The Journey of Soul Initiation
This is the twelfth part of a fourteen part Musing (one per week)
(reproduced from the Animas Valley Institute www.animas.org)
Friday, January 26, 2018
Although the descent to soul has largely been forgotten in mainstream Western culture, 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.
But the encounter with soul is not a weekend workshop, a handful of imagery journeys, several entheogenic experiences, an occasional piece of dreamwork, or a vision fast. It is not something that can be achieved by simply using certain techniques or practices. It is a hazardous odyssey unfolding over many months or years. The risks to the Wanderer’s sanity are great. It’s a time of worry and distress for her family, too, and can be at least a temporary loss for her community. To reach the depths of soul generally requires extreme consciousness-shifting measures, practices, ceremonies, and/or circumstances.
The techniques and methods for the descent to soul are numerous but mostly unknown or forgotten in the contemporary mainstream West. I explore many of them in my books.
Whatever set of methods you use, they are your means to precipitate, quicken, and navigate the journey of soul initiation. It’s entirely possible — and most always preferable — to undergo the journey in a contemporary manner that doesn’t adopt or appropriate methods from another culture. Furthermore, no particular belief or faith in the journey itself is required, only a willingness to embark. Since 1980, the guides of Animas Valley Institute have woven together and cultivated a contemporary, Western, nature-based approach to the journey — a set of practices, ceremonies, principles, maps, and models.
One of the most essential things we’ve learned is that in order to encounter your soul, you need something more than a method. As noted earlier, what must come first is the attainment of a stage of personal development that makes possible such an encounter. Until then, you can use any practices or rituals you’d like, but they will not result in soul encounter. The stage in question is absent from virtually all contemporary developmental models (including the models offered as comprehensive or integral) and is rarely attained in the Western world precisely because of its danger to contemporary society. This is the stage I have called the Cocoon, the stage in which we most fully embody the archetype of the Wanderer who constantly crosses borders into the mysteries of nature and psyche and who hones the tools and skills of what I call soulcraft. Reaching that stage requires the wholing of the ego, self-healing, and attending to the most incomplete developmental tasks of childhood and early adolescence. I explore a great variety of practices for this preparatory work in Wild Mind and also in Nature and the Human Soul.
Harvesting the fruit of the journey of soul initiation and feeding the world with its bounty plays out over the rest of your life. When you first receive a vision, you won’t know what it means or what to do with it. It takes months or years of living it into the world before you truly understand it. The vision is “only” the seed for a conversation you can begin with the world. That conversation itself is what enables you, eventually, to consciously understand your soul’s place in the world and how best to embody it. Furthermore, as you embody your soul’s place, you’re actually modifying and co-evolving your ecological niche. You are changing the world, not just yourself. You are co-imagining, co-creating, and co-evolving hand-in-hand with the land, the waters, the Earth community. This is how human and Gaian evolution unfolds.
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