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Eco-Soulcentric Developmental Wheel: Stages of Life, Rites of Passage, & Cultural Transformation

Based on Bill Plotkin's Nature and the Human Soul

The Eco-Soulcentric Developmental Wheel is a model of what the stages of human life look like when we mature in full resonance with both nature (“eco”) and soul — when we are in a continuous process of becoming fully human throughout the lifespan.

There are eight life stages on the Wheel;

Two each of childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and elderhood.

The Eco-Soulcentric stages diverge from the egocentric stages that most people in modern society experience.

Egocentrism, living with the belief that the ego dictates life's priorities, stems from the absence of meaningful rites of passage and the loss of healthy cultural practices that foster optimal human development.

Optimal human development, where every individual progresses through the eco-soulcentric stages of life, is the cornerstone for profound, generative, and enriching cultural transformations.

The Eco-Soulcentric Wheel, laid out based on the four cardinal directions, illustrates the eight stages, starting in the east and proceeding clockwise. Each stage combines a human archetype, like the Innocent, with an Earth archetype, like the Nest. The diagram includes the developmental tasks, the contribution each stage brings to the world just by existing, and the psychospiritual center of gravity.

Inside the circle, the nine transitions between stages are named, marking the occasions for rites of passage. These passages occur not based on chronological age or external influences but rather when the individual successfully accomplishes the developmental tasks of their current stage, at which point, Mystery guides them to the next stage.

Successful human maturation results from accomplishing the tasks within each life stage, propelling us forward. The experiences during the stages themselves hold more significance than the rites of passage, although both are vital and interdependent. Failing to achieve the developmental tasks impedes progress to the next stage, and without effective rites of passage, one may enter the next stage incompletely or with compromise.

In Nature and the Human Soul: Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World, Bill describes, in some detail, the specific developmental tasks of each stage, as well as other aspects of the stages.

In modern times, due to the decline of vibrant cultures, and disconnection from nature, around 80% of humans, find themselves stuck in the third of the eight life stages, akin to early adolescence. This early adolescence, which Bill refers to as a patho-adolescence, is an egocentric state focused on seeking approval, conforming or rebelling against norms, pursuing material possessions, wealth, and status, and coping with challenging realities through addictions.

The healthy virtues that should naturally emerge during adolescence, such as personal authenticity, a positive sexual identity, a desire to contribute to a thriving human community, and a reverence for the Earth's creatures and habitats, have become relatively rare.

In a mature culture, these virtues are cultivated during early adolescence, not postponed until adulthood.

Speaking of adulthood from the perspective of the Eco-Soulcentric Developmental Wheel, it has become increasingly uncommon in the Western world over the past millennia. True adulthood is not merely defined by taking on responsibilities, raising a family, contributing to the community, or pursuing a career. These achievements can be accomplished during a healthy early adolescence. Instead, true adulthood is when an individual consciously recognizes and embodies their unique soul's purpose—a psychospiritual state that may seem mystical in contemporary Western society but would be ordinary in a healthy society.

By "soul," I mean an individual's unique place or role within the Earth community—not just their position in the human society based on social roles but their place within the larger web of life, represented by nature-based metaphors, archetypes, and poetic images. This soul's niche represents the profound connection and conversation one has with the world and embodies the truth at the core of one's being, expressed through the metaphors and symbols of nature and the human mind.

True adults are individuals who fulfill three conditions: (1) They primarily identify themselves as part of the Earth community, and secondarily as members of family, human society, and other groups. (2) They have experienced profound revelations about their unique role in the Earth community. (3) They actively embody this mysterious role as a gift to their community and the broader web of life. During psychological adolescence, we define ourselves based on social roles like friend, family member, partner, or job title. However, in true adulthood, we identify ourselves through soul-rooted or ecological roles—our mythopoetic identities.

Here are four examples. Intimations of the mythopoetic identities of four people:

The woman who generates perception- expanding images and identity-destabilizing questions;

The man who guides others into the oceanic depths of the psyche;

The woman with a sparkling heart who walks the path of the bear;

The man who weaves cocoons of transformation for his people.

A second essential difference between adolescent and adult identities is that the former are chosen (or given or imposed by others) while the latter are discovered or remembered or reclaimed or confirmed.

We are born into this life with our soul identity but are not conscious of this identity in childhood or early adolescence. Recovering or remembering this identity is the goal of the initiatory process that begins in late adolescence (a psychospiritual stage reached by only a minority of contemporary humans) that ushers us into true adulthood.

My Purpose is to assist people in recovering and embodying their soul identities.

Each eco-soulcentric stage of life can be understood as an initiatory journey. Gestation is the first such journey, and birth the first passage.

Early childhood (which, on the Wheel, is called “the Innocent in the Nest” — see diagram) is

the second passage or initiatory journey, is attaining consciousness of an individual's autonomous self (which is called “Naming,” usually occurring around the fourth birthday).

The third initiatory journey, in Middle childhood is "the Explorer in the Garden” is

psychosocial puberty (not to be confused with physiological puberty, which can commence anywhere from age 9 to 16).

The fourth initiatory journey, early adolescence “the Thespian at the Oasis” is Confirmation (confirmation of having achieved a social presence that is both authentic and socially accepted).

The fifth initiatory journey, late adolescence “the Wanderer in the Cocoon” (which includes the first descent to soul), and Soul Initiation (the commencement of true adulthood) is the fifth passage.

And there are four subsequent initiatory journeys and four passages, which together constitute the second half of life.

So you can see that from the perspective of the eco-soulcentric model, there are two major life stages that intervene — namely, early and late adolescence — and there is not just one life passage along the way, not even just two, but three

(Puberty, Confirmation, and Soul Initiation).

In men’s development, for example, it's not boys to men; rather, it’s

boy Explorers to

young male Thespians to

a kind of androgynous late-adolescent Wanderer

to a first-stage true man (an Apprentice at the Wellspring).

These are four very different life stages, each with its particular developmental needs, milestones, and opportunities. Although there are differences in the developmental paths of boys and girls (and differences for heterosexuals, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered), the core developmental dynamics are the same.

Gender differences are most pronounced during psychological early adolescence, with fewer differences before and after this stage. In unhealthy societies stuck in patho-adolescence, gender differences are exaggerated and often expressed in unhealthy ways.

Real maturation beyond early adolescence depends on success with developmental tasks during that stage and addressing incomplete tasks from childhood. Effective rites of passage support those who have achieved a new life stage, acknowledging and marking their transitions.

The Eco-Soulcentric Developmental Wheel outlines life's sacred pilgrimage through eight stages. The first half culminates in discovering one's mythopoetic destiny and the meaning of one's existence, while the second half involves embodying that destiny, which generates life-enhancing cultural change.

This is based on Bill Plotkin, Ph.D. Bill is a depth psychologist and wilderness guide who has guided countless individuals through nature-based initiatory passages. He is the author of several books on human development and cultural transformation.

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