Winter is my reading season, the only opportunity I get to spend uninterrupted time with books. It is dark, cold, and frozen outdoors. There is no garden to cultivate, no markets to attend, and no building projects to complete. Time for books and tea!
This year’s reading season was one of the best in years. A few highlights:
Since I’d just built my own electricity-free 12 x12 cabin, I couldn’t help but pick this title up when I saw it:
This was an excellent book written by a former international development worker who was questioning just what his “development” work had been accomplishing, beyond expanding Western economic imperialism. He borrowed the 12 x12 home of a tax-resisting, pacifist, physician friend and spent a season there. The book was a gripping commentary on the interrelated nature of the crises we face locally and globally. There is no “getting away from it all” anymore. I loved how he framed the book with a question he had been asked by a spiritual elder in South America, “What is the shape of the world?” In this book he asked, “Did the world have to be flat? Was it too late to imagine other shapes?” His friend, in her 12 x12, through her deliberate choices and decisions, was creating a soulful contour in our increasingly soul-less flat world.
In 12 x 12, the author, Williams Powers referred to a book by Chellis Glendinning called “My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization.” I read the title and thought, “Me too!”
This turned out to be one of those, “Where have you been all my life?” kind of books. In this book the author posits that as homo sapiens has lived in a wild hunter-gatherer state for the vast majority of the species’ time on earth and civilization is such a recent and unnatural development, our true, wild selves are actually traumatized by the civilization we are forced to live within. It is about the conflict between the wild self and the civilized self and the pain, suffering, and subjugation that results. A fascinating read and if you happen to accept her basic premise, or have, like me, felt it in your bones all your life, you will never again be able to look at yourself, your life, your species, your history, or your culture in the same way as you did before you picked up the book. It can be a little overwhelming, I wouldn’t recommend it if you aren’t feeling brave.
Saving the best for last, Bill Plotkin’s “Nature and the Human Soul”:
Have you ever questioned why most of what passes for stories (i.e. culture – music, movies, books, etc.) seems to be aimed at adolescents? “Who,” you wonder,”but a 12-year-old boy made temporarily insane by puberty could actually be enjoying this crap?” This book suggests this is because we don’t grow up. It suggests, very convincingly, that the vast majority of us are stuck in adolescence, and not a healthy version thereof, from age 12 until the day we die.
The consequences are dire and go much further and deeper than one might first imagine, becoming deeply entrenched in the ways we raise our children, the immature values we hold, and the meaningless goals we strive for. In fact, true maturity is so rare we don’t even know what it looks like.
This book is a cornucopia of interesting ideas such as the distinction between our survival work and our soul work, and the introduction of a life cycle (wheel of life) congruent with the natural, healthy, soul-imbued creatures we are meant to be. Each stage, the author explains, sets before us simultaneous cultural tasks and nature tasks that must be fulfilled before we move on to the next. And each aspect must be attended to – both how we fit into the cosmos and the natural world, and how we contribute to our culture and find our niche therein. He paints a picture of what is possible when we choose to live what he calls a soulcentric life, as opposed to being imprisoned by the egocentric lives we are encouraged to live.
His eight soulcentric life stages have beautiful, poetic names to denote the mystery and grandeur of each – the Innocent in the Nest (early childhood), the Explorer in the Garden (middle childhood), the Thespian at the Oasis (early adolescence), the Wanderer in the Cocoon (late adolescence), the Soul Apprentice at the Wellspring (early adulthood), the Artisan in the Wild Orchard (late adulthood), the Master in the Grove of Elders (early elderhood), and the Sage in the Mountain Cave (late elderhood).
He proposes most of us, due to our increasing lack of immersion in nature in childhood, being raised either to be an obedient “good” child or a spoiled, entitled prince or princess, and then drowning in the onslaught of our adolescent egocentric culture, rarely mature past the third stage of early adolescence. And here our development becomes arrested as we adopt egocentric roles of conformist or rebel and and fail to move on. We believe having a job, owning a home, producing offspring, and buying a lot of stuff constitutes adulthood. But these are often empty roles we adapt while remaining muddled adolescents who never find our souls’ purpose, perfect the crafts and skills needed to develop that purpose, achieve mastery, effect cultural change and adaptation, and develop the wisdom and perspective to guide and give back to those younger than ourselves. This is not a “career path” that is being described here, but so much more than that, a life path that challenges, nourishes, and ultimately spills over with riches.