The Butterfly and the Cocoon

A conversation with Bill Plotkin

'The world is not well tended or engaged with by people who don’t know what they are for, who don’t know why they were born.' Steve Wheeler speaks with depth psychologist and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin about the metamorphoses of the soul in times of ecological crisis. A video interview for our Becoming Human series.
is a writer, Dark Mountain editor and natural medicine consultant. He has been involved in creating the Dark Mountain Project's books, workshops, festivals and performances for the last decade. Steve lives in the Dyfi Valley in mid-Wales.
For 40 years, Bill Plotkin has been guiding people through ‘nature-based initiatory passages’, leading people through a contemporary version of the vision quest, helping people to encounter deep relationship with nature, and training new generations of guides to the strange territory that exists at the interface of human and wilderness. Working out of the Animas Valley in Colorado, Plotkin’s work is deeply rooted in its own relationship with place. It goes beyond the self-concern of much ecopsychology by situating personal development within the wider realm of nature – the ‘soul is a fundamentally ecological concept, and its true health can only be recovered when we find our place of service to the living world’.

Plotkin’s own role, as he sees it, is as a ‘cocoon-weaver’ – someone who creates the space and conditions for people to undergo deep soul transformation. But in his books he has also been a cartographer, mapping the space where soul and nature meet and creating frameworks to help us navigate the encounters and metamorphoses that occur there. In his latest book, The Journey of Soul Initiation, he describes the Descent to Soul, the profound transformation that leads to true Adulthood – a state that, in our contemporary society, very few chronological adults ever reach.

Combining theory, autobiography, literature and accounts of others who have undergone the journey, he points to the deeper layers of the psyche that lie hidden and largely unsuspected by modern society, and how contracting them leads to a radically different relationship to ecological and human issues:

‘I believe the root cause of the dire crises and challenges of our time is a widespread failure in individual human development,’ he writes. ‘This has been true for so long and in so many societies that most people today are unaware of this breakdown in the natural sequence of human maturation, a failure now plainly evident – as witnessed in the current epidemics of psychological dysfunction as well as social and ecological degradation’.

For Plotkin, as for many of us, inner and outer work are mutually dependent, not opposed. The destruction of the living world, hyper-consumerism, the predations of modern economics, the injustice and corruption of our political systems – all can be seen to have their roots in a personal and existential absence: Perhaps the most fundamental crisis in the world today is a psychological and spiritual one: the loss of meaning or purpose… ‘The world is not well tended or engaged by people who don’t know what they are for, who don’t know why they were born.’

After several years of almost collaborating, Bill and I took the opportunity of The Journey of Soul Initiation‘s publication to get together and record a conversation. In a wide-ranging hour we talked about the book, his work at the Animas Valley Institute and his own story of journeying into relationship with soul, as well as about place, wisdom, hummingbirds, finding your ‘original instructions’, seeking hope in darkening times and the importance of reading Carl Jung.



Bill Plotkin, PhD, is the author of The Journey of Soul Initiation. As a depth psychologist, wilderness guide, and founder of western Colorado’s Animas Valley Institute, he has led thousands of women and men through nature-based initiatory passages. His previous books include Soulcraft, Nature and the Human Soul, and Wild Mind. He lives in Durango, Colorado and you can visit him online at



Dark Mountain: Issue 19

Our spring 2019 issue is an anthology of prose, poetry and artwork that revolves around the theme of death, lament and regeneration


Read more
  1. I am about to listen to this interview, and I’m so excited that someone finally is addressing the “widespread failure in human development,” and speaking of “true Adulthood as a state few chronological adults ever reach.” YES! Please.

    You may be aware of Australian poet Les Murray’s collection ‘Learning Human’ and
    one of his most beautiful and poignant poems speaking to how little”that the bush would need to come back right this day” (poem ‘Thinking About Aboriginal Land Rights, I Visit the Farm I Will Not Inherit.’) Thank you so much.

  2. This is lovely! I do a meditation where I pull peace and love from deep under me, up & through me. I’ve never understood how or why exactly this one particular meditation calms me so quickly & sends me into my day more gathered. until reading your article! Nature and all her goodness has been aiding me?! Many thanks & blessings to you in your work. ❤️

  3. I forwarded this article to three friends, and listened to half the interview – but when I came back today to listen to the rest of it, it was not available…….. can it be retrieved please.

    1. Hello Janet,
      Thanks for letting us know. I have been in touch with the interviewer and will be in touch as soon as he gets back.
      Best wishes, Charlotte Du Cann (online editor)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *