Pandora’s Box and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in 2017

As I open the Pandora’s box of playbills, ticket stubs, and other memorabilia from 2017, I feel a strange anxiety. What emotions and memories will overtake me as I remember the year that was? Will I regret missed opportunities, or feel embarrassed at some of my shenanigans?

The dull olive-green box made of woven reeds is also reminiscent of Moses’s basket, bobbing in the river water as the babe escapes murder and meets his fate as the leader of a people. I think this will be my main regret of 2017. I wanted something truly momentous to happen–to be discovered, to have a clear sense of vision and direction, to begin a fantastic creative project that will bring me joy and satisfaction. The dreams of many who come to New York, I’m sure!

What actually happened was that I spent the year looking for a home. I also went out and did a lot of fun things with friends, as you will see below. And I spent more time and money than one would have thought possible seeking treatment for a neck injury.

This latter pursuit brought me to all corners of Manhattan as I tried one specialist after another, which involved taking different subway lines and meeting medical staff in various offices, from Chelsea to SoHo to Park Avenue, and many points in between. I tried hypnosis, acupuncture, acupressure, physical therapy (multiple practitioners), massage therapy (multiple practitioners), the Alexander Technique, osteopathy, chiropractic (multiple practitioners, including old-school, Quantum Spinal Mechanics, and fascial manipulation), cranial sacral therapy, and atlas orthoganal therapy! I spent close to $17,000 out of pocket, thus facing one of my worst fears about moving from Canada to the US, which is that I will be bankrupted by health costs.

Artwork Trump quote from Roger Waters concert

And of course, there was a national and global anxiety underlying my personal anxiety that I might never be well. People around the world and in the US were facing much more terrible problems and fears than me as I struggled with the unease that comes with having something wrong in the body–which many of you can relate to, sadly. So I had my personal challenges of health difficulties and fear of the unknown, but there was also a pervasive social anxiety about the fate of the country. What many view as the wildly inappropriate behavior of the current president shattered people’s views of a safe and just society of shared values of acceptance, tolerance, and concern for each other. Countless times over the year my friends expressed concern that the social safety net built up over the past decades will be torn apart irreparably. And also that environmental damage will be irreversible, so that the very planet we live on is doomed. So a pall of gloom and fear underlay the year of 2017 in New York City.

Artwork Trump quote from Roger Waters concert

Dozens of people asked me why I moved here, at this point in history. In fact, it was the first thing everyone asked me when I said I had just moved here from Canada. The second thing they said was, “Everyone wants to move in the other direction!” Even at my co-op board interview to buy the apartment that has become my delightful new home, this was the first question they asked me! My answer was unfailingly the same: because I am in love with New York.

I have followed this love blindly, unknowingly. I trust in the pull of my heart, and the feeling of rightness in my body, which I experience whenever I am out and about on the city streets, marveling that I actually live here, but my rational mind is still lagging behind. What am I doing here? I don’t know! And I suppose this is true in the bigger scheme as well–what am I doing here on this planet? Why do I exist? What am I meant to do in this lifetime? This question has been nagging at me throughout my adulthood. There is a grand panoply of life and color unfolding, and I am part of it. But that isn’t enough of an answer to satisfy me.

Looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s clear that the move to New York and the neck injury set me back to earlier stages of the pyramid that had been nicely settled in Vancouver. I knew at the outset when I decided to move to New York that I would be disrupting the nice secure world I had built for myself, but it seemed like a waste of my life to just settle there on my sandhill and watch the world go by!

1 – Physiological Needs

The first layer of the pyramid is physiological needs, and the search for shelter is truly what preoccupied me this year. I made an offer on three other apartments before finding the Mark Twain building and succeeding at my offer here. I made offers on apartments on W. 9th Street (snatched out from under me), W. 10th Street (too expensive), and Horatio St. (turned down by the co-op board), before ending up in my dream apartment on W. 12th Street! I learned a lot of fascinating information about New York real estate, and feel I emerged from the battle victorious.

2 – Safety Needs

The second layer, safety needs, also dominated as I sought to recover my health. The quest for healing the neck injury, as outlined above, occupied much time and money. Luckily, I have almost regained homeostasis, and my most recent atlas orthogonal adjustment held until the next day. The pain is gone, and I have discovered so much about my body, and particularly the physiology of the neck and atlas, that I can see the gift in the challenges I faced. Now I have a great support network of health specialists I can call on, and I have learned to do self acupressure as well–the final piece of the puzzle for self-care. Recommendation: Acupressure’s Potent Points.

3 – Social Belonging

Social belonging is the third level of the hierarchy. I have probably spent a disproportionate amount of my time in social pursuits this past year, and perhaps the motivation has been the unconscious need to build bonds of friendship–more than a true desire to go out and see so many plays, movies, ballets, and musical performances. OK, maybe it was a two-fer!

I do recall the pivotal moment during the Race to Deliver in November, when I felt a simple sense of belonging as a member of the New York Road Runners. Not because I am special in any way or wearing a David Bowie costume, but simply because I’ve shown up and participated and run with these people over and over again. I also spent a lot of time writing emails to a wide network of friends and family, as you have probably noticed! It is definitely a conscious need that I check in with when I assess the state of the nation of Karen Rempel. Am I current with everyone? Have I caught up on all the emails? Did I forget someone’s birthday? Sorry to say, I did forget a few this past year, but I hope people will forgive me.

I was happy to spend time in BC with my mom and siblings in April and May (celebrating Kim’s 50th birthday in Tofino–wow!), and caught up with many friends in Vancouver at that time as well, right before the official move to New York on May 21. The Vancouver goodbye party launched me into my new life feeling so much love and support from you all. I know it will take time to build this kind of depth of connection in New York. I could feel the difference when I had my New York housewarming party, and half the guests who said they would come didn’t show up! But with those who came, and some who didn’t, I do feel bonds of love and caring, and I know that these friendships will continue to deepen over time.

4 – Esteem

The fourth level in the hierarchy of needs is esteem. This is an interesting one, encompassing both the need to be respected by others, and the need for self-respect. The need to be respected by others can manifest as the desire for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. Truth be known, this could be the “corn” or sore point for me. When I think back on painful events of the past year or more, this unmet need is often underlying the hurt. I remember the day I ran the marathon, in November 2016. I had a celebratory dinner afterwards at a restaurant on my block with a handful of my closest friends. One friend arrived 20 minutes late and then monopolized the attention of the group by talking about her day! I had just run for over 5 hours, and the dinner was supposed to be about me–a chance to share my experiences and bask in the limelight for a little while… I still feel hurt and puzzlement over that event. But of course, if what Maslow deemed the higher prong of esteem–which is self respect–was more firm, I am sure I wouldn’t have felt so hurt by my friend’s thoughtlessness.

To balance that out, I recall another friend acknowledging to me my accomplishment of buying my New York apartment. She said that few women she knows have managed this under their own steam, based on earning their own money through their careers. As we talked about this, I remembered the pivotal point in my life when my father died, and I realized I couldn’t wait any longer to have a man to pursue my dreams with. I decided to act on my own, and soon after purchased Monkey Valley by myself (with the help of loans from my family members), which is of course what eventually made it possible to buy my home in New York. My friend’s recognition of my accomplishment warmed me inside, and helped my self respect get a little clearer so that I can feel it tangibly. In the sea of anxiety that I have floated in this past year, I haven’t always been in touch with my personal ground of confidence. I need the help of my friends! To misquote the Beatles.

5 – Self-Actualization

Self-actualization is the fifth level of the hierarchy of needs, and this has definitely been a driver in my move to New York. I have a sense of destiny pulling me (together with my heart) and the feeling that I am meant to actualize my being in some particular way. Sometimes I feel it is simply to be, and interact with others. This has been one of the strongest delights for me this past year. Interacting with people as I go about my day, and feeling the joy of connection. There are the staff at Jerri’s–my laundry guys–and LifeThyme, where I get my groceries. My gym (Barre3) made me feel like family right from the beginning, and I feel a sense of belonging at the Joffrey Ballet Center as well. I have taken the Absolute Beginner’s ballet classes for adults 3 or 4 times now! People in the post office, in the subways, on the streets themselves. Bartenders and restaurant servers… Everywhere I go, the warmth of human connection is so satisfying, I wonder if this is my purpose, pure and simple.

However, Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be. And here I feel I have so much further to go! I think that I focused mostly on physical and athletic accomplishment in the past year, which is great, but I haven’t been pursuing creative aims as I expected. That is definitely a goal for 2018.

However, I reached a new level of muscle tone, strength, and definition in the Barre3 classes, and learned to tolerate and stay with the burn when it seems impossible. I feel I have actualized a peak level of fitness, and this is an amazing accomplishment which has informed my running as well. I conquered a certain fear of reaching my limit, by exceeding it as a regular occurrence in these classes.

Another unexpected development has occurred with my dance skills. These are very rudimentary in any formal form of dance, but I feel a huge sense of accomplishment in freeform dance–I feel the synthesis in my body of the many different disciplines I have studied, and immensely more freedom in the possibility of movement compared to earlier in my life. I haven’t set out to actualize myself in this direction, but have simply been doing what I love to do. It has been an unconscious impulse, and now perhaps I am making it more conscious by telling you about it.

I went to London and Barcelona for the Christmas holidays, and I held the question in my mind about what is my purpose, what am I meant to do? What is my gift, how should I contribute? I was disappointed to come home with no big “ah-ha” moments, no clear inspiration. But the most fun I had was going dancing one night with two young Londoners, and watching Flamenco dancing on my first evening in Barcelona. The word DANCE is looming in my mind. I think I wrote it on a piece of notepaper while away… What to do with that, I don’t know. I went dancing on New Year’s Eve, at a club called Cielo in the Meatpacking District. I’ve signed up for ballet classes three nights a week at the Joffrey, and I’ve also signed up for a beginner’s course in Flamenco.

I loved dancing on stage at the Orpheum at the David Bowie tribute in 2016, and I have noticed myself wishing to be in a dance troupe when I see groups performing. There, I’ve said it. I want to be a dance performer. I am definitely afraid to say this out loud. I don’t like to want anything that I can’t have. And I was such a miserable failure at beginner’s jazz dance class in the fall! My menopausal brain could not remember the sequences of moves in the choreography, and I was mortified at how bad I was… So there you have it.

6 – Self-Transcendence

Self-transcendence is the sixth and final level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He added this one later in life–it wasn’t part of the original pyramid. He came to believe that the self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality, which is essentially the desire to reach the infinite. As my own spiritual development has unfolded in its uneven and bumpy way, certain areas shine and dominate, then subside back into the morass of the ego again.

You may notice in this exploration of the year that passed a theme of the yearning for spiritual actualization in the world, mixed with the needs of the animal instincts and egoic confirmation. It’s all part of the stew, and I would say that all the levels are intertwined, while in this human form on this uncertain earth. Those moments of joyful interaction with others, and joyful expression through physical activity, feel like the most pure spiritual expression of my purpose on earth. The quiet moment I spend alone meditating before bed is a different type of spiritual expression–a personal connection with the divine or infinite. I have a sense that my soul can and does have that type of connection outside of human form, between physical incarnations. It supports me, just like food and air and water, to sustain me in this lifetime. A daily moment of self-transcendence. I don’t feel called to pursue this type of experience as my full-time occupation at this point in my life. However, looking back at the beginning of the post, and the word “anxiety,” I know that being in touch with the deeper reality of the divine, infinite true nature is actually the only cure. The trick of self-actualization is to sustain the connection with the infinite while engaging in expression in the finite world.

Highlights of 2017

Now for the Pandora’s box of 2017 highlights!

Here is a list of highlights that spring to mind when I think back over the year. Bear in mind that this list is incomplete, as it was a helluva year!

  • Completing the final stage of the A&W project, which entailed putting the standard operating procedures through French translation. I sometimes worked 70 hours a week to get this done, and pushed myself as hard as I ever have on a work project.
  • The day spent modelling on Cornelia Street. I truly felt like a high fashion model. I loved the beautiful clothes and the compliments and admiration of strangers. And Krystyna was so fun to spend time with. One of the best days of my life!
    Karen Rempel on Cornelia St
  • Dressing windows at Krystyna’s Place! A new form of creative expression involving fashion and design that I loved.
  • Doing phone inquiry on FaceTime with two friends from Vancouver and having them tell me to buy this apartment (based on the Streeteasy link I sent them)! Thank you, Maylynn and Shira!
  • Buying my New York apartment. The day I got board approval was a thrill, but it wasn’t a surprise as it seems it was a foregone conclusion. It felt so right, there was a sense of inevitability about the decision.
  • A thrilling date night with a British architect. (I know some of you have been most interested in my love-life, which is rather non-existent and obviously has not been a focus this year.) This date really stood out, though, beginning with the Rockette’s Christmas Special at Radio City Music Hall, followed by a drink at the Top of the Rock, and then another drink and late-night snack in a roof-top lounge on the trendy Highline, with glorious views of the Hudson and the city.
  • Meeting James Spader in the hallway at the Village Vanguard. We chatted for a minute. His hand was very warm and full of presence.
  • Publishing 3 articles in the WestView News. My first New York publications!
    Gorgeous decor of the fantastic Osteria 57, which I reviewed for the WestView News–fabulous people run this place, and I rang in the New Year with them–twice!
  • Having a private tour of David Hockney’s exhibit at the Met, with David Hockney, my dear friend Arthur, the artist Ricardo Nazario, and others.
  • Visiting Abbey Road, 221B Baker Street, and Paddington Station in London, and the aforementioned dancing outing with two beautiful young London women (Isabel and Hilami) who took me to a grime club on the tube.
  • Dinner at Jean-Georges with a dear friend. Definitely the most extravagant restaurant setting I’ve been in, with about 8 waiters attending our table, and exceptionally wonderful food and wine pairings.
  • Attending a black-tie gala awards dinner at the United Nations, honoring former vice-president Joe Biden (and buying my first ballgown for the event!).
  • Being photographed for Getty Images at a swank art gallery opening in Chelsea. I went to Bernie Taupin’s opening there later on another occasion, and spoke to the man himself, whom I thought was a jerk!
  • Playing the piano at Small’s jazz club (after it was closed) for my friend Ed.
  • Having the bartender in my Barcelona hotel pour me a drink without asking what I wanted! A brandy Alexander. So sweet! And watching teens in a dance competition on the TV in the lounge.
  • Doing the New York Road Runners 9+1. So satisfying! So hard to make myself get up early and take the subway to Central Park or Queens or the Bronx when I am a late afternoon runner by nature! The 10-mile race in the Bronx, with my Vancouver friend Angela, was definitely the toughest and most satisfying of all the races I did in 2017. But the most fun was winning best costume at the Retro 5-Mile Race!

    I won based on audience applause, perhaps because I danced to a Guns N’ Roses song played by a band after the race–and I was the only one who danced. 😉
  • Going “down the shore” to watch the eclipse with my friend Mike.
  • Having a gaggle of models over to my place and then modeling together in Washington Square Park for a pop-up runway show!
  • Getting my first local client, which was a New Jersey client a 3-hour commute away, and turned out to be a very short project (ugh). But it was a US client, and I got to bill and then deposit the money in my LLC’s (which I formed myself!) bank account (harder to get than forming the LLC!). An important foundational milestone for my life here in New York.

The Contents of Pandora’s Box

And now for the lists (including one or two early highlights from 2018):


  • 2018 Hello Dolly – Bette Midler – with Heather
  • The Ferryman – at the Gielgud Theatre in London
  • Sweeney Todd – at Barrow Street Theatre – with Marlene
  • A Bronx Tale – with Angela
  • Spamilton – with Michael
  • Noel Coward’s Present Laughter – Kevin Kline – with Arthur
  • A Doll’s House, Part 2 – with Angela
  • The Color Purple – with Angela
  • Kinky Boots – with Angela
  • Sunset Boulevard – Glenn Close – with Angela and Marlene
  • The Liar – Classic Stage Company – with Deborah
  • The End of Longing – Matthew Perry
  • Oslo – Lincoln Center – Deborah and Marlene
  • Alpha 66 at T. Schreiber Studio – Steve Jones – with Margaret & Marlene
  • Schreiber Shorts – Steve Jones & Bill Barry – with Margaret & Ed
  • The Great Comet – with Deborah & Rosanna
  • Indecent – with Sally & Bill, Deborah, Marlene, Rosy


  • 2018 Phantom Threads – Daniel Day Lewis (lives on the same block I lived on–W. 10th) – with Deborah
  • No Man’s Land (British National Theatre live performance of Pinter play)
  • 20th Century Women (Cinepolis Chelsea)
  • Song of Granite – with Dan & Deborah
  • Monterey Pop – saw 3 times, with Deborah, Marlene, and Guido
  • The Divine Order (at Film Forum) – with Deborah
  • Manifesto (at FF) – with Deborah
  • Dumb Girl (at FF) – with Deborah & Angela
  • Other Side of Hope (FF) – with Guy
  • Bird on a Wire (FF) – Mike & Deborah


  • Voices of Ascension Mozart & Haydn – church next door!
  • Meredith Monk’s Dancing Voices at Lincoln Center – with Deborah
  • Bellini’s Norma – Sondra Radvanovsky – with Deborah
  • Eric Reed Quartet at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club – with Michelle & Daniel, and also at Village Vanguard
  • Ravi Coltrane Quartet at Village Vanguard – with Lew
  • Bunuel’s/Ade’s Exterminating Angel at the Metropolitan Opera – with Deborah, Marlene, Tom, and others
  • Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – Debussy & Ravel – with Deborah & Marlene
  • Mezzrow’s jazz club – Marlene & Jos
  • Winter jazz festival – multiple clubs and performances including Ravi Coltrane – with Ed
  • Jazz club in Sleepy Hollow – with Ed
  • Guns N’ Roses at Madison Square Garden – with Dan nearby
  • BC Recorder Society Spring Showcase (in Vancouver) – featuring Taksu with Patricia Nichols
  • Donny McCaslin (played on Bowie’s final CD) at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall – followed by Small’s jazz club – with Ed
  • Paul McCartney at Barclays Center (night of first co-op board interview–Horatio St) – with Lew
  • Pete Townshend’s Quadrophenia at the Met Opera House – with Mary M
  • Joe’s Pub Canada Day Celebration – various artists singing songs by Canadian artists – with Ed
  • Roger Waters at Barclays Center
  • Duruflé Requiem – Manhattan School of Music – Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine – with Deborah
  • Voices of Ascension St. John Passion – with Arthur
  • Buika – BB King Blues Club – with Deborah
  • Leonidas Kavakos at Lincoln Center – Mahler’s 4th Symphony and Auerbach – with Deborah
  • Elias String Quartet at 92|Y – with Deborah and Ed
  • Terrell Stafford Quartet at Village Vanguard
  • Ravi Coltrane at Birdland – with Ed
  • Kenny Barron Quintet at Jazz Standard
  • Robert Leslie – Lantern Hall, Brooklyn – with Marlene

Dance performances:

  • Gran Gala Flamenco – at Barcelona’s Palau de la Musica Orfeo
  • Grossman, Phillips, and Paul Taylor – Ariel Rivka Dance – with Deborah
  • Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance (3 more outings, multiple performances) – with Deborah and Margaret
  • Joffrey Ballet – Romeo and Juliet – friends from dance class (Jacqueline & others)
  • Fall for Dance – Program 4 & 5 – Jacqueline; Sally & Bill
  • American Ballet Theatre (mixed program, several performances) – with Deborah
  • ABT Onegin at Met Opera House – with Deborah
  • ABT The Golden Cockeral at the Met – with Deborah
  • Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes – with Deborah
  • Swan Lake – New York City Ballet – and later attended a dance class taught by two of the principal dancers!
  • Queensboro Dance Festival – my teacher Annastasia Mercedes performed – with Rosanna
  • Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg – mixed program with music by Tchaikovsky – with Deborah
  • Cielo – after midnight (early 2018) with a bunch of New Yorkers all dancing together!


  • La Pedrera – Barcelona – Gaudi apartment building and museum
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art – with Arthur and David H. and friends
  • MOMA – with Michael
  • Rubin Museum of Art – with Marlene
  • Whitney Museum – with Lew and Cynthia
  • Rolling Stones Exhibitionism

A special thank you to Deborah for curating so many incredible cultural events! You’ve opened up many aspects of New York life to me, in many other ways too. Mille grazie, Bestie D! I’m so glad we rang in the New Year together–a fantastic cap to the year and stirring of the waters to bring in 2018.


  • Jerry Seinfeld!! Twice!
  • One World Observatory – $68 cocktail including elevator ride to 102 floor
  • Authors for Literacy event at United Nations – with Pat
  • Wine and Design event on UES – Virginia from Gala
  • “Trunk” jewelry show on UES – Lucine from Gala
  • Donna Karan’s secret warehouse sale – got thousands of dollars worth of fantastic clothes for $500!
    Donna Karan sample dress with her name hand written on the tag!
  • Skating at Rockefeller Center followed by a drink at the Trump Bar. It was a couple days before inauguration, and there was a permanent NBC camera focused on Trump Tower. I met a friend at the bar and we went to another bar to watch Obama’s farewell speech.
  • Visits to Margaret and Ed’s place in Sleepy Hollow, and fantastic runs along the Croton Aqueduct trail.
  • Thanksgiving at Bob’s!

Plus an incredible wealth of fantastic restaurants!

Losses in 2017

And in closing I want to remember the sad passing of a New York writer named John, a man I met through a friend and had one memorable date with at the Village Vanguard. We had a late-night breakfast afterwards at the Waverly Restaurant, and he died the following week while doing Savasana pose in yoga class. May your spirit be at peace, John. I’m glad I knew you, though briefly.

I also feel great sadness about the passing of my uncle, Sebastian Fichtl, a professional zither player and world traveler. May your spirit be at peace, Vastl.

Uncle Sebastian with his six children

And we also lost my neighbor, Thomas Meehan, in 2017–a great Broadway book writer, who wrote Annie, Hairspray, the Producers, and many others. May your spirit be at peace, Tom.

Carolyn Capstick Meehan and Thomas Meehan

So that’s the year that was. I haven’t mentioned all the shenanigans I alluded to. There was one involving a toilet delivery… but you’ll have to wait for my memoirs to hear the story! As I think about everything that happened, and the many wonderful visits, emails, and phone calls with friends and family that aren’t even mentioned here, I feel very blessed. How lucky I am! I hope you enjoyed hearing about my year, and I hope you have a fantastic 2018.

Monkey Valley Photo Retrospective

2000 – 2013

As I prepare to pass Monkey Valley into the safekeeping of new owners, I would like to celebrate and appreciate the many people, events, and moments of the past 13 years at Monkey Valley. This page shows some of my favourite photos from this time, taken by many friends and family members, and some by me. My apologies if I don’t remember and credit the right people on every photo. Let me know!

Click any photo to see a bigger version. Click the Back button on your browser, or press Ctrl-Left Arrow, to return to this page.

My heartfelt thanks go to everyone who helped in my mission to live in the wilderness. I wish I had pictures of you all to put on this page. Thank you for all you’ve done. And much gratitude to all the visitors who came to enjoy this special place with me, both human and wild (and maybe a few wild humans).

Me in 2001, near the southwest corner post. Hugh McMillan







Hugh, the amazing one who saw the potential and supported my dream, working with me tirelessly for two years to get Monkey Valley up and running, 2000





Campfire – Yoga & ChiRunning weekend 2010. Photographer unknown










Donald guarding the weenies


Alex, Kim, & Geoff Kim’s 45th birthday, 2012










Alex and Kim








Cutest nephew










Guess who owns Boardwalk & Park Place! And all the railroads!









Bullet hole in lock – the lock reigned indestructible, but the chain did not.








This is one of my all-time favourite pictures. I know, I’m a nut. First, for putting the chair on the roof to begin with, and second, for taking a picture of it!
Me and Angela planning the ChiRunning and Yoga retreat. One of us is goofing around!










Me and Ange. Joe Charron






Donald guarding the ChiRunners
















Mealtime after a hard day of play







The yoga part of the retreat. Everyone is clearly exhausted from all that ChiRunning!


The house in the woods. Angela James


Winding creek flowing down the valley. Joe Charron
Nootka rose. Joe Charron
Before I put the siding on the house, 2001








Snowy meeting room (back in the days when I had to go out onto the roof to get cell phone reception), 2008
Adah & me & Indian icecream, 2008. Kim Ashley











The soap berries we made it from. Kim Ashley



Fence in creek. Joe Charron








6 fabulous runners after swimming in Missezula Lake and then running home. Joe Charron








Tent city. Joe Charron
Two fab dishwashers – Joe and Darch


Butterfly, 2009. Munro Sickafoose










Dandelion beauty. Munro Sickafoose
Parhelic circle. Munro Sickafoose
Two grouse, 2009
A moose in the upper meadow, 2008


I love this one of Monkey and the totally ridiculous mouse trap I made, 2001
Angelic bull, 2009
No trespassing, 2012
Cloud shadow on house, 2009


Creek at sunset, 2000









The corner of Dillard and Loon Lake, 2008


Hypnotic fire, 2011







Monkey Valley moon, 2008
Winter sky, 2006
Setting intentions at the Medicine Wheel retreat, 2005


Snowy tracks, 2007








Wildflowers, 2003



Inquiry group (Marvin, Keith, and me), 2004. Dorrie Brannock
My dearest friend Dorrie, eating lunch at a picnic table in Merritt after a “Nature and the Four Directions” retreat at Monkey Valley, 2006. May her spirit be at peace.



Dean’s egg salad sandwiches – a realtor picnic, 2012


Special visitors, 2012








Monkey on Dillard sign
Monkey on Dillard sign, 2013














Home, beavers, and the medicine wheel

I walked the land and walked the wheel today. I’ve been wanting to do a ceremony at the wheel since my last visit a few weeks ago, when I received a very special message in which a spirit guardian of this land blessed me to move on and leave the land in his care. Yesterday I showed the property to a couple who are preparing for a major lifestyle change to move from the city to the country. It was a wonderful afternoon, visiting with these great folks, telling stories about the land, and hearing about their hopes and dreams. They spent some time walking around on their own, and some time with me as tour guide. Sadly, they turned down my offer of homemade brownies, so I’ve been eating them all myself! ;-)

New medicine wheel - awesome!So this morning I headed down towards the medicine wheel. I first came to my little personal wheel, which feels like one of those small altars that people pray at to prepare themselves for visiting a major shrine. There was that sense of sacred preparation, as I stopped at the little wheel. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do; whether I’d even walk the big wheel. But I brought some sage and matches along, with the intention of performing some kind of ceremony.

When I got to the personal wheel, I had to smile, for I could see that yesterday’s visitors had aligned the stones, which frequently become misaligned due to animals stepping on the wheel, or perhaps little insects, or even the wind blowing. The wheel had a slightly new configuration. At first I was going to put it back the old way, but then I realized, no, this new way is right. I accepted the change as something the new owners would do, and that it is time to let the change happen. So I guess you could say the sale was definitely on my mind. I decided to smudge myself and the wheel and offer a prayer here for the change. I lit the sage, and smudged myself from head to toe, then offered the sacred smoke to the spirits of the seven directions.

Kneeling before the wheel, I thanked the spirit guardian for his message to me, and spoke what was in my heart about selling the land. Why my guidance was telling me it was time to move on—to create a solid foundation for myself in Vancouver, so I can focus more of my energy on developing, growing, and bringing my gifts to the earth and my people. That I can’t afford the money or energy to keep two homes going, and I have clarity that I want to be in the city. The certainty that I choose Vancouver over Monkey Valley has not wavered since I first was able to admit it, around 2008 when I noticed my joy when returning to Vancouver, and reluctance to go back to Monkey Valley at the end of my visits to the city. I have checked in with my heart frequently since then, to see whether that feeling has changed, but it hasn’t. I’ve become more clear about it.

But it is always hard to let go of something we love, so part of my process had been to start to turn my heart away from Monkey Valley. Now I noticed that this movement had softened. As I knelt before the wheel I acknowledged my love for the land and my appreciation for the many gifts I have received. I reflected on my journey of healing and growth that has unfolded while I’ve lived here. My life has opened up in so many ways while I lived here. I learned to connect with nature in a new way, I went to Naropa and got my master’s in ecopsychology, I became a vision fast guide, and I learned about the medicine wheel. I also became a yoga teacher while I lived here, and became involved with various groups that advocate for protecting the wilderness. I did the Bearing Witness retreat at Auschwitz, and brought healing for my family’s multi-generational suffering through that work and through some of the wilderness work. This makes me cry now, seeing how much my heart has softened and expanded while I’ve lived here, to be able to turn towards healing others’ suffering as well as my own. [Pause to get tissue.]

Beaver landscapingAnd of course the biggest change in my life, which informs all of these other changes, is that after buying Monkey Valley I resumed being a student of the Diamond Approach. This morning I was reading the chapter on the pearl in John Davis’s The Diamond Approach: An Introduction to the Teachings of A. H. Almaas. The pearl is the personal, unique, individual part of our true nature. The part of us that grows and develops as we integrate life’s experiences, our impressions of our essence, and our understanding. No doubt the reading impacted my train of thought as I knelt at the wheel, for I could feel how I have integrated these many things I’ve been talking about into my soul. I was also shaped by the various struggles and challenges on the land, like how to prevent the water from freezing in the winter, what to do when a tree changed position and was now blocking the road, and all the various aspects of polishing this rough diamond into the beautiful place that it is. Plus the inner challenges of living alone in the wilderness, with lots of time for facing myself. The various inner and outer challenges have helped me to develop my will, steadfastness, courage, strength, and confidence. As well as the heart qualities I mentioned earlier.

Beaver carving and wood chipsAfter reflecting on these many gifts that have shaped me during the past 13 years, I thanked the land and the spirits of the land. Then I turned my attention to my wish for the new owners, whoever they might be, that they will be equally blessed. That they will be able to appreciate the land, and be impacted by it the way that I have. It seemed to me this could already be happening, through the simple act of placing some small stones in a circle. I felt a light basic trust that things will unfold in the perfect way. My final wish, of course, was that this land be protected and cared for, and all the creatures who live here. May it be so.

This seemed very complete and fulfilling, and I had only gone a few hundred yards from the house! So I continued down the valley, stopping now and then to take pictures of things that I saw. Soon after the medicine wheel I came to a viewpoint where I could see the beaver lodge where the beavers who have shaped the valley live. As I continued southward down the path, I saw a little tree stump that had been carved by beaver teeth. I’d marvelled at this stump with some earlier visitors to the land. This time I noticed nearby the full tree that belonged to the stump. It was dragged a little distance away. It is truly amazing what a beaver can do!

Beaver molarsThen a little further down the path I came upon a beaver skeleton, which yesterday’s visitors had discovered. I looked at the bones with interest. There was the spine and rib cage, and a little further down the path the jaw bone and teeth. The beaver’s spine curves differently than the human spine. This was very interesting to see. Because we spend much of our time upright, our upper back curves out towards the back, whereas the beaver’s spine seems to keep curving towards the front of the body in the chest. I wonder if that’s better for swimming and for walking on all fours. The beaver’s front teeth were quite amazing—almost an inch long, and yellow, with very sharp edges. There are four molars on either side of the two front teeth, and their pattern is very interesting. I wonder if this particular beaver was quite old and so its molars were worn down more than usual, or if all beavers’ teeth look like this.

Beaver front teethSince it was a day of ceremony, I brought out the sage and smudged the bones, and said a blessing for the beaver’s spirit, and the spirits of the family it leaves behind. I felt a sense of wonder for how the beavers have shaped this land. Since I have lived here they have carved out many new channels of water along the creek, and they control the creek level meticulously, through their ceaseless labours of cutting down trees and branches and reinforcing the dams. They seem to be tireless workers. It has been wonderful to learn about them through seeing the results of their efforts over the years. I reflected that the beaver is a symbol of Canada, and this made me feel proud of our country too.

Presently as I continued down the path I came to the full-sized medicine wheel. I walked around it in the usual clock-wise fashion, pausing at each of the directions. I saw the stones that my friend Keith had placed on a stump near the north door of the wheel. He had only placed the white, yellow, and red stones on the stump. I set them in their proper places, and found a piece of black bark to complete the fourth direction. I wondered what it was about the west that he missed that stone. Was that what he was working on, that summer we all built the wheel? I paused to notice little things near the wheel, like some hidden violets. They reminded me of the Arabic word sirr, which means secret. And there was a lone brave mushroom pushing up through the grass.

Hidden mushroomI wasn’t sure until now, but I decided I did want to walk the wheel to mark this transition time. I paused to ask about which doorway to enter the wheel from. I realized it is still spring, as the summer solstice is occurring next Friday. The east, the direction of spring, is associated with death and rebirth. That seemed fitting for marking a transition, so I decided to enter through that door, which is the traditional doorway for entering the wheel. Usually I make an offering of sage smoke before walking the wheel. I reached into my bag for the sage, but all that was left was burnt stems. I decided to make an offering of the stems, and walked the wheel from east to south, west, north, and back to east, leaving a stem at each direction and the between-directions.

Arriving again at the east doorway, I greeted the spirits of the seven directions, and thanked them for watching over this land. I invited them to be with me as I walked the wheel. Then I stepped into the east. I straightened a branch that marked the edge of the east pathway toward the center of the wheel, and then sat cross-legged, facing the doorway. Since I had already spent time at the small wheel, I felt my mind was now empty, so I didn’t need to bring any particular issue or question into the wheel. I was open to just being still and silent, and seeing what would come.

Shy violetI sat in the east with my eyes closed, sensing my connection to the earth I was sitting on, and listening to the birdsong all around. I straightened a little until it felt like my spine was in alignment over my sitting bones. I felt open and spacious, and realized that there was no pain in my neck. It has been sore frequently over the past few months, since a minor car accident. I had noticed a pattern in which I felt pain-free and aligned after a session with my chiropractor or massage therapist, but then the pain would come back after certain activities. Just last week I decided to try an EMDR session to see if there was some trauma stored in the nervous system from the accident, which was speaking to me through this recurring pain. My EMDR therapist had taught me a technique for filling my neck with white healing light and then allowing it to make the micro-movements it needed for its own healing. I had done this the past two days, and as I sat in the wheel I felt that the EMDR work has been effective, I can wrap up the work with the chiro, and after a few more weeks of massage, wrap up the ICBC claim. All of this went through my mind very quickly, and I came to the part about settling the claim, and a friend’s advice that ICBC has to pay for my full medical bills, though they are only paying about 25% right now. My friend said that if I discuss bringing a lawyer on board, I will be able to get the full payment that they owe me because it is no-fault insurance. I have felt a reluctance to tangle with ICBC and get into some kind of adversarial situation that could bring negative energy into my life. As I sat in the wheel I decided I would just ask my adjuster for the full reimbursement and see what she said. Hmm, as I type this I am noticing some tension in my neck—I’d better pause and do the neck stretches my chiro recommended! Clearly just the thought of dealing with ICBC brings tension!

So that seemed like a complete wisdom that came to me unbidden from the east, about my healing and wrapping up the claim and various treatments. Perhaps moving from the “death” of the accident to the “rebirth” of the healing and moving on. Feeling complete in the east, I thanked the spirits and walked to the center, bowed to the space in the center of the wheel, and then walked into the pathway of the south. Here I greeted the spirits of the south, and took my seat once more. I reflected on the qualities of the south—the place of summer, of the child, of the red, and of the mouse—close to the ground and seeing all the details. This reminded me of looking at the mushroom and the violets, and how I am feeling like the mouse right now, connected to the intimate details. I also had a flash that the system of the four directions has a correspondence to the four centers we use in the Diamond Approach, and probably other systems use as well—the body (belly center), heart, mind, and the moh (the fourth center, which opens above the head once the lower three centers are open and integrated). It occurred to me that the south could be associated with the belly center, the west with the heart, north with head, and east with the moh.

Parhelic circleAs I focused on my belly center, it came into my mind that the south is the place for lovemaking—the lusty passion of the red. And I thought about various men I have been dating recently. I re-entered the dating world in April with an openness and not-knowing—open to possibilities, and letting go of some of my preconceived ideas of what my partner must be like. As I considered the men I have met, I had a sense of integrating some new learnings that have occurred through my interactions with them. A wonderful hand massage came to mind, and how blissful (orange pleasure) the experience was. It was a lived, direct experience of how two people can communicate through touch. A lovely thing to learn. What the spirit of the south said was “when you meet the one who is right for you, you will know it.” I was clear that I don’t have that knowing yet. But it seemed like the time in the south had ended with a clear message, and it was time to move on. I thanked the spirits of the south, walked toward the center, and then into the west.

I had seen the stones of the west when I entered from the east. This is an interesting aspect of working with the wheel—there is a west of the east, and an east of the west. They call to each other and resonate along the axis they form. I have always felt a special connection with the west, and I have also done some very powerful, magical work in the east. That pole seems more lit up for me than the north-south axis. So I had a feeling of coming home as I entered the west. The looks-within place. The black. The darkness of going into the depths of the psyche. What richness!

Black stoneI sat cross-legged, and greeted the spirits of the west. This time, as I sat with an empty mind, I focused my sensing in my heart center. (Trying out this new idea that there is a correspondence between the four directions and the four centers.) I had the feeling that I needed to lie down on the ground. I moved a branch back to the side of the path, and stretched out with my feet towards the west doorway and my head towards the center of the wheel. I felt myself relaxing into the support of being held by the earth. I opened my eyes to look at the sky, and saw a partial parahelic circle around the sun. Oh my god! As I watched, it formed into a complete circle around the sun. The edges of the ring around the sun were golden and orange. What a miraculous blessing! As I laid there, sensing my heart, it filled with warm golden honey, and I had a sense of blessings pouring down on me from the sun. I was tasting the sweetness of my nature, and the sun was participating by showing me to myself. I knew, through the direct experience of tasting my sweetness, that this was me. I alternated between looking at the circle around the sun, the tree that was partly screening the sun itself so I could look at it with one eye, and then closing my eyes and sensing the blessings pouring down and the honey sweetness of my nature. When it seemed the knowing was complete, I sat up. I opened my eyes again and saw a small black stone, flat and smoothed by water, right beside me on the ground. I remembered placing the stone there some time ago. I picked it up and it was hot from the sun, like a living creature. I flashed on the missing black stone from Keith’s arrangement, and thought maybe I would put it there. But it seemed that the stone was coming with me to remind me of the gift of the west. (Which, you may have noticed, contained the golden sun of the east!) I put the stone in my pocket, and thanked the spirits of the west. My heart felt very full as I walked toward the center of the wheel, and then entered the pathway of the north.

I gazed towards the north, and greeted the spirits of the north. I smoothed away some grass that was covering one of the white doorway stones in the north, and then I sat down cross-legged facing the doorway. This time I opened to experiencing through the head center. I focused on the third eye in the middle of my forehead, and opened my awareness into emptiness. Immediately thoughts and insights started to flow. The first was the confusion between north and west, white and black, because in the system of the lataif, white would be the belly center (solar plexus) and the head center is black. I just let that confusion go, as it seemed it was not useful in trying to map all these systems together. I thought of my phone call yesterday with my mom, and how she had commented that I have shared a lot about my changing home situations with her over the past few years. It seemed natural that there would be a deep connection between mom and home in the psyche. She has helped me with my past two moves in Vancouver, and she reminded me during the phone call of how I helped her with a recent move. In the psyche it seemed home and identity are very closely related, and since mom is linked with the earliest sense of self and of home, naturally she would be a part of that. Then I reflected on how dad is also linked to home—literally with Monkey Valley, as my inheritance from him helped me to buy it. But then also that he is part of the earliest memories of home. Then I reflected on the beaver and home, and how the beaver’s activity is all focused on building and regulating its home. I imagined that the beaver worked itself to death maintaining its home, and I reflected how I wish to have a sense of ease about the security of my home. I don’t want to work another 20 years to pay the mortgage. (Well, who does? LOL.) Knowing that the early impressions of mom, dad, and home create the structured sense of self that becomes the ego identity, and which is only a partial truth about who and what we are, I am wondering what is true about my beliefs about home and my need for a certain kind of home for a foundation in the world. It seems I have had a fixed belief about this, which keeps me stuck in a certain way. Additional insight arises (as it so often does) as I write about this. For this particular question it feels like an openness to not knowing and to discovery. That feels like a spacious freedom in my mind, and at the same time I feel a pulsing in the third eye like the diamond guidance is operating there, ready to shine like a miner’s light on anything I look at.

As I sat in the direction of the north, I looked north again, towards the house that has been my home at Monkey Valley. An additional insight arose, that I have integrated the ways of working with nature and the Diamond Approach ways of working into my soul. It is hard to describe in words, but there was a sense that the many things that opened up to me as I learned about them while living at Monkey Valley, these ways of learning and being, are part of who I am now. I will carry them wherever I go (unless it is time to stop carrying them, I suppose!). I don’t need to live here to have these ways of knowing. It is truly okay to move on. I won’t be losing what I have gained here. This seemed to be the final gift of the north, the final insight.

I felt complete in the north after various insights about home, parents, beavers, and this deeper understanding about how I have integrated and metabolized the teachings of the land into my soul. I thanked the spirits of the north, walked to the center, and paused there to thank the beloved mystery of my heart, the center of the wheel, the seventh direction. I felt a sense of being at the center of my experience and radiating out in all directions, and saw the sun was still raining blessings down upon the wheel. I walked along the pathway of the east, thanked the spirits there again, and then stepped out of the wheel through the doorway of the east. I felt very complete, quiet, content, and fulfilled as I walked clockwise around the wheel to go back to the path.

As I continued my walk I was struck with wonder about the simplicity and wisdom of the medicine wheel. How spending time being open and receptive has brought guidance from each of the four directions every time I have walked the wheel. It occurred to me that the wheel serves as a method for focusing awareness, using the perspectives of each of the four directions, to gain understanding. Like pulling information from an amorphous mass of undifferentiated knowledge, and letting concrete understanding emerge from the four particular perspectives.

It’s more than that though, because nature definitely plays a role. Nature participates in the unfolding or revelation. Through the influence of all the myriad creatures all around who are part of the wheel; the grass and flowers and weeds, the stones and branches and dirt, trees and pinecones, birds, wind, sky, clouds. All of these impress upon the soul, at just the right moment, to aid in the understanding and in the delivery of the messages. And I also feel that the presence of the natural world helps the person walking the wheel to open up to receive the understanding. Nature opens us and softens us.

Thank you, Dorrie, for all the support you gave me while I learned and grew here. And for the green shirt I am wearing today.

May all you readers know the blessing of connecting to nature and your true nature.

Life in the Wild

The sun provides electricity and hot water to the main houseThe Monkey Valley Retreat Centre is truly in the wilderness. Our nearest neighbours are about 30 kilometres away.

Monkey Valley is surrounded by crown lands on all sides, affording an exceptional experience of privacy and feeling of being away from civilization. The retreat centre is off the grid, which means that no power lines or phone lines go to the property. We do all we can to maintain the wildness of this place.

The way of life at Monkey Valley is designed to minimize human impact on the earth. The retreat centre runs on solar power, with an energy-efficient, quiet backup generator for extended cloudy periods. We use as little energy as possible, and try to keep waste to a minimum. We use biodegradable products as much as possible, because the water that goes down the drain eventually finds its way to the creek.

The creek is home to beavers and minkOur water supply is from an underground spring that is bountiful year round. The water has been tested to ensure it is safe for your drinking. It is crystal-clear and delicious, straight from the tap.

The centre has a cell phone for emergency use. Your cell phone will work in the house, but we encourage you to unplug from it while you are here!

The retreat centre is a haven for steeping in the energies of nature. Time here is free from traffic, TV, radio, and newspapers. We honour and acknowledge the shamanic traditions that use mind-altering substances to shift consciousness. However, at Monkey VCanadian moose nibbles branches at the edge of the meadowalley we don’t use these methods to journey to other states of awareness and deepen into our true nature. No recreational drugs or alcohol are permitted at the retreat centre.

When you come to the retreat centre we will teach you about low-impact camping and ways of being in harmony with the land and her creatures. We also teach safety topics such as how to stay found and how to handle wild-life encounters.

Monkey Valley Accommodations

Monkey Valley log cabin overlooking creekThe Monkey Valley Retreat Centre has a log cabin with a wood-burning stove and open cooking-dining-living space. There is a 3-bedroom addition built onto the log cabin, which can accommodate up to 6 sleepers in beds and cots.

There is plenty of space for camping, and there is also sleeping space in the 5,000 square-foot barn. (Bring your own camping gear.) The top floor of the barn is a 1,200 square-foot open room with a wood stove for heat. This room can be used as a meeting space during inclement weather, and the wood floors are ideal for yoga.

Large groups can camp or sleep in barnThe facilities at Monkey Valley include outhouses and heated showers. There is also an old-fashioned claw-foot bathtub overlooking green meadows and the valley below.

The food at the retreat centre is delicious, healthy, nutritionally complete vegetarian fare, including eggs and dairy. Ingredients are organic when available. Please let us know if you have special dietary needs when you register. There are several campfire pits for marshmallow toasting and night-time gatherings.

Heated meeting space is perfect for yogaMountain evenings can get chilly here, even in the summertime. If you are camping, bring an insulated pad to sleep on (such as a thermarest) and a sleeping bag rated to -10° C. It is unlikely to be that cold, but this rating will keep you toasty at night!

For more pictures of the log cabin interior, see this virtual tour.