The Importance of Being Lost 

Editorial Musings



Our culture proclaims to us that we never need to be lost while simultaneously revealing how profoundly we have lost connection to soul and the natural world. GPS devices show us routes, cell phones track our every movement, computers display the world in minute detail, and yet most of us find ourselves increasingly disconnected from an intuitive map of our gifts, our longings, and our true place in the world. I hold the question of whether there is a link between being lost and finding the soul gifts which are desperately needed by the world.

Most rites of passage begin by getting lost. This may be as simple as leaving home and going into an unfamiliar wilderness. The way in which our psyche defines being lost depends on our particularity; for some it may be the separation from familiar urban places, for others it may be lack of communication with friends or family, and for others, still, it may be the loss of routine. Much of the subsequent journey involves letting our ego become more and more lost until we discover ourselves in the presence of our soul.

When we are lost it is not that no path opens to us but that the paths are seem innumerable.  This threatens our egos far more than having too few options. In fact, most of us unconsciously construct our lives in ways that limit the number of paths we can choose. Our soul, however, revels in a multitude of choices; it knows the precise course to navigate and can, metaphorically, feel the path beneath its feet in total darkness.

How, though, do we offer ourselves up to being lost? How do we continue to do so, over and over again, even when there is difficulty, pain, or suffering? In each stage of life we must become lost in our own unique and necessary way, a journey that culminates in the passage into death, the place for which no maps or guidebooks exist. As we gain experiences of being lost, recurrences do not necessarily become easier but certainly become more familiar, and in this way we learn to hone in on it's siren voice.

Having spent a lifetime wandering in wild places I am familiar with not knowing precisely where I am, so for me being lost has other forms. Always it seems to linger nearby, waiting to guide me into deeper places. A couple months ago a dear friend and mentor was suddenly killed, hit by a car while riding his bicycle to work. The loss of this man who had performed my marriage ceremony - built the chuppah from bamboo he had grown, poured the dawn sweatlodge, joyously led a challah dance - left me more lost than I could have imagined. At his burial I found that, despite a foggy mind, I could still act from intuition, and so, after nearly all had left, picked up a shovel and began filling his grave, knowing that it was not right for this man who had loved everyone to have his grave filled by someone who did not love him. A few others joined in, and so, dressed in our suits and ties and slippery shoes, we shoveled dirt. Shortly thereafter I found myself agreeing to help lead a vision quest that this man's death had left missing a guide. By becoming lost in my grief I intuitively offered my soul gifts to the world. I stepped into a part of me that I had not previously articulated; I accepted that one of my gifts is to gratefully, lovingly, do the hardest things because they are right. This muscle still gets sore, but I am exercising it, appreciating it, and still shedding tears. And so I turn toward those who, in this issue of Westwords, have bravely shared their poems, stories, and images of being lost as an invitation, as a reminder of how they have said "yes" to being lost while we, perhaps, only allowed ourselves to dance on the rim of that sweet, dark, and mysterious abyss. 
~ Peter Fonken ~   
Submissions for Westwords


Is your soul calling to lend its voice to this conversation? Your contributions keep Westwords a vital thread that connects the Animas virtual community. Offerings in the form of unique, soul-inspired stories, poetry, photos, visual art, music, articles, or other expressions are welcomed.

All are encouraged to bring forth their unique soul offerings as we create a feast that inspires, sustains, and informs this community's participation in the Great Turning.
Send inquiries and submissions to the Westwords editor, Peter Fonken at: Please include a brief bio including your involvement with the Animas community.


Submissions for the Summer 2014 issue must be received by June 1, 2014 to be included. Submissions received after that date may be included in subsequent issues. 
Upcoming Animas Programs  
February - November 2014, Yearlong Soulcraft Immersion in the Southwest with Peter Scanlan and Mary Marsden

March 7-18, Animas Quest in Arizona with Doug Van Houten
and Rebecca Wildbear

March 9-14, Romancing the World at Esalen in California with
Geneen Marie Haugen and Bill Plotkin

March 11-15, Soulcentric Dreamwork in Colorado with Jeffrey Allen
and Mary Marsden

April 2-6, Sweet Darkness in Colorado with Sheila Belanger and Bill Plotkin

April 13-18, Soulcentric Dreamwork Training in Arizona with Jeffrey Allen and Bill Plotkin

May 2-13, Animas Quest in Colorado with Gene Dilworth
and Rebecca Wildbear


Find us on Facebook 

Follow us on Twitter 


The 2014 calendar, full program descriptions, and much more are available on the Animas website.

Lost Coast 
~ Sam Martin ~

There's something about the ocean, something about those waves, something about standing on the bluffs and watching the waves beat against sand and rock, again, and again, and again.


I always think of the ocean as it is in northern California: deep, unknowable, powerful, relentlessly beating dark rocks into gray pebbles and dark sand. When I'm in front of it, I can feel myself being eroded, each wave rushing into my heart and trying to tug it back out to sea. I can feel myself being beaten back like the trees whose branches have been molded backward by the wind, like the cloaks of hunched journeymen, beaten by wave after wave until I can hardly stand the immensity of being. I felt this many times while I was alone in the Lost Coast one November. I longed to be released from my longing.


Often, I have felt as if a wave could pound the center of my chest and break it in two like one of those rocks being pounded day after day. Then, the heaviness and tension gripping my chest would be released, and I would be open, spacious, and free. Sometimes I have pictured golden light breaking out of my chest. Chest. Which reminds me of what Rumi said about treasure: "Wherever there is a ruin, there is hope for treasure -- why do you not seek the treasure of God in the wasted heart?"


And yet, or maybe also, that ocean is where I feel at home. It has felt like home to me for as long as I can remember. Hearing the waves, seeing them, smelling them, and feeling their breeze (when it's not too strong) is one of the most soothing things I can imagine. The ocean's unknowable darkness and extent is reassuring. The tug of the waves on my heart is like love. When they are gentle, it's like rocking a cradle. When they are wind-whipped and forceful, they invigorate me. In and out, in and out, as if the world were breathing, has always been breathing, and always will breathe.


Since when is an ocean not just an ocean? Why can't I just be at home where I am? Two Septembers ago I set out from my house in a peeling-paint car without much of a plan for the next three months. My only aim was "north." I wanted to wander through the Pacific Northwest, maybe driving gradually up to Washington and back. At the time of this solo journey, I was very much desiring the experience of a "sacred other" that would give me a revelation about how to live my life in a meaningful way. I started developing, as I traveled, a sense of looking for an ideal place of wilderness in whose presence I would become whole and know it when I was there.


The idea of the Lost Coast deepened this longing for my "perfect place." I had heard about it from a friend, and fairly soon I decided to make it the culmination of my trip when I returned south. The Lost Coast is one of the biggest stretches of wild coastline in the Lower 48. There is no highway along this part of the coast because, being at a junction between three tectonic plates, its terrain is too tumultuous and earthquake-bound to build one. The King's Range mountains slope steeply right down to the sea. Thank goodness there are still some places that are untamable. The Bureau of Land Management manages the 25-mile stretch of uninhabited coastline with a hiking trail along its length. How amazing is that: uninhabited, unpaved coastline. As far as I know, that's essentially unheard of in the United States outside of Alaska. So I imagined that there, on the Lost Coast, I would find the place where I would at last be free, free of the asphalt ugliness of civilization that marred all the other coastlines, free to be alone and in unobstructed communion with my true love, the ocean. Furthermore, I imagined that it would be just like Sea Ranch, the lovely cypress-strewn meadows of my childhood vacations further south along the coast, except without roads or houses. In other words, I was going to visit the most ideal wilderness landscape I could imagine. I was looking for a "magical other" to make me whole, as so many people do in their romantic aspirations, except that my "magical other" was to be a wild landscape. Not just any wild landscape -- the Grand Canyon wouldn't do -- but an ocean coastline with my favorite trees, topography, and other elements. I was going to feel, finally, perfectly at home in the wilderness.


The Lost Coast was not "Sea Ranch without roads." The forested ridges of the winding drive kept the shore out of sight until I was upon it. No gentle cypress meadows here. Instead, steep pine-covered slopes abutted the narrow, tide-soaked strip of black sand and fist-sized rocks. Between these austere mountains and the tall, dark waves, there wasn't much room for a human to camp. The rain gusted for days and nights, the wind was wet and cold. It was not a place to settle. I sat on my bear canister under a makeshift shelter. I read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, wrote in my journal, and ate my meals. I huddled, watching the loud, relentless waves.


The Lost Coast was its own place. Beautiful, unquestionably one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, but not the "home" I had imagined. Were all my feelings about some landscapes being more "home" than others anything more than vain pining for a "magical other?" Is it foolish to search for wholeness outside of myself? Is anywhere "home?"


Not the "home" I had imagined, but maybe something else. The ocean was very much an "other," a dark and cold and unknowable other whose unrelenting rhythm still seems to erode me. I long so much to be at home in the world, for it to break me open and release me like grains of sand so the space of the world can fill me! Once I was in the Lost Coast, those steep slopes kept me right on the edge between land and water, right next to those waves. Every day I was beaten by the unknown, but, in some strange way, I didn't have to worry about what anything would be, because it was the way it was.


I wanted the Lost Coast to be home. I wanted it to be the place where I could stop looking for my place, a fitting end to my journey. I wanted to settle, to be settled. I wanted to get there and say, "Ah. Whew. It's all gonna be okay. I'm on the right track now. I can rest now. This land will take care of me now." That didn't happen. And yet, or maybe also, I find myself wanting to go back. Once you're there, once you're living on its shore with only five pounds of tent between you and everything else, the Lost Coast isn't going to be something that it's not. And I think that's important. I think I needed a place like that.

~ ~ 
Sam Martin is currently an undergraduate majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Energy Studies at Yale University. He hopes to apply his education to the growth of a more sustainable and abundant culture. A native of California's Bay Area and a lifelong poet, he grew up watching the waves and reading everything he could about the workings of the natural world. He came upon Bill Plotkin's work at the end of high school and was lucky enough to attend the Wildness and Shadowed Wonder program in 2012. Sam loves permaculture, hiking, biking, playing music, and spending time with his friends. 

Future Ancestor 

~ Erica Jones ~


After 14 days




down in the kiva

among the grunting old ones

stone ones

knowing ones

seeing straight through me

as only the past can

contemplate the future

through its begotten gaze turned inward.


O Ancestors, Ancestors!

Thank you for your blind fumbling forward

your intimations, gestures, hints and guesses

leaps of faith, courage and cowardice

ALL that you have offered to this cosmic dance

is birthing this present moment


Your inventions and failures to invent

your willingness to be invented

by the times

which soothed you, tormented you, defied you-

ALL that you have participated in

in this cosmic dance is birthing this present moment


Standing on every precipice, I was there, invisible,

holding your hand and shouting words of encouragement

Hoping you could hear my cries from the future

-my desire to be born-

somehow entangled in your karma, your actions

your motives or your complete lack of conscious intention

ALL that you have loved and ALL that you have hated

in this cosmic dance is birthing this present moment


O Ancestors, Ancestors!

I feel your love streaming through the centuries

through all eternity

rushing in to birth me

animating my pen in hand, tongue in mouth

13.9 billion improbable years in the making

and all of it impossibly funneling through tiny, tiny vessels of communication

weaving a web of connection

when I remember to remember you-

ALL of you-

in my story of to-day

My story of this here-now

interdependent with the recollection

of a thousand tears wept of joy, of grief

of longing and of madness

All falling like two tons of rain upon my heart


All that you have ever loved

is loving you back

in this cosmic dance

because we are birthing this present moment



~Ro Babcock~ 




Ro worked for Animas Valley Institute from 2003 - 2006 as the office manager, bookkeeper, and loving packer of food for vision quest participants and guides. She feels like she was guided to AVI by the Universe. It was there, after participating in AVI programs, that she discovered her soul's purpose and reluctantly left the Institute to pursue that purpose. In 2009, she took the leap and began making unique and inspirational greeting cards, selling them at a local bookshop and on her online web shop:  She dabbles in poetry, pairing her haiku with her nature photography. Her work has appeared in two online poetry publications, A Hundred Gourds and Haigaonline. 
Lost Enough
 ~ Kai Siedenberg ~

I was never really that lost...


not the 'holy shit, I'm never going to get out of here' lost;


not the 'someday they'll find my bleached bones lying here in the woods' lost;


...but lost enough.


Lost enough to think, 'what was I thinking?'


Lost enough to wonder how long it would take me to find my way back.


Lost enough to notice that I was pushing forward somewhat blindly -- trying to get somewhere, anywhere -- rather than carefully choosing a route.


Lost enough to detect a subtle undercurrent of panic.


I was in a forest of alder and willow, wending my way through a complex maze of animal tracks and dry streambeds, trying to find a way through to the ocean but running into one impenetrable thicket after another -- mostly blackberry, stinging nettle, and poison oak, all plants that say, 'proceed with caution.'


And although I was actually never very far from the trail, I felt lost.


Lost enough to notice how accustomed I am to knowing where I am -- or at least thinking I know.


Lost enough to feel my heart leap with joy when I heard human voices nearby.


Lost enough to experience a flood of relief when I finally felt the packed dirt of the trail under my feet again -- for once, happy to find myself on the well-worn track, on the path more traveled.



Kai Siedenburg is a nature connection guide and writer based in Santa Cruz, CA. She works at the fertile intersection of nature connection, mindfulness, and wellness, inviting people into a deeper and more intimate relationship with the natural world. She leads nature-based sessions for groups and individuals, writes about Human-Earth relations, and is exploring potential avenues for sharing her work on a larger scale. Her work is infused with love for people and the Earth, is co-created with the natural world, and is aligned with and informed by the work of AVI. She participated in the Soulcraft Intensive in July 2013, during which she spent many memorable hours atop a very steep and very scenic rock outcropping. She can be found at

The Dark Tunnel
~ Brian Stafford ~

Now, sons, what I am about to tell you has been repeated for generations along this watershed. And I've heard slight variations to the surface events and characters of the story the dozen or more times various beings have narrated their hearing of these events. I must tell you, however, that the deeper structure of this tale, and the fact that most of the hard-to-believe parts of this fish-story have been recounted in near-identical fashion to myself, has helped me a great deal. It has helped me to digest, helped me to believe in the miraculous events I am about to speak.

As you'll recall, we left the wounded one by the river bank. He was resting on the side-bottom of the pool just above the spillway that leads down to the the energy station just below Ram's Horn tunnel and above Mary's Lake. He had come a long way up Sandy Creek, into the slow but dangerous Silver River, past the fisherman and fishing birds in Carter Lake, through three tunnels, two canals, and one turbine. He was nearly out of energy, his fat stores depleted, his dorsal and pectoral fins slashed, and his tail slapped so severely by the blades of the turbine that it was swollen and barbs of pain dug deep through his flesh whenever he attempted to move it. He had not fed for several days. He wondered if he was alive. He wondered if he was dying, if his spirit was already calling to black bear, eagle, and osprey. He was alone. He moved between awake and asleep. Yes, fish sleep and have dreams, even big dreams like you will have one day, but that comes later in this story. When he was awake he thought he was dreaming; when he was asleep he dreamed he was waking up. In a moment of lucidity he turned and focused his eyes toward the surface. I later heard that, in spite of his condition, he swore that he had seen the most beautiful fish of the waters swimming above him.

She circled several times then turned her slender, rose-moled body and swam slowly toward him. As she approached, he felt an energy begin to whirr through his beaten body. The waters suddenly seemed suffused with light. Her tail touched his. All his senses danced. Where he was most wounded he now felt most wild. Her mouth slowly opened and he heard the sweetest water music ever. "Remember who you are. Keep going." He was just beginning to deeply feel the ecstasy of their touch, just beginning to allow the words to come home to a deeper place when he realized she was heading up-river. The shock of her sudden departure, the arousal of his being, and the instant grief at the brevity of it all churned into a longing few fish or other creatures have ever known. Even though his tail had been slapped, he began to vigorously slap his tail from side to side. The waters were fast and frigid. His plan to make this journey in early summer was well-calculated. Had he left later, the waters may have been to shallow; had he left earlier, ice may have blocked the way. And had he left at any other time, she may not have been here.

As he swam, he felt the power of the creek. He was not surprised by the force of the water deluging down the creek. This place, where it was neither slow nor warm, triggered a sense of adventure. From where others had swum, he now swam toward. He sped on up the stream. You've seen how fast a fish can dart for cover. He swam this way for many minutes, up the creek, past small falls, and under logs until he reached a portal, a curious circular place where the waters moved from some hidden place to this creek. He noticed an unnatural fence covered the door and was affixed around the circumference. The waters here had a strange smell, as if no life had played in these waters for awhile. No creatures, living, dying, or dead, flowed in the water when it emerged from the dark hole. No beings were on the surface, in the flow, or on the bottom. There was an unnatural marking above the opening. As you know, fish have no understanding of our writing, nor any need for it. All of the tales they know are shared by dance and, usually, triggered by the landmarks around them. It is only man who has an alphabet and a need to tell stories that are, unfortunately, absolutely disengaged from the natural landscape around them, so, when his little head poked above the waters and he saw the sign "ADAMS TUNNEL" it meant nothing to him. Since it was not a mimetic of something that occurred in his world, it made him even more cautious, slightly more wary. He needed courage. He thought of her rose-moles, her iridescent scales. Her voice sang in his body. He began to swim, slowly but assuredly, into the dark current.


 Brian Stafford wanders the deserts of the southwest, the peaks and meadows of the Rocky Mountains, and the jungles and estuaries of Costa Rica. A former academic psychiatrist and pediatrician, he is completing his training with Animas Valley Institute and guides pilgrims in Central America as the Eco-Psyche-Artist. His current medicine name is Tender Kokanee, the land-locked fish that remembers that the journey to the depths of the sea is the way of wisdom, for himself, and for his people. This selection is from an eco-mythic novel of  "re-membering."

Photo Credits
Carol Harmon 
3 Large Images Interspersed Above
Carol's intention is to add a little beauty and hope to the world. She thinks of herself as collaborating with nature in this regard: she writes, photographs, creates collage, and does music/image/word collaborations. She was born, raised, and lived for many years in Banff, a village within Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. This experience of living at the very edge of and surrounded by wilderness informs her soul work and view of the world. She has explored this resonance with for several years with Animas guides Sheila Belanger and Anne Hayden and most recently during Animas' Writing the Wild Soul program. More of her work can be found on her website at