Monika Schaffner was born in Nepal and is now settled in Switzerland. Having grown up in the Himalayas, she cares deeply for the mystic beauty, the vital sanity, the complex harmony of pristine natural spaces. Today a freelance geographer, Monika advocates a holistic co-existence of the human species with Nature. She develops regenerative approaches to tourism in Nepal, and works at the nexus between water protection and hydropower in Switzerland. As a nature therapist she inspires individuals to reconnect with wild nature and to thereby reconnect with themselves. With her own formula of energetic massage, she creates spaces for her clients to relax, regenerate and experience deep sense of home-coming within.
Monika Schaffner, Integrative Geographer, Nature & Body Therapist
Introduce yourself! Please tell us about you and your life, so we can get to know you better.
Born in Nepal into a Swiss family working in international development, I spent my childhood at home in two worlds: The home of my birth, my soul home (Nepal), and the home of my culture, my family home (Switzerland). My parents are passionate hikers, so I grew up in pristine mountain spaces: hiking, sleeping in tents, playing in alpine landscapes, immersed as an innate part and in balance with nature. This sparked a deep love and care for nature in its wild, undisturbed, pristine form.
I received my primary schooling in an international school. My playmates all came from different countries and I learned that every human being is equal, regardless of his or her culture of origin. We started each school year with many new faces, while familiar ones had left us, traveling on to new homes on their parents’ rotation cycle of diplomatic or development work. This broadened my perspective and taught me the value of cultural diversity – a setting in which still today I thrive.
We returned to Switzerland when I was eleven years old. Eventually, I studied Geography, the science of the planet, and the most holistic field I could find. Because I was also deeply interested in the unseen, the mystic realities between the lines of physical forms, I chose Religion Sciences as a Minor. This combination of interests enabled me to get back to Nepal as a young adult, to investigate drinking water quality and holistic solutions for sustainable development. A few years later, I moved on to Thailand for my PhD, where I modeled river water quality with the aim of understanding its major sources of pollution. After completing my studies in international sustainable development, I chose a home and a job in Switzerland with the Federal Environment Office, working on environmental data and reporting in order to inform national water protection policy.
Tell us about a pivotal moment in your life that brought you to where you are today.
I settled into a comfortable life spent working in a safe and quite interesting government job, with ample free time and money to spend on growing my personal and spiritual skillsets. 8 years later brought me back to Nepal on a solo journey and a life-changing trek to the Everest region. In moments of utmost clarity and insight, I realized that I had deviated from my life track and that it was time to take a major correction of direction.
A few days after my return to Switzerland, the great earthquake struck Nepal. It was April 2015 and it felt like the earthquake shook my own life. This was the pivotal moment of my life: At age 40, I started fresh. I ended my long-term relationship, moved house, and quit my job…
…and set myself to the task of finding creative formats, using my diverse skillsets in order to best contribute to what – back then, for lack of a more suitable and comprehensive terminology – I termed as “positive global change”. I wanted to be my own boss and make a living combining my varied interests, and doing what I truly like doing. I strongly believe that a person performs best when she can focus on what she likes doing most.
How did you come up with the idea for your business, and what inspired you to start it?
On 7.7.2017, connecting spaces was born. It was the result of my attempt to embrace my diverse interests into one brand, one overarching frame: With connecting spaces I connect Switzerland and Nepal; the rational and the subtle worlds; Geography (the physical patterns and “rules” governing our planet) with Religion Sciences (the underlying mysteries governing these physical patterns); connecting human beings with nature – and re.connecting individuals to (the deeper levels of) themselves.
Over the first decades of my life, I had observed how the pristine Himalayan landscapes of Nepal had become increasingly fragmented. I was deeply troubled by the degradation of landscape quality, aesthetics, and (bio-)diversity by mankind’s strive for “development”. The question that preoccupied me most was (and still is):
How can we human beings – as societies and as individuals – use our exceptional capacities (intelligence, conscience, empathy, emotion, just to name a few) more wisely, in order to co-create a sustainable future on our planet, in balance and harmony with nature?
Connecting spaces is the brand under which I support societies and individuals to find their way to a more healthy and caring coexistence with nature – a path that will either begin with or ultimately end with coming closer to ourselves.
Can you tell me about the main purpose and goals of your business?
The intention of my work is to sensitize us human beings to the value of pristine wild nature spaces – as the origin and home of rich biodiversity, as valuable space for individual retreat and regeneration, and ultimately as the source of all life on this planet.
That is why, as an Integrative Geographer, I invest my work into the protection of yet untouched alpine wilderness and particularly the water bodies that flow through them. As a Nature Therapist, I guide individuals on retreats to quiet mountain spaces, thus creating opportunities for them to consciously experience life in balance with nature, while gaining insight, inspiration, and clarification on relevant life questions they may carry. As a Body Therapist, I support individuals in need of regeneration, providing a space for them to refuel and re.connect with deeper levels of themselves.
What products or services do you offer, and what sets your offerings apart from competitors?
It is the connection of the relevant spheres of life within a bundle of products ranging from collective/societal to individual/personal work. Many of my clients move between these different spheres – a client coming for body therapy might eventually sign up for a nature retreat, on which we pass through awe-inspiring wild mountain spaces, yet exploited by human beings and therefore under risk of destruction. Eventually, that same client may end up assigning me an environmental consulting mandate for his or her office. These various products in my bundle are ultimately a means to the same end: Developing a more holistic, healthy co-existence of the human species with the natural world.
Integrative Geography investigates the interrelationship between human individuals or societies and the natural environment. As an integrative geographer, I focus on how human beings affect the environment and our planet, striving to find more sustainable ways of interaction in balance with nature. As an environmental consultant, I wish to explore, understand and optimize, with a holistic broad perspective, the interlinked causes and effects of human interconnection with nature.
In Switzerland, I consult projects dedicated to the appreciation, understanding, and protection of our natural assets, in particular, wild alpine spaces and the waters that flow through them.
In Nepal, together with my local partners and friends, we have been focusing on creating regenerative, value-conscious tourism models as catalysts for sustainable rural development. Our flagship project is Madi Eco-Village, a pilot project with the aim to develop and promote a holistic approach to tourism – self-sustainable, clean, and community-based – in the Terai region of Nepal.
Re.connect nature experiences: On Alpine Retreats, I guide my guests through fascinating wild and untouched mountain nature, supporting them in re.connecting intimately with nature and with the essence of themselves. In this way, I create a unique space for them to experience the pristine beauty outside, as they move step by step to discover their needs, wishes, and dreams, their essential values and qualities, and their deeper understanding of the meaning of life.
Himalayan Journeys are once-in-a-lifetime treks or travels in intimate groups or tailored to individual requests. Either on a route predesigned by me or custom-designed for individual clients, I am there to guide and support, founded on my over 4 decades’ experience of exploring Himalayan spaces and my deep connection to its nature, culture, and people.
Re.connect lomi lomi massages are a way for the client to find peace and clarity through deep relaxation. A re.connect lomi lomi massage is an opportunity to regenerate and realign yourself. To enjoy a timeless moment out of space, an experience of deep relaxation, as you re.connect to the innermost levels of yourself. This holistic form of bodywork strengthens personal development, helps effectively deal with challenging periods in life, or simply provides a nourishing time-out from intense everyday life.
What challenges have you faced while running your business, and how did you overcome them?
Bringing together three totally different spheres into one brand, where clients can choose and move between different levels of interaction – from the collective, scientific, and environmental policy level to the individual level of experience outside in nature, to the very deep layers reached through a session of energetic bodywork.
I started off with two different websites and gradually dared to bring them all into one. Back then, it took courage to integrate spirituality into a worldly context. It was a challenging attempt to deconstruct the fears of this subtle field of experience, which has so often been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and expelled into a diffuse esoteric terrain. I do this by creating the link to very tangible, real, down-to-earth realities. Building this bridge, creating and forging this link between the spiritual and the rational is at the same time my greatest challenge and my strongest calling.
What future plans or expansions do you have in mind for your business?
I will continue and further develop re.connect nature experiences to reach a wider audience and sensitize more human beings to the need to care for nature – inspired by their direct experience and participation. I would like to reach more individuals who are deeply routed in the material world, working at a desk with numbers, pursuing a worldly career – yet aware of an indistinct calling, a deeper yearning within that knows there could be more. In this way, I hope to also eventually reach planners, engineers, and those individuals making the initial decisions on projects that would eventually impact pristine nature and her biodiversity.
At the same time, I plan to reach a more international audience and return to work in the global, international, and multi-cultural settings where I grew up and spent my first professional years. I ultimately aim to sensitize and connect awakened, conscious individuals across the globe.