Georgia Straight, Gail Johnston, reporter
Kelly Oswald was always attracted to things some people might consider a bit whacked: feng shui, tarot cards, psychic abilities, and the like. About a year and a half ago, Oswald fell seriously ill. Once she was well again, she decided to shift her priorities. One result of this change was the West Coast Institute of Mystic Arts. Oswald says the North Vancouver – based school, which opened in September and is the first of its kind in Western Canada, is all about “weird stuff for normal people”.
The 41 – year old mother of two, who splits her time between West Vancouver and Whistler (she reads tarot cards at Whistler’s Farmer’s Market) knew she wanted to put more focus on all things mystical & healing after getting sick with a virus that attacked her heart. Due to heart failure, she ended up spending a few weeks in hospital.
“In the hospital, I was living with people who had serious things – heart attacks, strokes – and it made me really think,” Oswald said during a phone interview. “There we were, in the same blue jammies and slippers; we’re all the same, we’re all on the same level, whether you’re a street person or a multimillionaire. I decided I wanted to do everything I love to do while I’m here. We’re alive, we might as well enjoy ourselves. And it would be great to help other people.”
To do that, Oswald opened her school (206-1819 Capilano Road) with several goals in mind: to “revive” the mystic arts; to encourage the application of spiritual practices to modern life and personal development; to offer quality programs with a range of experienced instructors; and to provide classes at affordable rates. She stressed that although its classes are taught with “spirit and energy”, the organization has no religious affiliation.
That’s just one misconception Oswald deals with: often, when she tries to explain the types of things the school offers – like astrology, palmistry, and numerology – some people get a little leery. She admitted she’s had more than her share of strange looks.
Oswald said. “Some people think we are going to be doing strange things in the basement. But look around. Feng shui is becoming commonplace. People used to think acupuncture was weird. People are just ready for this. We’ve made such a mess out of things for so many years that more people want to look at really living life. The rat race has had enough of an impact. People are looking at quality of life.
“People are becoming aware of what they’re connected to as opposed to what they think they have to do,” she added. “Books like The Power of Now and The Four Agreements are bringing us back, getting us to not take things for granted and to be passionate about what we do.”
The courses on offer this fall run the gamut from astrology and crop circles to crystals and gemstones, from charkas and drum-making to affirmations and synchronicity, from dream interpretation to colour vibrations. Certificate programs are available in tarot-card reading and feng shui, among other practices. (There’s even a class in feng shui designed specifically for real-estate agents, who can ostensibly make quicker sales by creating positive energy in homes). Then there are less “out-there” classes, like those in yoga, reflexology, reiki, complementary health, meditation, self-awareness, creating financial abundance, and relationships.
The next program, a daylong session Saturday (October 19) is on Hawaiian shamanism; that’s followed on Sunday (October 20) by a seminar on reading palms. In the future, Oswald hopes to offer longer, more in-depth workshops and group activities like sweat lodges and spiritual retreats.
For anyone who’s rolling their eyes, Oswald balances her yen for mystical practices with her logical side. She’s maintaining her graphic-design business because she wants the security while she’s getting the school up and running.
“I’ve been called a flake,” she said, “but I’m practical-minded. You’ve got to keep your head on your shoulders at the same time. I’ve always been intuitive, and my mom and sister suffer from it as well,” Oswald added with a laugh.
So far, the response to the school has been “incredible” hardly a surprise in the land of self-realization, the Naam, a Hollyhock. Still, Oswald said she was nervous about launching such a venture. The way she sees things is it all comes back to her tarot cards.
“My favourite card right now is the ‘Fool’,” she explained. “He is about to take a leap off a cliff and he doesn’t know if he’s going to land on his feet. He has his worldly possessions on his back. This card speaks of risk and opportunity. That’s my archetype right now. I hope I have the skill of the ‘Magician’ to create something out of nothing. I have faith, and I will land on both feet, even though I’m scared.
“What stops you from doing the things you really want to do? You do. You get in your own way. People think ‘I’m not big enough,’ “I’m not smart enough.’ You become the victim instead of creating a wonderful, beautiful life. You can break out of it if you really want to.”
Georgia Straight, Gail Johnston, reporter