Ray Stad knows it’s all about the question. One might ask: “Where is the Centre of the Universe?” Instead, wonder: “How is this the Centre of the Universe?” In 1980, a young monk from San Francisco set out in search of the Centre of the Universe. One cold November day, he wandered into Deadman’s Valley, 100km north of Kamloops BC, and onto the property of an abandoned gold mine. It had long ago been converted into a rustic getaway. Vidette Lake Gold Mine Resort might give the impression of swimming pools and cushy lounge bars, but the reality is anything but. Wooden cabins built with old wood from Hudson Bay fur trading days sit against crushed rocks of the old mine, all overlooking a narrow, deep-green lake. There’s no electricity, no internet and no cell phone signals – just a place to relax, fish, hike, and ponder the meaning of life. The latter of which is especially pertinent, as overlooking the resort is a grassy knoll that drew the attention of our young monk.
Earth contains a number of spiritual hotspots, intersections of energy that attract everyone from natural healers to ghost hunters and freewheeling hippies. There are healing chakras and vile vortexes – places like Stonehenge, or the Bermuda Triangle. How this monk stumbled upon the Centre of the Universe is a legend with all the narrative threads of a dreamcatcher. Perhaps his teacher in San Francisco sent him here after using dowsing rods. Perhaps the Rinpoche simply chose a place on a map. Regardless, the monk ran a few tests and this particular spot passed them all. A medicine wheel at the site dating back centuries indicated he was not alone in his assessment. A few years later, more monks arrived to do more research. They also agreed that this was indeed the Centre of the Universe, and made the recommendation to buy the resort outright. The Dalai Lama himself was informed, fundraisers were planned. The grizzled resort owner was as far afield from Tibetan monks as a pug is to a rhino, watching all this a sense of detached bemusement (perhaps not so far afield from Buddhism as he might have thought). The monks didn’t have the money and the owner wasn’t prepared to sell off his prized cabin anyway. More years passed, more monks showed up in pilgrimage. Eventually the resort changed hands, and then changed hands again – specifically the large, tanned hands of Ray Stad. Initially, Ray didn’t view the Centre of the Universe as a big deal. Buddhists might show up from around the world, but he had bought the resort for the wilderness escape that it is. Well, the Centre of the Universe has a way of changing people. The Vidette Gold Mine Resort has now become an “Off Grid Spiritual Detox.”
The man who opens the bent gate as our car pulls up has long grey hair, thick arms and a sparkle in his eye. Ray lives out here with his two dogs, and a dreadlocked miniature horse named Sunshine. He shows us around his resort, which includes a few cabins that guests can rent. We look at the collapsed entrance of the former gold mine, spot a beaver dam, ponder the black and white photos from the 1930’s of what Vidette Lake looked like when 500 miners lived and worked here. A half dozen hummingbirds drink sweet nectar from feeding stations. I hop on the back of Ray’s ATV and we take a short ride up to the hill. “We’re not as busy as I would like, but you know, the people who show up here are meant to show up here,” says Ray. His philosophy mirrors what I discovered at the Burning Man Arts Festival in the Nevada Desert. Here is a place where you have to put in what you get out. Ray could easily be a Burner godfather, but he’s an “undesirable alien” in the US he tells me, smiling without going into details. While the regional tourism board has promoted the Centre of the Universe, those expecting a tourist attraction with cheesy souvenirs should give this a wide berth (or perhaps head to the Centre of the World, Ohio).
Although monks show up unannounced, the Centre of the Universe has received enough press that Ray has to protect its sanctity from beer-swizzling yahoos in search of a hippie buzz. Other than a sign that says Private Property, there’s nothing to indicate we have arrived at the focal point of the cosmos. “Buddhists remove their shoes in holy places,” explains Ray. To feel the energy of the ground, to connect with nature. I follow his lead, spray some bug dope on my pink feet, as walk towards the apex of the hill. Ray points out a Healing Tree, as determined by the monks, and I feel its rough bark. Another tree has a perfect nook to sit back and look at the stars. Black clouds that had followed us all day finally disperse, a breeze picks up as we arrive at the knoll. One of the Buddhist tests was hearing the sound of voices. Soft wind blows through the trees, bush and grass like a natural choir. Monks walk around an entrance rock three times before entering the space, and we do the same. Tibetan prayer flags flap in the wind. A humble shrine of meaningful trinkets and gifts sits on the floor. One is a bracelet left by a visitor with the names of his fallen friends in Afghanistan. Soldiers, Ray says, have been visiting the site to deal with their post-traumatic stress disaster. As have those with cancer and pain. Scattered up here are the ashes of loved ones too. The spirit and the space remind me of the Temple at Burning Man, where tens of thousands unload their deep emotional baggage to be burned into the desert sky. Did I feel a weird energy? Do I believe this is indeed the Centre of the Universe? Does Ray?
How Buddhist monks determined this space to be the Centre of the Universe is not the question. After three decades, three owners, inspiring countless questions about the central purpose of our lives, this remote hill in British Columbia’s interior has transcended into the sacred. A peaceful space infused with meaning, for those in search of a place of healing.