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.

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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


Part 3

Four Components to the Art of Being Lost

This is the third part of a four-part Musing (one per week)

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Wanderer learns there are four necessary components to the art of being lost. First, he must in fact be lost. Second, he must know he is lost and accept it. Third, he must have adequate survival knowledge, skills, and physical or spiritual tools. Fourth, and most importantly, he must practice nonattachment to any particular result of being lost, such as being found by a certain time, or at all. In other words, he must accept his condition, relax into it, and arrive fully where he is.

Whether he is physically, emotionally, soulfully, or spiritually lost, getting to know the experience of “lost” in the most intimate terms is his only true way out.

Upon entering the developmental stage of the Cocoon (the stage of the journey of soul initiation), for example, we notice the adolescent life, a life in which social and economic advancement are our primary goals, is no longer so alluring, but we do not yet have an appealing alternative. We’re lost. Rather than merely change jobs, life partners, social groups, or place of residence, we must accept we are lost and that we can’t extract ourselves by continuing to play by the old rules. What are the relevant survival knowledge, skills, and tools for this kind of being lost? To spiritually survive the Cocoon, you need to know about the relationship between ego, soul, and spirit. You need to know about the call to adventure, ego death, and wandering. You need the skills of self-reliance and of leaving home. You need tools in the form of pathways to soul encounter. And you need to cultivate the art of being lost. Then you must settle into the fact that, as of yet, you do not know what your soul desires for the life you’ve been blessed with.

Another way the Wanderer might cultivate the art of being soulfully lost is to physically get lost in wilderness. She might wander in the wilds until she is not certain how to get “out.” Then she will sit and practice presence, accepting what is, because here and now is all she’s got. Obviously it helps if she has previously acquired some survival skills, including ways to find water and shelter and, if she’ll be there several days, food. She’ll also be glad to have her physical survival tools with her — her pocketknife and a way to make fire and shelter, for example. That’s why the Wanderer studied the arts of backcountry living when acquiring the skills of self-reliance. She also studied the art of orienteering, so she knows she eventually can find her way out in good shape. She just doesn’t know when that will be, and, truth be told, the lost Wanderer is not in a great hurry. Here’s an opportunity to practice solitude, wandering in nature, tracking signs and omens, talking across the species boundaries, and other soulcraft arts. Here’s her chance to trust the path that begins at her feet, to be fully in the moment as it unfolds. If she can do this while lost in the wilds, she’s more likely to be able to do it when spiritually lost in the middle of her life, like Dante.

When I find myself lost in the wild, fear starts in my groin and works its way up to my belly and down to my knees. My heart races. My throat wants to shout for help. My whole body begins to tremble and my head whirls. My breath grows shallow and rapid. My heart beats quicker and quirkier. But if I don’t panic (or after I’m through panicking), I notice my body actually likes being lost! Not the mind, but the body. My skin begins to tingle, as if with delight. I become very awake. My senses grow sharp and clear. The sounds, colors, textures, and edges of things become distinct and radiant. I can’t help but notice an enjoyment arising through being so present, so much in this body. Here. Now. Thought slows down and becomes crystalline. What will I do, I wonder. I hear a weird voice say, “Let’s enjoy being here before we get in too much of a hurry to be somewhere else. If we can make a life here, after all, we can make a life anywhere.”

Perchance you think you do not have the skills or interest (or time!) to get lost in wilderness and then attempt to find your self. Few people do, but few people get serious about any kind of wandering. On the other hand, I’ve known many people who were not the least bit interested in getting lost but had the misfortune — or fortune — of doing so anyway, and learned wondrous things from the experience (other than to never leave home again).

This is why the Wanderer seeks to get lost.

To read part one and two click here.


Adapted from Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche  (New World Library, 2003).