Soulcraft Musings Inaugural Introduction

Today, January 20, 2017, we inaugurate Soulcraft Musings, a new offering from Animas Valley Institute (see below). This is the same day America inaugurates a new president, a cultural upheaval currently mobilizing thousands of response teams worldwide. On this day we commence our humble project of Soulcraft Musings in support of the deepening, diversification, and flourishing of all life. At this time in the world, may we all inaugurate actions and projects that collectively give birth to a life-enhancing society.

read more

The journey of descent to soul has largely been forgotten in mainstream culture, but there is nothing more essential in the world today. The experiential encounter with soul is the key element in the initiatory journey that culminates in true adulthood. And true adults — visionary artisans — are the generators of the most creative and effective actions in defense of all life and in the renaissance and evolution of generative human cultures.

The encounter with soul is not a weekend workshop but an unfolding journey over many months or years. Harvesting its fruit and feeding the world with its bounty plays out over the rest of one’s life. Every day holds opportunities for each of us to prepare for the journey to the underworld of soul, or, once we have embarked upon the journey, to take our next steps, or to gather its mystical treasures and hone them into practical shapes, or to fashion never-before-seen delivery systems for carrying these gifts to the Earth community.

We, at Animas Valley Institute, would like to gift you with this weekly email of trail markers (cairns) on the journey to soul. These Soulcraft Musings, although each only a couple minutes of reading, will be, we trust, valuable guidelines and support on your journey. Each includes references for further reading, study, and practice. And each features a resonant image and poem.

The central theme that ties together all the Musings is, of course, soul and the human encounter with soul. But even the original depth meaning of the word soul has been lost to the modern mind. What we at Animas mean when we speak or write about soul is not what you’ll find in contemporary religious, spiritual, philosophical, or psychological traditions or in everyday conversation. We’ll explore these and many other fundamentals and principles in Soulcraft Musings.

If you’re already on our list, you’ll receive an email with a Soulcraft Musing once a week. If you’re not on our list and would like to subscribe, please click here.

And please feel free to share Soulcraft Musings widely with friends, family, and colleagues.

In wildness and wonder,

Bill Plotkin


Animas Valley Institute


Artwork by Doug Van Houten

Three Encounters with the Dreaming of the World

Friday, May 26, 2017

One day, early last June, mid-morning, I decided to look through my folder stuffed with haphazardly accumulated sheets of paper and optimistically labeled “recent discoveries about underworld guiding” — in preparation for a training program beginning at the end of that week. It was too resplendent a spring morning to be inside my house at 7300 feet in the San Juan Mountain foothills of southwest Colorado. So I crossed the threshold and went out into the magnificence, the Real.

I settled into one of the two Adirondack chairs on the small, half-moon shaped brick patio on the south side of the house, just outside the dining room windows. My home sits near the bottom of a steep north-facing slope, about 600 vertical feet below the ridge, in the midst of a forest of scrub oak, juniper, pinyon, ponderosa, Douglas fir, and spruce (and aspen planted by me), with a few small-to-medium meadows scattered about (and many wildflowers in spring and summer). There are few other houses nearby and none within easy shouting distance. Being a solar home on a north-facing slope, the south side of the two-story house forms the north wall of a “canyon,” with a steep, river-stone covered and terraced slope forming the south wall. When sitting in the Adirondack chairs, you face a three-foot-wide curving staircase, made of railroad ties and flagstone, ascending about eight vertical feet up the middle of the south side of Little Home Canyon. At the top of the staircase is a small flat-ish meadow through which a flagstone path leads about fifty feet to a flagstone patio, bordered in early June by wild irises and surrounded on three sides by lupine, blue flax, Oregon grape, and yarrow, and, on the far side of the patio, a thick scrub oak forest ascending rapidly to the ridge. When sitting in the Adirondack chairs, you’re too low to see the meadow or patio. Little Home Canyon is about ten feet wide, twenty feet deep on the north (the house itself) and eight feet deep on the south (but, in the larger view, ascending 600 feet to the ridge).

Sitting there that June morning, I was soon absorbed in a particular section of notes that reads (this is not polished; it was written months earlier as quick memos to myself): “What we’re doing in Animas programs and in SAIP [our guide training program, the Soulcraft Apprenticeship and Initiation Process] is thinning the boundaries between self and other; between self and other humans (for example, through council); between self and others (human or otherwise) through dreamwork, for example, including merging with the dream Other; through self and other-than-human by “talking across the species boundaries” [Gary Snyder’s phrase]. Learning to see the Other throughtheir point of view. Enhancing empathy. Cross-species empathy as an essential element of the path to sustainable habitation of Earth. ‘Coming Home to an Animate World’. This enhanced perceptual awareness and empathy also feels good. It reverses the experience of existential disconnection (so common in the Western world). … The capacity for empathy with nonhuman others is innate in all of us. To experience this is not so much a matter of skill development as it is a matter of opening a door, remembering, re-membering (becoming a member again)…. On the soul level, we are each a ‘unique ecological communication’ [quoting Stephen Buhner from his Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm] and are born as such, a particular conversation with the world, which can be articulated in metaphor (eco-poetic), a psycho-ecological niche or place. … Co-evolution between organisms and between organisms and the environment, a living field, an unfolding story. … Learning to feel the Other through our capacity for ‘non-kinesthetic touching’ [Buhner, again] and this tells us — at the deepest possible level — about the meanings of that Other, its mood, its ‘scenario,’ the interactional field. … What we are feeling is the dreaming of the Other. … Each thing speaks and (casts) spells through its soul, its ‘secret kinesis’ [Buhner], the way it touches us. All this is unfolding in the metaphysical background of the world, the dreaming of the world.”

As I read those last two sentences, I become aware of a dark shape in front me, almost close enough to touch. I look up. An exceptionally large brown dog has materialized before me out of nowhere — or so I think for the first microsecond. Quickly it becomes apparent that this is BEAR, standing perfectly still and silently, his front paws not much more than a foot from my slippered feet, one hind paw still on the last step of the staircase flowing down from the meadow from which he has just sauntered, a bead of saliva dropping now from his muzzle onto the bricks. We gaze directly into each other’s eyes for approximately four (very long) seconds, our eyes at the same level, maybe his a bit higher. The warm sunlight bathes us both in golden liquid. I am especially taken by how light is the brown of his snout as compared to the rather dark brown of his coat and the jet-black of his eyes. My body is about to comment on the fact that I am sitting in, essentially, a small, confined canyon alcove, the dining room windowed wall directly behind me, a perpendicular adobe wall immediately to my left curving out for about six feet and thereby embracing Bear and me within this space we are suddenly sharing, an outside part of the kitchen wall a few feet to my right facing the adobe wall to the left, a black bear in my face, and nowhere to run (should I had gotten as far as to think such a thing) when maybe I make a slight involuntary movement and Bear apparently becomes aware I am not part of the chair (maybe this spot is on his regular route? there are lots of bears in the neighborhood, for that matter; actually it would be more accurate to say there are only a few human settlers living in Bear’s neighborhood). But before my body can comment in this way, Bear startles, huffs (in alarm, I later imagine) and bounds off to the west through Little Home Canyon. I stand up, tingling with wild excitement, enveloped in bear huff-breath, bathed in a sense of blessing, graced by Bear’s “unique ecological communication,” and feeling the beginning of something like bereavement. As Bear disappears around the west side of the house, my throat cries out, “Don’t go!” I take a step west, not expecting he’ll actually be moved by my plea. But Bear re-emerges — just his head and shoulders peaking at me from around the corner of the house, fifteen feet away, as if to make sure I had not been a hallucination. I stop. We take another good look at each other. He huffs again and bolts into the oaks to the southwest of the house, breathing hard and causing an unholy terror among the songbirds. My body begins to give chase — about four steps worth — when I think maybe this is not the best idea. I stop. Heart beating wildly, Bear crashing through the oak brush, I return slowly toward the Adirondack chair, notice the drop of saliva on the brick and a bit of moisture from bear paws now evaporating on the flagstone steps. After a while, I no longer hear Bear in the brush and so I sit. I pick up the page I had been holding and read again, “Each thing speaks and (casts) spells through its soul, its ‘secret kinesis,’ the way it touches us. All this is unfolding in the metaphysical background of the world, the dreaming of the world.” The dreaming of the world, I muse, is not only metaphysical.

My body and psyche continues for days to resonate with Bear’s visit, the spell he has cast, which has an unfolding effect on me directly through feeling. I allow it, welcome it.

Earlier that same day, at dawn, upstairs in the bedroom, I was sitting on the carpet, beginning my morning yoga practice, when I notice through the floor-length west window what appears to be a brown-yellowish dog meandering through the meadow toward the house. No, it’s a coyote. Wait, no, it’s a fox, snuffling along his way. I know there are lots of foxes here but, because they’re shy and primarily nocturnal, I’ve only seen them a few times and at a much greater distance. This one is right here, almost directly below my window. He moves from the west side of the house around the corner to the south. I dash across the room and watch him through the second-story south windows, his brown-yellow-salt-and-pepper body and long puffy tail sashaying as he trots through Little Home Canyon, up the railroad-tie stairs, and winds his way through a narrow meadow uphill to the southeast. I say out loud, “Hmmm, Fox is on his way,” thinking of both this four-legged and also my friend and colleague Jeffrey Allen on his way to the Animas Valley in a couple days to co-guide with me a soulcentric dreamwork training. I decide in that moment that later in the morning I will sit outside and begin to prepare for the training.

Without Fox’s visit, I may not have encountered Bear.

Third encounter: Sometime between the first two, I am outside on the south side of the house, enjoying a bit of gardening. I notice a movement in the east half of Little Home Canyon. I look up. It appears to be a brown-yellowish dog, trotting toward me. I look again. It actually is a dog.