Date & Time Details: January 30 - February 4, 2024 - Start Time 3pm End Time 12pm

Location: Aravaipa Canyon Ranch, Tucson, Arizona

Contact: [email protected]

What To Bring: This program is priced for indoor lodging or camping. If camping, participants are responsible for bringing their own personal camping equipment, and for personal transportation to and from the program.

Meals : Participants also responsible for bringing their own lunches, and snacks. Breakfasts and dinners will be provided by our gourmet caterer.

Sliding Scale Price: $1,875 - $2,300

Sweet Darkness – January, 2024

January 30 - February 4, 2024

With Laura Gunion and Brian Stafford, MD, MPH

Sweet Darkness: The Initiatory Gifts of the Shadow, Projections, Subpersonalities, and the Sacred Wound, is Animas Valley Institute’s most intensive short program. Because of this, we require that people have participated in other Animas programs before applying to Sweet Darkness. In October 2022, we will be extending Sweet Darkness into a 6-day immersion. 

Before diving into Core Wound work, we will begin by gathering our facets of wholeness, our internal resources that allow us to travel into uncharted territory.  Unlike in many modalities, we will strive to get close to the ways we are vulnerable and the ways our sensitivity has been challenging. Through experiential practices, we will explore how a Core Wound may be re-mythologized into a Sacred Wound. If you are in a place where your wound story is particularly painful to visit and you are seeking greater comfort, then Sweet Darkness is not recommended at this time. 

The Shadow, of course, is the hidden side of our psyches, with both its  “positive” and “negative” aspects. The Shadow is NOT what we know about ourselves and don’t like (and perhaps keep hidden) but, rather, what is true about us but know absolutely nothing about. During this intensive, we also explore those sticky, difficult, and immensely rewarding dynamics that come up so often in life, like those overpowering emotional charges triggered by other people and by our encounters in the more-than-human world.

We will ask, for example: What do you do when you catch yourself projecting on others – maybe while you’re guiding, teaching, counseling … or trying to love? We’re going to work with these things, in part, by jumping into the cauldron with our own projections on each other (don’t worry – no one will be required to jump into the hot seat!).

Furthermore, we’re going to do some SHADOW WORK. How can you live a conscious existence these days without knowing we’re all regularly conjuring up all kinds of monsters from the deep? We go off in search of soul with the desire to contribute to the Great Turning as visionary agents of change, and before we know it, we have inadvertently opened the long black bag we drag behind us, and all these demons (and greatest powers that we don’t know how to wield) are climbing out. We know, however, that so much of our wholeness is hidden in that bag. In fact some of our greatest powers may lie within, hidden and mis-labeled as dangerous. We’ll work with strategies for spotting, unmasking, and assimilating these dark mysterious shapes.

We each have a whole host of protectors (“subpersonaltities”) doing their best to keep us safe and to maintain the persona we’ve worked so hard to create. This work can put them on alert. We will explore ways to assess if these protectors are truly needed or if we have the inner resources to explore both wound and shadow. This work will likely demand that we have to break some old promises and change the nature of our alliance with our subpersonalities. This can feel challenging and risky.

In short, we’re going to have to enter the initiatory realm of Sweet Darkness. This work can be both enlivening and challenging. If you are in a place in your life where you cannot welcome challenge, we recommend that you wait to participate in Sweet Darkness.  A great deal of liberation and deepening can occur during this intensive as we re-story some of our wounds and liabilities into capacities and powers.

REMINDER: This particular Sweet Darkness is offered as a 6-day program, rather than our typical 5-day offering.



Nestled at the foot of Brandenburg Mountain, Aravaipa Canyon Ranch invites you to a quiet getaway for reflection, healing and spiritual renewal. Miles of secluded, ever-changing terrain in the midst of natural, pristine beauty unfold to the accompaniment of the singing waters of Aravaipa Creek, one of Arizona’s all-year-round streams. For more information, go to





Laura Gunion
Laura believes that humans have tremendous potential, much of it hidden and unconscious. As a mentor, wilderness guide and naturalist, it is both her privilege and responsibility to support others as they encounter their true nature. She feels it’s essential that we grow, not only for ourselves, but also to create cultures that will benefit future generations. She insists on bringing the soulful and sacred into daily living. Her curiosity, acute listening, and precise questioning support people in living boldly and courageously. Laura has been a mentor at Wilderness Awareness School since 2002, and continues to love instructing at their…
Learn more about Laura Gunion
Brian Stafford, MD, MPH
Brian Stafford is a guide to the wilderness of nature, wildness, and soul. Called out of academic medicine to serve as a guide to the depths and to serve as an agent of cultural awakening and transformation, he guides with humor, playfulness, fierceness, compassion, discernment, and a deep remembering of the fullness of what each human life can, should, and was meant to be. A native of Colorado and the former holder of an endowed chair and professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, he is currently a guide, Board Member, and Training Director of the Wild Mind Training Program at Animas. He…
Learn more about Brian Stafford, MD, MPH