In honor of James Hillman, Pulitzer-nominated psychologist, who passed away last week, I wanted to post about something inspired by one of my favorite concepts from his book The Soul’s Code. (You might be wondering why this post have yet another picture of my apartment? Read on and I promise it will make sense.) For Hillman the maturation process doesn’t mean we have to “grow up” as so many of us were told, and instead we should strive to “grow down.” I love this idea, and not just because I resist growing up. Just as a tree grows roots for achieving great heights, we must descend into ourselves through the process of adulthood. Through this we gain the necessary self-knowledge of through the growing down into the unknown of who we are.

This contrast of establishing roots in order to take flight reflects similar
thoughts of Bill Plotkin, who’s work was inspired by Hillman. Plotkin in his book  discusses the distinction of up and down directions as the relationships between spirit and soul. For him soul is the individual essence unique to each person and spirit as the omnipresent source of everything in the universe. Knowledge of our matchless inimitable soul allows us to orient ourselves within spirit and the vast universe.

So many of us go “soul searching” believing a connection with the divine (I did spend years religion hopping believing this to be true) with be our relief for this unexplained longing we feel in our hearts. A relationship to spirit and the whole when we have an underdeveloped and under nourished soul, holds no gifts. Both soul and spirit have their own set of desires, and both must be
satiated…separately. It would appear we exist within two seemingly competing directions — to ascend and unite with the whole and also descend into the depths ourselves to discover our unique gifts to the world.  We drop into our soul as a way of rising to meet spirit. As Plotkin says,

And although
the journey is a spiritual one, it is not a transcendental upward towards the
light and an ecstatic union with all of creation. It is a journey downward into
the dark mysteries of the individual soul.

Eros, operating through our soul as a strong desire, pulls us towards the discovery of our own distinctive gifts and path as a way of merging with totality. As Plotkin explains, “Our soul acting as an agent for spirit.” This journey towards ourselves, and our individual soul’s quest, and what we offer the entire world is filled with success, passion, and enchantment. Yet, so many of
us never undergo the challenge to become our truest selves and venture onward into creating our own myth, or Hero’s Journey in the words and world of Joseph Campbell.

Now for the explanation of my apartment photo…My yearning for this soul discovery reveals itself in my unconscious apartment decorating schemes of birds and trees. Birds representing freedom and flying with a connection to the heavens and the trees reflecting my deep desire for stability and a connection to the Earth. It was not an intentional Feng Shui and only through reading James Hillman and Bill Plotkin I can clearly see how obvious this should have been to me (yet another intentional rhyme).

We “grow up” through a seeking a relationship with the spirit and instead find ourselves on a downward journey with the soul – going down and growing down into the unknown. As Plotkin says, “To plant a foot firmly on earth – that is the ultimate achievement.” This rooting in our soul’s expression on earth exposes the need of having roots before we can have our wings. We
must first come into relationship with our deep soul as a way of cultivating its ability for relating to all of spirit. We grow up and try to leave the nest, yet we forget the necessary step of growing down into our very being. This process helping us to find what makes our uniqueness so important to this world. Said differently, we grow stronger roots as a way of finally being able to use our wings.



  1. Children usually get two lasting bequests from their parents: one is “roots” and the other is “wings.” What are these “roots” and “wings” and how do they help shape your life, particularly as a Christian?

    I have to answer this question for my Sunday School essay competition. So I have to write a 700 word essay about it. I am clueless as to what these roots and wings are, so any and all help is appreciated. Thank you.

  2. Hello Spiritual! I am not a Christian and so I cannot speak to that perspective. I can say through writing this post I began to see how while we may initially think our roots and wings come from our parents – encouraging us to stay close to the nest and also seek new land. I think through an individuation and maturation process we come to see both those qualities within ourselves and projected onto others. Not sure if that helps! Good luck with your essay!

  3. As someone who has covered his work previous, I am writing to see if you would be interested in receiving a review copy of Bill Plotkin’s new book Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche which we will be publishing this April for consideration. If so I would be happy to ask his publicist at New World Library to send you either the PDF or the physical book in March when we get them hot off the press. If this is of interest, please reply to this email with your mailing address, a direct link to your blog, and the format you prefer!

    Here’s more information about this ground-breaking book…

    What do we need to know and understand to help facilitate lasting positive change in our individual lives and communities? How can we revolutionize our understanding of what it means to be human and revive our abilities to realize our potential and transform our contemporary cultures?

    The enclosed advance reading copy of Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche (New World Library, April 15, 2013) by cultural visionary, author, and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin addresses and answers these key questions of our time.

    “We’re being summoned by the world itself to make many urgent changes to the human project, but most central is a fundamental re-visioning and reshaping of ourselves, a shift in consciousness,” writes Plotkin. “We must reclaim and embody our original wholeness, our indigenous human nature granted to us by nature itself. And the key to reclaiming our original wholeness is not merely to suppress psychological symptoms, recover from addictions and trauma, manage stress, or refurbish dysfunctional relationships, but rather to fully flesh out our multifaceted, wild psyches, committing ourselves to the largest story we’re capable of living, serving something bigger than ourselves.”

    In Wild Mind, Plotkin introduces a map of psychological wholeness that is rooted in nature’s own map of wholeness. The book offers an elaborate field guide to becoming fully human by cultivating the four facets of the Self and discovering both the limitations and gifts of our wounded, fragmented, and shadowed subpersonalities.

    I look forward to hearing from you about this possibility! Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions.

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