You’ve likely heard me reference Bill Plotkin before… I’ve covered a few of his concepts and books in the past (see the references at the bottom of these show notes for some of those topics). This week, I want to introduce you to his concept of the Eco-Soulcentric Development Wheel, which gives a different approach to the stages of human development.
Now, we’ve all met that person who is older than us who acts like a child pretty consistently: the 80 year-old who tells racist and sexist jokes. The uncle who makes fun of you for eating salads.
These people may be chronologically older, but they’re psychosocially adolescent and they don’t have the capacity – yet – to go beyond.
Traditionally, human development is based on age and the milestones we should be hitting at certain points, right? Well the Eco-Soulcentric Developmental Wheel is a model of what the stages of human life look like when we mature, connecting both nature (eco) and soul. It also means we’re in the process of becoming fully human for a lifetime, not just until we’re 18 or 24 or whatever.
This model is, to me, an essential departure from the usual egocentric stages that most people in modernized industrial societies find themselves stuck in. In fact, Bill sees this as almost a disorder of sorts.
For example, in the USA, adulthood is in the context of if you are 18 or not. As if something magically happens to our capacity to care for communities and compassion and wisdom when we turn 18. Unfortunately, more often than not, most of us are NOT at that place when we’re 18. Yet we’re given more power and responsibility.
According to Bill, true adulthood is a relatively rare stage where we consciously embrace and embody our soul’s unique journey. It’s not about the usual “adult” responsibilities and roles. It’s about finding your place in the greater community of Earth. It’s about knowing and being your authentic self – beyond how we were trained to be, conforming to society to fit in and not rock the boat.
He therefore says adolescence is about societal roles and external influences, while adulthood is about discovering your soul-rooted roles. And he believes that at least 80% of modern industrialized society’s people never make it past early adolescence. Bill calls this patho-adolescence.
It’s an ego-centric way of being that focuses more on looking good to others, fitting in well, conforming, getting ahead in the material world, and minimizing the experience of challenging realities with buffering.
Even rebelling can be ego-centric, when it’s done to help establish one’s identity out of disgust or hatred, instead of being done as a natural result of questioning unhealthy ways of being.
So yes, few people make it past early adolescence, and those in it are often immersed in an unhealthy version of it.
When it comes to true adulthood, it isn’t about whether or not someone can raise a family or take on “mature” responsibilities like a steady corporate job or a mortgage. True adulthood is a stage in life which, as Bill says, “one consciously recognizes and embodies the unique life of one’s soul. This is a psychospiritual state that contemporary Western society would consider mystical, but would seem quite ordinary in a healthy society.”
It’s not about how we fit into our community and social and work roles, even if those can seem pretty cool. It’s about our place in the greater web of life. My experience is that when people discover this, there’s no job description that could contain it. It’s uniquely theirs, and theirs to bring into the world.
Often, this encounter with soul that reveals our gift usually arrives not as a cognitive thought process or realization, but as images and metaphor.
And it makes sense that this is important for true adulthood, because the world can’t be properly cared for and nurtured by those who don’t know why they were born or their place in it at all!
The Eco-Soulcentric Wheel says true adults have three qualities: they experience themselves, first and foremost, as members of the Earth community; they’ve had one or more revelatory experiences of their unique mythopoetic place in that community; and they are embodying that mysterious place as a gift to their people and the greater web of life.
Now there are 9 transitions or passages between the 8 stages in Plotkins’ Wheel, and this is where the rites of passage can come in, where we mark each transition. But it’s important to remember here that a rite of passage doesn’t MAKE the transition; it MARKS the transition. So doing rites of passage like a wilderness fas or solo doesn’t mean you’re an adult. Rather, one would mark the completion of that stage or life role, and moving into the next. And ideally, support it!
And maturation is about if we successfully complete the tasks of that stage, which is why it’s so important to be fully present with the stage we’re in versus jumping to the next one. For example, some of the tasks of early adolescence can take YEARS of therapy for some of us. 😉
What happens during these stages themselves as we try to complete these tasks is way more important than the rites of passage that mark the transition from one stage or role to the next.
Now, we can still have some tasks that perhaps aren’t well addressed and still start stepping into the next stage, but we can’t fully transition until we’ve truly accomplished those tasks.
From the perspective of the Eco-Soulcentric Developmental Wheel, life is a “sacred pilgrimage” through these 8 stages, the first half of which culminates with discovering our true purpose, our unique gifts, and our specific niche for fitting into the greater web of life. The second half is when we embody that soul purpose… which is simultaneously terrifying – since it’s dangerous to the ego and to unhealthy society – and joyful. We offer our gift fully no matter the context or location, not having such a disconnect between our authentic selves and how we move through each day.
When we reach this stage of true adulthood, we are agents of change in these challenging times. We can have the foundation for cultural transformations that are profound, generative, and life-enhancing instead of just contributing by means of productivity, money, power, or a defense system.
You will learn:
// The difference between Eco-Soulcentric and Ego-centric Development
// Why so many people can live their entire lives without ever discovering true adulthood
// What true adolescence and adulthood are
// The 9 transitions or passages between the 8 stages of Bill Plotkins’ Eco-Soulcentric Wheel
// The importance of reaching true adulthood – for ourselves, our community, and the world
// Wild Mind Series:
// Episode 105: Soul vs Spirit
// Episode 139: Nature & Reconnecting
// Episode 187: Leaving Home
// Episode 129: How to reparent ourselves
// Episode 116: Rites of Passage
// If you’re up for a journey that involves soul-searching, mind-expanding wisdom at a level most people don’t even explore, and taking on the honorable role of a true adult in your community, and eventually even as a respected elder which we really need more of (because remember – we have to complete these other stages first!), check out the Adventure Mastermind – we start with a virtual retreat later this month, and our first retreat is on the Big Island of Hawaii in February. Head over and apply at AdventureMastermind.com. We’ve only got 3 spots left!
// Want something more self-paced with access to weekly group support and getting coached by yours truly? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out. Plus, we have entire months devoted to wisdom and compassion. Learn more at JoinFreedomSchool.com. I can’t wait to see you there!
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist private group, and tune in every Wednesday as I go live with new inspiration and topics.