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Okanagan Arts

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An Ongoing Series of Lectures and Presentations that Celebrate the Creative Okanagan

Okanagan Institute
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Arts Council of the Central Okanagan
Arts Council of the
Central Okanagan

100-1690 Water Street
Kelowna BC Canada V1Y 8T8
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Elke Lange, Executive Director
Telephone: 250.861-4123

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Okanagan Arts: Summer 2008

Karin Wilson: The Healing Arts

Daniel Richard is fiddling with my hair, and he's not my hairdresser. He's trying to locate the optimum spots on my head to attach electrodes that are going to read my brain wave functions. I'm sitting in what's called a zero gravity chair, getting hooked up to a machine that will help me re-program my personal patterns of thinking. Richard, along with his partner Duncan Harte, operates BrainWave Training ­ a new alternative health therapy in Kelowna.

The office has a distinct Asian feel with its bamboo mats, Oriental paintings and indoor fountains which seems at odds with the high-tech nature of the treatment ­ all electrodes and wires connecting to a flat screen monitor that pumps out bright indigo, magenta and electric blue images of my busy brain. But according to Harte, the Asian decor does more than create a calming aesthetic, in fact it mirrors the purpose of the work that's done here. That's because the program is based on brain studies of Tibetan monks.

"This is like the gold standard," says Harte. "The people who created this program wanted to know where to find a healthy brain. So they examined the patterns of Tibetan monks who had been meditating for 40 years, and then looked at what happened to them when they were in different states of meditation."

The result is a form of alternative treatment that allows clients to transform habitually poor thinking patterns into ones that are more productive, more relaxing, more creative.

"A lot of people see improvements in their sleep, improvements to their memory, their creativity and a general enhancement in their sense of wellbeing," says Harte, who also teaches meditation. But the technique has also worked for those who suffer from depression or even serious drug addiction.

"The aim is to create new neural networks for the brain to work with that support health and well-being," he says.

There is no question this treatment, or therapy, is a long way from traditional Western medicine. And Harte and Richard are quite comfortable with that. They've seen that Western medicine helps many people, but many others it seems to leave behind, like Harte's brother who suffered a severe brain injury and began a search for alternative solutions.

"He had to be taught again how to read, how to write, how to get home. Modern medicine wasn't able to recover a lot of his brain function. But he went for a one-week treatment of this and when he returned he was speaking and writing better than before the brain injury."


Health is a relative experience. For some people, health exists strictly in the physical realm ­ all about the external parts of the body and how that is or isn't working. That's the traditional approach of Western medicine. But other parts of the world have looked at health as an integrated experience of mind, body and spirit. Healing one part requires touching, if only in an indirect way, parts of the bigger whole, and that often means working on such intangibles such as energy vibrations, breath, or patterns of thinking.

Science, it seems, has been catching up with these more ancient practices, discovering fresh examples of how much the mind and body are integrated and the impact they can have on one another.

For Westerners, this has resulted in a continuing rise in the 'alternative health' practices, or what is now increasingly referred to as the "healing arts". The field has expanded well beyond such basics as acupuncture and massage therapy into fields that use the most high-tech equipment available.

But in each case, the ultimate goal is that people are looking for change from their existing condition. And no matter how much technology may be involved in the treatment, there continues to be an art to the process of healing.

Even the use of the term "healing" can be controversial. For some it can conjure up images of the old faith healer ­ something few if any practitioners would want to associate themselves with. And some healing arts practitioners prefer to work with "clients" rather than "patients". Language is curative, it seems. The word "patient" implies there is something to fix. A client implies there's a service needed. It's about setting an intention at the beginning of the healing experience. And it's about setting up a relationship between the person providing the service and the recipient. Different terms, but at the end of the day, the objective is to create for the individual a type of balance that brings the person closer to their own health.

In many cases, it seems, healing has more to do with finding and creating new ways of doing things or even new ways of looking at a situation rather than fixing what may, in other traditions, be perceived as "broken."

Glenn Stirling has been a chiropractor for the last 33 years, the last 15 practicing in Kelowna. He's recently made a high-tech switch of his own, moving away from the "cracking" tradition in his profession, to a practice that uses specialized computer equipment that identifies levels of flexibility, and then improves the condition with an instrument that gently and electronically "taps" the damaged area back into place.

Stirling made the move to high-tech because he feels it is in the best interests of his patients ­ they no longer experience the fear that typically accompanies a physical manipulation. But perhaps more importantly, this lack of fear means his patients come into his clinic with a more open frame of mind.

"People have in their mind's eye a preconception of what it means to go to a chiropractor ­ that it's all snaps and pops. Well, we've dispensed with all that. It's no longer a requirement. And that's naturally attracting patients who don't want manipulated adjustments ­ and it's also attracting patients who want this kind of ambiance," he says, pointing to the openness of his clinic which is filled with original art, sounds and textures all carefully selected to create a feeling of health.

"When people have a higher vibration, they are brighter, livelier, more open to possibilities, and there's more hope. When you walk into a hospital, is it filled with hope or a bit of gloom? Hope makes people flexible."


Flexibility in thinking allows for new possibilities, and more importantly allows for a relationship to develop between the practitioner and the client. And while in some cases that openness may not be required for the technique to work, in other cases it can be a critical factor.

"With BrainWave training, you don't have to 'believe' in it for it to work, but personally, I believe all healing takes participation on the part of the person receiving in order for it to work," says Harte. "A person needs to want to heal and ultimately to take responsibility for their lives in moving towards health and wholeness. With the treatment we use, it offers the brain suggestions about opening up different neural networks, but it can't force you. You need to step up to it, and
allow it to happen. It's more of a spiritual choice. On a much deeper level, they need to choose to move to health and wholeness."

Stepping into Preben Nielsen's Holistic Choices office tucked in the back of Dare to Dream bookstore in Kelowna requires another kind of receptivity all together. Here there are no modern-day tools, only a private room with a massage table and walls filled with a hanging blanket bearing the image of a wolf, reflexology charts, acupuncture charts, and books.

Nielsen is a shamanic healer and reiki practitioner ­ both practices that work exclusively with energy. He believes healing is all about attitude.

"We have these belief systems, and if nothing changes, then nothing changes," he says. "You can relax somebody, but if they keep thinking the same way then they're going to go back to the way they were. Stress is optional, like anything else. What you need to do is become your own best friend."

Nielsen says the body gets twisted up in the mind's attempt to please others. "We deny ourselves in favour of others and in so doing, we lose touch with who we are. We begin to believe our lives our dependent on others, and of course, that's not the way it works."

When Nielsen works with clients, he works on the energy that prevents them from being who they are. A shamanic treatment, which includes drum music, can take as long as two hours. Reiki much less so. But in both cases, the treatment is about releasing negative energy and creating an atmosphere of acceptance.

"A person can come in very stressful and end up leaving pretty calm and very peaceful," he says. "That energy allows their body to distress
and allows their own inner healer to start to work. When you're angry, you're tense. And you can't be angry in a relaxed body."

Some of his clients have suffered from arthritis and cancer. He hasn't cured them, but he's made a difference by helping them feel better.

"Reiki is basically loving touch. If a child falls and hurts their leg, and a parent touches it ­ that's loving touch. It doesn't get rid of the pain, but it shifts the focus away from the pain to become one of comfort. And that allows the healing to start because a fear is removed."

In comparison, when Neilson works as a shaman, he works to "extract" unhealthy energy from the body.

"This could look like negative attitude, or low self-esteem," he says. "A healthy body vibrates at a certain frequency like a symphony. And when an instrument is out, you can hear it."


In the healing arts, the body is part of an integrated system. When conditions appear that look anything other than healthy, that's a sign something is out of whack. The job of the practitioner is to sort out what the source might be and then work from the inside out.

Pat Deacon has been practicing homeopathy for the last 13 years. She studied in England, where the royal family uses this treatment, and continued her practice once she returned home to Penticton.

Homeopathy uses plant, minerals and animal extractions to treat conditions. The critical part of the procedure is in trying to match the remedy to the personal and physical characteristics of the patient. The practice originated in Germany in the mid-1800s, quickly spread throughout Europe, and today is at its height in India where it is used alongside both Western and Ayurvedic medicines.

Deacon looks at the whole person ­ their medical and psychological history ­ as well as tiny personal preferences like whether the patient prefers hot or cold weather. The aim is to determine not only who the person is, but what might be needed to bring the person back into balance. By offering what is "like" the person's natural condition, that brings about the necessary physical shift required to harmonize the body and release any toxins.

"The art is in figuring what direction to go in. Over the years and after seeing thousands of people you get a sense of where the real problem lies and why they're stuck, and you choose the homeopathic remedy that matches their state," Deacon says.

"Our belief is that everything we need is here. Our bodies are meant to be in balance and there is a vital force that tries to keep us in balance. Everything the body does is an effort to create that balance. For instance, eczema may be the body's attempt to deal with the affects of a vaccination. The eczema is the vital force trying to slough off the toxins."

The remedy then is to determine the essence of the person, then locate the appropriate substance and provide them with a remedy.

"In the meeting of the substance and the individual, there's a synergy that happens," Deacon says. "What we're doing is pushing the symptoms in the same direction that they are going in already, and through that, there's a healing that takes place."

In essence, the body becomes unified with itself once more. It is now in tune, in balance, in harmony.

"The ultimate goal is freedom. I believe we are meant to be creative, productive people on the earth and there are states of imbalance that keeps us suffering and prevents us from knowing our potential. All that gets in the way of leading productive and creative lives."

Deacon says while there are lots of proofs, it takes a listening heart to uncover the correct remedy. Healers of all kinds have always been good listeners. And it's easiest to listen when we are clear of any distractions ­ including any illnesses we may be experiencing at the time.


Alexis Costello grew up in a holistic household, but it wasn't until she discovered iridology that she decided to enter the healing profession herself. Costello works in the offices of Okanagan Natural Care Centre, which is tucked between a martial arts centre and a naturopathic clinic on what could be Kelowna's natural health care row ­ Ambrosi Street.

She greets her young client with a smile and a backwards glance as she brings her into a large darkened room. The client is my daughter. I know every iota of her 12-year-old health history and can't wait to find out what an iridologist uncovers.

Looking into her eyes armed with a small magnifying glass and a flashlight, Costello quickly ticks off a number of items ­ a major break above her knee, signs of dehydration (I'm always bugging her to drink more water), a tendency towards perfectionism, and too much sugar (she just ate a chocolate bar).

Costello talks back and forth with her client, always at ease, never judging, simply making marks on a chart that correlates sections of the iris with various parts of the body, internal and external.

Iridology, like homeopathy, also originated in Europe, but came into prominence in North American in the 1950s. The theory is that the eyes literally reflect ailments in the body. It doesn't offer treatment, but points to conditions that might require further examination.

Like other practitioners, Costello remarks on how important it is for her to feel comfortable with her clients. Empathy, she says, is not the answer. She recalls that after working with one patient, she consistently broke in hives. Realizing she was reacting to her client on some other level, Costello now books sessions with another practitioner in her clinic to get treatment so that she can be clear before the next session with this hive-producing client. Too much empathy draws you into your client's condition. The challenge is to be compassionate, yet clear thinking.

"I believe that we project energy. And we can prove that simply. The moment my hand comes close to yours, you can feel it. When we enter into somebody's space, we pick up on a lot of stuff without realizing it. So diagnosis is a combination of what we see in the eye and what we know intuitively.

"Sometimes it's the space between the words that says more about a patient's conditions, than the words themselves. Sometimes it's what the patient doesn't say that provides the biggest clues. Only listening with a clear heart can uncover this.

"Ultimately, we don't heal anybody. The biggest thing is to be curious about the outcome rather than trying to prove that you're right. You have to get your ego out of the way."


The healing arts are working on all cylinders, and sometimes it's a matter of finding the form that fits the patient. It's when the form fits, that there is a release, and a healing takes place. Does that mean there is no such thing as illness? Not necessarily. But maybe illness is more fluid than we realize. Maybe illness serves a bigger purpose ­ to provide us with a journey into ourselves.

Many years ago, shamanic healer Prebin Nielsen went on a journey that took him to the ends of his personal earth wandering the streets for nearly 15 years suffering with drug and alcohol problems. He was told he had two weeks to live when he decided enough was enough. It was time to change.

He embraced his curiosity for shamanic healing, having fed on the works of Carlos Castaneda for years, and changed his life.

But he doesn't regret a single moment of his difficult years.

"The soul journey needs experiences to learn from. Those experiences were my teachers. So how do we then judge that," he says. "Life is art. Energy itself is art. It's all art. What keeps us going is faith. It's a powerful and beautiful force because it pulls us through, and without faith, we crumble. We have faith our car is going to work. We have faith our job is going to be there. But that doesn't mean it's always going to be that way."

Healing, then, is an art. And like beauty, a complete healing may be in the eye of the beholder.


"I bought that one after I broke up with my girlfriend." Glenn Stirling is smiling now, but clearly he wasn't then. The massive piece (96"x72") by Vancouver artist Shayne Brandel used to be in his home, but has since become the showpiece and sensory anchor for the open examination room at Interior Chiropractic in Kelowna.

"It was made for that spot," says Stirling, a chiropractor with 30-years experience in the profession.

When Stirling started planning his new office he wanted something that would speak to the senses, and filling it with original Canadian art, many from artists based in the Okanagan, was just the thing. In one year he amassed more than a dozen works ranging from pure abstract paintings to sculptures, but all with a modern flare.

One step through the front door and patients spot a full-size metal sculpture of what appears to be a bionic man exposing his "inner workings". The sculpture is the work of Vernon artist Corey Fuhr, known
in literary circles for his creation of "Couldn't Sleep", which was presented to Jack Rabinovich in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Giller Prize. It's a particularly arresting piece, even more so given the context of its new home. Bookending Fuhr's work is one of Stirling's two wood wall sculpture by Kelowna artist Alan Boileau, and in another corner a musically inspired metal sculpture by Kelowna artist Gary Haywood.

Other pieces come from Alain Attar of Vancouver, Shawn Serfas, who lectures at UBCO, and Tom DeGroot ­ a Seattle artist who works with resin and corrugated cardboard.

Among the collection, works from fresh new local artists like Shari Tumbasco ­ a recent graduate of UBCO, whose colourful painting of feet graces one of the private consultation rooms.

"Look at those feet ­ it looks like a bunch of kids having a great time. It gives people a feeling of hope," Stirling says.

Stirling believes art plays a critical role in healing on a subconscious level, and people respond differently not only to the type of art, but even to the form that it arrives in.

"Poster art and original art have a different vibration. And when you think about it, life is vibratory, and people get vibrations from art. We're basically energy units, and what art can do is harmonize the rate and balance you. That's why in each case I chose art for that experience."

The concept of art assisting with healing has gained ground in recent years.

According to Michael Samuels, author of Creative Healing, "artists, musicians and dancers are realizing their imagery has meaning.that their imagery heals them, others, their neighborhood, or the earth."

Stirling calculated that if he could create a healing environment from the moment people set foot in the door, then he would be well on his way to assisting his patients shift their thinking.

"People come and they don't want to leave," Stirling says, noting he chose every part of the clinic to create a positive feel ­ right down to the fabric on the chairs, and the steel on the bathroom doors.

"They want to hang out."

Kate Leeson, one of Stirling's new patients, sits in the seating area that
sits in the middle of the clinic space with views to both the front door reception and the open examination room. A sumptuous rug covers the cork floor. Sounds of water come from a fountain. It a far cry from the feeling of your average clinic where typically one, possibly two, well-appointed paintings grace the wall above a couch.

"It's stress-reducing," she Leeson says. "You feel a sense of peacefulness. And the art itself reminds you of why you're here," she says, nodding in the direction of one of de Groot's abstract pieces which reminds her of a broken cigarette. "I think the art stimulates health ­ it's a great atmosphere. It's forward-thinking so that it takes you back to hope."

Stirling says plans are in the works to extend the artistic expression from the inside out with the installation of a giant blue heron sculpted by Jock Hildebrand from Westbank.

"This is an artistic community that we live in, and we hope by doing this it will be in keeping with the building and in keeping with the community. What we're aiming for here is a blend of nice surroundings and ambience along with state-of-the art technology. Why not heal people on every level you can?"

Karen Wilson is a freelance writer whose clients include CBC Radio, and numerous magazines. She is also the Associate Director and events coordinator of the Okanagan Institute.

Wild Blue Yonder at Thursday Express