Photo courtesy of Witty Sandle

Bill Plotkin is an eco-depth psychologist who has devoted most of his life to recovering a more whole understanding of self and psyche through deep reconnection to wildness and wilderness. The wilderness “out there” evokes a corresponding resonance with our own wildness “in here”, and thus can inspire and guide one into greater depth and authenticity, into visionary modes and into healing. One of Plotkin’s great insights and contributions is in how he has retrieved the psychological wisdom of traditional rites of passage that initiate one into a new way of being. (One of his numerous books is “The Journey of Soul Initiation”.) Having been a professor who then leaves the academy behind (based on a peak experience in nature, mountain climbing in the Adirondacks in 1979), he founds the Animas Valley Institute in 1980 which provides contemporary versions of rites of passage. In its own words from its website:

“Although our work evokes non-ordinary perception and ways of knowing, it is not shamanism, nor is it primarily rites of passage, wilderness-based psychotherapy, or emotional healing. Our immersions are not designed to transcend the ego, solve everyday personal problems, or help people better adjust to — or be happier in — the flatland of contemporary Western culture. Rather, our intent is a deep-structure shift that matures the ego and elicits each person’s most creative, soul-rooted response to our critical, liminal moment in the unfolding of the world’s story — on the threshold of a future shaped by those who can see beyond our own time.”

Through providing nature-based experiences and workshops in the wilderness, the Animas Valley Institute aims to help awaken a sense of self beyond the ego into one that is truly “eco”. On the basis of decades of this work, it has inspired the more recent organization the Seminary of the Wild, that uses the rich image of “seminary”, not in its more recent Christian institutional form, but in its originary sense of a “wild seedbed”, to offer a way to “rewild” the Christian church. In these words from the Seminary of the Wild website:

“A deeper exploration will reveal that beneath the cathedrals, churches and crumbling creeds, are the wild roots of visionary experience, embodied by mystics throughout the ages who lived a nature-based spiritual path. We seek a different paradigm from the domesticating and indoctrinating forces of Western society, to boldly remember and rediscover the wild enchantment of Earth, Self, Christ, and our Call. Seminary of the Wild brings out of the ‘storeroom’ of the perennial wisdom tradition ‘treasures new as well as old’, drawing on the wisdom of ancient streams of Christian mysticism and Celtic spirituality as well as contemporary pan-cultural practices integrated from the Animas Valley Institute.”

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