ability to determine if we are being well-mentored, supported, and advised ourselves by those in mentoring/supporting/advising roles.

We are collectively trying to mature within what author Bill Plotkin calls a patho-adolescent (or unhealthy adolescent) culture, and grow and expand our human culture and consciousness in ways that are necessarily increasingly sustainable on this planet.

In his book, Nature and the Human Soul, Plotkin acknowledges that age and maturity are not necessarily related, particularly in this culture, and he outlines two separate stages of adolescence, and their nature and culture tasks, necessary for an individual to mature though, to reach adulthood, and beyond.

The Thespian in the Oasis is what he names the first stage and here we develop a socially acceptable and authentic self. The Wanderer in the Cocoon is what he names the second stage and is where we then leave the "home" of our social and authentic self (ego/personality) and descend into the mysteries of nature and psyche.

Most of the people I know personally (including myself) and work with in my practice, regardless of age, are doing a lot of both of these at the same time.

We are attending to the skills being developed in the first stage of adolescence: developing values and social authenticity, emotional skills, conflict resolution, status assignment (understanding power and how it is organized by roles/race/gender/ethnicity/ability/religion/etc.), sexuality, sustenance (keeping a roof over our head and finding food to eat), human-nature reciprocity (how our lives are interconnected with the more-than-human world), and understanding the survival strategies developed in childhood....and at the same time, developing skills from the second stage...Soulcraft skills... (listed at the bottom of this piece)...both individually, and collectively as a culture.

Sometimes we're in psychotherapy (what Plotkin means as the interpersonal practices aimed at helping the conscious self - ego - improve its adjustment to its social world and its emotional life).

And sometimes we're in what he calls Soulcraft practices (underworld work that prepares the ego to abandon its social stability and psychological composure and become an active, adult agent for soul, as opposed to maintaining its former role as an adolescent agent for itself).

Soulcraft can be countertherapeutic and sometimes damaging/dangerous if our ego is not ready or stable enough (we are in trauma/crisis and/or still working on skills from previous stages) for this descent...or those that are in guiding/mentoring/facilitating roles in these practices are themselves not sufficiently mature enough to lead these practices,..or we're working with a practice that might not be right for us at the time.

And at the same time, psychotherapy without end, or understanding of the next stages of development, could impede the healthy, natural maturation of soul-encounter and the journey...and suffocate soulcraft skill development, eroding our deepening connection to each other, meaning and belonging in the larger cycles of life.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered that much of the body work and energy work skills that I was cultivating in my professional practice were offering Soulcraft-starved-clients entry into a deeper connection with themselves and the world, but required that I also become well-versed in recognizing where other practices were needed... I have needed to understand the difference between where a fragile ego is needing healing, recognition, validation, reassurance, comfort, and support, and where one is looking to expand beyond the limits of comfort and safety.

It's an ongoing practice. And education.

And deep listening. Witnessing. Reflecting. Mirroring. Learning. And a contribution to this massive cultural-renaissance we're in. I am seeing the world of therapeutic practices and practitioners evolving with me too.

So how do you know where you are in need of developing and practicing skills that will help you work through change, crisis, illness, trauma and build and strengthen your ego...your social and authentic self?

And how do you know where you are ready to heed the call to adventure and begin to cultivate and practice skills that will help you transcend the boundaries of the socially-well-adjusted self and deepen and broaden into a greater sense of meaning and soul-centric belonging?

Truly, I don't know. And I can't know this for you.

But I'm listening. And very happy to reflect back to you what I hear, see, feel, have learned, and know...what I sense myself when I hear you....what I hear your body communicating and behaviour responding to...and then reflect this back to you to the best of my ability...and see how it resonates for you and shapes your own inner knowing and then outer direction.... Let's see where this wisdom leads you.

And I would also recommend Bill Plotkin's work as a direct guide.

And straight from Nature and the Human Soul, here are some of the skills and practices that we might find we are in, or drawn to, when we are working on the nature and culture tasks in The Oasis (first stage of adolescence) and The Cocoon (second stage):

In the Oasis...

Attitudes: where in fact do you stand in relation to the important issues of your place, time, and social group?

Interests: what social activities, music, art, and entertainment do you find most compelling and enjoyable, and what are your favourites among them?

Styles: what is your way of doing things?

Desires: at any given moment, what would you most like to do?

Emotions: what are you feeling right now? What problems in your life need to be addressed - or successes celebrated?

How well versed are you in the Ecological Curriculum?: How nature supports every aspect of our human lives, How there is only one economy - Earth's - of which all human economies are components, How to design an individual lifestyle and a human economy with zero waste and emissions, How to proactively care for endangered species and ecosystems, How to care for abandoned pets, How to restore damaged habitats, How to cultivate intentional relationships in the more-than-human world, How extractive industries have violated the human-nature balance, How to restore that balance, and what alternatives exist for meeting our genuine needs, Renewable and safe energy sources, processes, and economies, Rituals and practices for observing and deepening sacred reciprocity with the natural world, How to see the natural world as our model, mentor, and inspiration for fashioning elements of human society and solving human problems (biomimicry)

And in the Cocoon...

Soulcraft Skills:

Soulcentric dreamworkDeep imagery or active imaginationSelf-designed ceremonyDiscovering/fashioning/use of symbols and objects for embodying soul images or universal/transpersonal qualities, Skillful use of hallucinogenic or entheogenic substances as a component of ceremonies and soul-discovery processes for the purpose of guided/ritual explorations of the underworld of the soul, Symbolic artwork for the purpose of both discovering and expressing soul qualities, Journal workVision questingApprehending and responding to signs and omens in natureBody practices for altering consciousness to perceive actualities and imagine possibilities that we might otherwise overlook, and in doing so helping us weave the subtle and unseen forces of the world into form, making the unconscious conscious (Fasting, Breath work, Practices involving extreme physical exertion, Yoga postures and movement), Council workTrance drumming and rhythms, Ecstatic trance danceCeremonial sweats and saunasEnactment of traditional or contemporary ceremonies, rituals, and nature festivals (equinox and solstice ceremonies, and observations of sunrise, sunset, and new and full moons), Talking across the species boundariesAnimal tracking and other methods of sensitive and skillful nature observation to learn about and from the Others, to enhance our own wildness and ecocentricity, and to explore the mysteries of both nature and psyche, Telling, retelling, and study of myths and other sacred stories, Composing a personal mythStorytellingSensitive listening and clear reflection ("mirroring") of other people's stories, Sacred speechRitual silenceSacred sexualitySoulful music, poetry and chanting.

Soulcraft Practices:

The art of solitude, Discovering nature as a mirror of the soul, Wandering in nature, Living the questions of soul, Confronting one's own death, The art of shadow work, The art of romance, Mindfulness practice, Developing a personal relationship with spirit, Service work, Praising the world, Advanced loyal soldier work (consciously overriding childhood survival strategies): walking into the fire, Conscious development of the four dimensions of the self, The art of being lost, Befriending the dark, and Withdrawing projections.

*All of the above is taken (and in some cases, shamelessly directly copied) from Bill Plotkin's book, Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World, primarily from chapters six and seven, "The Thespian in the Oasis", and "The Wanderer in the Cocoon". I highly recommend any and all of Bill Plotkin's work.