Summary of the Eco-Soulcentric Stages of Life

The model of human development introduced in Nature and the Human Soul asks us to think in new ways about stages of life. The timing of the transitions between eco-soulcentric stages is independent of chronological age and social role and, for the most part, independent of biological and cognitive development. An individual doesn’t pass from one stage to the next just because he reaches a certain age (such as 13, 21, or 65), or obtains a certain social status (such as schoolboy, bar-mitzvahed, eligible for dating, worker, father, or grandfather), or has certain hormonal releases begin or end. Rather, the movement from one stage to the next is spurred by progress made with the specific developmental tasks encountered at each stage. The life passages occur when (and if) the individual’s center of psychospiritual gravity shifts from one locus to the next.

In an eco-soulcentric community, it’s not considered better—either for the individual or society—for a person to be in a later stage than an earlier stage. Every stage provides fulfillment for the individual and an invaluable gift to the community when a person is in a healthy version of that stage. The only way to cooperate with the process of maturation is to embrace fully the stage you’re in (and its tasks). Paradoxically, you have to love the stage you’re in, in order to eventually leave it.

There are eight eco-soulcentric stages and nine transitions, beginning with Birth, that bracket them. Each stage of growth has an essential relationship to both nature and soul, and the name of each combines a human archetype with an Earth archetype.

  • Early childhood (the Innocent in the Nest) forms the foundation for later soul discovery through the preservation of our original innocence and our innate relational intelligence and through the development of a healthy, culture-rooted ego, the two developmental tasks managed by the child’s parents or caregivers. The Nest ends with the transition of Naming, which celebrates the appearance of a conscious self.
  • Middle childhood (the Explorer in the Garden) affords us the opportunity to learn the enchantment of the natural world as well as the intricate cultural ways of our people—requirements, too, for a soul-infused life. Puberty marks our sexual awakening and our readiness to move fully into the social life of the greater community.
  • Early adolescence (the Thespian at the Oasis) teaches us to balance personal authenticity with social acceptance, allowing us to be in the world with integrity, another prerequisite of a later soul-rooted adulthood. The transition of Confirmation indicates adequate completion of our adolescent personality and our readiness to descend into the mysteries of psyche and nature.
  • Late adolescence (the Wanderer in the Cocoon) is a time of withdrawal from the everyday social world as we leave behind our adolescent beliefs about self and world and seek our unique gift of soul to bring to our community. Adolescence ends with the transition of Soul Initiation, when we commit ourselves to living that found gift. Soul Initiation entails a radical transformation in life orientation in which we shift from a focus on social belonging and soul discovery to the active embodiment of soul in our community.
  • In early adulthood (the Soul Apprentice at the Wellspring), we study a specific form of soulwork and learn the art of bringing our particular gifts into the world. Induction confirms the mastery of our early-adult soulwork.
  • During the second half of adulthood (the Artisan in the Wild Orchard), we learn to embody our soul in ever more creative, abundant, and generative ways—through never-before-seen forms of our own creation. The transition of Crowning marks the end of our focus upon individual soulwork and the commencement of elderhood.
  • With its implication of royalty, Crowning announces our entrance into the highest social status, true elderhood. Crowning poignantly contrasts with retirement, which, in an adolescent culture, means the commencement of the social status considered to be, despite rhetoric to the contrary, the lowest—“senior citizen.” In the first half of elderhood (the Master in the Grove of Elders), our primary life focus shifts from the embodiment of our individual gift to caring for the soul of the more-than-human community. We do this, in part, by mentoring and initiating the youth, and by helping to maintain the delicate balance between the human and more-than-human worlds.
  • Surrender marks the release of the goal-oriented ego, opening the way to the final stage, late elderhood (the Sage in the Mountain Cave), in which our impulse turns toward the mysterious tending of the evolving universe itself. The Mountain Cave ends at Death, when we return to the realm of mystery from which we were born.

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Bill Plotkin, PhD, is founder and president of Animas Valley Institute and has guided thousands of people through initiatory passages in nature since 1980....

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