Last summer I turned seventy. In the months leading up to my birthday I didn’t feel like someone approaching seventy, whatever that’s supposed to feel like, and that number didn’t hold any mystical significance for me. I knew I’d be exactly the same person the day after my birthday as I’d been the day before. But something told me not to be quite so dismissive. If nothing else, turning seventy serves as a kind of portal. A man in his seventies can no longer pretend he’s young. Maybe I really ought to have been marking it somehow.
Earlier in the year, when I was still sixty-nine and holding, I felt led to embark on a soul-finding mission. Through the books of Bill Plotkin and the programs of his Animas Valley Institute, I was drawn to explore the rich terrain shared by my soul and what might be called the Soul of the Earth. Plotkin, a former Jungian analyst, maintains that we can only know our unique place in the Universe by learning our place in the natural world. He calls it our “eco-niche,” Nature knowing us better than we know ourselves.
That led me, a year ago, to participate in an Animas program called a Soulcraft Intensive. We camped in the woods of Kentucky and explored the skills required to open ourselves—through our bodies, our dreams, and our imaginations—to the natural world. While we didn’t attempt to replicate the practices of Indigenous cultures and their connection to the Earth, those practices and connections were certainly brought to mind.
We shared our dreams over breakfast. We went on Wild Wanders, paying attention to whatever caught our attention. We sat in Council, sharing the questions and revelations of our hearts. We drummed and we danced and allowed our bodies to lead us. When it was done, I knew only that I wanted more.
The ultimate Animas program is called a Vision Quest, an eleven-day excursion into a wild place that includes a three-day solo fast where one seeks a Soul Encounter with the Earth. I had read about it in Bill’s books and on the Animas web site and I'd thought, “What a great experience! Too bad I’ll never have it.” But, emboldened by my Soulcraft Intensive, I found myself thinking, “But why not? Why wouldn’t I do that?” And suddenly, I knew what I wanted to do for my seventieth birthday.
There were fourteen of us, plus three guides. We hiked in and set up a base camp high in the Uncompahgre Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. There on the mountainside we recalled and rehearsed the practices we’d learned in the Soulcraft Intensive. Then, as prepared as we would ever be, we split up and ventured out, one by one, to do our solo Quests.
Those three days, alone, fasting, camped out by a mountain meadow, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks and enfolded by a forest of glistening aspens, changed my life. I didn’t become someone else, but I was introduced to parts of myself I'd almost forgotten about. And I was offered a spontaneous ritual in a babbling brook to seal the deal, marking, for whatever years I have left on this earth, a renewed sense of purpose, something that continues to unfold, revealing itself only as I am able and willing to receive it.
I wasn’t the only one who experienced a Soul Encounter on our Quest. Everyone did, each in their own unique way. The Soul of the Earth seemed to exalt in the uniqueness of our callings. Vincenzo Falone camped near to me in our base camp. We were paired up for several of our group activities. We learned one another’s story. And then, without our planning it, we ended up sharing the same mountain meadow for our solos. We were close in age and felt drawn to one another, to share this experience as brothers, even if our experiences were very different.
So, who better to join me for a conversation in the Cave, recalling that transformative adventure? Who better to help me share with you the strange and wondrous territory of a Soul Encounter? And who better to mark the portal that led us both into the next chapter of our lives, one of us as an old guy now, in his seventies?
To listen to this first part of our conversation, click on the Play button below. To learn more about Vincenzo as a L.I.F.E. coach and as a leader in the ManKind project, and also about Bill Plotkin and the Animas Valley Institute, scroll the show notes that come up with the Information (“i”) button, also below.