Animas Valley Institute

A pioneering organization in the heart of southwest Colorado, dedicated to facilitating deep, transformative connection with nature and the self.

The Animas Valley Institute (AVI), nestled in the evocatively named valley of the Río de las Animas Perdidas (River of Lost Souls) in southwest Colorado, was founded by Bill Plotkin in 1980. This organization stands out as one of North America’s longest-standing entities dedicated to offering contemporary wilderness rites, emphasizing a unique blend of nature-based programs aimed at nurturing the life of the soul.

Central to the ethos of the AVI is the belief in the transformative power of nature and the psyche to uncover the unique, mysterious identity hidden within each individual. This journey of soul initiation is marked by a series of guided immersions into the wilderness, designed not merely as rites of passage but as profound engagements with the deeper aspects of the self. Unlike other wilderness organizations that may focus on survival skills, therapy, or emotional healing, the AVI’s programs are crafted around the goal of soul encounter, aiming for a foundational shift in participants that elicits their deepest, world-transforming gifts.

Bill Plotkin, a wilderness guide and depth psychologist, infused the AVI with a mission that extends beyond personal transformation to encompass cultural regeneration. The institute’s programs draw from a rich palette of practices, including Soulcraft™ intensives, vision fasts, and training programs for aspiring nature-based soul guides. This holistic approach seeks to mature the ego, making it a vessel for a person’s most authentic gifts and contributing to a critical consciousness shift from ego-centric to eco-centric values.

The AVI organizes its teachings around two main streams: the Wild Mind Stream and the Underworld Stream. The former focuses on cultivating all facets of innate human wholeness, especially those most neglected, while the latter guides participants through the “fruitful darkness” to their mythopoetic identity, encouraging a plunge into the mysteries of their true place not just within human culture but within the Earth community at large.

Moreover, the AVI’s influence extends beyond its base in Colorado. It has inspired similar soul-centric developmental programs globally, fostering a network of individuals and groups dedicated to ecological awareness, psychological maturity, and visionary leadership. This spread of influence underscores the AVI’s role not just as a retreat or educational institution but as a vibrant hub of cultural transformation.

At its core, the Animas Valley Institute is more than just an organization; it is a movement towards reconnecting with the elemental forces of nature and the soul, offering paths to personal revelation and visionary leadership for a society in desperate need of reimagining its relationship with the world​​​​​​​​​​.

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