When guests arrive at Miraval Resorts, their hosts offer them a sleeping bag for their smartphone. Even for a resort with Miraval’s reputation (past guests have included Oprah and Mel Gibson, among many others), to have such posh treatment extended to one’s phone seems an extreme gesture of hospitality. But these days, when whether or not to treat “smartphone” as a capitalized proper noun is seriously debated on the internet (or is it “Internet”?), stuffing the thing in a sack and not hearing from it for a few weeks sounds like a terrific idea.
From their beginnings in 1995, when they established their resort under the canopy of shade provided by Tucson, Arizona’s Santa Clarita Mountains, Miraval has been focused on helping create a guest experience that achieves a “life in balance” between body, mind and spirit. To achieve that task they’ve signed on a variety of specialists through the years that seek to treat the whole person—from a Naturopathic Physician/Shaman, who integrates master-level massage and acupuncture with ceremonial practices, to a specialist who uses Holographic Memory Resolution to treat past trauma. Not to mention the resident bee and horse keepers, the internationally recognized sound healers, the psychic-medium, the Native American practitioner.
And of course there’s the standard resort-and-spa fare too: soaking tubs that overlook the Sonoran Desert, room-after-room of beautiful, quiet spaces designed in what I can only describe as Zen Modern, world-class chefs, all that. But what appears to make Miraval so unique in the resort world is their longtime devotion to helping people reestablish connections that their guests have lost—connections with nature, with themselves, with others.
Hence the smartphone sleeping bags, and “Miraval Mode,” in which guests who opt to keep their phones are only permitted to use them in designated areas. This is with the aim of creating a mindful environment, where guests can not only be present to the moment, but can also be present to one another. Ironically, in an era dominated with hyper-connected “social media” networks, this has been today’s biggest area of concern for those in the wellness community.
When I talked to Carl Pratt, Miraval’s Vice President and General Manager, he told me that some of the most impactful connections that guests make today at Miraval are the ones they make with one another. “We provide a really safe space for people to be who they are,” Pratt explained. He went on to point out that many of Miraval’s guests open up to one another about things they’ve never been able to share with anyone before, especially during the equine experience, one of Miraval’s most written about amenities. Of course, this isn’t a requirement—it’s simply a by-product of the Miraval Mode, as experienced on horseback, with a group of like-minded people.
Now more than ever, guests come to Miraval trying to escape the tyranny of their phones. They crave a truer connection, both with themselves and with others, than 2 dimensions of thumb-typed texts can facilitate.
Miraval captured our imagination at Lux because of their unique approach to modern wellness. Miraval has created a safe space for people to be who they are—a space where people can disconnect from the clamor of today’s world in order to reconnect with something deeper. In the same way, Lux has sought to create a unique space where people can disconnect from the immediate world around them.
When Lux brought their installation to Miraval this April to share the Sacred Journey experience, the thing that impressed Pratt most was how uncomplicated and affecting it was. “What struck me was a progressive element of surprise, of simplicity,” he said, “how impactful it was. The intensity of that was shocking.”
Staff and guests of Miraval who went through the installation talked about it like people might talk about a moving religious experience. Many referred to the “limitless” feeling the space gave them. Others felt a connection with the cosmos, or even a physical sense that they were floating through that cosmos, penetrating the deep recesses of the world and of their souls. And the simplicity that Carl referred to touches another of Lux’s important goals—to provide a space apart from the frenetic distractibility and complexity of the world of modern technology. A space to remember we’re analogue beings in a digital world.
Miraval embodies an important part of Lux’s vision in that both companies are trying to reconnect with something that has been lost in modern experience. Our unprecedented connectedness to the global network has exacerbated the already deep disconnectedness of our neighborhoods. Social media has brought this disconnectedness, this alienation, all the way down into our relationship to ourselves. Think about it: how different is your social media avatar to your actual self? If you actually acted like your social media-self, endlessly editing and presenting only your most interesting or beautiful moments to the public, how insecure would you feel about who you actually are?
Welcome to identity in the age of Instagram.
Pratt understands that the smartphone, like smoking, is a hard but necessary habit to quit. At Miraval, they do their best to ease guests into it. If they just want to get away from their day-to-day and soak their bodies in full view of an enormous, sun-painted desert, then they can. They can even keep their phone if they want—sort of ween off the world slowly—as long as they keep it on silent. After a few days, perhaps they’re ready for the group equine experience, or a quiet, mindful night spent with others under the desert stars.
“Each experience builds on the next,” Pratt explained. Once guests begin to trust an experience, they begin to strive for the next. An accumulation of trust and an excitement to release past anxieties encourages them to have a truly transformative experience.
He drew some parallels between this experience and that of the Sacred Journey. “It’s not threatening—then you go right into ‘wow, this is way more than I thought it would be.”
“The overwhelming uniqueness of the experience,” he added, “was wonder.”
By Ryan L. Masters
Photography: Ryan Bernal