Wild Mind and the Underworld of Soul

Animas Valley Institute offers a rich assortment of journeys into the mysteries of nature and psyche, with over 40 contemporary practices and ceremonies that assist people of Western cultures in their quests for more meaningful, fulfilling, and culturally engaged lives aligned with nature, soul, and the Great Turning.

There are two streams within Animas Valley Institute, one flowing above ground through the sunlit mountains and fertile fields of our daily lives, the other coursing underground through dark vaults and the hidden passageways of soul. We call these the Wild Mind stream and the Underworld stream, respectively.

Both streams run through wilderness realms far from the centers of mainstream commerce, news and entertainment, education, and religion. The waters of both streams are precious elixirs for those longing to embody and express their full magnificence and human possibility. When you surrender to the current of either stream, you’re swept into unforeseen domains and toward unpredictable encounters. Returning unchanged is not possible.

When you travel to Animas Valley — the Valley of Souls — it’s best to know which stream calls you most strongly. All our offerings draw from the waters of both streams, but some focus more intensively on the Wild Mind practices, and others turn more fiercely toward the currents of the Underworld of Soul.

Those who are best prepared for the Underworld stream have, first, a good foundation in the Wild Mind practices, which not only prepare us for the depths but also support the underworld journey itself — as well as the return from the depths.

The Wild Mind Stream

The Wild Mind stream assists you to cultivate all four facets of your innate human wholeness, especially those most neglected. All facets must be awakened and embodied in order to do anything in life to full capacity. Cultivating your wholeness, however, can be hazardous. Your consciousness shifts. You appear changed to yourself and others. And you are.

What we call the West facet enables you to perceive features of the world hidden to the everyday civilized mind, what is in the mythic depths or experienced as magic or romance — and to reimagine yourself and your world accordingly. Your South facet embodies your fully aroused feelings, your relationality with all people and all natural things, and your wild sensuality and erotic vitality. Your East facet allows you to show up unconditionally and without attachment to outcome, and to see the big picture — and to lighten up. Your North facet empowers you to lead, teach, heal, and nurture others, and to contribute to cultural transformation in this time of global change. All four facets, individually and together, enable you to heal yourself and stride more assuredly into the treasured and dangerous opportunities of your life. (See Wild Mind, the book, for a full description of the four facets of wholeness.)

The Underworld Stream

The Underworld stream, on the other hand, carries you through fruitful darkness to the brink of your current life plateau and then hurls you over the falls, dismantling the story you’ve been living as you plummet toward the alluring but dangerous mysteries of your mythopoetic identity*, your one true place — not in human culture but in the greater Earth community. Animas originated and continues to evolve a contemporary Western, nature-based approach to this journey of soul initiation — to our knowledge, the first of its kind. This journey is not a healing or wholing process, nor a therapeutic one. It’s a death-rebirth enterprise, an initiatory descent to the transformative fires of your depths where you might, if fortunate, unearth the metaphor or poem you were born as, the image or mythic story you are meant to live — or, if you have previously been seared by these fires, you might discover additional and deeper layers of that image or story. The goal here is not stress-reduction or happiness — or even the deep exploration and healing of our middleworld life histories — but to be remade into a more effective, soul-rooted contributor to cultural transformation. This is not the Animas stream to enter if you’re satisfied with your current life goals or the story you’re living, even if you might want to reshape it or improve it. The Underworld journey will turn upside down most everything you believe and covet about your life as you hold it now.

Mythologies from around the world tell of seekers whose arduous journeys into the underworld mysteries reveal boons to be brought back to the people. But the myths don’t tell us how contemporary people might make this journey. Even Joseph Campbell didn’t tell us. Since 1980, Animas has been evolving an earthly bundle of intertwined practices and ceremonies whose primary intention is the life-changing, world-changing threshold crossing to a soul-initiated life.

How do you know if it’s right for you to dive into the Underworld stream? It’s more likely to be a good choice when you feel healed enough in all the ordinary ways of emotional healing; when your biggest questions are no longer about social standing or relationships or job or career, but rather about the mystery that pulses softly at the very core of your life and about your soul’s greatest desires, an appreciation of which you suspect will radically shift your understanding of what your life is about.

The two Animas streams have much in common. Both assist you in becoming fully human, more authentic, and more alive. Both help you fashion a life of greater meaning, purpose, and inspiration. Both deepen your experience of the world as a communion of subjects, as the geologian Thomas Berry put it, in which everything is alive, breathing, animate, aware, ensouled. Neither Animas stream offers rites of passage, shamanic services, psychotherapy, ecotherapy, or addictions recovery.

At any given moment in your life, either Animas stream might be the one to enter. There’s not a required sequence. And yet, the Underworld stream can be perilous and bewildering if you’re not fully prepared psychospiritually. Before entering it, you’d want to be confident you have access to all four facets of your innate wholeness.

All Animas immersions provide guidance through the rapids of both streams as well as guidance in moving from one stream to the other. Some immersions, however, have the Underworld as their primary focus. These require an application. On our website program descriptions, you’ll find them identified with the words An Underworld-Focused Immersion — Application Required.

(There’s actually a third Animas stream: our training programs for those who are called to guide others down either of the other two streams. Our training programs also require applications.)

*“Mythopoetic identity” as a way to refer to soul is a term originated by Bill Plotkin and Geneen Marie Haugen in 2009.