Bill Plotkin is the founder of Animas Valley Institute and the author of Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. In this manifesto for personal and cultural transformation, he presents a model for individual human development which can take us from our present-day egocentric, materialistic, and competitive society to an ecocentric, soul-based one characterized by sustainability, cooperation, and compassion. Plotkin sets this challenge in the context of what he calls the eight stages of the Wheel of Life:

• The Innocent in the Nest
• The Explorer in the Garden
• The Thespian at the Oasis
• The Wanderer in the Cocoon
• The Soul Apprentice at the Wellspring
• The Artisan in the Wild Orchard
• The Master in the Grove of Elders
• The Sage in the Mountain Cave

He sees this as a design tool for creating healthy human communities and life-sustaining societies:

"A healthy society is, among other things, sustainable, just, and compassionate. It is sustainable because it is expressly organized as an integral component of the greater community Earth; it establishes a niche for itself that benefits both its people and the greater geo-biological community of which it is a member. It is a just society because it provides equal opportunities and benefits for all persons. It is compassionate because it shares its wealth with all other societies and with the greater web of life; it does not exploit other peoples or species. A healthy society also embraces and celebrates our enchanted human senses, bodies, and emotions and encourages our imaginative exploration of the mysteries of psyche and nature."

Plotkin stands alongside Thomas Berry and Joanna Macy in his call for a Great Turning to a Life-Sustaining Society. This shift means that everything we do should be done in partnership with Earth systems. We are members of a more-than-human world, and this must be taken into consideration as we reconfigure our political, educational, business and religious institutions.

The consumer-driven society and our egocentric lifestyle resembles the life stage of adolescence. It is time we mature as individuals and as members of a society. Plotkin believes that today's children must become better acquainted with the wonders and mysteries of nature and wild animals. An immersion in the natural world fires the imagination and gives free rein to play. This is an important message at a time when more and more children are isolated from any encounters with wilderness.

Also be sure to check out Plotkin's wise and salutary comments on the challenges facing elders in the last stages of life.