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Get a Grip

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The resort offers a number of options for visitors wanting anything from a chance to quietly de-stress to an intensive course in a specific self-awareness or healing technique. For those wanting to keep things really simple, Ocean Resort offers a day program including lunch, meditation sessions and the use of the facilities. Upcoming workshops and retreats include healing touch, art as self-exploration, yoga, meditation and raw foods cooking. There are also weekly courses and twice-daily meditation sessions led by Stiefvater.

As well, Ocean Resort offers ‘Conscious Wednesdays’ on a weekly basis. The evening includes dinner, mediation, a video screening and discussion. Stiefvater says connecting with the local community is essential to his vision. “I don’t want to be here and have the locals wondering, ‘What is that weird place.’”

All programs are non-denominational and non-dogmatic, Stiefvater stresses. “We don’t want people to come here and change. We just want people to come and be who they really are.”

The type of meditation he teaches, called self-inquiry, is particularly accessible to Westerners, because it is simple and direct, he says. “Basically, it’s about realizing non-duality. It’s not focused on a particular mantra or ritual or anything like that—it’s straight to the heart, straight to the self.” At the same time, it is an authentic Indian tradition with a respected lineage stemming from a well-known (in the West and in India) teacher named Bhavagan Shri Ramana Maharshi.

Stiefvater has been back to India twice since his first visit. “I’ve fallen in love with the people of India,” he says. “In the midst of all the poverty, people truly are living in the moment. You look into people’s eyes and they are full of love and giving. There’s that deep recognition: in this moment we are okay, even if we have nothing.”

During his trips to India, and at home, Stiefvater continues to study, read and learn new techniques. However, he stresses that this sort of dedication is not required for guests at Ocean Resort. His clientele, he says, is the general public.

“The people who have been coming here so far are not on a particular spiritual path. But many people are looking for holidays that are a little more meaningful,” he says.

Stiefvater is not the first person to notice this desire, nor the first to create a tourism business to cater to it—although he considers himself on the front lines of a trend known as spiritual tourism.

Spiritual tourism encompasses everything from First Nations Spirit Voyages to yoga camps, meditation retreats, journeys to sacred places, healing encounters with animals, and trips focused on astrology and mythology. Although as an industry trend it is relatively new, in some ways spiritual tourism is ancient, reflecting the time-honored tradition of pilgrimage, with Muslims traveling to Mecca, Sikhs visiting the Golden Temple and Christians and Jews visiting the Holy Land.

Spiritual tourism has blossomed over the past year or so, says Stiefvater. He cites the town of Sedona, California, as particularly influential—Sedona has so many retreat centres, ashrams and healing centres that the local Chamber of Commerce initiated a program to formally promote the area as a hub for spiritual tourism.

No one knows just how big this trend is, but there are some indications that it is substantial. A recent survey by the Travel Industry Association asked travellers if they would participate in a holiday that included a spiritual component. Twenty five per cent said yes. And up to 40 per cent of people going to spas now look for some type of spiritual experience.

“I believe spiritual tourism is the fastest growing area of tourism,” Stiefvater says. However, it is still quite new. “At this point, the mainstream is still not quite there—but they are coming.” Luckily, Stiefvater is comfortable, and familiar, with the role of ground-breaker. “When I started the Kingfisher, it was the first of its kind of Vancouver Island. Not many people thought I was on the right track.” Obviously, he was—the spa industry has boomed in the past 15 years.

“Back then, I was the first, I was a pioneer. Now I’m doing that again. Maybe that’s what drew me to Canada—that pioneer side of me,” he says.

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