On the first day of our program, a "Soulcraft Intensive," we were invited go for a wander in the woods and return with something that caught our attention. Don’t overthink it, we were told. It was fall in the Kentucky woods and walnuts were everywhere on the ground, their thick green husks splitting open and rotting. I found one that was close to pristine, I don’t know why, and pocketed it for our first ceremony.
We reconvened in a space that had been cleared in the middle of a field of hay stubble, like a crop circle. We dug a small hole at the centre. Then each of us was invited to place our found item in the hole. We could comment on it, or not. A broad leaf. A stone. Some photos someone had brought with them of people who they’d left behind. A discarded pop can.
I stepped forward with my walnut. I said it occurred to me that we were the same, that walnut and I, each of us at a stage in our lives when we had fallen from the tree that had nurtured us and were now preparing for a new phase of our lives, eventually returning to the earth, offering ourselves for the world’s regeneration. It sounded wise, but it was more clever than wise and, as I knelt to place it in the ground, I wished I’d said nothing at all.
The next five days saw a gradual shedding of the ego-driven habits and patterns that shape our ordinary everyday lives. We camped in tents, we met daily “in council,” we went on wild wanders into the surrounding woods and farmland, we drummed, we danced, and we sought to open ourselves to an encounter with Soul.
Bill Plotkin, the founder of the Animas Valley Institute, which was offering the program, whose work marries depth psychology with the call of the wild, defines Soul as our place in the natural world. Talk therapy can take us only so far, he says. Ultimately, we will only know our purpose by reconnecting to nature and allowing our souls to be touched afresh by the Soul of the Earth. It’s woo-woo stuff, to be sure. But as we destroy the very environment on which we depend, be-friending the Earth and opening ourselves to what it might have to tell us seems not so far out.
I had several soul encounters during those five days. One involved a forest pond, one involved the rising moon, and one emerged from a dream; and a surprising poem brought them all together. It felt to me like the Earth was engaging me with the Divine Feminine archetype, a primitive image that demands that we care for what we love. After twenty years of chasing the archetypal Masculine, learning what it means to be a good man in this violent and destructive age, this felt like a new point of departure for me, even as I struggled to comprehend it.
By the end of the week, I hardly had words for the doors of possibility opening within me. But something had shifted deep inside. Something was calling to me. In responding to that call I knew I was learning a greater sense of purpose for my life, even if it will take the rest of my life to see that manifest itself in action.
On our last day, we gathered again in the crop circle to retrieve what we had “planted” that first day. Predictably, the husk of my walnut had split apart and it was rotting, just like all the others. I too had been split open. There was surely a death claiming me at the level of soul, even as there was new life awaiting me on the other side. Such a simple ritual. Such a deep and abiding truth. Even as my head toils to comprehend the experience, to classify it and articulate its significance, my heart has already embraced it, as is.
I’m pleased to be sharing with you, on this week’s episode of The Mystic Cave, the story of my Soulcraft Intensive down in Kentucky this past October. And I’m especially pleased that my friend, fellow podcaster Liz Wiltzen of “Tracking Yes,” has offered her assistance to help me tell that story. Liz is a veteran of Animas programs and knows the terrain well. She also has a beguiling way of getting people to talk (... as if I needed any help!). My thanks to her!
Press the Play button below to hear our conversation.