Friday, October 27, 2017
The Death Lodge, Part II (reproduced from Animas Valley Institute www.animas.org)
This is the second part of a four-part Musing (one per week)
Friday, October 20, 2017
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
– T. S. Eliot 
Most people enact a vision fast with an intention, or at least a need, to grieve significant losses. The death lodge is an essential preparatory practice.
A man in his mid-twenties came to grieve his father’s death that occurred when the young man was eighteen. Thomas, who himself became a father at seventeen, had many questions about what it meant to be a man. He grieved his father’s premature death, his uncertainties about his own fatherhood, and his sense of being deprived of the cultural rituals that might have helped him become a man earlier and more completely. Like everyone, his time in the death lodge included sorrow for what might have been.
Many people embark on a vision fast or on the descent to soul, more generally, in part to say good-bye to an identity they have outgrown, in a sense to attend their own funeral. Some write a eulogy for themselves, a farewell to the old story. Although the new story stirs inside them, they know the old one must first be laid to rest.
Anita, a professional and mother in her forties, came to formally mark her empty nest as her youngest entered college. She wanted to honor the end of twenty-one years of soul work, the labor of love of raising two fine young men. And then there were the two failed marriages, an alcoholic father, and a mother who died when Anita was four. In the death lodge, she also said good-bye to her way of being a psychotherapist; she knew a more creative and artistic path awaited her.
In the two years before his first vision fast, Steve, a young psychiatrist, lost his mother and brother, his career fell apart, and he at long last severed his abusive relationship with alcohol. He came to formally end his decade or more of what he called “being dead,” staggering through a lonely life of despair. In his death lodge, he finally experienced his rage at his dad for the years of brutal criticism and ridicule — and all the grief waiting in line just behind the rage.
Tom, a Harvard M.B.A. in his forties, made millions as a successful (and ruthless) corporate mercenary. He found himself with a trophy home and boat, a second ruined marriage, no idea who he really was, and his only son suicidal at the end of high school. Stunned to find himself bereft of the American dream, he came to his vision fast recognizing he and his son were facing the same crisis of meaning, one at the threshold of emancipation, the other at midlife, but both with the opportunity for true freedom. Tom, who was beginning to discover the fine human being beneath his former corporate persona, had much to surrender in his death lodge — buckets of tears and everything he once thought life was about.
* * *
In the death lodge, you loosen your grip on your former identity and world. You cut the cords, then gingerly step along the narrow ledge above the abyss, your back to the crag. At last, you turn and extend your arms against the half-truths of the old life, your fingers lightly pushing away.
To relinquish your former identity is to sacrifice the story you had been living, the one that defined you, empowered you socially — and limited you. This sacrifice captures the essence of “leaving home.”
Once you have in earnest entered the journey of soul initiation, you begin to live as if in a fugue state. Imagine: after developing an adequate and functional identity, you now have become as if amnesic, dissociated from your prior life. But, unlike the victim of amnesia, your goal is not to discover who you used to be, but rather who you really are.
Your time in the death lodge grants freedom. Untied from the past, you dwell more fully in the present, more able to savor the gifts of the world. You find yourself projecting less and seeing the world more clearly and passionately. You experience a deepened gratitude for the richness of life, for the many opportunities that await you.
Part 1 Finding Heart in the Dark (reproduced from Animas Valley Institute www.animas.org)
This is the first part of a two-part Musing (one per week).
Friday, September 22, 2017
During my first few years of backcountry wandering, I carried a large hunting knife, at least seven inches long. I never showed it to anyone, but at night it lived with me inside my sleeping bag. I was panicked by what I imagined might come out of the night to eat me. Every night, upon first getting into my bag, I would repeatedly practice unzipping it as fast as humanly possible, grabbing my knife, and unsheathing it — all in one motion. Just in case. I didn’t sleep well.
Gradually, through years of wilderness immersion, I learned to befriend the dark and to uncover (sometimes) the personal demons I projected onto the outer shadows. Now I can say there is no place that feels more like home than my sleeping bag beneath a roof of stars. And I haven’t seen that knife for years.
Michael, a fellow psychologist and wilderness guide, has also wrestled with his fear of the wild dark — on the first night of his first vision fast, for example.
It was past midnight, moonless black, when I prepared my altar. Questions and anxieties began to fill my mind. What if I got really sick? No emergency room up here. What if I became hypothermic or dehydrated, or got stomach cramps? Then I imagined grizzlies, mountain lions, and bobcats. I began working myself into a full-blown panic.
I heard a rustling of leaves in the woods, not ten yards away. My heart jumped. I tried to make out an image. Ever so slowly, the noise moved through the darkness toward me. It must be an animal of some kind. Friend or foe? A grizzly or some psychotic killer hiding out in the backcountry? I froze. A dark shape approached, seeming to show no fear. I sensed a gentleness, an openness. I closed my eyes and tried opening my heart. The sound made its way through the dark. I opened my eyes. Something passed in front of me and mysteriously continued into the woods. A doe! Her beauty and grace deeply touched me. My eyes welled with tears. Such gentleness in the midst of my fears!
On the last day, I began to have anxieties about how to incorporate what I had experienced; how to stay true to myself and not let demands of my home and work life overtake me. I prayed to see the doe a second time. I knelt down, kissed the grass, gave thanks to the earth, trees, air, and the Creator for providing safe passage. I looked up — and there she was. My body shook with elation. I wept.
I knew then that, come what may, life would flow on, as fierce and gentle as the river and the wind. My task was to let go and let myself be carried, each day closer to home.
For me, the key element in Michael’s story is this: in the midst of his fear, he closed his eyes, voluntarily going deeper into the dark, and opened his heart.
To read past Musings click here.
Adapted from Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (New World Library, 2003).
With much pleasure, we welcome you to our new website and our 2018 Soulcraft Australia programs. We will once again be joined by two American guides, Brian Stafford and Rebecca Wildbear, for a rich and varied range of programs. Robert Boyle, co-producer of Soulcraft Australia and a senior apprentice with the Soulcraft Apprenticeship and Initiation Program (SAIP), will also be joining the guide team.
Following on from from our successful 2017 program, (see 2017 Programs and Testimonials), we now present a series of new courses. As with our inaugural courses, our 2018 offerings have not previously been run on home shores. Before 2017, for those wishing to experience the work of the Animas Valley Institute, the only option was to travel overseas.
First up, in early Autumn 2018 we offer the Wild Mind Intensive, a 5 day experiential exploration of our human psyches as unique expressions of the universal forces and patterns of nature. This will be followed by the Blue Mountains Animas Quest, a contemporary Western embodiment of the ancient, pan-cultural vision fast – a dynamic wilderness rite for men and women seeking greater depth and clarity about life purpose and meaning. The third program, Courting the Muse offers an opportunity to participate in the conversation between Mystery and Manifestation, Ego and Soul, and Self and World.
We are currently working on further programs to be presented in Spring 2018. Stay tuned for updates.
Please visit Upcoming Programs for more information and Register and Pay if you would like to register for any of these courses. You can register and pay online using Paypal or direct deposit.
Places are limited so please let us know whether you are interested in any of these wonderful nature immersion experiences. A thirty percent non refundable deposit will reserve your place. A ten percent Early bird discount applies until November 1, 2017.
Any questions, do not hesitate to contact us,
Carin Eisen and Robert Boyle
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.
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,
Animas Valley Institute