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

Artwork by Doug Van Houten

Winning at a Game that’s Killing the World
This is the third part of an eight-part Musing (one per week).

Friday, June 23, 2017

We’re in the midst of very dangerous times.

Let me make this more personal — for both you and me. It’s been easy for me to say I’m not actually a coach. But I am something like a coach. I’m a wilderness-based underworld guide, which is a kind of coach. [laughter] Thank you for laughing. It’s true, you know. That’s actually what I do: underworld guiding. But, putting a fine point on it … my job is to bring people to hell, and hopefully back. There is a release form. [laughter]

As a coach, or as a nature-based underworld guide, we might ask ourselves this question: Am I trying to help people win at a game that’s killing the world? As a professional, or whatever I call myself, a coach or otherwise, am I trying to win at a game that’s killing the world?  Unbeknownst to ourselves, our personal and collective goals might often be the wrong goals, not what nature designed us for, individually or collectively.

So here are two divergent kinds of goals. One is to help myself or others adapt to and succeed in the fiction we call by various names, my favorite being “the Industrial Growth Society”  — helping others adapt to and succeed in the Industrial Growth Society that’s killing the world. Other phrases for the Industrial Growth Society are Empire, as in David Korten’s book, The Great Turning, from Empire to Earth Community, or Riane Eisler’s term, “the Dominator Society”, or a society that has pulled out its roots from nature and has become disconnected from the living systems of this world.

So, divergent goals: Am I trying to help people succeed as part of empire? Or am I helping people to become members or contributors — visionary contributors — to the cultivation of a life-enhancing society, also known as an Earth community or a partnership society? To do so is all about radical cultural transformation, a fundamental restructuring of cultural institutions and social roles But this transformation will come about not by figuring things out, even with the most brilliant progressive minds, not by using the strategic mind to figure it out — because I don’t believe we can — but rather by embodying or living the visions that we individually receive from the depths, from our own human nature. This is the soul initiation process.

I believe that the greatest problem on the planet today is arrested human development, that all of the crises we are experiencing — the economic crises, the environmental crises, the political crises, the wars, social injustice, and so on — are all rooted, from my perspective, in arrested human development, arrested human development as promoted by our Western and Westernized cultures. You might say, to make a long story short, that I believe that Western cultures were developed in order to make the world safe for greed and hoarding on the part of a small minority. Another way to say this is that the human soul — or true adulthood, or elder hood — is bad for business, at least the way we do business, the way we think of economy as opposed to, as Vandana says, management of the home, and our original home, of course — the “eco” in “economy” refers to ecology — is the more-than-human world.

The original, and only economy really, is the life of the planet. And human economy is a special case, which, in the Western world, has “progressed” to the point that it’s destroying the true economy, which is the environment called the Earth community.

Because I believe our fundamental problem is arrested human development, I feel it’s as important a dimension to address as anything: To help people become fully human. But this is why I say my work is more radical than Vandana’s, because cultural change of this sort takes generations, and we don’t have that much time to become a healthy-enough adolescent society in which we have ceased undermining the very environment that sustains us all and all the other species that are still left.

Vision must precede form. Soul discovery must precede choice of delivery system or vocation. “A task …” — this is a famous saying, no one knows for sure who said it; it’s been ascribed to a lot of people — “A task without a vision is just a job. A vision without a task is just a dream. A vision with a task can change the world.” And some say it’s the only think that can: a vision with a task.

As the American poet Theodore Roethke said, “What we need now are specialists of the impossible.” My fantasy for the coaching profession is that we all become people who help ourselves and help others become specialists of the impossible. Because the impossible is always defined culturally, and what we consider impossible is defined within our cultural context, and that context itself is the problem.