Bill Plotkin describes place, a personal relationship to a specific place, as being a way to understand soul. Plotkin's one of my very favourite writers, and his book Nature and the Human Soul a key text for me (yes, it's in that ever-expanding list of my Top Ten books, and one of a handful that I feel should be mandatory reading in secondary education, along with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Brian Clarke's The Stream, James Hollis' The Eden Project [no, not about Tim Smit's garden], Robert Johnson's The Psychology of Romantic Love, Robert Bly's Iron John, Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women Who Run with the Wolves, and a couple of others).
Plotkin's book maps out the journey of individuation, from the narcissism of the undeveloped ego to the generous expansive wisdom of someone whose orientation is no longer confined to 'me and mine', in a particularly rich and comprehensive, and at times very moving, way.
I've just come across this small piece of his in my 2011/2012 journal:
'Given that the human soul is the very core of our human nature, we might note that, when we are guided by soul, we are guided by nature. Both soul and greater nature do guide us in our individual development, whether or not we ask for this guidance. But if we know how to listen, we can benefit much more. Living in an adolescent culture' [he defines Western materialistic culture in this way] 'does not banish us from soulcentric development. The assistance of nature and soul is always and everywhere available. In our own society, a large minority of people develop soulcentrically despite the cultural obstacles. The soul faithfully comes to our aid through dreams, deep emotion, love, the quiet voice of guidance, synchronicities, revelations, hunches, and visions, and at times through illness, nightmares, and terrors.
'Nature, too, supports our personal blossoming (if we have any quiet exposure to her) through her spontaneities, through her beauty, power, and mirroring, through her dazzling variety of species and habitats, and by way of the wind, Moon, Sun, stars, and galaxies.'
I'm only partway through it, but already Feral, by George Monbiot, is edging towards being a list-book too (and TM, having read it, has now agreed to what I've been badgering for for years: leaving the grass between woodland margin, orchard and veg plot as meadow, not lawn – George, you're a star). If you know Monbiot's Guardian columns you'll know his passion, his clarity and his commitment, as well as the quality of his writing. You might not realise how deeply poetic he also is, though. Nonetheless, he probably wouldn't like to speak overtly of the soul, and I suspect that he wouldn't want to confine his incisive dedication to a political vision to any kind of soulcentric label.
What I'm interested in in the similarities and contrasts between the two of them, though, is that they each present a vision which is broadly ecocentric, and includes the concept of rewilding – something I've also always felt very keenly, and which I've always considered has to be a twofold process: reclaiming our own inner wilderness so that we can lift some of the controls we impose, often brutally, often by exiling, whether through ignorance, fear or greed, on the outer.
And yet if we allow that our soul is intimately bound up with place, our place, in both senses, in the 'outer' world of nature, it's almost impossible (or at least it makes no sense) to speak of soul, place and nature as distinct and separate entities.
And here's Monbiot speaking on place which, as you'll see, is both a particular spot (at the time, and often, in his case, in his kayak in Cardigan Bay off the Welsh coast, fishing,) and a state of being that I'd call soul-centred:
'Every time I go to sea I seek this place, a place in which I find a kind of peace I have never found on land. Others discover it on mountains, in deserts or by the methodical clearing of their minds through meditation. But my place was here; a here that was always different but always felt the same; a here that seemed to move further back from the shore with every journey. The salt was encrusted on the back of my hands, my fingers were scored and shrivelled. The wind ravelled through my mind, the water rocked me. Nothing existed except the sea, the birds, the breeze. My mind blew empty.'