‘Wild Mind: A Field guide to the human psyche’ by Bill Plotkin

 Wild Mind

New World Library, 2013

ISBN:978-1-60868-178-5

Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain

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It is time,” Bill Plotkin says, …to take another look at ourselves—to re-enliven our sense of what it is to be human, to breathe new life into ancient intuitions of who we are, and to learn again to celebrate, as we once did, our instinctive affinity with the Earth community in which we’re rooted. We’re called now to rediscover what it means to be human beings in a wildly diverse world of feathered, furred, and scaled fellow creatures; flowers and forests; mountains, rivers, and oceans; wind, rain, and snow; Sun and Moon.

Plotkin, an eco-psychologist and wilderness guide well known for his earlier books Soulcraft and Nature and the Human Soul, turns his attention now to a complete and holistic re-visioning of psychology. Rather than focusing on pathology and dysfunction as most psychologists—except perhaps the Jungian ones—have done, his focus is on wellness. Not just wellness in the sense of being ‘normal’ and well-functioning but in the much wider and deeper context of our existence as just one species among many and just one aspect of ‘all-that-is.’

In looking at psychology through this much wider lens, it is plain to see that much of what we have defined as individual dysfunction is in fact a normal reaction or adaptation to a dysfunctional culture. But since it is we humans ourselves who create and maintain our culture, then change begins with each one of us.

Just as he did in Nature and the Human Soul, Plotkin maps the human psyche against the wider backdrop of Nature and the Cosmos, using such devices as what he calls Nature’s seven directions: north, south, east, west, up, down and centre. Into this framework he fits many of the psychological concepts with which we are already familiar, e.g. the archetypal Self, Soul and Shadow, the Spirit, the Ego and the subpersonalities—which latter he usefully groups into several clusters.

After the map is laid out, then follows an in-depth explanation of each of the terms. The book goes on to coach the reader through ways of healing the wounded psyche, growing and expanding into one’s full ecological Self and playing one’s part in the Great Work—not in that order but as all part of one project.

It feels to me, as a psychologist, as though Plotkin put the theories of Freud, Jung, Klein, Perls, Berne, Assagioli and a bunch of others into a centrifuge, whirled them till they all broke apart and then reassembled all the pieces into a different pattern. In some ways I found this startling and not a little disconcerting. Yet it all makes sense. And he doesn’t seem to have left anything out. Sometimes, stirring things up in new ways can lead to new insights and such was definitely the case for me with Wild Mind.

This timely book calls us to a deeper awareness of ourselves as part of the Earth, as creatures imbued with instincts, understandings and abilities that our society’s conventional Cartesian approach has tried to breed out of us. So the task that faces us is a dual one. Firstly to rediscover our native wildness, in all its aspects and thus to re-inhabit our own bodies and our own lives in a fuller, richer way—healing ourselves as we go. Secondly, through our enhanced awareness of what it means to be one species among many, to step up and take our share of responsibility for the healing of our planet’s damaged ecosystems and for bringing in the new Ecozoic Era.

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