Soul Encounter and Eco-Awakening: Two Essential Realms of Awakening Neglected in Contemporary Spirituality, Part IX
by Bill Plotkin
Friday, May 20, 2022
This is the ninth part of a multi-part Musing (one per week).
In last few Musings, I introduced the idea of inscendence (or soul encounter) and presented an ecological concept of soul. In the last Musing, I began an exploration of the mystery at the heart of soul, namely the fact that the young of all species, including our own, are born with an understanding of their place or niche in the greater Earth community, a non-linguistic knowledge of how to contribute to the world their unique skill or offering. This is a kind of knowledge that humans can consciously access only though an initiatory process, what I call the journey of soul initiation. Continuing …
Uniqueness and Differentiation
Some people assume that individual members of other species do not have unique gifts or destinies, that whatever uniqueness there is exists on the species level, not the individual level. One flower or frog or fox, they might contend, has exactly the same ecological place, niche, role, or function as any other individual of their species, more or less. If so, why would it be any different for us?
But one thing we know about evolution is that life grows ever more complex, diversified, and differentiated. This is a universal principle. Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry  put it this way:
In the universe, to be is to be different. To be is to be a unique manifestation of existence. The more thoroughly we investigate any one thing … the more we discover its uniqueness. … Ultimately each thing remains as baffling as ever, no matter how profound our understanding. … The universe comes to us, each being and each moment announcing its thrilling news: I am fresh.
As life on Earth evolves, speciation accelerates. Intra-species differentiation increases as well. From four billion years ago until less than a billion years ago, there were only single-cell organisms on Earth, although innumerable kinds of them . Now, in addition to countless species of bacteria and microbes, there are millions of complex, multi-cellular species and untold variations within species. Among mammalian species, there are a variety of social roles within any family or extended group. While our own innate human capacities seem minimal at birth compared to other species — we are born, after all, remarkably vulnerable and helpless — we make up for that by possessing perhaps the greatest intra-species differentiation, something that becomes increasingly evident as we get older. Even within the same culture, even within the same family, there is an astonishing degree of variation among us in talents, personal style, taste, personality, values, personal goals, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.
But our individual uniqueness is not only on the social-personality-vocational-gender level. It is also, and more importantly, on the soul or ecological level. We are each born with distinct and differentiated destinies, our own unique ecological place or niche in the world, our own particular genius. This is a very old idea woven into the myths and sacred stories of many, if not all, cultures . It is most likely true for all species to some degree, but it appears to be comparatively truer for us. For good or for ill.
Whether for us or any other species, the unique ecological niche for each individual creature is specific to its particular place in a particular environment. The niche of a specific fox, for example, has everything to do with the precise swath of forest in which she roams; with her relationship, for example, to the pattern of bird nests in those climbable trees and the location of rabbit warrens and rodent tunnels, as well as with her relationship to other foxes in her pack. But her individual niche is not simply or primarily a matter of how she “makes a living.” It is also about how she uniquely participates in and enhances life in her forest and about the effects and influences only she can have on the local habitat and the other species there.
All this must be true for us humans as well: we each have a unique set of relationships and potentials within both our local and global communities.
Soul: Your Place in the Greater Web of Life
The most important thing to emphasize about soul encounter is that this knowledge of what it is to be fully and uniquely yourself, of the gift you were born to bring into this world, can never be identified or described in social, vocational, political, religious, or other cultural terms. No one is born to take a particular job or role in a particular human community. Rather, like all other species, we are each born to take a specific place within the Earth community, to fill a unique ecological niche in the greater web of life, to provide a suite of unique ecological functions. And that place is what I mean by soul, and occupying that psycho-ecological niche and providing those functions is what I mean by soul purpose. As I’ll explore in upcoming Musings, this is the realm of awakening nearly absent from contemporary Western psychology, including transpersonal theory and scholarship, and from most contemporary practices and methods for spiritual, religious, and psychological development. And it is arguably the most essential realm of awakening, especially in our current time of radical, global change.
 Swimme, B. & Berry, T. (1992). The Universe Story. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
 Margulis, L. & Sagan, D. (1997). Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
 Meade, M. (2016). The Genius Myth. Seattle. WA: GreenFire Press.
To read previous musings click here.