Karen Rempel is in love–it’s springtime in New York

Financial Distric Ferry TerminalYesterday was the first day of spring, and it snowed in New York. I went for a run as glorious flakes skirled and floated through the air, stage-lit by the lights along the Hudson River walk. It’s a nice hour-long run from my place in the village along the Hudson to the Financial District Ferry Terminal and back.

Tennis players on the Hudson River courtsI passed tennis players on my way to the ferry terminal, enjoying the gentle snowfall, and caught a glimpse of One World, nestled between the legs of two other high rises.

One World TowerNew Yorkers still call this the World Trade Center.

ESBOn the way back, I could see the Empire State Building in the distance, over 70 blocks away (the lit tower in the center of the photo). I love seeing these two landmarks as I go about the city. They are orientation touchstones, helping people find their way, much like a striking tree or cliff formation would have guided our ancestors.

Warhol in the Forest

Warhol in the Forest
An homage to Val & Garry’s forest art installation and to Mr. Warhol, with thanks to Marlena for the use of her limited edition Campbell’s Soup collection

This is a treasure map for Val and Garry, to help them find the 28 pieces of gold hidden in the Starshine Forest.

Beaming at Andy in the heavens
Stone cairn
3-wildlife cam with camo
Wildlife cam in camo
4-by ford
Hanging out in the creek [Hint: by ford]
5-scenic outlook
Scenic outlook
6-Inukshuk in headlights
Caught in the headlights
7-burnt fence
Burnt rustle fence
On the barbie
9-poo pipe
On the poo pipe!
10-boot geometry
Boot geometry
11-the end of the road
At the end of the road [Hint: go for the gravel]
12-corner post
Corner post
13-Killarney St
The sign is clear
14-3 in the corner
Three in the corner
Cattle chute
16-under the vol-cone-oh
Under the vol-cone-ah
17-wood stove
Cooking dinner
18-triangle rock
Triangle rock in the forest
19-between a cow and a cowboy
Between a cow and a cowboy
Tripod at the center of the universe
21-medicine wheel
Medicine wheel – eat your broccoli, it’s good for you
22-the person by the road
The person by the road
23-sitting by the dock of the bay
Sitting by the dock of the bay

24-rock hill hint-sw corner
Rock hill [Hint: SW corner]
Boulder hill with triangle rock [Hint: S of thinking post]

26-ideas raining down at the thinking post
Ideas raining down at the thinking post
27-at the end of the fence
The end of the [fence] line
28-sitting on a stump
Sitting on a stump

Are you ready to connect with your wild nature?

Wild natureOn June 21 I will be guiding another medicine walk excursion in North Vancouver. The medicine walk is a way to connect with nature, and especially the wildness and beauty of your own inner nature. I will be teaching the nature psychology of the four directions, and then people will have the chance for a 2-hour solo walk to find out for themselves how this ancient teaching can connect them with their inner guidance and the guidance that nature offers us.

Do you have a burning question about your life, your purpose, your soul? Are you seeking guidance, and ready to look within? If so, I invite you to join with a few other explorers on a day-trip to discovery. June 21 is the summer solstice, and the energy of the universe will be adding to the powerful energy of the beautiful spot in nature where we will be walking. See the Programs page for more information.


Seymour summer solsticeJune 21 was a gorgeous day on the west coast. My friend Marvin and I hiked 16 KM along the Seymour River. We didn’t follow the strict format of the medicine walk, but did spend some time in contemplation as we rested by the water. He taught me how to say “moss-covered stones” in Esperanto: musko kovrita stono. Sounds pretty Russian to me! The cool water flowing over the musko kovrita stono was serene and refreshing. The green of the forest was a soothing balm for my soul. Spending time in nature was a wonderful way to mark the turning of the seasons. It heralded a new way of being in the world for me—more at ease, taking time to enjoy the pleasure of my friends’ company and the beauty of the natural world. While I didn’t consciously bring a question as on a traditional medicine walk, the spontaneous unfolding of insight occurred nonetheless. Life can be gentle and flowing, like the river on the first day of summer. Perhaps that can be my default position, rather than the frozen stillness of winter or the turbulence of the spring run-off. We’ll see!

Turning toward winter

Snowy meeting room at Monkey ValleyThe wheel of the earth keeps turning. This is the wheel of the seasons, of the day, of a human lifetime, or of a year. Today I want to tell you about the turning of the wheel from the black of the west to the white of the north, from fall to winter, and how this ties in with my story of digging a hole.

As you may remember, the fall and west quadrant of the wheel is a time for introspection and turning inward; a time of self-discovery. This can be a time of quiet, stillness, and the power that comes from knowing oneself deeply. However, for those of us who have a tendency to get stuck in the west, self-doubt can be the dark side of the black of the west. For me, this manifests as questioning whether anyone would want to come to Monkey Valley for a vision fast. Questioning whether this world wants what I have to offer, values my gifts. Spiralling down into self-doubt can make me feel small and unwanted; reverberations from painful moments in childhood echoing forward through the years to the present.

Affirming that I do have valuable gifts to bring to my people is a way to move out of the self-doubt of the west and turn with the wheel as it swings around to the north and winter. The north is the place of service, of community, of gathering together to survive the perils of cold, limited food supply, and long dark days that don’t seem to have enough daylight hours for doing the chores (or going for a run!). In earlier times for the human race, especially in northern climates, it was absolutely essential that people band together for survival. But even today, we are completely interdependent, whether we are aware of it or not.

This is something I’ve come to Sign planted with snowrealize while living at Monkey Valley. At this point I can’t grow my own food there, never mind make my own clothes. It would take months of work for me to cut my firewood using traditional tools. So I can’t provide myself with even the bare minimum of food and warmth without the help of my people. Not that this is a bad thing! For one of the wonderful things about being a human animal is the good feelings that come from companionship, affection, sharing, community.

And work… Which is a strong aspect of the north. Winter is the time for teaching, for repairing equipment, for sharing stories around the fire, for mending clothes and making new ones. Serving our people and preparing for the warm growing time to come. Digging a hole and putting up the Starshine Way sign is this kind of work. It is trusting that the warmth will come again. It is having confidence in offering my gifts to my people. It is a pledge to be there and show the way, the best I can, and help others find their own way. May it be so!

This entry was first published January 28, 2009. I’ve made a few edits and moved it to the first page to help potential buyers know a bit of the history of the place.

Monkey Valley is a self-sufficient, off-grid home and 160 acres. It is probably the most unique solar-powered home for sale in BC right now. It is a very private property located in the wilderness near Aspen Grove, BC, between Merritt and Princeton. The closest lakes are Kentucky Lake, Alleyne Lake, Loon Lake, and Missezula Lake. In fact, if you follow Shrimpton Creek south from the property line, Missezula Lake is less than a mile away. This very private property offers a sustainable, green home and acreage that you can live in year-round, or use as a vacation or recreational property. It is also an ideal investment property, as the land only increases in value and it is extremely rare to find such a private, pristine property so close to Vancouver and Kelowna. Rural land for sale is common enough, but to find a quarter section of fully fenced ranch land with no neighbouring properties is very unusual. The fencing, 5,000-square-foot barn, year-round creek, and grassland make it an ideal horse property. This remote acreage also has timber that can be logged, and it is surrounded by crown timber land. The 3-bedroom house is one-of-a-kind, blending an old-fashioned log cabin with a modern addition that offers all the comforts of solar power, cell phone service, and internet. The home, barn, and outbuildings are clad in country-style board-and-batten of Princeton fir. If you’re looking for creek-front real estate, you’ll love this home that’s more peaceful than most waterfront properties. Sound carries over water, so if you share a lake with neighbours, it’s never fully peaceful and quiet. This ecoproperty is the only land for sale near the Kentucky-Alleyne Provincial Park, and it is fully accessible for RVs. This could be a holiday property for a group of families who enjoy RVing in the wilderness. This unique character property is located at the north end of the Cascades foothills, in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

Yoga & Nature: The Four Directions—2013

2013 Dates TBD – Vancouver

Yoga is…Seymour River

… union or communion. B.K.S. Iyengar

… a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly. Mahadev Desai

… a way of remembering our true nature, which is essentially joyful and peaceful. Donna Farhi

… an act of kindness toward oneself. Judith Hanson Lasater

Spend a summer morning in the North Shore mountains, just 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver and 10 minutes from the Commercial Drive area, exploring your yoga practice in nature. We will spend the morning in an idyllic sandy spot in nature.

You will learn the nature psychology of the four directions, an ancient-modern model of understanding the psyche of humans and nature. Each cardinal direction has its own colours, textures, seasons, stages of life, and qualities of true nature. We will explore the qualities embodied by the directions through yoga poses that connect these elemental energies with your own physicality. This is an opportunity to deepen into your connection to yourself and the natural world.

Enjoy the carefree feeling of being a child outdoors, the vivid colours of summer, and the beauty of our westcoast rainforest with a small group of people like you who are interested in exploring the depths of nature.

Location TBD, North Vancouver

Date & Time  Saturday, Date TBD, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm

Cost  $69

Carpooling  We will meet at 9:40 am at a location on Commercial Drive to carpool to the location.

To register  Click the Registration tab and complete the form.

Questions  Contact Karen at 604.251.6337 or email info [at] bcwildernessvisions [dot] com.

About the teacher

YogaBCKaren Rempel is a certified and registered yoga instructor, and spent a year as a volunteer teaching yoga to youth in prison. She’s also taught yoga to seniors in Merritt, and developed a Yoga for the Office program that she teaches in Vancouver. She is certified and registered through Yoga Alliance and YogaBC. She is also a trained wilderness guide.

Medicine Walk: Wisdom of the Four Directions—June 23, 2012

Green woods beckon on a medicine walkFinding Healing and Guidance in Nature

June 23, 2012 – Vancouver

“Journeys start from where we are. Everything starts from where we are. Where we are is where we’re supposed to be.” – Evelyn Eaton, The Shaman and the Medicine Wheel

This day-trip in the North Shore mountains, just 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver, and 10 minutes from the Commercial Drive area, will teach you tools and ceremonies for working in nature to access your own inner guidance and the guidance that nature can bring. This could be in the form of answers to questions, deepening connection with the greater mystery, healing, letting go, accepting, or gaining new strength. Whatever you need is available to you, and can be reflected to you through the mirror of nature. You will learn different ways of working with the four directions to access this guidance.

A small medicine wheel for sending healing prayersOur ceremony will begin with setting our intentions for the day and creating a sacred container for learning by creating an altar together. You will learn the four shields, an ancient model of understanding the psyche of humans and nature. Each shield corresponds to a cardinal direction, with its own colours, textures, seasons, stages of life, and qualities of true nature.

Then you’ll explore what you’ve learned on a solo medicine walk. After brief instruction, you will go on your own solo walk in nature, seeking guidance from our dear earth mother and her diverse creatures. Following in the footsteps of our ancestors from many cultures and traditions, this solo time includes fasting from food, human company, and human-built shelters. At the end of the day we will break our fast together with brown-bag lunches while we share our stories with each other around the circle.

See here for an account of last year’s inspirational medicine walk by the rushing Seymour River.

9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Saturday
We’ll meet at a location in the Commercial Drive area and carpool from there. Bring your lunch. Wear comfortable shoes for walking on hiking trails, as part of the day will be spent wandering through the woods by the Seymour River.

Cost: $50 (free for those who wish to participate if the fee is an obstacle)
To register, please fill in the online Registration Form. For payment information, see Fees.

Nature’s mirror and guidance on the medicine walk

Shelter from the stormOn Saturday, July 16, three hardy souls joined me for the four directions teaching and medicine walk at the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. The day was grey but our hearts were light as we joined together in the ancient ceremony of sitting in circle on the earth. Our basecamp was in a sand-floored clearing beside the Seymour River. The river’s water level was much higher than it was during last year’s event, due to all the rain Vancouver has been getting this year. I was worried that the entire clearing might be under water, but luckily, there was space for us to put up a tarp to seek shelter from the rain. The participants helped me to erect the tarp, and I must say we erected a very skookum shelter for ourselves! There was a slight mishap with a falling branch, but luckily no harm was done and it became part of our group story for the day.

There was a berry-filled bank of bushes containing the gold to ruby tones of salmon berries, and we stopped to sample these on our way to the basecamp site, and again on our way back up the trail at the end of the day. It is so wonderful to find literal as well as figurative nourishment from nature, freely offered! One of the gifts of the south and summertime is the lush fruits of the earth, there to pluck and to share with the other creatures.

Pathway into the depthsOnce our shelter was ready, we set up an altar with coloured stones for the four directions. Each person placed an object that was special to them on the altar, and we had a circle-round of sharing our current state in the moment and our intentions for the walk. I felt very moved by how strongly each person had felt called to come on this walk to explore something they cared deeply about. When I set the date and put out the offering for the day’s event, I offered the day quite lightly (partly because I never know if anyone will want to accept the offer), but it seems to send forth an energetic beam that draws people who are really into what I am offering. This is magical to me, and I am so grateful. As I have mentioned previously on this blog, the flow of events unfolding is an important indicator to me of how to offer my gifts into the world. If I offer something and there is no response, I conclude either it is not the right time, or it is not the right offering. This year three people came, and a few others almost came, so this tells me the flow is happening! And that bringing the nature teaching closer to Vancouver (rather than only offering events at Monkey Valley) was a good idea. I feel so psyched about the medicine walk day that I am inspired to offer a yoga and the four directions workshop in the same location in September!

After a teaching on the four directions, and some grounding in safety principles for their solo walk, the three participants set off on their three-hour meander through the woods. When they returned, all safe and not even too wet considering the heavy downpour that occurred during the first hour of their walk, I felt joyful to see their faces. We had a late lunch together, and each person told their story of what occurred during their walk. It was such a gift to hear how nature responded to their open-hearted intentions. Each person had a unique story, and it was fascinating how the details of their journey reflected their inner guidance and wisdom. The mirroring of nature is so beautiful! I am always amazed at how it seems that exactly what is needed is what occurs on the medicine walk, in the sacred space of the ancient ceremony. The perfection of the unfolding of the universe is revealed so clearly when the intention is to see.

Another view of anger

Red drum & altar for the four directionsReaders of this blog will recall that one of the themes I have explored through my work in nature and writing on this blog is the phenomenon of anger. New insights keep arising over time, and new information comes to light that I’d like to share with you. Last time I wrote about Gabor Maté’s book When the Body Says No. He explores the relationship between stress and illness, and documents research that links the suppression of negative emotions with the likelihood of relapse or death in cancer patients. There is a very strong link between repressing anger and disease, because repressing anger increases physiological stress on the organism. Not only that, but “the experience of anger has been shown to promote healing or, at least, to prolong survival”! (p. 269)

This is a new perspective on anger that I have not come across before. Yet the expression of rage leads to high blood pressure and heart disease. That doesn’t sound healthy either. What is a person to do? The resolution to the paradox is that both repression and rage are ways of avoiding the genuine experience of anger. According to Toronto doctor and psychotherapist Allen Kaplin, “Healthy anger… is an empowerment and a relaxation. The real experience of anger ‘is physiologic expereince without acting out. The experience is one of a surge of power going through the system, along with a mobilization to attack. There is, simultaneously, a complete disappearance of all anxiety. When healthy anger is starting to be experienced, you don’t see anything dramatic. What you do see is a decrease of all muscle tension.'” (pp 270-1) Astonishing!

When experiencing rage, people tighten up, breath shallowly, and tense their muscles. These are all signs of anxiety! Gabor explains that acting out through bursts of rage is a defence against the anxiety that invariable accompanies anger as a child:

Anger triggers anxiety because it coexists with positive feelings, with love and the desire for contact. But since anger leads to an attacking energy, it threatens attachment. Thus there is something basically anxiety-provoking about the anger experience, even without external, parental injunctions against anger expression… Naturally, the more parents discourage or forbid the experience of anger, the more anxiety-producing that experience will be for the child. In all cases where anger is completely repressed or where chronic repression alternates with explosive eruptions of rage, the early childhood history was one in which the parents were unable to accept the child’s natural anger. (pp 271-2)

Gabor goes on to describe the two forms of defence people tend to use against feeling the aggressive impules of anger. One defense is to act out by yelling, hitting, or swearing. This is a defense against keeping the anger inside where it can be deeply felt. The other defense is to repress the anger. Both of these methods, as we have seen, lead to illness. (Gabor documents this extensively in his book.)

Gabor concludes that anger does not require hostile acting out. It is a feeling to be experienced. Learning to do that can be difficult (because of the incredible anxiety that often co-exists with anger), and it is something a trained person such as a therapist can help us learn to do. In the times when I have successfully felt my anger as a physical experience, it is actually quite simply a feeling of heat and energy in my body. It is sometimes even beautiful—a sparkly strawberry-red substance that can even have a sweet taste!

The second thing about anger is that it contains valuable information. If instead of acting out I can consider what triggered the anger, I can learn what is really going on (or, often, what I think is going on but is actually just an old pattern being activated in my psyche). Do I feel threatened and powerless? Unloved? Not considered? Has someone trespassed on my boundaries? Whatever the case may be, the anger can give me the energy needed to effectively deal with the situation. This is much different than unconsciously acting out my rage!

As I have mentioned before, anger and the red essence are energies we can work with in the direction of the south in the four shields psychology. It is very valuable work, learning to protect our inner child through the skillful expression of anger. BC therapist Joann Peterson says “Anger is the energy Mother Nature gives us as little kids to stand forward on our own behalf and say I matter“! (p. 274)

Medicine walk and 5th anniversary of BC Wilderness Visions

Wildflowers at Monkey ValleyBC Wilderness Visions and the Monkey Valley Retreat Centre celebrates its 5th anniversary of nature programs this summer! The first program was a medicine wheel teaching in the summer of 2005, when 25 people came to Monkey Valley and created a beautiful medicine wheel. Teachers Joyce Lyke and Tracy Leach taught us how to walk the wheel, and people came from California, Wyoming, Ontario, Alberta, and from as far away as the UK to attend this special teaching. The wheel is still there, and last May I lined the spring-to-summer quarter of it with stones. This summer I plan to fill in the next quarter of the wheel.

July also marks the two-year anniversary of this blog! Two years ago my friend John Harper encouraged me to begin writing about ecopsychology and the work I do in nature. Since then I have shared many stories of the land at Monkey Valley, wilderness work, and my happy trails and trials running. Writing this blog has been an expression of my heart as I have shared stories with you of the things that I love. The creativity of writing whatever I feel like in a blog format has felt like a flow of fun and lightness of spirit (with an occasional dash of despair about my unruly ways). I sometimes wonder if anyone reads this blog, but I do hear from one or two readers from time to time! So please join me in celebrating this two-year anniversary, and drop me a note to let me know you’re out there!

This year I am offering a new program at Monkey Valley, together with Angela James—the ChiRunning and yoga retreat July 23 – 25. In addition, it will be the third summer in a row of putting a faster out on the land to fast for a vision, using the ancient and modern ceremony of the vision fast. And, on June 20, I brought the four-shields teaching and medicine walk to Vancouver in a new day-long format.

The glorious Seymour RiverTwo beautiful souls accompanied me to the forest beside the Seymour River in North Vancouver, where we created an altar in a clearing on the bank of the river. Using the form of speaking from the heart known as council practice, we did several rounds. The first round was in honour of our fathers and Father’s Day. It was very moving to express appreciation for the gifts our fathers have given us. The second round was in honour of the summer solstice. Then the participants spoke of their intention for their medicine walks.

Although it was a cloudy day, the land was lush and green, and bursting with salmon berries. Although the participants were to fast from food, shelter, and human companionship during their walks, I left it up to their own inner guidance whether to make like bears and enjoy the berries! While my two friends went on their three-hour walks, I sat beside the river, and drank in the silence and beauty. The water rushed by, green and playful. Sometimes the spumes of white foam curling over rocks looked like little skunks swimming upstream. Swallows swooped low, eating bugs in the air over the river, and one swallow circled, swooped, and darted around in a long loop about five times before seeking new bugscapes. A bald eagle flew upriver high overhead, and a pair of ducks sped downstream in a formation as tight as fighter pilots. What a gift it was to have this unhurried time to watch nature do her thing. As time went on the quieting of my mind deepened, and the trees across the river began to reveal their mysteries in a way that the ordinary waking mind cannot hear.

The richness of my solo time was enhanced by knowing my companions would be back soon, with stories to tell of what happened on their walks. They returned with gifts of stories and berries, and we ate a meal together in the circle before sharing the stories. It was very moving to hear how the land and her creatures had interacted with my friends on their walks. I felt a deep appreciation for this special place, and for the people who were willing to take time to be with themselves in a quiet, intimate way. After we closed the circle, packed our things, and said goodbye to the spot that had held our ceremony, we hiked out through the forest trails feeling a little lighter and closer to our hearts.

Your one wild and precious life

Tell me, what is it you plan to doWoolly mullein, a plant with healing properties, often grows on disturbed earth
with your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver, 1992

Do you ever wonder what you’re doing with your life, and whether it is truly fulfilling your deepest joy, your purpose here, right now, on this earth, in this lifetime? Do you ever feel like maybe you’re not quite in alignment with your deepest values? Do you seek to find the right balance for yourself between obligations to your self, your people, your work, and your place?

It is a precious gift to have the chance to live in a body on this beautiful earth. I’d like to tell you about two events that celebrate both the earth and our connection to it.

Radical Joy for Hard Times is celebrating our love for the earth through an event called the Global Earth Exchange, on June 19. This is a do-it-yourself kind of event, where you find a place near where you live that has been wounded, perhaps by human activities or perhaps by a natural disaster. Go there on June 19, with a few friends or alone, and create something of beauty in that place. It could be a song, drumming, bringing flowers, planting a tree, picking up trash, or anything else you might like to do to bring beauty to the area. That’s it. Pretty simple. Just letting your heart express its love for the earth by caring for a place that could use a little attention. If you’d like to be a part of the event in a more formal way, there are resources on the Global Earth Exchange web site.

If you are wondering how to connect with the earth and bring your gifts into the world, I invite you to join me on a medicine walk on June 20. I’d love to share with you this ceremonial way of walking on the earth and seeking guidance from the more-than-human world. I’ve reduced the fee to $30, but heck, if money is an issue for you, you can participate for free. Just use the form on the Registration page to sign up, and I’ll contact you with the details about where to meet on the morning of the 20th. Then we’ll carpool to the Seymour River (about a 15-minute drive) and spend a day together in the woods.

Both of these events occur on the weekend of the summer solstice. Connecting with the earth in a conscious way is a wonderful way to mark the turning of the seasons. If neither of these events appeal to you, perhaps you will find your own way to mark the passage from spring into summer.