HEALING VISION — LIVING THE DREAM
BY RICHARD BLAQUIERE
Lori Ellis-McKinney had a dream and you can see that dream made real at the River Valley Wellness Centre in Lower Woodstock. In this week’s first of two installments of Lori’s Story, we introduce you to Ellis-McKinney and provide the broad strokes of her life to this date. In the second installment the reader will learn about the services available at the centre, one which operates on the principle that it is through the healthy integration of mind, body and spirit that we become whole.
Lori Ellis-McKinney’s earliest memories are of her Bristol home in flames while she, a four year old, waited barefoot outside in the snow for her brother and mother to emerge safely from the house.
Her other brother, Greg, stood next to her, eyes also glued to the house that would be home no more. She remembers “surrendering to the sound of the house taking on air to allow it to burn larger and brighter in the dark of the sky.” She remembers the flames, and the smell of smoke that clung to her clothes for days. Emerge safely her mom and brother did, but this event, exactly four decades later, remains one of the defining moments of her life.
The fire no longer haunts her. She has worked that through but the feelings of terror and helplessness she would have experienced at that moment were not ones she wanted repeated. After a few false starts and as many setbacks, Lori Ellis-McKinney is no longer afraid of the twists and turns life has to offer because she is ready.
Through hard work, determination and a belief in herself she made herself ready.
Recognizing her role as a nurturing mentor, Ellis-McKinney has single-handedly constructed her life in such a fashion as to provide for her own needs while also meeting the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of others, including her brother and her two children, Jeffrey, an engineering student at Dalhousie University, and Hanna a middle school student in Woodstock.
Ellis-McKinney is a survivor who sees her role as tossing out life preservers and healthy snacks to people floating in a sea of emotional and spiritual flotsam and jetsam; and who isn’t?
Before the Dream
Lori Ellis-McKinney was born in Bristol, a little over four decades ago. When she was not yet five years old her dad was struck down by an automobile in front of the Florenceville Co-Op, a fatal accident witnessed by her mother and other family members and friends. Her widowed mother, with few resources, was left to raise three children, ages 5 and under.
Young Lori always felt a little apart from her classmates, a little more introspective maybe, a little less prepared to fall into lock-step with her peers.
“In high school I wore a rabbit fur coat and white cowboy boots each day,” Ellis-McKinney recalls.
This at a time when others her age were becoming interested in brand names like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.
A bright student in school and a star figure skater to boot, she was not always comfortable in deferring to authority if authority was exercised for its own purpose and not for the greater good.
Clearly the path she followed would be the path she chose for herself and not one downloaded onto her by a society fixed on materialism and knee-jerk spiritualism. Lori was always a seeker of truths
Even as a child, Ellis-McKinney said she sensed her life would be spent in the service of others. She speaks in inclusive, nurturing terms about her dreams, her goals and her purpose in life.
She believes she “was born with a knowing that is unique, maybe a way of seeing and experiencing the world that is outside the norm.” A seventh sense?
The tragic loss of her father and the destruction of her home by fire might have affected someone so young in ways that lead to prison and rehab centres, but the inner Lori was somehow able to sort it out with love of family, sheer force of will and her belief in a higher power.
Although there were struggles and challenges along the way, Lori’s essence was and remains about reflection, rebirth and rebuilding. Add reaching out to that list and the ultimate result is the River Valley Wellness Centre in Lower Woodstock.
When Ellis-McKinney was 15, the family moved to Ontario where she finished her public schooling and began post-secondary studies. She completed four years at the University of Windsor then at the age of 22 she returned to her roots in Carleton County. She subsequently (1996) received a Bachelor of Social Work from Saint Thomas University in Fredericton and spent the next 12 years working at various social-work related positions both inside and outside of government.
Although she believes her time working within the mainstream of social work was beneficial, allowing her to develop her own vision for healing, it ultimately “became a place of constraint and dissonance as I aged, healed and learned more about humanity and the basic fundamental needs of a human being for peace, love, connectedness and acceptance.”
Her dream was taking shape.
Along the way she experienced a failed marriage and the sudden return of a damaged sibling lost from the family for 15 years. She maintains a good relationship with her daughter’s paternal grandmother and, although Ellis-McKinney is open to just about every aspect of her life, she is hesitant to discuss the marriage.
As with the fire and the loss of her father, the divorce and her brother’s return became building blocks as she pieces together the elements of a life assisting others to clean out their emotional closets while, at the same time, becoming the whole person she knows she was meant to be.
Ellis-McKinney believes fervently in the interconnectedness of all life. She works on the premise that the world can become a better place one person at a time.
“Notions of the personal are political and the political is personal,” she said. “Individuals form communities, communities become nations and nations become the world. We are all interconnected.”
Ellis-McKinney has always felt an affinity for and connection to a higher power, a universal life force. When asked, she was hesitant to apply a label to the higher power, a belief system related to the Chi of Taoism and the Dharma of the Buddhists, but clearly she believes there are forces largely beyond human comprehension that make themselves observable and accessible to humans through the sophisticated workings of nature and in the human heart. Questioned why she believes this she explains that she has experienced and continues to experience “a deep and powerful connection to a force that feels like universal love.”
She believes that this “universal force” is understood in different ways across the planet and down through the millennia.
“It is above language, cultural conditioning, judgments and beliefs,” she says.
When asked who and what her spiritual influences might be she answers that she “ followed the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Thich Nat Hahn, Pema Chodrom, The Bible, The Tao, Mindfulness and Native Spirituality.”
Ellis-McKinney recognizes that her ability to help others is dependent on her understanding, albeit limited, of what that force is and can do.
What she is certain of, however, is that the force calls us to be whole and to do good works. Whether you label it prayer or meditation, connecting to that force provides her with the physical and psychic energy to do what she knows needs to be done if she is to make a difference in the lives of individuals and indeed in the larger world.
“I give myself over to this force each morning to do the best I am able to do to become an instrument of vision, love, and healing in the world.”
— Next week we visit the River Valley Wellness Centre and explore how Lori Ellis-McKinney’s dream is unfolding.