Dustin East is the Sentinel’s Operations Manager and resident vibe-creator. He chatted with us about how he won Gillian over with a massage, his plans for integrating nature exploration into stays, and some of his personal passion projects.
By Lina Konovalov
Lina: Hey Dustin! What did you get up to today?
Dustin: It’s Friday at the Sentinel. I met with Janet, figured out some pricings on retreats, met the gardener for our spring plans, then got to jump in on breakfast. Then back to the office, and back outside. My job is diverse, so it was a fun day.
Lina Definitely beats sitting at your computer all day! Let’s go a little more in depth – what are some of the daily tasks of the Operations Manager?
Dustin: We’re a fairly small team at the Sentinel, so it expands broadly. First and foremost is to keep the Sentinel functioning: do the toilets flush? Does the water work? Is the hot tub working? Does the sauna have wood? Beyond that, there is scheduling and talking to retreat leaders, and making sure that people know where they are going and what they are doing. One of my favourite jobs is being a vibe-creator – making sure people arrive and drop whatever they have with them from the city. I make sure they are ready to simply be and heal themselves.
Lina You’re often the first point of contact for a visitor, and you definitely – and I can speak from my own welcome experience – are very skilled at creating that vibe! Of course, The Sentinel is in very capable hands. The hot tub is always warm, the sauna is always stocked, and the toilets always flush!
Dustin: Knock on wood!
Lina: We’re really lucky to have you doing all that for us. So, how did you get started at the Sentinel, and what did you do before working here?
Dustin Well, I spotted Richard and Gillian from afar. I had a similar dream of creating my own mountain paradise retreat. My girlfriend at the time ended up working for them, and I spent some time there. I saw they needed an Operations Manager, so I applied, gave Gillian massage, and the rest wrote itself. Before that I was working a lot with community services. I was working at the food hub, and on other community development projects. I also ran a program at the school called ‘Boys Town’ to mentor young kids. I was falling in love with the Kaslo community when The Sentinel took over a good part of my life – I say good because it’s been really good.
Lina: It makes sense that you have a strong background in community building, because the Sentinel at its core is a community. All that you’ve learned there, you’ve brought to us here. I think that is why we don’t feel like coworkers – we feel like a family.
Dustin: That’s what we thrive on. As you can see, everyone is always growing. We are always striving to be good communicators, and that’s what really lies at the heart and success of what we do.
Lina: How has the Sentinel evolved over the course of your time here?
Dustin: When I started there was no Maloca. There was a cement foundation, some rooms, and a bit of a website. There was a push to get the first retreat off the ground, and we finally did it with a guy named Stephen Gray and about eight participants. Back then, Richard was the sole cook. We were kind of on a shoestring running these retreats, yet with this faith that we’re going to keep growing. The whole focus from the get-go was on customer experience.
Lina: That hasn’t changed! I’m sure from day one the customer was coming in and experiencing this amazing place with it’s amazing customer service, and to this day they are still returning and getting the same thing. Looking back, how has the Sentinel impacted you, and in turn, how have you impacted the Sentinel?
Dustin I was never in a major managerial role before. I was really a do-er, and multiple times Richard had to pull me aside and say, “Dustin, stop raking! You have more important tasks to do right now.” It opened me up to building teams and stepping back into the community role where I could tap into some of the best people I know. It allowed me to do things like host friends, hold music concerts, meditations, and dances!
Lina: I love that you bring this energy of “That’s a great idea! Let’s make it happen tomorrow!” to the Sentinel. It really feels like we have the power to create right now – it’s one of my favourite things about the Sentinel. What is your favourite thing about working at the Sentinel?
Dustin: I’d say the people, and not just the people I work with. I could go on about the staff, but part of what I like the most is the people who come to the Sentinel, like the facilitators and guests. It is a sacred space, and people have chosen carefully. Maybe, even, the Sentinel chose them. It always has this way of attracting such amazing people. Even if I’m there on my 12th or 14th hour of straight work, I think, ‘at least I’m having a good time!’
Lina: It’s so important that you have a job that you are passionate about. It makes the world of difference in your life and your gratitude practice. I’m glad this has been such a rewarding experience for you. Do you have a memory of the Sentinel that stands out most?
Dustin: I get the opportunity every once in a while to drop into some of the retreats. Sometimes we stay up late in meditation, and you have these little breakthroughs. One was a pivotal change [I had] about six months ago. We’re always hearing this thing about loving yourself. What hit me was: love yourself, but also, receive love from other people. We’re always trying to give love but sometimes it’s bounced off. So I took that in and had these pivotal changes in [all of my] my relationships – that I’m going to receive love and maintain that energy and give it back.
Lina: It’s not easy to start receiving love. You have to be in a place in your life where you feel safe to let the guards you’ve built after trauma down. Receiving love can feel like an unsafe thing. That’s why we have the Maloca and have created a space that is, at its core, safe. I’m glad it has worked as a prism for you to gain those incredible insights that have impacted your relationships and how you operate in your community at large.
Dustin: Yeah, it has truly been a gift having it as a community space. I came in and was like: Great. We have a temple in Kaslo. A place for unity and diversity where everyone is welcome.
Lina: Our slogan, ‘The Sentinel exists to realize the full potential of humanity’ is so true. Since joining this community, I’ve really stepped into my potential. You guys have given me the space and the platform for it, and I’ve really watched myself soar over the last three months. It’s the community, the team, the space, the energy, everything. It’s also me and the work I’ve shown up willing to do. But I’m really glad this foundation was laid by Richad and Gillian for a place where you can come to grow.
Dustin: That’s it! Sometimes I ask myself, am I really achieving my full potential? Sometimes, I go, “No, I still have growing to do.” What that comes down to is looking at where I’m not communicating. That is the biggest piece of growth we can do: getting uncomfortable so that we can grow.
Lina: What a treasure the Sentinel is! It really is a gift to this community, knowing we can go there to work on ourselves, and come out better on the other side. My last question for you is, what are you most looking forward to this year at the Sentinel?
Dustin Growing and expanding. I have this goal of being able to provide bigger overall experiences for clients – maybe going out into the hills, more hikes, more integration in nature. What else can we do in and around the Sentinel besides flying in and going home?
Lina: My follow up to that is, what are you most looking forward to this year in the life of Dustin?
Dustin: What I always look forward to: skiing, being in the hills, and being on my no-board – I have this fascination with riding snowboards with no bindings. That, and I’ve created a little temple with my friends and family up on the side of Mount Brennan, and have started to host mini ceremonies. I’m also in this communications course called “The Power To Create” with Landmark. That is going to allow me to create a whole team of people around me to help The Sentinel expand. I’m super excited to see what comes of it. Growing gardens is a big one too – planting food and being resilient as a community.
Lina: Well, all the power to you! Thanks for the interview Mr. Vibe-Creator-Slash-Operations-Manager Dustin East!