There is something about the American Southwest—long home to the Navajo (Diné) and the Utes and many others Native American tribes over the years—that stirs the soul, evoking our deep, mythopoetic imagination. It is to this spiritually charged corner of the world that author Bill Plotkin, founder of the Animas Valley Institute, invites people to travel on unique and powerful journeys of what he calls “nature-based soul initiation.” These are not weekend workshops or Outward Bound adventures. They’re more serious, more transformative, and ultimately more life-altering. Ultimately, their purpose, as he explains in his recent book The Journey of Soul Initiation, is more than an experience; it’s a long-term metamorphosis of identity.

Plotkin distinguishes his spiritual approach from what he calls “upper world” paths that emphasize transcendence and the discovery of universal truths. His path traverses the “underworld” of the individual soul uncovering its unique evolutionary “niche.” In his book, Plotkin suggests that it’s rare in our culture today for people to truly develop into the higher stages of adult maturity. Many get stuck in a type of adolescence or in-between state that has nothing to do with age. And those that do manage to make the journey often do so only by struggling through the territory on their own. There are few guides and fewer clear signposts to help us walk this very personal developmental path. Plotkin’s work seeks to change that—to provides guides and maps that can be of authentic help to people along on that sometimes lonely path of transformation.

Plotkin, who refers to himself as a “psychologist gone wild” is perhaps best described as an endearing mashup of Carl Jung, eco-theologian Thomas Berry, and a revered elder. I enjoyed our conversation about his own journey, his work, and the challenges of deep, sustained, and soul-level transformation.












More about Bill Plotkin

Bill Plotkin, Ph.D., is a depth psychologist, wilderness guide, and agent of cultural evolution. As founder of western Colorado’s Animas Valley Institute in 1981, he has guided thousands of seekers through nature-based initiatory passages, including a contemporary, Western adaptation of the pan-cultural vision fast. Previously, he has been a research psychologist (studying non-ordinary states of consciousness), professor of psychology, psychotherapist, rock musician, and whitewater river guide.

In 1979, on a solo winter ascent of an Adirondack peak, Bill experienced a call to adventure, leading him to abandon academia in search of his true calling. Bill is the author of Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (an experiential guidebook), Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World (a nature-based stage model of human development through the entire lifespan), Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche (an ecocentric map of the psyche — for healing, growing whole, and cultural transformation), and The Journey of Soul Initiation: A Field Guide for Visionaries, Evolutionaries, and Revolutionaries (an experiential guidebook for the descent to soul). He has a doctorate in psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Learn more about Bill and his work at the Animas Valley Institute.


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