It’s very important to be cautious when we venture into the realm of the ‘spiritual’, since there are so many gurus, false prophets, shrewd deceivers or just confused people who mean well but still seriously mess things up. So I fully understand your fear of secret societies and secretive behavior.
On the other hand, I have found that once you have crossed a certain threshold it becomes almost impossible to talk about what is really happening to you — unless through art, or through some of the blunt honesty that I try to use in my blogs (and that is ever accompanied by fear or ridicule or rejection).
And that’s also when it gets more easy to ‘recognize’ others who have had a similar experience or who have walked a similar path and who have encountered soul in their lives in one way or another. There is nothing secretive about it, but it is true that words are often unneccesary at that point, or that if you start explaining too much it is only misunderstood. It’s a bit like trying to explain algebra to a seven-year old who has just learned his letters. Don’t. He won’t understand and you’ll be exasperated and misunderstood. (By which I don’t mean to say that I think most people are children — or at least not in a disrespectful sort of way ;-) )
Plotkin has been working on this for over thirty years, and could himself be considered an elder, now. He has also drawn from the few available guides older than him. He has founded an institute, but he has not crowned himself leader or guru of it. That in itself I consider a very hopeful signal as to the fact that he can indeed be trusted.
I think it’s a very thin line between honoring the wise, soulful elders that are slowly emerging through a life of study and exercise in our societies (they are scarce!) and glorifying some sort of external authority. The best way to tell them apart, I guess, is to always check whether this person (or this book, this guide, this encounter) is helping you to become more fully yourself and will encourage you to step out into the world as yourself and applaud if you do it, or whether they really just want you to listen to them and do as they say.
As for God, my current image of ‘him’ is a wise, loving and infinitely complex energy/light that is the very foundation of everything in the universe, the life force from which we are made and that connects us to all and everything. In that sense nature could be a very good place to meet this force, since God is in my opinion not above it, but inside it, the very pulse of the web in its deepest core. That’s probably another reason why I enjoy Plotkin’s images and reasoning so much.
One thing I do find as I’m reading this book (I have finished the Oasis now), is that Plotkin sometimes seems a bit overconfident or over-directive in how exactly soulful experience can be reached. He presents a lot of different options for every step, but sometimes I do catch myself thinking: those resources just might not be available to you in your everyday setting, and there are other ways to reach the same point. As I’ve said earlier: I’ve never wandered into the wild for a week or had some sort of initiation ritual to mark my encounter with Soul, but I do know I have crossed into a different dimension from the life I led only two years ago. My take on a lot of Plotkins advice is it can be used almost metaphorically, in whatever setting you find yourself. But the core of it I still think is very wise and true.