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Plotkin Describes Life Stages

By Thegenaboveme @TheGenAboveMe

Plotkin Describes Life Stages

Photo by AdamSelwood

As I move through the lifespan, I can more clearly see the various roles people play based in part on their age.  Stage theory in psychology provides a number of ways for describing these roles.
Many theorists such as Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson and Carl Jung have sought to describe how people share common experiences as they move through these stages.  But other scholars are dedicated to finding more ways to describe and interpret social roles based on age. 
I find Bill Plotkin's work in this area quite fascinating. He has a strong foundation in Carl Jung's archetype theory. However, Plotkin also draws inspiration from nature, from non-industrialized peoples, from personal narrative, and from interviewing people across the life span.  He also looks at growth of the individual alone as well as the individual embedded in a social context.
Based on his research and analysis, Plotkin developed a developmental model or "Wheel of Life," which he explains in his book Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. In 516 pages, Plotkin describes 8 life stages using images (listed in parenthesis) drawn from non-industrialized societies.
Plotkin Describes Life Stages
  1. Early Childhood (The Innocent in the Nest)
  2. Middle Childhood (The Explorer in the Garden)
  3. Early Adolescence (The Thespian at the Oasis)
  4. Late Adolescence (The Wanderer in the Cocoon)
  5. Early Adulthood (The Soul Apprentice at the Wellspring)
  6. Late Adulthood (The Artisan in the Wild Orchard)
  7. Early Elderhood (The Master in the Grove of Elders)
  8. Late Elderhood (The Sage in the Mountain Cave)
As a midlife person in Stage 6 "Late Adulthood or The Artisan in the Wild Orchard," I find myself looking in both directions across the lifespan.  I see my children growing and developing in stages I have already completed. I am watching my peers move away from early adulthood zeal and midlife negotiations with the realities of life. 
And as a gerontologist (and a daughter and grandchild), I have been watching late life adults and elders make peace with the challenges of aging while they also explore ways to develop further and contribute to the generations below them.
As people move from one life stage into the next, they usually face a spiritual crisis. 
After acclimating to one life stage, it can be very difficult to transition to the next.  People feel a lot of pain and suffering when they hold too tightly to old roles and responsibilities while denying the opportunities available to them in the current moment.  It's difficult to see the next stage until we inhabit it completely. So chaos, confusion, and disorientation often dominate during these transitional times. 
Much has been written about teenage angst, identity crises, midlife crises and late-life depression. Yes, each of these periods of great tension cause pain. But these transitional times offer moments of great renewal, creativity, and rebirth. 
How do we deal with emotional, social and spiritual chaos brought on by role change? Sometimes people pick up dysfunctional methods such as addiction, depression, obsessions, avoidance or anger.  Each person has to discover a path of peace. But admitting that transitioning require attention is a good first step. 
Plotkin provides an expanded vocabulary for how to embrace the opportunities of each life stage. He finds his inspiration through archetypes and through nature.  Reading and rereading his book Nature and the Human Soul gives me a chance to meditate on the challenges and opportunities presented in each life stage. It also helps me support others who are living in the "no man's land" between stages.  
To follow up on this topic of spiritual crises in the face of life transitions, I will share my thoughts about the last three stages in Plotkin's Wheel of Life. Once a month, I will describe the stages salient to me as a gerontologist: late adulthood (November), early elderhood (December) and late elderhood (January).
May you have a great journey on whichever road you now travel in the Wheel of Life.
Mature Adults Embrace Their Wild Minds
Late Adulthood: A Time to Bless

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