Wild Mind Book Review
In his latest book, Wild Mind, psychologist and wilderness soul guide Bill Plotkin asks the question: Where do healthy, mature cultures come from?
He poses the question in the context of the ongoing destruction of the natural world through the expansion of a decidedly immature and toxic civilization. He suggests that the solution to our crises of resource scarcity, species loss, climate change, and ecological destruction is fundamentally cultural. The response to our predicament is to transform our culture. Plotkin argues that in order to do that we need to become healthy, mature human beings. Otherwise we will not be capable of choosing and creating a more constructive trajectory.
Ask a psychologist a question and you’ll get an answer focused on the psyche. If you asked an anthropologist, political theorist, philosopher, or historian how to transform culture I am sure you would get a very different answer. Artists, spiritual teachers, and activists would provide yet more varied responses. This is not to say that Plotkin’s observations are not helpful. Rather, they are limited to his domain. To reinvent ourselves we will need to draw from the full spectrum of ways we understand ourselves, and we will need to address things like social structures, ideology, relations of power, and cosmology. And yes, we will need to understand how the psyche operates.
Wild Mind provides a map of what a healthy, mature human might look like, or at least the journey towards it. Elements include the cultivation and integration of the different aspects of the self, and development of a conscious, deliberate relationship with soul and spirit. The book goes into a lot of detail about the structure of the self, and the process of healing and reintegrating different aspects of ourselves. The author uses the imagery of the four directions, and I admit this was confusing for me because it’s a motif he used in his previous book Nature and the Human Soul, but in a different way.
For my part, the most enjoyable part of the book was the discussion of “subpersonalities,” which is Plotkin’s term for those younger parts of ourselves that served us in the past, but become habitual ways of being that limit our development and block our full expression. He includes some lovely descriptions of practical exercises for working with these stunted parts of ourselves that I found very useful. In particular, his section on shadow work (a topic that is so often muddled) is really excellent.
Finally, I think it’s worth repeating something Plotkin emphasized in his previous books. I recall his warnings against getting lost in endless self-improvement and psychological primping at the expense of making the contribution we have come into these lives to make. He didn’t say this in Wild Mind, but I would venture to guess that his intention was to offer a guide to help heal our dysfunctions enough to allow us to move forward in creating the greater healing. We are not here to perfect ourselves. We are here to belong to the world in the best way we can.