My Beginner's Mind

by Mel Zuckerman, Canyon Ranch Founder

Shortly after Canyon Ranch opened, a dear friend told me that our programming should always allow guests to bring their “beginner’s mind.” This is a Zen Buddhist concept called shoshin. With a beginner’s mind we have endless possibilities (thus the Power of Possibility!), while the expert mind – with its opinions and preconceptions – has limitations. We have continued to evolve Canyon Ranch always with that concept in mind, perpetuating a place where people can have fresh, meaningful experiences every time they come.

Looking back, it seems I’ve always had a tendency to face life each day as if it started now. That’s what brought me, Enid and our young family West in 1958. We didn’t have a plan, a destination in mind, a job waiting or much money – just an idea that it was time to leave the rainy days and cold New Jersey winters to begin life anew. We certainly didn’t expect to end up in Tucson, Arizona, but when we first drove into this then-small town, my beginner’s mind told me I’d found our future.

With a beginner’s enthusiasm, I changed careers and opened my mind to real estate development. Over the next 20 years, I did relatively well in this stressful field, but my health suffered enormously.

When I was nearly 50, my father died of lung cancer from smoking. That was a brutal wakeup call. Though not a smoker myself (I had asthma all my life), I was overweight, sedentary, a horrendous eater and beset by years of stress; in other words, a walking time bomb. Enter the beginner’s mind! It was time to do something, so I took Enid’s advice and went to the Oaks at Ojai, a California “fat farm.” I was only hoping to lose weight and get in better shape. Instead I had the revelation of a lifetime. This was an explosion of possibilities – the right time, the right place, the right people, and, yes, a beginner’s mind all coming together to create a life-changing Aha! moment.

At the Oaks, I had the great fortune of meeting Karma Kientzler, who worked with guests and took a special interest in helping me. I’d told Karma about my asthma, and she was the first person to call my childhood doctor’s warnings against exercise “cocky-poo.” Not only could I exercise, she said, I needed to! Within 10 days, I was transformed by healthy eating, regular exercise, daily massages and Karma’s generosity of self. My level of physicality (according to the Cooper Institute’s charts) had gone from the lowest 5 percent in my age group to the highest 5 percent. I was filled with the empowering awareness of just how good I could feel by living healthy. I knew I wanted to feel that way forever!

After three weeks at Ojai, I asked Enid to come join me for a last week. Driving home together afterward, we decided to create a healthy environment where we could live the rest of our lives and others could discover the power of healthy living. We formulated plans for a beautiful resort for people who, knowingly or not, would bring us their beginner’s minds.

We created Canyon Ranch as a new kind of resort, combining a healthy experience with a great vacation. People questioned our chances, but we never once doubted our vision. In fact, you might say that beginner’s mind protected us from doubt and made the Ranch possible. That spirit keeps us going to this day.

Over the years, the list of things you can do at Canyon Ranch has just kept growing. Some people might even think we go overboard. The diversity of choice is essential, though. We use scientifically proven approaches, ancient wisdom, technology, innovative thinking, humor, play – anything we can think of! – to make it easier for each person to connect with that one perfect, life-affirming experience.

We don’t try to fool anyone about our approach, either. Our healthy vision is all wrapped up in a wonderful, seductive vacation. It’s all about committing to a positive lifestyle, and we aim to make that a very pleasant experience.

No matter how often you visit Canyon Ranch, there’s always something new to try. Most important, our caring experts are always happy to share their talents and inspiration – and we all know what can happen when a generous spirit meets a beginner’s mind!