Bill Plotkin: The Mythopoetic Dreams of a Psychologist Gone Wild

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There is something about the American Southwest—long home to the Navajo (Diné) and the Utes and many other Native American tribes over the years—that stirs the soul, evoking our deep, mythopoetic imagination. It is to this spiritually charged corner of the world that author Bill Plotkin, founder of the Animas Valley Institute, invites people to travel on unique and powerful journeys of what he calls “nature-based soul initiation.” These are not weekend workshops or Outward Bound adventures. They’re more serious, more transformative, and ultimately more life-altering. Ultimately, their purpose, as he explains in his recent book The Journey of Soul Initiation, is more than an experience; it’s a long-term metamorphosis of identity.

Plotkin distinguishes his spiritual approach from what he calls “upper world” paths that emphasize transcendence and the discovery of universal truths. His path traverses the “underworld” of the individual soul uncovering its unique evolutionary “niche.” In his book, Plotkin suggests that it’s rare in our culture today for people to truly develop into the higher stages of adult maturity. Many get stuck in a type of adolescence or in-between state that has nothing to do with age. And those that do manage to make the journey often do so only by struggling through the territory on their own. There are few guides and fewer clear signposts to help us walk this very personal developmental path. Plotkin’s work seeks to change that—to provides guides and maps that can be of authentic help to people along on that sometimes lonely path of transformation.

Plotkin, who refers to himself as a “psychologist gone wild” is perhaps best described as an endearing mashup of Carl Jung, eco-theologian Thomas Berry, and a revered elder. I enjoyed our conversation about his own journey, his work, and the challenges of deep, sustained, and soul-level transformation.

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