It’s time 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.
Our Innate Human Resources
In Western culture, we’ve enclosed ourselves within continually mended fences of excessive safety, false security, and shallow notions of “happiness,” when all the while the world has been inviting us to stride through the unlocked gate and break free into realms of greater promise and possibilities. Our human psyches possess, as capacities, a variety of astonishing resources about which mainstream Western psychology has little to say. By uncovering and reclaiming these innate resources, shared by all of us by simple virtue of our human nature, we can more easily understand and resolve our intrapsychic and interpersonal difficulties as they arise.
The alleviation of personal troubles is, of course, important to all of us, but our innate psychological resources possess even greater significance and relevance. Our untapped inner resources are also essential to the flowering of our greatest potentials, to the actualization of our true selves, and to the embodiment of the life of our very souls. These natural faculties are what we must cultivate in order to actively protect and restore our planet’s ecosystems and to spark the urgently needed renaissance of our Western and Westernized cultures. And these innate human resources are precisely those that enable each of us to identify the unique genius and hidden treasure we carry for the world — and, in this way, to participate fully and consciously in the evolution of life on Earth.
These resources — which I call the four facets of the Self, or the four dimensions of our human wholeness — wait within us, but we might not even know they exist until we discover how to access them, cultivate their powers, and integrate them into our everyday lives. Reclaiming these essential human capacities of the Self ought to be the highest priority in psychology, education, religion, medicine, and leadership development. Doing so empowers people to wake up, rise up, and become genuine agents of cultural transformation — and, in the bargain, experience the most profound fulfillment of a lifetime.
The Four Facets of the Self
There’s a facet of the Self associated with each of the four cardinal directions: north, south, east, and west. Describing the Self in this way is in keeping with traditions around the world that have mapped human nature onto the template of the four directions (and the closely related templates of the four seasons and the four times of day: sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight).
As a brief introduction, the North facet of the Self is what I call the Nurturing Generative Adult, the compassionate and competent aspect of our psyches fully capable of providing for the wellbeing of others and ourselves and of caring for the habitats that sustain us and for all species that collectively make up Earth’s web of life. This North facet of the Self is what enables us to empathically and courageously serve our human and more-than-human communities as leaders, teachers, parents, healers, builders, farmers, designers, scientists, and artisans. The Nurturing Generative Adult is at the core of archetypes such as the benevolent King or Queen, mature or spiritual Warrior, Mother, and Father.
The South facet is the Wild Indigenous One, the sensuous, emotive, erotic, playful, and instinctual dimension of ourselves that loves being embodied as a human animal, celebrates the experience of all emotions, is fully at home in the more-than-human world, and enjoys a visceral and deep-rooted kinship with all other creatures and with the diverse ecosystems we inhabit — the rivers, mountains, deserts, plains, and forests of our local bioregions. The Wild Indigenous One is resonant with archetypes such as Pan, Artemis/Diana (Lady of the Beasts), and Green Man (Wild Man).
Reclaiming these essential human capacities of the Self ought to be the highest priority in psychology, education, religion, medicine, and leadership development. Doing so empowers people to wake up, rise up, and become genuine agents of cultural transformation — and, in the bargain, experience the most profound fulfillment of a lifetime.
The East facet of the Self is the Innocent/Sage — an amalgam of the Innocent, who perceives the world purely, simply, and clearly, and the Sage, who possesses a lighthearted and big-picture wisdom about the world. The Innocent and Sage actually have much in common — they both, for example, love paradox. Consequently my name for this East facet is the paradoxical fusion: “Innocent/Sage.” Our Innocent/Sage sometimes takes the form of a Sacred Fool (who lives beyond the rules and norms of the everyday social world) or as a Trickster (who uses humor and chicanery to help us lighten up and appreciate the greater realties of our lives and the world).
The West facet is the Muse or Inner Beloved. This is the adventurous and visionary dimension of ourselves that loves to explore the unknown; the fruitful darkness; the processes of decay and death — the natural recycling of things; the world of dreams and imagination; and the realms of metaphor, symbol, poetry, and myth. The Muse-Beloved is our inner romantic who is attracted by liaisons and experiences that are both dangerous and alluring, including the descent into the underworld mysteries of soul. In addition to the Muse and the Beloved, this facet is also resonant with archetypes such as Anima/Animus, Magician, Wanderer, Hermit, Psychopomp, and Guide to Soul.
We’re born with the capacity to embody each of these four sets of psychological resources, but we must consciously cultivate them in order to have ready access. Mainstream Western culture ignores or suppresses all four facets because the embodied Self is incompatible with egocentric ways of life.
Mature humans — those who have cultivated their fourfold Self — are developing the infrastructure of future mature societies. As agents of cultural transformation and renaissance, they’re succeeding in extraordinary ways in realms such as education, economics, religion, and governance. In their everyday lives, these women and men are fashioning and fostering contemporary ways of being human that are sustainable and life enhancing. Doing this requires the foundational cultivation of the fourfold Self.
Tending the Well-Being of Our Psyches
When an ecosystem has been damaged — say, from logging, overgrazing, or chemical-dependent mono-crop agriculture — and then you leave it alone, invasive species typically show up and take over. If you then attempt to simply suppress or eliminate the invasives — whether through pesticide application or heroic weeding — you’re not strengthening the ecosystem but rather merely suppressing a symptom called “weeds.” In contrast, if you tend the health of the ecosystem — for example, by improving soil quality or planting native species — the invasives find a less suitable landing site and the ecosystem is more quickly restored to its natural and mature wholeness. Likewise, when we tend the well-being of our human psyches — by improving our social and ecological “soil” and cultivating the “native species” of the Self — there is less opportunity for the fragmented or wounded elements of our psyches to take over; the psychological “space” is already occupied by the facets of a more fully flourishing being. We’ve placed the emphasis on promoting health and wholeness rather than on (merely) suppressing pathology and fragmentedness.
We can douse our psyches with pharmaceutical pesticides and therapeutically weed them, but a much better approach would be to enhance our psychological, cultural, and ecological soil and to cultivate the capacities of our native human wholeness.
when we tend the well-being of our human psyches — by improving our social and ecological “soil” and cultivating the “native species” of the Self — there is less opportunity for the fragmented or wounded elements of our psyches to take over; the psychological “space” is already occupied by the facets of a more fully flourishing being. We’ve placed the emphasis on promoting health and wholeness rather than on (merely) suppressing pathology and fragmentedness.
Bill Plotkin is the author of Soulcraft, Nature and the Human Soul, and Wild Mind. He founded Colorado’s Animas Valley Institute more than thirty years ago and has guided thousands on the descent to soul. His ecocentric re-visioning of psychology invites us into a conscious and embodied relationship with the more-than-human world. Visit him online at http://www.animas.org or http://www.wildmindbook.com.
Excerpted from the book Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche ©2013 by Bill Plotkin. Published with permission of New World Library, www.newworldlibrary.com.