Amidst the multiplying healing and medicinal opportunities in Western Canada stands a unique place: The Sentinel, located south of the small village of Kaslo, British Columbia. The Sentinel is situated on the banks of Kootenay Lake with expansive views of the magnificent local mountain ranges. Just a short drive away from our Nelson office, Retreat Guru headed up the North shore to get an inside glimpse at this magical center. Trust us, we were nothing short of amazed. We were greeted with open arms by Gillian Maxwell and Richard Kay, the founders and directors of The Sentinel and during our visit, many wise words were shared about the passion that created it.
What are we collectively capable of achieving and becoming when we explore beyond the boundaries of convention to access a mindful state of peace and compassion?
Gillian and Richard have been on a quest to find the answer to this intricate question.
Though plant medicine will not be a central part of what The Sentinel offers with their retreats and wellness programs, it can be included as a powerful part of an individual’s healing process in the context of community. Retreat-goers step into an environment that exists to realize the full potential of humanity and they experience cutting edge transformative practices in a variety of ways. They spend time with valued teachers — learning about writing, energy, conscious-movement, sound healing, and being trained in ways that will enhance their lives and the communities they bring this knowledge back to. These are all held in a sacred container that honors the wisdom of tradition and community.
It hasn’t been easy — and they’ve learned a lot along the way about how to honor sacred traditions, as well as how to handle local fear.
“People got angry,” says Gillian, referring to when they first started advocating for harm reduction in their downtown community in Vancouver twenty years ago. “Some of them threw eggs at our house, and I was accused of “…trying to ruin their community”. When of course, it was ‘our’ community! They thought our actions were reckless and would make the real estate values drop, which is hardly in our interest, as we owned two properties at the time! Times have changed, and fear of change is certainly present here, however, we will work with that as we did before by creating community and opportunities for communication and education. We are members of the Chamber of Commerce and actively work to maintain and promote Kaslo as the viable community it truly is.
For Gillian and Richard, they know that this work isn’t for everyone. So they set their intentions on doing what they do really, really well. Here’s Richard:
“Over the years, one of the big gaps is people participate in ceremonies, with no follow-up, and no integration. So, what we’re committed to is working with the leaders to include integration and coaching in their retreats. When possible we encourage regular post-ceremony peer to peer contact. The intention is to have the experience/insight that was had during the ceremony be understood as a potential game-changer for their lives. We encourage groups to meet, get phone calls going, to support what you learned becoming part of your life. We are working towards providing this service for intense experiences, like a ceremony, retreat or workshop. For many first-time participants, this can make the difference between feeling held and safe following a heart-opening process, or feeling thrust out into the world to just… figure it out.”
The Sentinel and their staff also place a high value on honoring the cultural history of the work. Though many retreat centers in Canada and the U.S. have resident shamans or curanderos who have studied to some degree in Amazonian apprenticeships, that’s not always the case. Gillian has a particularly strong desire to protect the space of ceremony:
“For instance, a very powerful Canadian shaman was born in the lower mainland of Vancouver, and works with Dr. Gabor Mate. He was drawn to go down to Peru and spent many years training with the Shipibos in the Amazon, and is no longer working with them as his teachers. He has so much integrity, it is his calling. He is an incredible shaman, and an incredible healer. In contrast, there are people who have done a few dietas and call themselves ‘shamans’ and have little idea of what they’re doing. They may have experienced the same lineage but they haven’t done their work. They are not trained to work with people and what they offer lacks integrity. As a community, we have to come to terms with how to responsibly manage the expansion of plant medicines in the west. That will take team-building, trust and developing best practices, along the lines of recommendations made by ICEERS (the International Centre for Ethnobotanical Education Research and Services).
I think what is different now to the ’60s is the gift of experiencing plant medicine through the traditions of the Amazon, that is the circle, the ceremony, and the respect of plants as teachers. It’s a relationship the requires humility in asking for help, being willing to listen to the knowledge and guidance, and of course gratitude for what you learn, what it has taken for it to reach you, and the compassion that is required to realize your full potential.
Richard: You do the diet, you connect, and you keep it alive.
Gillian: Yes, all of that, and if it has been lost, we have to restore it.
People are looking for community, they muse, wanting to discover the sacred in themselves. So at The Sentinel, you’ll find a community fiercely dedicated to creating — and protecting — just that.
Founded by a husband and wife duo, Gillian and Richard are developing The Sentinel with a beautiful vision in mind; to realize the full potential of humanity. You can visit The Sentinel’s Center Page to learn more and view upcoming events!