After a few unexpected life events and a “crisis of conscience,” Kitchener-Waterloo native Emily Squirrell left her corporate life in KW for an eight-month stay in Bali, where she taught yoga and meditation at a retreat centre.

During her stay, she became interested in wisdom traditions and the spiritual concepts practiced in Indonesia.

“I thought, I want to come back to Waterloo and kind of ground myself in my old community, but bring my new realizations into the world,” she said.

And that’s what she did. Now living in Kitchener, Squirrell started Present Meditation where she teaches meditation to a variety of people, even corporate groups. She’s also a Ceremonial Shaman — she most recently held a full moon ceremony for healing at Hustl + Flow — and she’s a Vogel Crystal Healer. In addition to being a mom to a toddler, Squirrell keeps herself busy by offering spiritual healing, emotional healing and education to the KW community.

“Once I started to wake up to the fact that spirituality was real, and was a thing that you could directly experience, [I started] to apply that to everything I came into contact with,” Squirrell explained.

The shift in mentality caused Squirrell to see and experience things she has previous relationships with differently — especially cannabis. In the last five years, Squirrell has realized that using cannabis can be about more than just chilling out, partying or getting high.

“I changed first [spiritually], and then I looked at cannabis differently. I started to hear and feel it having a lot more to offer.”

While still in its infancy, Squirrell has begun a new project: Women and Weed.

“Women and Weed is a community-based organization that creates events from a feminine perspective. Although I talk a lot about the spiritual perspective, because that’s what I offer, my vision is not to pigeonhole it into a spiritual perspective of cannabis,” she explained.

While Squirrell does not prescribe strains or sell cannabis to clients, she does have conversations about how to consume cannabis other than smoking, what strain would be appropriate for you and how you can use cannabis to achieve a deeper level of consciousness. She does this while promoting spiritual and emotional autonomy, which means you are responsible for you and your experience.

“There are lots of plant medicines that communities around the world hold with a lot more reverence than we do in the West,” Squirrell said.

“I see cannabis, right now, as the stepping stone to a renaissance in psychedelic and consciousness work. Cannabis is kind of the first foray, but there is a total renaissance in research in psychedelics and its impact and ability to heal.”

While Women and Weed’s name may appear to be exclusive to women, Squirrell explained that that’s not the point. The point is to look at cannabis use through a feminine lens.

“There are lots of men out there who are seeking to better balance themselves … there are men who want to be a part of these types of perspectives, because we all have both masculine and feminine inside us. Femininity isn’t just for women, it’s for everybody,” she said.

“The reason why Women and Weed is different is because I’m trying to showcase that cannabis can be used to go deeper into ourselves and the world around us — not just as a form of escapism.”

But, Squirrell did acknowledge that there is still stigma surrounding women who use cannabis. Even with legalization and the known benefits of using cannabis for medicinal use, women still aren’t given the same freedom as men to use cannabis.

“Our society isn’t very welcoming of women focusing on their pleasure. That’s not a cannabis thing, that’s across all areas. It’s like women’s pleasure is just not an important thing. Cannabis is starting to bring that forward,” Squirrell said.

Women and Weed very recently held its first event: a private, invitation only, cannabis-infused dinner party, shared among friends at a private residence. In collaboration with local chef and restaurateur, Nick Benninger, guests enjoyed a six-course dinner.

“[I asked myself] what am I going to get everyone to consciously explore on cannabis? Food. What an easy first step,” Squirrell explained.

“Nick was an obvious choice — he’s extremely talented, he’s professional, he’s laid back, easy going, smart, creative and kind.”

While each course was formal and refined, one course stood out as a spectacle. In a nod towards “stoner food” Benninger presented a platter with double-stacked Pringles, topped with T & J’s smoked salmon and red onion. A glass cloche (dome) was then put over the platter and cannabis smoke was piped in. When the dome was removed, the smoke was released, dancing across the table.

Squirrell hopes to hold other events like this and also strongly advises proper education before anyone tries to do something like this at home. She spent a lot of time on dosing math to ensure guests’ safety, while also monitoring their intake and pre-arranging transportation.

“I’d like to open up Women and Weed to have more women come forward that want to participate and host events. This isn’t an Emily Squirrell organization, this is a perspective that people can participate in,” she said.

With events like this, she hopes to create a community of people who share similar passions and experiences. She hopes to connect female growers, an often-underrepresented group. She hopes to connect medicinal users and to share stories of pain and healing.

“[I want to bring forward a community that] understands one another — why they might use cannabis, what stigmas they face and help them feel more of sense of community and togetherness,” she said.

Squirrell’s currently dreaming up another event idea: a Sunday afternoon conscience walk through an organic flower farm, enhanced by cannabis. Until then, Squirrell just launched her Instagram account: womanandweedkw.

Nick Benninger is a columnist for the Community Edition.

This article was changed from its original form on April 5.