With so many respected organizations offering diverse forms of the vision fast ceremony and other rites of passage or nature-and-soul journeys, how do you, a potential participant, choose which organization might best support you to awaken and animate your wild soul?

Every organization has its own strengths, skillful and devoted guides, and particular charisma. Here we’d like to highlight some of the distinguishing terrain and features of Animas Valley Institute and its guides.

The primary mystery we are tracking — and guiding toward — is the nature-based, initiatory journey of soul. No other Western organization shares this mission. Animas founder, Bill Plotkin, was the first contemporary wilderness guide or depth psychologist to identify the life-changing, psychospiritual passage we call “soul initiation.” Bill — in collaboration with other Animas guides — has, since 1980, been creating an original and evolving praxis to support this particular, mysterious passage. Our entire basket of interwoven offerings — which we call “soulcraft” — is designed to help our participants discover, clarify, and fully inhabit the unique, mystical, animating soul-spark we each carry. Other guides and organizations may use the word “soul” but they likely mean something very different than what we mean at Animas, which is the one-of-a-kind, psycho-ecological niche that each person was born to occupy. Complementing our primary focus of soul initiation, we also support our participants in the cultivation of the four innate facets of human wholeness; in self-healing; and in awakening the ecological self.

Our guides track the deep currents of your individual mystery journey as revealed in your nightdreams, your mysterious waking encounters, imaginal journeys, deepest griefs and longings, and in your wild ceremonies and conversations with the Others (the other-than-human creatures with whom we share this planet). We begin our tracking through your responses to application questions, then we track you intently during programs, and we continue to track you in virtual councils after programs. We are listening for and sketching something like a psychospiritual map of your mysterious depths. Our tracking is completely individualized and unreservedly intimate.

During programs, we offer alluring suggestions to the group for ways of wandering on the land while in relationship with mystery — the same suggestions for all participants’ solo wanderings. But we also offer individualized suggestions for your encounters with the mysteries of nature and psyche based upon what we’ve heard from you and learned about you from tracking your unfolding story. Almost certainly, you’ll be astonished by the patterns and themes woven by your own words, images, and mythopoetic stories when our deep-listening guides reflect these back to you. To our knowledge, Animas is the only organization with such consistent, extensive, and deep tracking of its participants — although we are aware that guides working with other organizations, especially those who have trained with Animas, might guide with similar personalized intensity.

If you participate in two or more Animas immersions, you might choose to cultivate a relationship with one or more guides who can track your personal unfolding through a succession of Animas programs. Your guides can offer ongoing support during your journey of soul initiation, which typically unfolds over many months or a few years. (Individual mentorship sessions are available outside of Animas programs for additional fees.)

Animas guides undergo many years of training, experiential immersion, and exploration through our Soulcraft Apprenticeship and Initiation Program (SAIP) as well as through a wide variety of other studies and life experiences. Nearly 1500 hours of personal initiatory process, training, and apprenticing is a necessary prelude to joining the guild of Animas guides. Our guides are richly experienced in a wild array of arts and disciplines, including soul-centered dreamwork; council leadership; mirroring; deep-imagination practices; ceremonial design and leadership; nature-based Shadow work; soul poetry and mythopoetic story; trance drumming and dancing; wilderness leadership, and in the nature-based map of the psyche (our “Wild Mind” work) and in the Soulcentric Developmental Wheel — maps and models developed by Bill Plotkin in conjunction with Animas guides, apprentices, and participants. While there is a consistency to the guides’ fluency with the terrain, each guide adds her/his own unique flavor, demented sense of humor, exuberant imagination, and wild creativity. The guides, naturally, have themselves undertaken the initiatory journey of soul and know, from their own experience, the alluring and frightening contours of the underworld.

The Soulcraft Apprenticeship and Initiation Program is the only offering of its kind in the world. SAIP is specifically designed as a kind of mystery school for cultivating “nature-based underworld guides.” No other organization has this particular focus; no other organization fosters and prepares its guides to the extent that Animas does. The deep-rooted and comprehensive SAIP training is equivalent to at least a masters degree in something like an “art and ecology of soul” program with both intellectual and experiential rigor. (Someday we will create such a program to be offered at one or more colleges or universities). And although many of our guides have masters degrees or doctorates from academic institutions, it is the extensive SAIP experience that qualifies individuals to guide for Animas — along with a soul-affinity for guiding others toward the depths.

Animas programs are sometimes more expensive than seemingly similar offerings of other organizations. In addition to the level of guide expertise, we support a variety of features that others might not, including two guides on all programs who customarily offer guidance, reflection, listening, and solo invitations from 8 to 12 hours (or more) every full day of the immersion — beginning with dreamwork at breakfast. For large groups, we also offer “clan leaders” (Animas guides and apprentices who lead small-group sessions), and some follow-up support. We cover camping fees; some programs include retreat center accommodations and meals. We also offer central-office support to help participants with program selection, psychospiritual preparation, equipment selection, dietary needs, travel logistics, and payment options. Additionally, though it adds significantly to our operating expenses, we are insured and permitted by all the public land agencies where we do our work — national forests, national monuments, national parks, state parks, BLM. To further support your physical safety, Animas guides are practiced and certified wilderness first responders. Animas is a 501(c)3 non-profit. We provide our staff a fair, living wage.

We believe that our focus on the initiatory journey of soul, the consistent and personalized depth of our guiding, the interwoven array of Animas offerings, and the extensive training that our guides receive insure that the Animas experience is utterly unique among organizations offering initiatory journeys, rites of passage, or the ceremony of the vision fast.

If you feel called to the journey of soul initiation, we welcome you to join us.