Animas Valley Institute

Founded by Bill Plotkin in 1980, The Animas Valley Institute is a nonprofit organisation of 10 to 15 guides and a small staff based in Durango, Colorado, USA.

Animas offers multi-day immersions into the wilds of nature and psyche for the purpose of retrieving the unique, mysterious identity hidden in the soul-waters of each life.  Animas originated and continues to evolve a contemporary Western, nature-based approach to the journey of soul initiation— to their knowledge, the first of its kind.

While learning how to facilitate the encounter with soul, they discovered the vital importance of first cultivating all facets of innate human wholeness, resulting in one of the rare methods of human development that embraces the full spectrum of human capacities, an approach we call the Wild Mind work. Along the way, they were also fortunate to identify the ecocentric stages of life that lead to psychological maturity — true adulthood and elder hood. They call this model of human development the Soulcentric Wheel, a model that ultimately yields a strategy for cultural transformation.

When you travel to Animas Valley — the Valley of Souls — it’s best to know which stream calls you most strongly. All their offerings draw from the waters of both streams, but some focus more intensively on the Wild Mind practices, and others turn more fiercely toward the currents of the Underworld of Soul.

Those who are best prepared for the Underworld stream have, first, a good foundation in the Wild Mind practices, which not only prepare us for the depths but also support the underworld journey itself — as well as the return from the depths.

The Wild Mind stream assists you to cultivate all four facets of your innate human wholeness, especially those most neglected. All facets must be awakened and embodied in order to do anything in life to full capacity. Cultivating your wholeness, however, can be hazardous. Your consciousness shifts. You appear changed to yourself and others. And you are.

The Underworld stream, on the other hand, carries you through fruitful darkness to the brink of your current life plateau and then hurls you over the falls, dismantling the story you’ve been living as you plummet toward the alluring but dangerous mysteries of your mythopoetic identity, your one true place — not in human culture but in the greater Earth community. This journey is not a healing or wholing process, nor a therapeutic one. It’s a death-rebirth enterprise, an initiatory descent to the transformative fires of your depths where you might, if fortunate, unearth the metaphor or poem you were born as, the image or mythic story you are meant to live — or, if you have previously been seared by these fires, you might discover additional and deeper layers of that image or story. The goal here is not stress-reduction or happiness — or even the deep exploration and healing of our middle world life histories — but to be remade into a more effective, soul-rooted contributor to cultural transformation. This is not the Animas stream to enter if you’re satisfied with your current life goals or the story you’re living, even if you might want to reshape it or improve it. The Underworld journey will turn upside down most everything you believe and covet about your lifeas you hold it now.

The two Animas streams have much in common. Both assist you in becoming fully human, more authentic, and more alive. Both help you fashion a life of greater meaning, purpose, and inspiration. Both deepen your experience of the world as a communion of subjects, as the geologian Thomas Berry put it, in which everything is alive, breathing, animate, aware, ensouled. Neither Animas stream offers rites of passage, shamanic services, psychotherapy, eco-therapy, or addictions recovery.

At any given moment in your life, either Animas stream might be the one to enter. There’s not a required sequence. And yet, the Underworld stream can be perilous and bewildering if you’re not fully prepared psycho-spiritually. Before entering it, you’d want to be confident you have access to all four facets of your innate wholeness. All Animas immersions provide guidance through the rapids of both streams as well as guidance in moving from one stream to the other.

Their 30-plus annual programs include 12-day contemporary vision fasts, five-day retreat-centre-based soulcraft intensives, one-day and weekend introductory programs, yearlong immersions that meet for four sessions (one in each season), and advanced intensives on soulcentric dreamwork, shadow work, the cultivation of ecological identity, deep imagery journeys, and other topics. Animas also serves as a training institute. Their Soulcraft Apprenticeship and Initiation Program (SAIP) is an advanced training curriculum designed for those who have been called by Mystery to serve as nature-based underworld guides.

Animas founder Bill Plotkin and the other Animas guides have created and shaped over 40 contemporary practices that assist people of Western cultures in their quests for more meaningful, fulfilling, and culturally engaged lives aligned with nature, soul, and the Great Turning.

What to expect from an Animas experience:

  • Identify – or clarify – your unique note in the symphony of all life
  • Arouse your wild imagination and earthly senses
  • Encounter the fierce and alluring aspirations of your soul
  • Recover and integrate the forgotten voices of your own wild psyche
  • Experience your conscious membership in the community of Earth
  • Join other visionary leaders in shaping a soul-infused future for the world

Visit the Animas Valley Institute website for more articles and interviews plus full information on programs and apprenticeship offered in the USA and other countries. Details of Animas Valley programs offered on Australian soil under the banner of Soulcraft Australia can also be found on the Animas website. (Remember that if you would like to sign up for a Soulcraft Australia program, registrations are through this website – please go to the Register and Pay for Registration forms and details of how to pay).