20 Jan Richard Kay and Gillian Maxwell on Lessons from 2020 and What We’re Bringing into 2021
Sentinel founders Richard Kay and Gillian Maxwell spoke to me last Friday about the mysteries of Kootenay Lake, finding your inner feline, the benefits of cold water immersion, and of course, the new year.
By Lina Konovalov
Lina: Richard and Gillian, what does the Sentinel mean to you?
Richard: Well, the Sentinel is a gathering place, a community. It is not separate from the community outside of itself. It is a central place for transformation and for people to realize their full potential.
Gillian: I would agree. I would say it’s a hub for healing.
Lina: Yeah, it’s definitely ingrained in the community and the special energy of the Kootenays. I guess you can relate, speaking from Mexico, which has a very similar energy. I’ve actually heard rumours that the Kootenay lake water has some sort of energetic property… can you confirm?
Richard: Yeah! My engineer flew over the lake to sense the gravity of the area, and got some very strange results that changed from Balfour to Argenta. You know, they can’t even measure the bottom — it’s a very deep lake.
Lina: Crazy! So, I’d like to talk about the future of the Sentinel, but we can’t talk about a future without first addressing the past. As we all know, 2020 has been a very trying year that has shaped the world as we know it. How did these ordeals reflect at the Sentinel this past year?
Gillian: It was actually a transformative year in many ways. The coming to a stop — that stillness always exists at the Sentinel. It’s the undercurrent of everything here. Then people started coming back, looking for some way to make sense of what was happening to them. Many of the retreats we offered were helping with that. We saw a really deep transformation in people — they were stunning, actually.
Richard: We closed, we restructured, and we made the protocols correct. One of the gifts of COVID is that restructuring piece. One way is we went virtual through the webinar series and the store. When we first had COVID, we all said, “I wish it was the same as before.” The thing is, it’s never going to be the same thing again. Life has changed. The sooner we say, “this is the new normal”, then we can create from the space of the new normal.
Lina: I guess the main lesson of 2020 is honing in our purpose, but learning to be adaptable with it. That said, do you each have a personal highlight from 2020 you’d like to share?
Richard: Two actually. One is the development of psychedelic therapy for mental health that was happening at the Sentinel. Then, seeing these medicines working with people, and them being able to have freedom for the first time. People get their lives back. If we can do that once, it is amazing. But the intention is not once, but to do it hundreds if not thousands of times over the coming years.
Gillian: Mine is a very personal one. In my own training I had the experience of connecting with a part of myself I had never connected with before. The only way to describe it is a jaguar — a jaguar woman came out of me that I had never experienced. All I can say is that I am not the same since then. I know that I can connect into that energy in myself, and bring it forward. I feel quite different as a result of that, and that’s the magic of working with this medicine. You never know what’s going to show up.
Lina: I think for a lot of us the events of 2020 have really triggered that survival instinct, and helped us recognize our hidden powers. Do you have any daily routine tips that can build our inner jaguar up?
Gillian: This is really simple, but just taking a shower. Start off with a minute of cold water. Maybe increase that to three minutes. It really is something that switches it up. It makes a difference. Cold water is really effective at that.
Richard: The other thing I would say is [whatever you do], doing it with presence. It’s a consciousness of bringing self and awareness to that which is. One of things that I do everyday is I have an altar, and I bring gratitude, offerings, and thanks to that space.
Lina: You could say we are going into 2021 with more presence than any other year of our lives, because we have never been so acutely aware of the world around us. So, speaking of 2021, what are you two most looking forward to this year?
Richard: So much! The Virtual Sentinel is being released. We are developing Sentinel 2.0, which are 12 self-contained units for people to have their own private treatment rooms and quarantine place. We’ll continue on with our much-needed trauma therapy groups. I’m also excited about the Eagle and Condor psychedelic therapy training program. It is a 100 hour online course supported by webinars and professionals.
Gillian: I’m gonna go personal again. February 25th is the start of a 7-month women’s immersion program. We’ll start off with a ceremony and we will complete with a ceremony. In between we will meet to do this wonderful movement practice called Continuum. You just let your body lead, rather than telling your body what it should be doing. I’m just so excited!
Lina: Whether it’s COVID or not, the Sentinel is a gift to have in the Kootenays. The positive shifts that occur in this sacred space vibrate outwards and ripple throughout the community. So, why stop at 2021? What would you two like to see 5 or 10 years down the line?
Richard: In 5 or 10 years time, the Sentinel is running fully, and is a full part of the community. The Sentinel also collaborates with outside groups within the new era of mental health and wellness. Gillian and I are on the board of two organizations — the Canadian Psychedelic Association, and MAPS Canada. These two are the beacons for bringing in best practices, educational programs, and new laws in Canada around drug policy and harm reduction.
Gillian: You have a vision for something, and then other aspects come in to shape where it goes, including destiny. So, that’s what we think will happen, but we don’t really know. I also have been told by a psychic that we will have other versions of the Sentinel in other parts of the world. Maybe it won’t be us running it, but I think that is quite possible for [it to become] an actual template of a place that helps people realize their full potential.
Lina: Working with the Canadian Psychedelic Association, you are leaders of that fight to give psychedelic medicine the respect and recognition it deserves. Do you think that is a part of what makes the Sentinel ‘unique’?
Gillian: I think so. When we first sat down with our amazing team in 2017, I said a core value has to be courage. This is because we are creating something that is not in existence, and we are taking risks. We think it’s worth it, because we know that the benefits of bringing these medicines to humans is exponential.
Richard: We bring to the community the idea that psychedelics are not a pill, and not a fix. They are an opener. They bring the teachings of the medicines into one’s life, where it is integrated and integrated again. That takes community. That takes someone to be there for another person. Psychedelics allow the person to observe that which is. To observe the trauma, and not be the trauma.
Lina: I agree. These answers are not something that can be ‘bought’ on a retreat, it’s an organic introspection — it’s deep work that can take a lifetime. I hope that the Sentinel continues to expand outward, helping more people recognize that power within themselves. You are truly making the world a better place, and the opportunities seem endless. Thank you Richard and Gillian for speaking with me today. I wish you all the best this year.