During a 24-hour solo trip into nature, next to the Elwha River in the Olympic National Park, I was jostled out of sleep by a deep, male voice that boomed, “Study Jung!” I sat up and looked around, completely confused as to what had just happened in my pristine wilderness location. After a quick examination of my campsite, I realized that I was indeed alone—as I had planned! I wrote the unusual event in my journal, and when I returned back home the commanding declaration continued to reverberate in my life. I had heard of Carl Jung (1875–1961), the Swiss psychiatrist, but was unaware of his significant impact on the field of psychology. In an attempt to honor the experience I had on my solo, I started studying Jung’s theories. Like a moth to the flame, I was consumed with curiosity, so much so that I attended Pacifica Graduate Institute, and obtained a master’s degree in counseling based on depth psychology and heavily influenced by Jung’s work.
You might be asking at this point—what was he doing out alone in the wild in the first place?! To answer this question requires a leap back on the timeline to my first introduction to depth psychologist, cultural visionary, and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin. I was fortunate enough to come across Plotkin’s first book Soulcraft in 2008. I read the book cover to cover twice and promptly signed up for my first Animas Valley Institute program (which Plotkin started in 1980). Let’s just say that the first taste of being pyschospiritually held by a soul-initiated, true adult was both joyful and arduous— marking a threshold on my journey to soul. Jungian analyst James Hillman described the soul as “that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern” (p. xvi). Therefore the soul is steeped in meaning, purpose, life, death, love, longing, imagination, and a connection to something deeper. When I did the solo next to the Elwha River years later, I went out on the land with an intention of learning more about my relationship to soul. I was searching for guidance. In retrospect, I was richly rewarded by the mystery and the natural world for my minimal efforts.
Plotkin (2008) believes that the ecological crisis, decaying world economies, ethnic and class conflict, and continual wars are all an epidemic of failed individual human development (p. 2). Essentially, a more mature society requires more mature humans. However, we as a species are currently suffering because of our psychological adolescence, irreparably altering the biosphere of a 6-billion-year-old planet with our pathologically adolescent behavior. It is a very difficult time to be consciously aware and witness what is happening and, at the same time, there is enormous possibility. Plotkin skillfully argues that the template for our continued maturation has always been, and still is, in nature and our deeper nature—soul (p. 2). The possibilities are all around us right now, waiting to be discovered. Plotkin went on to state that every human has a unique and mystical relationship to nature and to become a true adult in this lifetime requires consciously discovering and cultivating this relationship (p. 3).
When I tell potential clients or other psychotherapists that I don’t have an indoor office space, they often look at me with a blank look of concern. They primarily ask—what do you do when it rains? They are perplexed, and their initial reaction is one of doubt. I believe that part of the struggle to become more fully human requires a deep connection to the natural world. Unfortunately, more and more of us have become disconnected from the natural world and therefore, from our inner nature. I believe we have to relearn how to mature as a species. We have forgotten and we don’t have a culture to truly support this lengthy process. We have stopped growing and maturing and have helped create a culture that no longer requires or perhaps wants us to evolve. The welfare of our species and the wellbeing of the planet depend on our ability to achieve authentic adulthood.
When I say that I am a guide of human development, I hope you understand a little more what I am actually talking about. I am offering to help you mature and grow, to reconnect with your inner resources of wholeness. A lot of people are scared right now, wondering what they can or should do in the face of all of the serious issues that exist. We look to our elected leaders for solutions. We look to others for some hope or maybe someone at whom to point the finger of blame. What we might be overlooking is that part of the solution is to be found by looking within ourselves. Plotkin (2003) beautifully wrote:
There’s so much more to who you are than you know right now. You are indeed, something mysterious and someone magnificent. You hold within you—secreted for safekeeping in your heart—a great gift for this world. . . . You do, however, need to undertake a journey as joyous and gratifying as it is long and difficult. (p. 9)
Maybe it is the time to open up to what has been waiting for you all along. Perhaps you have been tracking a longing for greater meaning and purpose in your life and you are willing to take the risk of deepening your relationship to your soul—your unique and deepest identity. The journey to become a more psychologically mature human requires more wholeness and less identification with symptoms. Plotkin (2013) asked a very important and timely question:
What if, for example, our primary human need and opportunity is not to endlessly attend to our emotional wounds and the eradication of perceived psychological disorders but rather to fathom and flesh out our natural human wholeness and to embody this integral bounty as a gift to others and our world? (p. 3)
We all possess a spectacular bounty for the potential benefit of our families, communities, and for the greater natural world at large. Every human is uniquely different and capable of extraordinary potential and creativity. I hope this essay has, at the very least, helped you become a little bit more curious about your untapped potential. If you are looking for some support on the journey, contact me and let’s go for a walk in nature.
Hillman, J. (1975). Re-visioning psychology. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Plotkin, B. (2003). Soulcraft: Crossing into the mysteries of nature and psyche. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Plotkin, B. (2008). Nature and the human soul: Cultivating wholeness and community in a fragmented world. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Plotkin, B. (2013). Wild mind: A field guide to the human psyche. Novato, CA: New World Library.