Founders Story – Leslie Fell

“One should be always on the trail of one’s own deepest nature.  For it is the fearless living out of your own essential nature that connects you to the divine.”
Henry David Thoreau 

Like most of us, I want to do my best to live a meaningful life and create a better world. In particular I yearn to raise hope in the face of despair.  Summoning the courage and strength to find and live my essential nature and purpose has been, and is, my journey.Les Close-up by Tree

As a child tree tops were my rooms with views whilst traversing ravines, and building sand castles during summer months enabled a deep connection with and love for nature.  Common place was finding and caring for injured or abandoned animals.  My favourite book and movie as a child, “The Incredible Journey”, exemplified there can indeed be good outcomes to stories of challenge and distress for animals and humans.  Sketching landscapes and animals as a child shifted to collecting and painting replicas of photos of indigenous children and elders.  The faces intrigued me for reasons I only later understood.

In high school I was enamored by the works of Henry David Thoreau for he exemplified the teaching of simplicity and taught one could build castles in the air and just needed to lay the foundation under them.  As a teenager, I received two prints that I cherish. One is of a wolf with Thoreau’s observation that In wildness is the preservation of the world.” The other features a bear and Chief Seattle’s words, “What happens to beasts will happen to man.  All things are connected.  If the great beasts are gone, men will surely die of a great loneliness of spirit.”

Somewhat rebellious as a youth I regularly questioned, and at times possibly harassed, my parents.  It was disconcerting to feel that we had more than others in the world. The fairy tale “The Little Match Girl” moved and haunted me, for how could anyone walk by and not see the begging barefoot young girl on a cold New Year’s Eve until she had frozen to death?  Maybe there was a part within that was aware, although unconsciously, of this maddening world where those who have a bed to sleep in, food in the fridge and a roof over their heads are better off than 75% of the people in this world.

My career and personal life transitioned from working as an occupational therapist and in management supporting independent living for people with disabilities, to community development and being a mother of two sons.  Although I enjoyed my work and motherhood was an incredible gift, I felt disconnected.  Facing major personal transitions in my thirties I sought a life line with psychology, mythic and spiritual material with the likes of Joseph Campbell, Clarisa Pinkola Estes, Carl Jung, James Hollis, Rumi and Rilke. Seeking balance, wholeness and hope, I also turned to explore the healing arts, particularly myths, dance, fairy tales, storytelling and meditation.
Peru children
In the year 2000 I accepted the opportunity to travel to Africa to deepen my learning and experience with indigenous wisdom traditions and witness first hand poverty and its’ impact on humanity.  I had the pervasive thirst of a seeker who sensed that something “out there” would deepen my understanding of my inner nature and purpose.  Each consecutive year, new connections and travels brought an array of teachings and wisdom from the Greek mysteries and Black Madonna in Europe, the Shapibo in Peru, the Dreaming Culture of the Achuar in the Ecuadorian rainforest, to the Aboriginal elders in Canada and the US.  Witnessing first hand in Greenland reverberating echoes of massive blocks of glacier ice cracking, falling and being swept towards open water raised my awareness of the environmental crisis.

Traveling the world deepened my understanding of this incredible planet, its gift of diversity and challenging anomalies.  Paradoxes abounded: observing authentic smiles and the joy of people who have little in the way of material comfort; seeing barren desert of the Middle East and the Kalahari to lush rainforest of the Amazon; experiencing communities that held extraordinary wisdom while being ravished by genocide. While witnessing extreme poverty, defiled lands and heartbreaking stories of families and communities torn apart, I was aware this was just a small part of travesties in our world.  Each time I returned home, to Toronto, Canada re-emphasized the paradox and discrepancy of the maddening world I felt earlier in life when reading the fairy tale of The Little Match Girl.

White LionDuring my travels over the past fifteen years, the children, nature and wildlife touched my heart.  It is the children’s shining faces and little bodies with hearts worn on torn sleeves which remind me of the young indigenous children I painted when a teen.  Seeing habitats of one room huts  where many in a family sleep and hearing the dreams of children, youth and adults, hungry for education and food has been heart wrenching.  Being with the majestic white lions in a protected wild area of South Africa had me in awe, while the knowledge that the majority of these magnificent beings are “canned and trophy hunted” weighed heavily.  I do not want anyone including myself to die of a great loneliness of spirit. 

A key aspect and passion of my administrative work and education for many years has been fundraising and spearheading initiatives to support various causes that truly make a difference.  I now understand the importance of a ‘hand up’ versus a ‘handout’ to move in the direction of self-sufficiency and sustainability.  Teaching to fish for food is empowering; depending on others for fish or money often is not empowering, nor sustaining.  Exemplifying action of planting seeds and trees speaks louder than words.

“Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”  
George Bernard Shaw

I continue to be on the trail of my own deep nature and desire to increase awareness and enable others to have experiences that I’ve been privileged to have.  The greatest gifts my parents and experiences have imbued in me are strength in the face of adversity, act with integrity and be generous.  Founding a non-profit that embraces qualities of compassion and generosity and acts with integrity is the best way I see to offer these gifts and my experience.  A love for nature, deep concern for our planet’s situation, a call to serve and finally to leave a legacy of love and wisdom are the inspirations for founding Living Ways: Sanctuary for What Matters.


Sanctuary for what matters.
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