PEACE IN THE VALLEY
BY RICHARD BLAQUIERE
Is it possible to have a dream you are largely unaware of; a dream that nestles quietly in your subconscious and is awoken by an external trigger when you least expect it; a dream that sends low frequency signals of its existence that stir but don’t arouse and thus remain unexplored and unengaged until the day everything changes?
Lori Ellis McKinney may believe in coincidence, but she also possesses a strong belief that there are signs that may emanate from places unknown both in the internal and external universe and she is attuned to those signs.
To ignore them is perhaps to ignore one’s destiny, to respond is to open doors and enter rooms that house the elements and energies of that dream.
Then it is up to the dreamer to start building. That, in large part, is how the River Valley Wellness Centre came into existence.
McKinney had a dream. That much she did know. The constituent elements of that dream had yet to crystallize but she was patient, knowing there would come a time when things would fall into place for her. She merely had to be ready and open for the signs.
McKinney’s doors of perception were opened nearly five years ago while taking her kids into school on her way from Benton into Woodstock on the River Road, a drive she had made hundreds of time.
She was passing Valerie and Dan Barker’s multiple dwelling homestead and acreage with a For Sale sign prominently featured next to the roadside. Near the Barker’s was a large elm tree over 100 years old.
“I would see the tree and know that it stood longer than a human, through all the elements, and was stripped bare each fall to be reborn in the spring. If the tree could then so could I,” reflected McKinney. “I would ask for its strength to come into me and on I would go, giving thanks for the comfort.”
Low frequency signals!
The symbolism of the tree and the image of that home, that site, stayed with her and she returned shortly for a second look. Watched over by that elm tree, McKinney stepped out of the car and onto the pavement. “I felt a peace more profound than I had ever experienced prior in my life,” she recalled.
She could almost feel the tumblers that kept the dream locked in her subconscious clicking into place releasing the dream from the fog of the unconscious to the light of day.
The link from the terrain of the subconscious dream to the conscious vision was now created.
The train had left the station and McKinney wasn’t getting off until it arrived at the destination, even if she wasn’t yet sure what the destination was or what she’d do when she got there, wherever “there” was.
The Barker’s had built a lovely second building that served as a dance studio. As well, there was a well-maintained swimming pool and 85 acres of land that stretches from the River Road to the Trans-Canada Highway.
As a single mom with two school-aged children, clearly finding the money would be a factor. McKinney recognized that something bigger than her was happening and she wasn’t about to let something as base as money interfere with the pursuit of her dream.
She made the calls and put into motion the steps that would, five years later, see the seeds bear fruit as a fully functional, multi-service centre for spiritual wellness and renewal.
Her interior voice said “keep going you will be provided for”. She did and she is.
The cost of the site, a compound really, at first staggered her but she kept moving forward. She met with Valerie Barker and they hit it off. Barker recognized the passion driving McKinney and adjusted the price enough to allow her the leverage to make it happen. It happened.
Over the past five years, over 5,000 visits have been made to the centre by as many 500 different people looking for everything from a means to ease the stresses of life in the 21st century to grief counselling and spiritual healing.
The overarching philosophical link that connects the various services at the centre is that of the “integration of mind, body and spirit.”
A holistic approach to healthy living and treatment based on naturopathic approaches to proactive and responsive care drives the agenda at the centre.
McKinney emphasizes the “universality of the service” she and her colleagues provide.
“ There is something for everyone, regardless of age, gender, orientation, socio-economic class, race and ethnicity,” she said.
As well, many of the services fees are covered by clients’ insurance providers or Employee Assistance Programs. Fees are relatively low for those without insurance because those without coverage are “most often those with the least resources and support systems, financial and social.”
A brief glance at what is being offered currently provides the broad view of what goes on at the centre. “When people find themselves in difficult transitions in life be it illness, death, divorce or trauma, there is often a need for a therapeutic comprehensive systematic approach to helping people move through these processes,” McKinney explained.
Grief counselling is offered at the centre. A few years ago when Simonne Power’s husband passed away and, after 40 years in Nackawic, she moved to Woodstock to be closer to her daughter.
Despite the love and support from family and friends, she needed something extra. She needed to journey inwards to tap into the reserve of strength she knew was there. For that journey she would need a guide. She turned to McKinney.
“She was a turning point in my journey through grief,” explains Power. “She walked with me down that path and is now my meditation coach every Thursday.”
Power cannot say enough good things about McKinney and the centre.
“Her dreams for the centre are very noble … she wants to help people heal, she wants to be present to others and help people recognize that life is worth living … that joy is there for us to reach toward … that it can be found first in ourselves …t hen we can in return pass it on.”
Along with grief counseling, McKinney is able to call on other professionals affiliated with the centre on an “as needed” basis to offer assistance such areas as marital discord, addiction, depression, mental illness, youth issues, post-traumatic stress disorder.
One need not be in crisis to access services at the River Valley Wellness Centre. Other services offered including many variations of yoga, meditation, life counselling and a variety of Eastern holistic practices known to play a significant role in the emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of the individual.
The interior of the building itself is designed to affect the balance so integral to much of what is promoted by McKinney and her community of healers working out of the centre.
“Everything has meaning,” she says. “The doors were designed to minimize distraction. The chairs are low to the floor for centeredness. The rooms are designed and organized to maximize focus in silence.”
McKinney has a number of resource people who provide services from the centre. Prominent among them is Christine Bradley, a social worker and Palliative Care Practitioner.
“Caring for someone who is dying involves another level of needed care. End of life is a time heightened with uncertainty, intense emotions and physical demands for care.”
Bradley can offer guidance beyond what is provided by religious figures whose focus is often on the “after” and not the “now.”
McKinney develops strong and lasting relationships with people and some of these people, like Bradley, have been friends for many years.
Erica Hull, a social worker and all-round centre utility person once babysat McKinney’s children. McKinney supervised Hull’s social work practicum. Hull’s desire is to excel in therapeutic yoga; the centre is her way of fulfilling that destiny.
Also associated with the centre is Ben Kilfoil, a long time adult education instructor who provides Life Skills coaching at the centre.
“Working with a life schools coach can provide an opportunity for individuals to discover ways to develop their inner resources and strengths,” explains Kilfoil
There really is something for everyone at the River Valley Wellness Centre.
In February, 2011, McKinney opened a new business she calls the Oak Valley Retreat Institute.
Activity at the centre has grown since she opened the Institute adding Ben Kilfoil, naturopathic practitioner Dr. Marie Nowlan and Melissa Howard, a yoga instructor trained around the world including in India, the epicenter of the practice.
As the programs and functions available from the centre expanded so did the centre itself. McKinney added a kitchen and a studio as well since the institute is set up to provide space for retreats, workshops and additional services in new areas of holistic practice.
As well the centre is now a full-service facility to allow for rental to corporations, small businesses and even private functions for such activities as team building and confidential meetings away from main business site.
The centre is set up to conduct stress-management workshops for employees as well as being a place for weddings and family reunions.
McKinney offers a unique service at the centre, one rarely available in communities the size of Woodstock. For many people, the centre has been a lifesaver, figuratively and literally.
McKinney is proud of that.
This poem was written by Simonne Power as a testimonial to the comfort brought to her by McKinney and the centre after the loss of her husband.
A tree among many… (a woman among many)
Rooted deep down in your Holy Ground Arms stretched toward your Light I stand
Limbs weighed down by time, Fingers reaching for your warmth I stand
Life touched me with force Pain reached deep down within I still stand
Your sun and gentle rain Revives in me a new strength I still stand
New life at my Centre Urges me To Stand And dance…
Simonne February 2010